In a district where the Hispanic student population has doubled in recent years, the Riverhead Board of Education hired a new superintendent Tuesday night who said she’s dedicated her life to working with immigrants.
The appointment of Aurelia Henriquez, an assistant superintendent in the Brentwood School District, was approved unanimously Tuesday, drawing a standing ovation from the dozens of faculty, staff, students and community members in attendance.
“[Riverhead] is known for its hardworking, committed community members and school staff,” Dr. Henriquez said. “The growing diversity here is also something I’m very interested in.”
The population of English as a New Language students has rapidly increased in Riverhead from more than 600 students in 2013 to about 1,200 last year.
Dr. Henriquez said her professional background in Brentwood, which is not only the largest district on Long Island but also serves a large population of Hispanic students, has prepared her to address ENL needs here.
She began her career as an elementary school teacher before serving as an assistant principal and principal. She also taught English Composition I and II and Native American Literature courses for 10 years at the State University of New York at Old Westbury and holds a doctorate in education, a masters in English education, and a bachelors in elementary education.
“The community is very fortunate to have a person with such extensive experience,” said Riverhead resident Francis Roberts, himself a retired superintendent. “She worked at a school district larger than Riverhead, therefore she has experience she can bring to us here. The Riverhead School District has tremendous opportunity in the years ahead.”
Dr. Henriquez, who lives in East Patchogue and will begin her three-year term Aug. 31, said her experience working in Brentwood also prepared her to tackle the issue of being designated a focus school, something that occurred in both the Phillips and Roanoke elementary schools. Both schools were declared Title I Focus Schools in 2016 because they either failed to reach certain cut-off point scores or scored in the lowest 10 percent of schools statewide, the district said
During the 2011-12 school year, five Brentwood schools were identified as “in need of improvement” by the State Education Department, a designation the schools quickly lost. The district remains in good standing going into the 2017-18 school year, Dr.. Henriquez said.
In Riverhead, she said she plans to tackle the focus district designation by “involving all the stakeholders to focus on data-driven instruction, differentiation and the needs of our students and staff.”
The community reacted warmly to Dr. Henriquez’s appointment, which followed the approval of current superintendent Nancy Carney’s retirement effective Aug. 30. Ms. Carney had worked as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2002 prior to being hired to replaceDiane Scricca as superintendent in 2010. Her retirement was announced in December, prompting a six-month search for a replacement.
“I really found this position to be one of the most rewarding, demanding and exciting things I have ever taken on in my professional life and I wish [Dr. Henriquez] much success in the coming years ahead,” Ms. Carney said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Under Ms. Carney’s leadership, the district was successful in passing a $78.3 million bond voters approved in 2011. The district-wide construction was completed last summer. Last year, voters approved plans to build an athletic turf field and relocate the bus garage to Calverton.
But there has also been some bumps in the road during Ms. Carney’s tenure, including several controversies involving other administrators and complaints from residents about communication issues. At a sparsely attended community forum to discuss the superintendent search in March, several parents labeled Ms. Carney as uncommunicative and uncooperative.
School board president Susan Koukounas said that during that search process, Dr. Henriquez rose to the top of all candidates. She said the board narrowed possible candidates down to about 10 people, then again to three potential choices before deciding on Dr. Henriquez.
“It’s wonderful,” Riverhead resident Andre Lee said. “She seems like she’s going to get the job done.”
Fellow resident Richard McCoy echoed his sentiments.
“She’s a breath of fresh air,” he said. “She comes with all the credentials necessary to do the job.”
Caption: Dr. Henriquez speaks with the school community after Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Krysten Massa)