Following a nearly six month search, Riverhead appointed its new superintendent at a special meeting Tuesday.
In a unanimous vote, the Board of Education voted to approve a contract with Dr. Augustine Tornatore, who currently serves as superintendent in the Liberty Central School District in Sullivan County.
“I’m very proud to be able to serve as your instructional leader moving forward as well as to serve as the advocate for all students within the Riverhead school district and also to serve as the financial steward of the taxpayers in the district,” Mr. Tornatore said, addressing the audience in the high school auditorium.
Board president Laurie Downs said his leadership and accomplishments impressed the board. According to Ms. Downs, Mr. Tornatore was a nominee for National Superintendent of the Year and New York State Superintendent of the Year in 2021 and has served as president of the Mid-Hudson Catskill Council of Superintendents.
He has previously served as assistant superintendent in the Liberty Central School District, director of K-12 social studies in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District and also worked as an administrator in Baldwin and teacher in East Rockaway. The Liberty Central School District where Mr. Tornatore currently works is a smaller district than Riverhead, with a total enrollment of 1,694 for K-12 students compared to 5,829 in Riverhead, according to the 2019-20 data from the New York State Department of Education.
Mr. Tornatore, a resident of Glen Head, earned a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University, two master’s degrees from Queens College and a doctorate from St. John’s University.
During his remarks Tuesday evening, he thanked Christine Tona, who has been serving as interim superintendent since July, for leading the district through a challenging year.
“I’m constantly amazed at everything I see regarding the district and all the hard work that everybody puts in and all the accomplishments that our students have made this year,” Mr. Tornatore said, adding that he looks forward to meeting and working with stakeholders within the community to offer additional opportunities for students.
Though terms of his contract were not immediately available, Mr. Tornatore is expected to begin in the role July 1, a year after former superintendent Aurelia Henriquez resigned.
Ms. Henriquez cited “certain irreconcilable differences” and “the best interests of her family,” as reasons for her departure.
Her resignation also came just days after voters in Riverhead rejected a $147 million budget proposal for the 2020-2021 school year. Earlier in 2020, voters shot down a $97 million bond proposal that sought to address issues with overcrowding.
During a budget revote in July, taxpayers again rejected the $147 million budget, forcing the district to operate under a contingency budget that slashed extra-curricular and athletic programs.
Spring sports returned to Riverhead this week after the Board of Education voted to fund some programs on a limited basis.
An agreement between Ms. Henriquez and the school board stipulated that she be paid half of her base salary of $224,000 upon submitting her resignation and receive monthly installments from January through June 2021.
The district also agreed to continue covering 80% of her health insurance costs through the end of this school year, according to the agreement.
The document also required Ms. Henriquez to make “reasonable efforts” to find a new job, which would reduce Riverhead’s payments.
In February, Ms. Henriquez began serving as acting assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Hempstead school district. She was appointed last week to superintendent in the Port Chester-Rye school district, which is located in Westchester County. She’s expected to begin in that role July 1.
Ms. Tona has continued in her role as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction while stepping up to serve as interim superintendent. Officials said she has not received any additional compensation for the additional responsibilities beyond her salary, which was listed on SeeThroughNY as $187,050 in 2020.
At a BOE meeting April 20, Ms. Downs pushed back at parents and other community members who feel they were left out of the search process.
“We promised the community that they will be included and we kept our promise,” she said at the April 20 meeting.
In addition to a community survey, the Board of Education in November hired a search firm to assist in the hiring process.
Ms. Downs said Tuesday that the board interviewed “multiple” candidates face-to-face during the selection process, but declined to disclose how many candidates the board met with.
Board members, school administrators, teachers and community members welcomed Mr. Tornatore during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re happy that you are now a Blue Wave,” said board member Therese Zuhoski.
Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Gregory Wallace said he was looking forward to working with the new superintendent.
“You’re going to find that our district is filled with hardworking and dedicated staff,” Mr. Wallace said. “We are looking forward to partnering with you as we all strive to make Riverhead schools the best educational environment it can be for our students.”