Education

Meet the six candidates running for Riverhead Board of Education

Six people are running for two seats on the Riverhead Board of Education.

Incumbent trustee Susan Koukounas is seeking a fourth term and Brian Connelly a second. Their challengers include first-time candidates Colin Palmer, Monique Parsons and Shannon Reitz, as well as Yolanda Thompson, who has mounted two previous campaigns for a seat on the seven-member board.

Mr. Connelly, 46, is a New York City firefighter who lives in Riverhead with his wife and two daughters and is seeking a second term on the board.

“Every day that I send my children to school, I know that they are in good hands academically and emotionally,” he said. “There are days when Riverhead administration, faculty and staff interact with my children more than I do. How do I repay a community for this level of care?” he said, adding that serving on the board has been an honor and privilege.

In addition to maintaining an open line of communication, Mr. Connelly said mental health and wellbeing of students, teachers and support staff is a top priority that’s become more evident amid the pandemic. “A child can not achieve academic success when their mental health and well being are in constant turmoil,” he said, calling for additional social workers, guidance counselors, school psychologists and mindfulness programs to address those needs.

In addition, he’d like to implement a ninth period to help with crowded classes and allow students more options for a lunch period or additional elective and advanced classes.

He said that the district should exercise fiscal responsibility and transparency with the recent influx of state and federal funding. “The Board of Education along with the superintendent will need to formulate a plan to progress the district into the future, while being proactive and meeting the current needs of the district,” Mr. Connelly said.

More information can be found on his Facebook page, Brian Connelly for RCSD Board of Education Trustee

Ms. Koukounas, 49, is an associate professor of mathematics at Suffolk County Community College who has served on the Board of Education since 2012 and also volunteered with the Aquebogue PTO.

As a school board member, she has served on the intergovernmental and policy committee, audit committee and been a past board president and vice president.

If elected to another term, she said she’ll continue advocating for the district’s fair share in funding, continue addressing new housing and enrollment trends as well as the financial burden of the charter school.

She cited the number of opportunities Riverhead offers its students as a strength and said the district should use its recent influx in funding towards prioritizing social and emotional student support services, after school programs and refurbishing or enhancing technology and internet support. 

Ms. Koukounas also called for offering before and after-school programs that could provide extra help, homework help and physical, social and emotional activity for students as the district emerges from the pandemic.

“As always, we will continue to audit and evaluate all programs,” she said. “l will promote ideas that enhance our services within the tax cap.”

More information can be found on her Facebook page, Koukounas for School Board Trustee

Riverhead Board of Education candidates Brian Connelly, Susan Koukounas and Colin Palmer.

Colin Palmer, 30, is a local theater director, vice president of North Fork Community Theatre and co-founder of the youth theater group Management Productions. He resides in Northville.

“I want to help make sure future generations of students get as much of an opportunity to succeed as I did,” said Mr. Palmer, a 2009 Riverhead graduate.

If elected, he’d like to expand foreign language offerings and revive the Latin program. Mr. Palmer also said he’d like to work with teachers to expand critical thinking development and incorporate community-wide programming into arts and music education.

Mr. Palmer said he believes there should be more cooperation among administrators, teachers, parents and students when it comes to decision-making. “We’re all stakeholders in the success of the district and only through working together can we achieve the higher expectations we have for our students,” he said.

Mr. Palmer believes sports and extracurricular programs should be strengthened so that the tax burden in the future is minimized and look for creative ways to expand student options.

“We need to recognize that students have been negatively affected by the pandemic despite the best efforts of teachers and administration,” he said. “Going forward, our district should be cooperating with other schools on the East End to share resources and talents so that educational achievement can be expanded.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/votecolinpalmer.

Monique Parsons, 36, is the director of marketing and development for East End Arts and co-owns an event company with fellow candidate Shannon Reitz.

Ms. Parsons is a member of the town’s business advisory committee and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and lives in Baiting Hollow with her husband and two children.

“I would be honored to be a voice for the taxpayers by promoting transparency and building trust by designing a budget with the BOE and district that supports the students while maintaining the taxpayers’ trust,” Ms. Parsons said.

In addition to promoting transparency districtwide, Ms. Parsons said that, if elected, she’d like to get to work on creating and implementing a five-year strategic plan that encompasses academics, budgeting, student performance and more with input from stakeholders. The plan, she said, would promote student achievement and success.

“The children deserve to have a BOE and superintendent that work together seamlessly and point in the same direction,” she said.

She said the recently announced boost in state funding should be used entirely to support students through literacy, math and science programs and social-emotional programs that nurture development.

Ms. Parsons said she’d also like to work to ensure that students get back to full-time in-person instruction and have the support necessary to address learning loss through informal and formal classroom evaluations.

For more information, visit facebook.com/parsons.reitz

Shannon Reitz, 36, is a risk consultant and insurance agent who founded NY Safe Driver and co-owns an event company with candidate Monique Parsons.

She lives in Reeves Park with her daughter and serves on the boards of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and North Fork Breast Health Coalition.

“I’m running first and foremost to be a voice for all students residing in our district and to be an advocate for the needs and concerns of the community as whole,” she said.

Ms. Reitz said she’d like to work to repair and strengthen the relationship with the Town of Riverhead and address overcrowding issues by creating a long-term plan.

She also said fostering diversity, equity and inclusion for all students, faculty and administration and providing teachers with the tools they need to increase student engagement and success are among her top priorities.

“The district should prioritize the use of additional state and federal funds by supporting the whole student through an equitable, free and appropriate education,” she said.

She’d like to see students districtwide back in classrooms five days a week and said additional support services will be necessary in order to make that transition.

For more information, visit facebook.com/parsons.reitz

Riverhead Board of Education candidates Monique Parsons, Shannon Reitz and Yolanda Thompson.

Yolanda Thompson, 49, is an accounts payable clerk for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works and a special education advocate. A member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and a volunteer on the town’s anti-litter committee, Ms. Thompson resides in Baiting Hollow with her husband and two children.

She’s attended Board of Education meetings for over a decade, speaking up on issues ranging from curriculum to policy and financial decisions.

“I am a problem solver and a solution-driven person. I care deeply about our children, our community and the issues and challenges our district has faced and will continue to face,” Ms. Thompson said.

She said the district should focus on improving test scores via a program that would foster writing, critical thinking and bilingualism, reinstate an honors program and improve community and parental engagement.

She said the board should take steps to reunite the community in light of last year’s failed bond and budget. “The Board of Education cannot afford to continue to be tone deaf to the valid concerns of the taxpayers,” Ms. Thompson said.

Ms. Thompson called on the district to focus on adding literacy and math specialists, psychologists, social workers and trauma support while also providing services to students with disabilities who may have experienced gaps due to the pandemic.

She said after-school and summer enrichment programs should also be offered for students who have fallen behind.

She can be reached by email at [email protected] or on facebook.com/thompsonforboe.