Interim superintendent Cheryl Pedisich leads first meeting

Tuesday night’s Riverhead Board of Education meeting marked interim Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich’s first regularly scheduled meeting in her new role.

Ms. Pedisich took the top spot in the district’s administration as of Oct. 31 after former superintendent Augustine Tornatore resigned late last month. 

Ms. Pedisich will serve through June 30 while the district searches for a new full-time superintendent. She previously served for a decade as superintendent of the Three Village school district. However, she is not new to Riverhead, having worked from October 2022 until April 2023 in the district’s office of Pupil Personnel Services. 

Tuesday’s regular board meeting was also the first for Ms. Pedisich’s colleague, Marianne Cartisano, who was recently named acting assistant superintendent for business, replacing Rodney Asse, who started in July 2022 and remains employed by the district in an unspecified role. 

Ms. Pedisich addressed the community and the board thanking them for placing their confidence in her. 

“We are also most appreciative of the warm and supportive reception we have received from the Riverhead School District and community,” she said. “We are excited to join the Riverhead Blue Waves family and look forward to working collaboratively with all of our Riverhead stakeholders. Collaboration is a seemingly easy concept but one that carries with it great importance and responsibility; it is about each of us embracing our various roles as members of the Riverhead school community to support, to listen, to lead and to always work in partnership. We have a clear mission to make a positive difference for every student and to support and encourage one another in that mission.”

There was a touch of ceremony in Tuesday night’s proceedings. The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by the high school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. After introductions and opening statements, Jason Rottkamp, director of the district’s arts and music programs, gave an update on all the fine arts offerings available to students, starting with a performance by the Riverhead High School Chamber Quartet.

“I really would like to say to Mr. Rottkamp and the teachers, thank you for inspiring student talent and interest and we view the fine arts program to be integral to our core education,” Ms. Pedisich said.

Among the many long-standing issues Ms. Pedisich will face in her new role is student transportation. At a special meeting last Thursday, which she chaired, the board announced the hiring of three additional school bus drivers and approved a retroactive pay rate of $23.06 per hour, effective Oct. 11. In May, nearly 40 members of the district’s transportation department attended a school board meeting to request pay increases. Ms. Pedisch will oversee those ongoing negotiations as interim superintendent. 

She will also be responsible for leading implementation of the district’s current diversity, equity and inclusion plan and a new DEI task force. 

At an Oct. 10 board meeting, former interim superintendent, William Galati announced the creation of the new task force as a response to several racially charged incidents that occurred in the district in the early weeks of the school year. “This fall, we will be conducting a deep and comprehensive review of our current DEI plan,” Mr. Galati said at the time. “Spearheading this initiative will be Dr. Emily Sanz director of Social Emotional Learning, English as a New Language, Special Programs and Community Outreach. She will be chairing a committee of stakeholders consisting of members of our district and representation from the Riverhead community.”

Ms. Sanz has ambitious plans for the task force but she wants those in the community to understand that the implementation of these initiatives will not be completed overnight.

“If we’re going to do it, we have to do it right,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I just want to make sure that the community understands that, and our staff and our district understand that — that this is not just a one and done thing. It’s something that we really have to dig deep into, and we’re looking to have that community support and we’re looking to have our district’s support in this initiative because it’s something that I firmly believe in.

In addition to the main task force she said, each of the seven schools within the district will also create its own DEI oversight committee made up of “not only teachers, but staff, clerical, custodians, whoever the makeup of that building is.

“In the future, once we have our training and conversations, I’d love to see a DEI student committee,” she added. “Ultimately, it’s their voices that matter and their input.”

Each committee would help gather input from all stakeholders and from that input each building would create its own building-specific DEI plan.

The school-specific groups will also be using New York State’s Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework as a guide.

Ms. Sanz thanked the many concerned parents and community members who have spoken at recent Board of Education meetings for their “valuable” input.

“I’m looking forward to the many discussions that we will collectively have as a district and as a community,” she said. “I think it’s very promising in our step forward to building a more inclusive and equitable environment.”

The next regular Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12.