In a unanimous vote, the school board appointed Dr. Aurelia L. Henriquez, of East Patchogue, to succeed outgoing Superintendent Nancy Carney, who is retiring Aug. 31. The contract the board approved last night is for a three-year term at a starting salary of $220,000.
Henriquez comes to Riverhead from the Brentwood Union Free School District, where she has served as an assistant superintendent since 2007.
She has spent her 23-year career in education in the Brentwood district. After five years as an elementary teacher, she became an assistant principal in 2002, and then a principal before being named to the post of assistant superintendent for elementary education. Henriquez also taught English Composition I and II and Native American Literature courses for 10 years at the State University of New York at Old Westbury.
Henriquez, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, said she has devoted much of her career working with immigrants and children of immigrants. Brentwood is Long Island’s largest school district, with nearly 20,000 students. More than 80 percent of its student body is Latino. Riverhead’s Latino student population jumped from 15 percent of the student body in 2005-2006 to 41 percent in 2015-2016.
In Brentwood, under her leadership five schools in the district were guided out of identification as focus schools to good standing, Riverhead school board president Susan Koukounas said as she read testimonials from Henriquez’s colleagues in Brentwood.
Koukounas detailed the new superintendent’s accomplishments while supervising 11 elementary schools and six universal pre-K centers, including three offsite centers — approximately 10,000 students and their administrative staff and teachers.
“She recognized the needs and created programs in the Brentwood School District to serve the community at large,” Koukounas said.
She introduced a college and career ready themed Saturday Academy to “engage students beyond the classroom through project-based learning that could include parents,” Koukounas said.
“She was also the catalyst for a mobile food pantry in conjunction with Long Island Cares that now serves the families of five elementary schools on a weekly basis.”
Henriquez successfully implemented Brentwood’s universal free breakfast program and created community forums that strengthened community relationships, the board president said.
“I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to lead a collaborative team here in Riverhead,” Henriquez said in brief prepared remarks at the podium after the board vote.
In an interview after the meeting, Henriquez stressed her determination to “work as a team to take the Riverhead school district to the next level, while continuing the traditions of integrity, creativity and respect.”
The current superintendent said she believes the board’s choice for her successor is a good one.
“I’m excited Dr. Henriguez is coming on board,” Carney said after the meeting. Coming from a very large district and a very diverse district that has many challenges as Riverhead does, “she’s not going to be confronted with things she hasn’t had experience dealing with and may be able to bring some solutions, insights and suggestions to our district. It’s very positive when you bring outside views into existing places. You get to look at things from a different lens.”
Riverhead is one of the few districts on Long Island experiencing increasing enrollment, the superintendent said.
“Our class size is at capacity at most levels. Our kids — many of them — need additional support services — students with disability, ENL, remedial services, academic enrichment or social-emotional needs, which is something that’s really increasing. Our challenge is to figure out how to balance getting all the support those kids need in a district that’s growing,” Carney said.
“Fortunately we have an incredible staff of dedicated people and a dedicated community that supports our budgets,” Carney said.
“I love the Riverhead school district and the Riverhead community and I’m very proud of all that’s been accomplished over the past years. I’m excited about the future of Riverhead,” she said.
Carney said she fervently hopes the district “pulls together and supports Dr. Henriquez and works together to move forward.”
Maria Piedrabuena contributed reporting for this story.