Riverhead School District

Downs voted board president again, new superintendent meets with residents

Laurie Downs was reelected as Riverhead Board of Education president at Tuesday’s meeting, but the board failed to agree on a vice president, with newly elected board member Colin Palmer abstaining from the vote.

Tuesday also was the first board meeting for Dr. Augustine Tornatore, the district’s new superintendent, who held an informal “meet and greet” with residents and others after the meeting. He assumed the new role July 1, replacing Christine Tona, who served in an interim role this past school year.

Ms. Downs was reelected with five votes from the seven-member board. Supporting Ms. Downs were board members Therese Zuhoski, Brian Connelly, Virginia Healy and Mr. Palmer. 

Board member Christopher Dorr was nominated for president by Matt Wallace, but no vote was taken since Ms. Downs already won the election. 

For vice president, Ms. Zuhoski and Mr. Wallace were nominated. 

Ms. Zuhoski received votes from Ms. Downs, Ms. Healy and herself, while Mr. Wallace received votes from himself, Mr. Connolly and Mr. Dorr.

However, Mr. Palmer abstained from voting on either candidate for vice president, leaving the vote tied.

Mr. Palmer said in an interview he abstained because he didn’t know enough about the candidates. He said he hopes to be able to cast a vote at the next meeting.

Attorney Chris Venator said the board can take up the vote again at a future meeting or can decide not to have a vice president, since it is not required by law to have one.

The new superintendent talks to Aquebogue PTO president Cindey MacLeod and her husband James, a teacher at Aquebogue Elementary School. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Dr. Tornatore’s first meeting

“This is really a dream come true,” Dr. Tornatore said in an interview after the board meeting. 

“I’ve had nothing but a very positive experience and everyone has been extremely welcoming and supportive. You have great, amazing teachers in this district. The buildings are immaculate. The administrative team has been extremely supportive and the board has been amazing.”

Dr. Tornatore said Riverhead is much larger than the Liberty Central School District in Sullivan County, where he served as superintendent from 2018 to 2021. 

“We had three buildings in Liberty and about 1,800 children,” he said. “So, to go to seven buildings with approximately 5,700 students is a big difference. 

“Demographics-wise, there are a lot of similarities and so it’s important to be able to support all of our students and help them on their journeys,” he said.

The superintendent also said Liberty had much higher poverty rates than Riverhead.

“About 70% of the students in Liberty were below poverty levels. You have more varied socio-economics here,” he noted.

The Riverhead Central Faculty Association, the union representing teachers in the district, also welcomed Dr. Tornatore.

“The RCFA is looking forward to working with you to move this district forward as we emerge from it was a very unusual and difficult year,” RCFA president Greg Wallace said in a letter that was read aloud at the board meeting. 

Remembering Keri Stromski

The school board also voted Tuesday to accept the donation of two “Little Free Libraries” in memory of Keri Stromski from the Riverhead High School Parent Teacher Student Organization. One will be placed at Pulaski Street School and one at Aquebogue Elementary School.

Ms. Stromski was a longtime teacher who recently died from cancer.

The board also accepted a donation from the Aquebogue PTO and the Keri Stromski Memorial Committee comprising benches and other materials needed to establish an outdoor learning space in Ms. Stromski’s honor at Aquebogue Elementary School.