Riverhead School District

Riverhead administrator hired in upstate school district

An administrator in Riverhead schools is planning to leave the district at the end of the school year to take the top job as superintendent of Mahopac schools in Putnam County.

The Mahopac Board of Education announced that it has hired Christine Tona, who currently serves as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Riverhead, to lead the district starting July 1.

“There are so many wonderful people that I will miss from Riverhead but I am honored and excited to serve as the new superintendent of Mahopac and live in the community,” Ms. Tona said Tuesday morning. “I wish the students of Riverhead much success.”

Ms. Tona was hired in Riverhead in 2016 as assistant superintendent, a role she narrowly received tenure for in June 2020.

At the time, three board members — Laurie Downs, Brian Connolly and Therese Zuhoski voted against her tenure. 

Less than two weeks later, the board again voted 4-3 to appoint Ms. Tona as interim superintendent in the wake of former superintendent Aurelia Henriquez’s sudden resignation.

“[Ms. Tona] has been interviewing outside of our district for other employment for at least the last year if not longer and in my opinion just because she’s been here longer does not mean that she’s qualified for this interim position,” board member Therese Zuhoski said at that June 2020 meeting.

Ms. Tona led the district through a turbulent time marked by Ms. Henriquez’s resignation, austerity budget after the school’s plan was rejected by voters twice and the challenge of reopening schools after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. She did not receive additional compensation for the interim superintendent role.

“Ms. Tona took over during unprecedented times. We were the only district who had a failed budget in the middle of the COVID crisis and she led us through it,” Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Greg Wallace said Monday. “The learning plan evolved from full remote, to cohort in person, to in person learning under her leadership and the decisions she made were with the students’ best interest in mind. She strove for equity among students,” Mr. Wallace said.

Despite her leadership as interim superintendent, the Board of Education instead opted to hire its current superintendent, Augustine Tornatore, who began in July.

In a newsletter on the Mahopac district website, Ms. Tona was praised for her leadership in Riverhead throughout her six-year tenure. “[Ms. Tona] stepped into the interim superintendent role in Riverhead in the midst of the COVID crisis in July 2020 and never missed a beat. She led the district through the crisis, advanced programming and engaged the community throughout. We are thrilled to welcome her to Mahopac,” Mahopac Board of Education president Michael Mongon said.

The Putnam County district touted Ms. Tona’s work to secure laptops for students, provide professional development for staff, promote diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and create a district strategic plan in its announcement.

According to data from the state Education Department, Mahopac enrolled approximately 3,972 students in 2019-2020 compared to 5,829 in Riverhead and has a graduation rate of 94% compared to 76% in Riverhead.

Mr. Tornatore said he wishes Ms. Tona well. 

“I’m happy for Ms. Tona as I know that this is something she has been looking forward to,” he said in an email Monday, adding that the district plans to hire an executive director for secondary education, grants and student outcomes in lieu of replacing the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction position.

The announcement comes after several other changes to the district’s administrative structure. After months of administrative leave and an unspecified investigation, longtime business official Sam Schneider resigned from the district last month after he was hired in East Hampton. The Board of Education last month also promoted Lori Koerner, who had been the executive director for curriculum, instruction and professional personnel, to the newly created role of assistant superintendent for human resources and elementary education.