Featured Story

Riverhead again deemed focus district by state education department

The Riverhead School District has been deemed a focus district for the 2018-19 school year, making it the third year in a row the district garnered the designation.

In addition, Riley, Roanoke and Phillips Avenue elementary schools, the middle school and the high school have each individually been deemed focus schools. Aquebogue Elementary School is once again the only school in the district that didn’t receive the focus designation.

A title handed out by the NYS Education Department, schools and districts earn focus designations by having subgroups of students underperform on state exams.

“Focus districts have schools with low academic performance on the grades 3-8 English Language Arts and math tests or low graduation rates for certain groups of students, such as those who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities and English Language Learners,” the NYSED’s website reads.

In the past, as part of School Choice parents whose children attended a focus school could opt to send them to another school in the district that was not designated a focus school as part of School Choice.

However, this year families of students in Riley, Roanoke and Phillips will not have the option to send their children to Aquebogue — the first time since Riverhead received the focus designations. 

“The New York State Education Department has eliminated the requirement of School Choice as part of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act,” Christine Tona, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said in an email. 

Students who transferred to Aquebogue through School Choice in previous years may remain there through the completion of fourth grade, Ms. Tona said. She added that this is not a state requirement, but rather a district choice to “promote educational stability for students.”

However, Ms. Tona added, siblings who have not yet started at Aquebogue must go to the school zoned for their attendance. 

Forty three students transferred to Aquebogue in August 2016, the first year School Choice was available. 

This year’s designation is still based on the 2014-15 state test results. The school  received the initial focus designation in February 2016. 

“Of course it is disappointing — especially when you know how hard the staff works,” Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said. “Riverhead has extraordinary teachers and leaders at the helm. Together, we have the power to turn this [designation] around and I am confident that we will do just that.”

As of now, in order to reverse the designation, students in subgroups need to demonstrate an increase in performance and 95 percent of eligible students in grades 3 through 8 need to take the mathematics and English Language Arts exams. 

However, New York State will be redesignating schools in fall 2018 to be in compliance with the new federal ESSA, Ms. Tona said. 

Due to the focus designation, each school receives a $50,000 school improvement grant, as well as the district as a whole, totaling $350,000. The district anticipates it will receive this money for the 2018-19 year as well, but it has not yet been awarded.

Dr. Henriquez said the district will take a new focus this year, with the goals of excellence, equity and accountability and a focus on shared expectations at the teaching level. 

Improvements in K-2 literacy rates and math in grades 3-8 will be a focus of the district, and teachers and administrators have already begun to meet to design specific plans, Ms. Tona said. Additionally, the district has improved communications with family and offered more family workshops at each school. 

Ongoing professional development will continue next school year. The district is also creating new partnerships with the community, taking a closer look at their Universal Pre-K programs to make sure students are receiving a strong initial academic experience and offering social emotional support through the Whole Child approach to education, among other things, Dr. Henriquez said. 

“With a new focus on continuity, excellence, accountability and equity, we are destined for greatness,” she said. “As long as we continue to work collaboratively, have honest conversations and listen to our teachers and leaders about much needed change, we will prevail.”

[email protected]