The end of the year often signifies a time to reflect on the year’s events — some of which came to light through the Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River Central school districts.
Administrators, faculty and staff have faced controversial issues like the vaccine mandate, school enrollment changes and dismissal of faculty or staff.
The Riverhead News-Review asked Aurelia Henriquez, superintendent of the Riverhead Central School District, and Gerard Poole, superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River School District, to reflect on what’s happened in each district this year. Following are abbreviated versions of their remarks.
News-Review: What were some major accomplishments within the district this year?
Aurelia Henriquez: In the 2019-20 school year, we have remained committed to developing a whole-child approach to education that best suits Riverhead’s students.
The district will also maintain and build upon the strides made over the last two years. For example, we will continue to address the mental health needs of our students through a partnership with the North Fork Coalition and the Sandy Hook initiative; offer programs such as Young Men on the Rise, which introduces our male students to positive community role models; and enlighten students about the various careers and colleges that await them through an annual College and Career Day and programs with Stony Brook University, including HCARE and HSTEM. We will also continue to address the health needs of children by offering preventive dental care to students in grades 1-3 through a partnership with the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine and ensure that our students have the nourishment they need to learn and grow through our Mobile Food Pantry partnership with Long Island Cares.
Gerard Poole: A new math curriculum was implemented in our elementary buildings and we expanded access to instructional technology for our students through our 1-1 Chromebook initiative. We also expanded after-school enrichment clubs throughout the district. Students graduated with an AP Capstone diploma for the first time. Our high school was recognized by the United States Department of Education as a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School for exemplary student performance. Our Miller Avenue School and the high school were named NYS Recognition schools by the New York State Education Department based on academic performance. The U.S. News and World Report named our high school as one of the best high schools in the nation.
NR: There’s been a lot of parental concern this year about the vaccine mandate. With the potential HPV mandate on the horizon, how does the district plan to work with parents in the future regarding this issue?
AH: The district has supported our parents’ right to make decisions for their children. We will continue to monitor this and work closely with parents to address these mandates in the most sensitive way possible.
GP: As always we work with our parents to implement any new changes mandated by federal or New York State law that impact education. The changes to the vaccination law this past year required a lot of communication and outreach with families. We will continue to keep our parents informed and support them in meeting any new requirements. This fall, many families informed the district of their opposition to making HPV vaccinations a requirement. Our Board of Education sent a letter to our elected officials notifying them of that opposition and advocating against a new HPV vaccination mandate.
NR: This year, Riverhead pitched a bond to rebuild the school campus, which will go before voters soon. What can you tell us about the feedback you’ve received from the community?
AH: As stated during previous meetings and presentations, the proposed bond has evolved based on public feedback. Different options were investigated. We are pleased to say that based on community feedback, the majority of the proposed bond project is focused on classroom space and the needs of students. More than 70% of the proposed bond will address instructional/classroom spatial needs. Also included are security upgrades and critical capital projects, which include roofing and boiler upgrades.
NR: Two years ago, Shoreham-Wading River began considering a future for the Briarcliff property, which closed in 2014. What’s the current status of the property, and what does its future look like?
GP: Beginning two years ago, the district hosted several public forums and a community roundtable to solicit feedback and suggestions from the community about the topic. Considering the information received, it was decided that it was in the best interest of the district to lease or sell the property with the support of a real estate firm. This past summer, the district contracted with Nest Seekers International to provide this service. The property is currently on the market for lease or sale.
NR: This year, some Riverhead faculty and staff — most notably former high school principal Charles Regan — have been dismissed or reassigned within the district. How does the district community plan to move forward after facing some of these challenges?
AH: This has been a challenging year, but we have learned from our experiences and are moving forward. Safety and accountability continue to remain our priority, and the incidents at the high school will not define us. This is Riverhead, an incredible place to live and work. We choose to be defined by the incredible teachers and leaders who work here and the unlimited potential of our children. We continue to push toward continued excellence and growth. There is a renewed sense of professionalism and a desire to be known for the outstanding accomplishments of our students.
NR: What changes do you see on the horizon for the district? What are some of your goals?
AH: My goals and the goals for the district will continue to focus on the balance between academic excellence and social-emotional learning and well-being for all students. This is the work that I am passionate about, and I remain committed to these goals.
GP: Last year, the district completed a Strategic Planning process and developed a five-year plan for the future. The plan has themes such as maintaining our whole-child programming, enhancing graduation outcomes, maintaining high-quality programs and providing healthy, safe and engaging learning environments. These themes have been put into action and we look forward to developing and implementing strategies that support those themes … Our goals are to continue to provide a world-class education for our students that leads to excellent outcomes for our students academically, artistically and athletically.