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Q&A: Meet Riverhead Middle School’s new principal

Joseph Pesqueira can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be an educator. He has achieved that goal and more as he begins his new role as principal of Riverhead Middle School.

“My passion was always to be with the students and I always wanted to be a building principal. That was always my desire,” he said.

Dr. Pesqueira worked most recently as Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Before that, he spent five years as social studies supervisor for that district.

“When Riverhead opened up there, I wasn’t really looking to leave, but it seemed like too great of an opportunity to not throw my hat in the ring,” he said.

He had previously worked at South Country Central School District in Bellport, and other districts in Manhattan and the South Bronx. A 2009 graduate of Marist College, he holds a doctorate in education from St. John’s University.

The Riverhead Central School District appointed Dr. Pesqueira on a probationary basis from July 15, 2022, through July 14, 2026, to replace Stephen Hudson, who has replaced former principal Debra Rogers at Phillips Avenue Elementary School.. 

Dr. Pesqueira shared his excitement about starting the school year with the students and community at the middle school in a recent interview with the News-Review.

Q: What do you hope to achieve during your tenure?

A: I could go on all day about what I hope to achieve … I really want to put Riverhead Middle School on the map as a place for strong instruction where we welcome all students, all different types of learners. I want to put a building in place that students want to come to every day and are upset in the afternoon when they have to leave. 

I think the way to do that is to, first and foremost, create a safe learning environment for our students. And the second part of that is making sure that every day, every class period, they’re learning. The other part that is really, one of the things I mentioned about Riverhead, is it’s such an amazing place in terms of the community, and I think bringing the community in more, to the building, I think would be very valuable.

Q: What is your favorite part of the job?

A: Even on the worst day in a building, there are things that kids will do that make you smile, they’ll make you laugh, and every day is a different day. To be honest with you, while central office jobs are amazing, it’s really great to be with the kids and see their progress. When I was a teacher, one of the best days every year for me was graduation, and seeing those students walk across the stage and every single one of them has a story. And you know that for a lot of them, you played a role in making sure that story was a successful one. The idea of doing that as a principal and then four or five years from now watching them cross that stage for graduation, it’s an exciting thought and it’s something that really pushes me every day.

Q: What challenges do you expect to face?

A: I think a lot of the challenges, unfortunately, revolve around the impacts of COVID. While we’re now back into a situation where we’re pretty close to normal, if not fully normal, you’re seeing some of the adverse effects in terms of the learning loss, in terms of the mental health piece. The more important one, to me, is the social-emotional piece; we have to get these students back to a place where they feel connected. 

One of the things, especially early in the pandemic, there was no regulation on screen time, and students connected to their devices 24/7. That all has an adverse effect moving forward. One of the things that we as a learning community are going to look to do this year is make sure that we bring back socialization, we help students to understand how valued they are, and how important they are, and really try to bring it back to a pre-pandemic experience where devices might be something that is a part of their life, but it’s not consuming their life.

Q: Did you get to speak with Mr. Hudson; did he offer any advice ?

A: He was wonderful throughout the whole process … he was unbelievable. His best advice to me was to make sure you rely on the people who have the knowledge in the building. He told me how great this teaching staff was, and I’ve seen it this summer.

I’m excited, I think that sometimes in life, you get an opportunity that wasn’t expected and you just kind of run with it. I really look forward to being at the homecoming and the sporting events and community events and just kind of immersing myself in the community.

A meet-and-greet for students and their families will take place at Riverhead Middle School Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 7 and 8. Dr. Pesqueira said he also plans an assembly to let students know of exciting plans for the school year, including a plan to bring a pep rally to the school.