Former school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse addresses the board during a March 2018 meeting. File photo: Denise Civiletti

For those of you who do not know me, I taught in Riverhead High School for 32 years. I was a member of the teachers’ union (the Riverhead Central Faculty Association or RCFA) and its president for five years prior to my retirement in 1997. I served on the Riverhead Board of Education for eight years, four of which I was president; therefore, I speak from experience on what I am about to tell you.

A little over a month ago, I spoke to the elected officers of the RCFA regarding endorsements for this year’s school board election. At that meeting, Ms. Goulding, Mr. Butterfield and Mr. Wallace informed me of a rumor that was circulated that the RCFA did not support Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez. Each of them assured me that could not be further from the truth. However, the RCFA’s endorsements in this year’s election indicate otherwise.

When given the opportunity to dual endorse Laurie Downs and Elizabeth Silva, two strong incumbents who have proven their support for our district and its current superintendent, the RCFA endorsed two candidates that have no history of supporting our schools nor knowledge of what Dr. Henriquez is trying to accomplish. When interviewed, Elizabeth Silva told the RCFA interview committee that she and Laurie Downs worked well together and wished, through a dual endorsement, to continue their work along with trustees Zuhoski and Connelly, who also back the superintendent’s vision. The RCFA rejected Silva’s desire of a dual endorsement and endorsed two new candidates.

This resistance to Dr. Henriquez’s leadership goes back to 2017 when she was hired. I was a member of the board at the time. Six of the seven BOE members voted on the appointment after an extensive interview process. Before the completion of the interview process, RCFA president Lisa Goulding approached me and Mrs. Lantz, chair of the interview committee, advocating for Assistant Superintendent Christine Tona to be named superintendent. Mr. Meyer and Mr. Dorr also advocated for Ms. Tona and resisted Dr. Henriquez’s appointment.

Seeing that the committee was not in favor of appointing Ms. Tona, Ms. Koukounas reluctantly sided with Ms. Downs, Ms. Lantz, and me. Mr. Dorr accused the trustees of making a “politically correct hire” rather than what was in the best interest of the school district.

Dr. Henriquez started her career in Riverhead with a 4-2 vote, and as of today still works with a 4-3 split board of education.

In January 2019, Dr. Henriquez was granted a contract extension by a 4-2 vote. President Sue Koukounas and vice president Chris Dorr voted against it. Mr. Meyer was not in attendance for this crucial vote. The four affirmative votes were cast by trustees Connelly, Downs, Silva, and Zuhoski.

My question is: If the RCFA has two incumbent candidates in Laurie Downs and Elizabeth Silva, who both publicly supported our district by granting Dr. Henriquez a two-year contract extension to help her achieve her goals of improving our educational standards, enhancing our security system, addressing student mental health issues and numerous other initiatives, why would the RCFA not endorse both incumbents? Could the rumor they denied be true?

In my opinion, you can show your support for our district, Dr. Henriquez, our children, and our community by voting for incumbents Laurie Downs and Elizabeth Silva on May 21. Help Riverhead School District move forward instead of sitting stagnant, steeped in inertia.

Ann Cotten-DeGrasse lives in Jamesport.

See related: Riverhead Central Faculty Association officers respond

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