When Gracelyn Jane Perkowski, a 4-year-old student at St. David’s School in Riverhead, died in a car crash in January 2022, the school’s director, Rose Horton, immediately prioritized getting support for the school’s students and staff.
Kat Hill, one of the head teachers in the infant room at the school was in awe of how Ms. Horton handled the tragic situation.
“She did a therapy yoga session for the teachers wanting to attend. She had a therapy dog come in for the kids who were in the class with the little girl who passed away,” Ms. Hill said. “I felt like the way she handled it was so great, because none of us had ever really dealt with that before.”
For Ms. Horton though, giving back doesn’t stop just at the community at St. David’s School. She thinks about the Riverhead community at large, and that is why she has been chosen as Riverhead News-Review’s educator of the year.
Ms. Horton has been the director at St. David’s School since April 2017. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Childhood education from Manhattanville college and is working on finishing a master’s program at Stony Brook University, according to the school’s website.
According to Louise Markert, St. David’s assistant director, hiring Ms. Horton has been “literally a blessing” for the school.
Before Ms. Horton was hired, Ms. Markert had been the acting director for four months after the school’s previous director left abruptly in December 2016. Ms. Markert even considered possibly shutting the school down if they couldn’t find a viable candidate for a new director.
“I was the acting director and out of the grace of God, literally, she came down and interviewed and we hired her right after that, she was just so lovely and kind, she seemed [to be] everything that we needed here,” she said.
Under Ms. Horton’s leadership and with the help of the staff, Ms. Markert said enrollment has doubled. “Now, we are the best we have ever been since opening,” Ms. Markert said. The school has been a licensed childcare center in Riverhead since 1997.
According to the school’s website, during Ms. Horton’s tenure, she has helped connect the school with local nursing homes, raised money for troops, donated to Peconic Bay Medical Center and served lunches to local veterans.
Shannon Stinson, whose 4-year-old daughter has been a student at the school since 2019, said Ms. Horton teaches and runs the school with the action of giving back to the community at the forefront.
“She really emphasizes community, and not just community within St. David’s — the teachers, the parents, the children — but really the Riverhead community and reaching back out to that community,” she said.
In early 2020, the children at St. David’s school put together 60 care packages for members of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing. In May 2021, students at Saint David’s universal pre-K program set up a lemonade stand that sold lemonade, iced tea and snacks to raise funds in memory of Keri Stromski, a beloved Riverhead kindergarten teacher who died from breast cancer at the age of 48 in April that year. They have also held fundraisers in the past for organizations like Maureen’s Haven.
“We do so many benefits, fundraisers, food drives, cereal box donations, and it really instills in the kids from a young age, that there is no greater service than giving back to your own communities and strengthening your own community,” Ms. Stinson said.
Pete Barraud, co-owner of Riverhead’s North Fork Brewing Co., has both of his children attend the school. He also sits on the school’s board of education and is impressed by how Ms. Horton prioritizes the children even in the business aspect of the school.
“I just feel like she’s continually dedicated to prepping her staff,” he said. “The teachers at St. David’s are great, [they’re] up to date on care and what’s new in the world of education … she’s there every day, and in the thick of it, but also has the back end of the business aspects of it and it’s quite impressive.”
Mr. Barraud said her biggest strength has been being kind and creating a completely safe atmosphere for children to learn and grow.
“I know her staff absolutely adores her, and rightfully so,” he said. “She’s just got an incredibly wonderful demeanor. When you’re talking about the development of children, such an integral part of it is just the social-emotional development, and that’s her biggest strength, in my opinion, just creating a completely safe atmosphere.”
2021: Dena Tishim and Laura Nitti
2020: Kimberly Benkert and Robert Brandi
2019: Sal Loverde
2018: Ed Meier
2017: Felicia Scocozza
2016: Melissa Haupt
2015: Robert Shilling
2014: Greg Wallace
2013: Keri Stromski
2012: Jeff Doroski
2011: Jim Schaefer
2010: Stacy Tuohy
2009: Laura Grable
2008: Vincent Nasta
2007: Marion Dorman
2006: Theresa Drozd
2005: Frank Rotenberg
2004: Kevin McAllister
2003: Leif Shay
2002: Bob Jester
2001: Jean Lapinski
2000: Pat Rose
1999: Pat Snyder
1998: Carol Masin
1997: L. Custer, J. Greenberger
1996: Terri Peters
1995: Jim Roth
1994: Tim Hubbard
1993: Dot Moran
1992: Dorothy Lipsky
1991: Willie Patterson
1990: Audrey Stupke
1989: Ray McKieghan
1988: Stanley Krouse