Riverhead Schools Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez gave the Flanders,Riverside, Northampton Community Association an update on the school district's goals and achievements Monday evening. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Despite the challenges, Riverhead Central School District is progressing and the goals and initiatives that were established by school principals and administrators at the beginning of the school year to increase student achievement are in the process of being implemented successfully said Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez during a presentation at the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association monthly meeting Monday evening.

Henriquez outlined a series of highlights about the accomplishments achieved by the district this school year while acknowledging that “there is still a lot of work to do.”

One of the first goals planned for the district when she started was to establish a sense of community, a critical component that would foster unity, she said.

In order to achieve that, several initiatives were rolled out last year: a monthly newsletter called “Dr. H” highlighting community pride and service and “all the positive” in the district, an onsite food bank and mobile food pantry that is now present at Phillips Avenue and Roanoke Avenue schools—with future plans to extend to all schools through a partnership with Long Island Cares— and parent workshops, such as Parent University and Coffee and Conversation with Dr. H, where issues such as parenting skills, social emotional health and others are discusses so families can feel more connected to the schools and their children’s education.

“There’s a lot of work going into building that sense of community,” Henriquez said. “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Henriquez explained that on August 2018 school principals and administrators met to talk about the goals for the current school year. Based on the needs identified by New York state’s district review, several goals were established and a district-wide plan was formed. (See prior story.)

“Are these things going to happen overnight? No, but these are things that we’re aware of and continue to work towards,” Henriquez said.

That plan translated into a series of changes this school year, something she said is making a difference in the students lives.

Shared expectations

The superintendent said that one of the challenges in Riverhead was that if “you were on one side of the town, there were certain goals and expectations, but if you were on the other side, not so much.”

The goal, she said, was to see a uniform approach across classrooms of the same grade levels in all schools.

That consistent approach also includes receiving the knowledge of experts equally district-wide.

“When I came to Riverhead [Lisa Boerum of BOCES] was only visiting one or two schools,” Henriquez said. “It wasn’t something that was done across the board.”

Targeted instruction

Henriquez said that the district has focused on targeted instruction this year, an approach that takes into account what students understand and teaches them according to their ability levels, particularly in regards to literacy and math for the before and after school programs.

Professional development

“We saw was that some of the professional development that was happening in one school wasn’t necessarily happening across town, and we wanted to make sure that no matter which school which elementary school, your child, your grandchild is attending, they were getting that same stellar academic experience,” she said.

Bilingual students

Bilingual students are one of the subgroups that were identified again and again in the state’s review, said Henriquez. The district has focused this year on ensuring that they are receiving rigorous instruction, particularly on subjects like English, for example, so these students can acquire the necessary English skills to be able to achieve in the future, she said.

Strengthen district collaboration with pre-K providers

Henriquez said that they were shocked to learn last year that some pre-k providers had never met district officials. In order to change that, a series of meetings were set so kindergarten teachers had conversations with pre-k providers about expectations for the following year.

Henriquez said that the district received a lot of positive feedback following those meetings and that they plan to continue that line of communication on a regular basis.

Other highlights this school year, Henriquez said, were the visit of Suffolk County acting deputy bureau chief Leslie Anderson last week where she talked to students about the importance of the digital footprint and social media; the first annual college and career awareness day; the hiring of a full-time school resource officer, the implementation of Sandy Hook Promise and “See something, say something” programs in collaboration with Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr; the implementation last year of a STEAM program in partnership with Stony Brook University at the high school and middle school levels; and the focus on how to make students feel welcomed and address their emotional needs through mindfulness and other partnerships and initiatives.

“Lots of really, really great things are happening here that I’m really proud of,” Henriquez said. “We are on a quest to continuously improve instruction and make this the incredible district, or make it even more incredible, and continue to move towards excellence.”

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