New Riverhead group aims to listen, tackle community issues

As increasing school enrollment, overcrowded housing and a proposed $100 million bond project dominate conversations in Riverhead, one group of residents are banding together to ensure their concerns are heard by district and town officials.

The Riverhead Town Association of Concerned Citizens formed in mid-September after parents became concerned with the quality of education provided to children in the Riverhead Central School District, Jo-Ann Foss of Calverton said at a Sept. 24 board meeting.

“The RTACC is an organization that was founded by parents who wanted to become actively involved in ensuring the high quality education in the Riverhead Central School District,” Ms. Foss said.

Stephanie Ranghelli, who has three children in the district, was one of the founders of the group, which now has more than 300 members on Facebook. The group formed after she, Ms. Foss and other residents heard similar frustrations from the community.

“It seemed like it was a very consistent concern, they were saying: ‘Nothing ever gets done, why do we claim no one goes to meetings, because even if you do, you get eyes rolled at you, even if you put suggestions forward, nothing gets done,’ ” she said. “That’s not only on the school level, that’s on the town level.”

The group functions as an informational source and messenger for residents who are too “scared, busy or preoccupied” to speak up to town and district representatives, Ms. Ranghelli said.

Concerns that appear on the RTACC Facebook page are brought to district officials at school board meetings and will be brought to town officials, she said.

“People have a lot going on in their schedule, some don’t have the time to get to a meeting,” Ms. Ranghelli said. “So they’ll say, ‘As a member of RTACC, can you bring up this concern I have?’ ”

One of those concerns is town and school overcrowding, Ms. Ranghelli said, which has become “a little too burdensome on top of the taxpayers.”

She said she believes the issue of overcrowding is tied to the potential $100 million school bond, set to go before voters in January 2020.

“If we have concerns about overcrowding, we do have to address the bond,” she said. “I do think we have to do something for our students and teachers, but right now, it’s excess. We want both the local township and school to show the community that they’re actually doing a little bit more than what they have been not doing before they go forward with the bond.”

She said she has called town representatives and suggested they attend school board meetings in relation to overcrowding and the bond.

“The town and the school need to collaborate and be a little bit more cohesive in their actions,” she said.

Other discussion topics include education quality, student behavioral concerns, and the district’s new academic programs.

At an Oct. 7 school board meeting, district officials presented an academic update which outlined the new initiatives educators will use this year.

Assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Christine Tona said students in grades K-6 are using a new math program, Ready Math by Curriculum Associates; grades K-2 will see a new phonics program, Fountas and Pinnell’s Phonics Spelling and Word Study; and grades 3-4 will use science program Building Blocks.

Some members of the RTACC feel the district is implementing these new programs too quickly, which does not give teachers enough time to understand the software, Ms. Ranghelli said.

“There’s always a curve to learning in any educational setting. But to do this when we already are concerned with our test scores?” she asked. “Our district is not providing an environment that is conducive to learning; that’s the bottom line.”

Ms. Ranghelli said she chose to live in Riverhead for the past six years because it offers diversity. She hopes the organization collaborates with parents, non-district residents, the elderly and PTA members.

“We feel that this is the world we want our children to live in, and it has a lot to offer,” she said. “Our mission is to make sure that free public education is given to the children in the best capacity.”

At the September board meeting, Ms. Foss requested school board members collaborate with the organization.

“Our mission is important, as the students in our district are an integral part of our community. They are the future of Riverhead,” she said. “Let’s work together to create an environment of learning that supports our amazing teachers, faculty and staff and offers all of our students a high quality education that they deserve.”

Caption: Jo-Ann Foss (left) and Stephanie Ranghelli speak at the Sept. 24 Riverhead school board meeting. They helped form the Riverhead Town Association of Concerned Citizens, a group concerned with the quality of education provided to children in the Riverhead school district. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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