01/02/14 7:00am
01/02/2014 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Aquebogue first-grade teacher Keri Stromski showing lesson books she makes to use with the Reading A-Z Kids program.

Although the Riverhead School District did not choose Keri Stromski to address state education commissioner John King at his public forum in November, the Aquebogue Elementary School teacher attended the meeting anyway — holding up three handmade signs.

One was of a picture of her 11-year-old daughter Madison. The poster read: “See this child? She is refusing your test.” Another sign had a picture of Ms. Stromski’s 8-year-old daughter Morgan, with “Stop the test abuse” written across the bottom. A poster of her son, Quinn, 5, stated, “My child is more than a test.”

Before the room full of angry teachers let loose on the commissioner, Ms. Stromski said in an interview that she attended the forum as a parent. She’s concerned about the state’s new direction with high-stakes testing and its potential effects on children, especially English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities.

In the meantime, she’s remaining focused on how best to teach her students the reading, writing and math skills they’ll need to further their education. Last year, she lobbied for her district to invest in a reading program called Reading A-Z Kids, or RAZ Kids. The software has since become wildly popular among Riverhead’s elementary school students.

For instilling a love of reading in hundreds of students and advocating for equitable and quality education, Ms. Stromski is the Riverhead News-Review’s Educator of the Year.

Parents have praised Ms. Stromski’s efforts because she’s found a way to get children to read on their own.

“I had students continue to read at their just-right level all summer long,” Ms. Stromski said during a recent interview. “This prevents the dreaded summer slide.”

When RAZ Kids came into the district during 2012-13 school year, students started logging into the online system to read digital books at their own reading level. The system can also read stories aloud and administer quizzes. All the while, Ms. Stromski can monitor their progress remotely. She then supports their homework using RAZ-designed lesson plans in the classroom.

Ms. Stromski said she approached the school district’s administration about purchasing the program last year because she believes it gives students the confidence to read independently. Teachers can send their students encouraging messages and monitor their progress, such as finding out how many times they read a story, or had it read to them. She can track quiz scores, too.

What makes it enjoyable for the kids? For each task a student completes, they can also earn points and redeem them for virtual prizes like collectible cartoon aliens and planets. Ms. Stromski said she believes the points-reward system plays a big part in encouraging students to complete their work.

And the more they practice, she said, the better readers they become.

But they’re not completely on their own, and Ms. Stromski clearly strives to set up that at-home feeling in her classroom, so the distinction between where home ends and school begins isn’t so stark.

The goal for first-graders is to be able to read chapter books by the end of the school year.

Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent said he believes the new program also helps prepare students for the state’s rigorous new curriculum under the Common Core State Standards, because RAZ Kids encourages them to read more independently outside school.

“Kids are able to get through more books and teachers are able to track their progress,” he said. “RAZ Kids has shown students the spirit that they can do it.”

Parent Stephanie Woychuk said her 7-year-old daughter, Sydney, loves reading since learning how to use the RAZ Kids program in Ms. Stromski’s class last year.

Ms. Woychuk said she likes the program because it’s capable of reading the story to students, and described it as “fantastic” because her daughter is reading more than what’s required for school.

“In a world where children love to play with iPads, they’re getting an education with the program and not just playing video games,” Ms. Woychuk said. “She’ll be in the car, reading a book with RAZ Kids without me asking. It’s great.”

Ms. Woychuk said she’s grateful for Ms. Stromski and believes Sydney’s experience in her class will help her continue to succeed academically.

“She’s wonderful,” Ms. Woychuk said of Ms. Stromski. “I can’t thank her enough. She challenges the kids in a way that they want to make her happy.

“Even now, [Sydney] can’t wait to check in and hug Ms. Stromski.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

12/27/13 2:30pm
12/27/2013 2:30 PM
FILE IMAGE | Who will be our 2013 Educator of the Year?

FILE IMAGE | Who will be our 2013 Educator of the Year?

The Riverhead News-Review will announced its 2013 Educator of the Year in its Jan. 2, 2014 issue.

Here’s a list of people that have won the award since 2000:

• 2012 — Jeff Doroski

• 2011 — Jim Schaefer

• 2010 — Stacy Tuohy

• 2009 — Laura Grable

• 2008 — Vincent Nasta

• 2007 — Marion Dorman

• 2006 — Theresa Drozd

• 2005 — Frank Rotenberg

• 2004 — Kevin McAllister

• 2003 — Leif Shay

01/04/13 9:00am
01/04/2013 9:00 AM
McGann-Mercy High School, Riverhead, Mercy football, Jeff Doroski

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | McGann-Mercy football coache and teacher Jeff Doroski.

During the pregame huddle before an early season game this fall, McGann-Mercy football coach Jeff Doroski gathered his players to deliver a message. Before him stood a group of players expected to finish near the bottom of Division IV — an all-too-familar destination for the Monarchs.

We’ve been down for a long time, Mr. Doroski told his team. No one believes Mercy is a team that can contend.

And Mr. Doroski posed a question to his team: Why not us?

Believe in your teammates, he said. Believe in your coaches. Trust the hard work you’ve put in.

“You get chills when you hear him speak sometimes,” said Phil Reed, an assistant coach at Mercy. “You feel like you want to put on a uniform and go out and play for him. I don’t know how he does it, but he just comes up with these things.”

Under Doroski’s leadership, in only his second season as Mercy’s head coach, the Monarchs surged to their most memorable fall in three decades, posting seven wins, advancing to the semifinals of the Division IV playoffs and captivating the close-knit Riverhead school.

For his efforts in turning Mercy’s football program around, while also working as a well-respected health and physical education teacher and volunteering his time at a bevy of school functions, the News-Review selected Mr. Doroski as its 2012 Educator of the Year.

McGann-Mercy is a second home for Mr. Doroski. His parents both attended Mercy. So did his wife. As a high school student, he was the featured running back for the Monarchs. After graduating in 1992 he owned the single-season and career rushing records.

It was back when Mr. Doroski carried the ball for Mercy that the Monarchs last had a season comparable to this year. When the Monarchs won an epic 22-21 playoff game over Hampton Bays in November, it was the first postseason win for the program since 1991. The seven wins matched their best season since 1978.

“He’s a big part of continuing the tradition of excellence at Mercy because he’s been through it,” said athletic director John Lonardo. “He’s very aware of that and that’s something he really brings to the kids and reinforces to the kids about what McGann-Mercy stands for and the tradition of McGann-Mercy.”

In addition to coaching the varsity football team, Mr. Doroski, 38, also coaches the junior varsity baseball team in the spring. When it comes to baseball, he is a bit of a legend. In 2003 he coached the varsity team to a state championship, the only state title for any team in Mercy history.

No matter the time of year, Mr. Doroski, who lives in Riverhead, can be spotted at Mercy long after the school day has ended. In the winter he works the scoreboard during basketball games. He also monitors the weight room.

“Jeff has an outstanding rapport with the students,” Mr. Lonardo said. “He’s extremely liked. He communicates very well with the kids. He’s extremely motivational. The kids not only enjoy his classes, but they enjoy playing for him.”

When Mr. Doroski became the varsity football head coach, numbers were dwindling in the program. Former athletic director Paula Nickerson said in 2011 that it was a “miracle” the program survived during some of the leanest years.

Mr. Doroski helped rejuvenate interest in football and this past season the Monarchs had the kind of depth that allowed them to not only stay competitive, but excel.

“You could see from day one when he took over the program that the kids responded to him,” Phil Reed said. “The way he wanted to set the program up and it’s grown from leaps and bounds from when he started.”

As a teacher in a small school, Mr. Doroski gets an opportunity to work with many of his athletes in the classroom as well. Asaiah Wilson, the football team’s junior quarterback, had Mr. Doroski as a health teacher last year and as a gym teacher this year.

Mr. Wilson said Mr. Doroski’s demeanor as a coach and teacher is very similar.

“He wants us to work hard,” he said. “If we got a 99, he wants us to ask why we didn’t get 100.”

The quarterback position was something Wilson had little experience in before this season. He had played in PAL leagues during his youth, but never anything close to being a varsity quarterback.

Mr. Doroski was instrumental in helping him learn the position and encourage him along the way, even when things were tough, Mr. Wilson said.

“He guided me through everything,” he said. “Reading defenses, switching plays at the line, he guided me through all that. Sometimes I would get down on myself and he’ll pick my head up.”

Patience is one of Mr. Doroski’s greatest strengths, according to Mr. Reed.

“He’s not an excitable guy,” said the assistant coach, who also coaches varsity boys basketball at Southold. “He can be loud when he wants to be but when it comes to the games he has nice level confidence about himself in order to make the right decision.”

After the Monarchs improved 5-0 in October, Mr. Doroski was selected for the New York Jets’ High School Coach of the Week award.

“He’s been one of the best coaches I’ve been able to work with and I’ve been coaching for a long time,” Mr. Reed said. “He’s just a wonderful person to be around.”

joew@timesreview.com

12/29/11 12:01pm
12/29/2011 12:01 PM

FILE IMAGE | Who will be our 2011 Educator of the Year?

The Riverhead News-Review will announced its Educator of the Year in its Jan. 5, 2012 issue.

Here is a list of people that have won the award in the past decade:

• 2010 — Stacy Tuohy

• 2009 — Laura Grable

• 2008 — Vincent Nasta

• 2007 — Marion Dorman

• 2006 — Theresa Drozd

• 2005 — Frank Rotenberg

• 2004 — Kevin McAllister

• 2003 — Leif Shay

• 2002 — Bob Jester

• 2001 — Jean Lapinski

• 2000 — Pat Rose