Kenneth Coard, Riverhead's new dean of students. Courtesy photo

Students at Riverhead High School and Riverhead Middle School will be seeing a new administrator this year.

Kenneth Coard, who is currently a math teacher at Amityville High School, will be joining Riverhead Central School District full time as the dean of students, a newly created position, starting in October. He will work to help support and build relationships with students in the middle school and high school, according to Superintendent Dr. Augustine Tornatore. 

“We certainly want to assist students in making good decisions which will have a positive impact on their lives,” Tornatore said. “Mr. Coard will be building positive relationships with our students and we hope to see a reduction in our suspension rate while supporting our students to make the good decisions that will have a positive impact on their lives.”

Coard is an East End native. He grew up on the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, and previously worked as a leave replacement and the varsity girls basketball coach in Riverhead during the 2017-2018 school year.

“I know Riverhead, I know the community, I love the diversity of it,” Coard said. “I just think I’m the perfect fit because I bring a diversity of experiences to the table.”

Coard graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial marketing and management from Clarkson University and started working out of college as a stock broker, he said. After that, he pivoted to education, obtaining a master’s degree in school administration and supervision from Mercy College, coaching basketball and teaching in the South Bronx, boarding schools and as a substitute and leave replacement for teachers in districts across Long Island.

Coard is also the founder of the Hoop Skool Foundation, a nonprofit organization that “targets at-risk student athletes and identifies potential secondary boarding schools that would be an ideal match in an effort to help them find success academically, athletically and socially,” according to the organization’s website.

He said that his role in the district will be to “develop the relationships with the students, with the families and community, and find the best way to help support them so that they can have the most success in the school district.” 

Coard said his job entails identifying issues that are holding students in the district back, including language barriers and difficulties in home-school balance, and working with families and students to overcome them. “I’ve seen these situations and challenges on a regular basis, pretty much every place I’ve been, so it’s not new to me,” he said. 

He will also be at the forefront of the district’s implementation of “restorative practices,” a school discipline method that shifts from purely punitive measures, like suspension and detention, to healing measures that target the root of the behavioral problem, according to Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Personnel Lori Koerner. 

Like its criminal justice counterpart, restorative justice, restorative practices in schools “offer a means to respond to conflict and build relationships in an inclusive, nonpunitive way.” Restorative practices have been found to help reduce student suspension rates.

Koerner said the district ha s been training administrators, and will be training all staff, to shift the district’s culture to restorative practices.

“What we’re looking for Mr. Coard to do is to be more of a first hand, a first responder if you will, in helping the children through their atypical situations or behaviors,” Koerner said. “We found adding a dean to the middle school and the high school would give us an extra member of our administrative team to really be able to dig a bit with the kids. Because the more people you have, the better off you are.”

Koerner said the Dean’s emphasis on student’s behavior will require collaboration with school psychologists, counselors, social workers and families to maximize instructional time. Although his daily role will be dictated by the building’s administration, she said.

Tornatore said Coard’s “educational philosophy mirrors RCSD’s, where we are here to support the success of all of our students.”

Coard said one of his priorities when he begins at the district is to get students readjusted to in-person classes.

“The biggest struggle [for students] is the fact that we’re coming out of a pandemic where young people have been home trying to learn in a whole different environment for about a year and a half,” Coard said. “So I think the biggest thing is getting them acclimated and getting them used to being back in the classroom and learning in this way.”

“What I’ve always done is put my focus on helping young people be successful and utilize everything in my tool belt to make that happen,” Coard said. “And I’ve always found that when you put young people at the center of everything you do, nine times out of 10 you have success.”

Coard was hired by the school board at its meeting last Tuesday at an annual salary of $107,500. Trustee Christopher Dorr cast the only vote against the appointment. He said he does not support the creation of any new administrative positions.

“I want to thank the board of education for supporting our new addition and I want to welcome Mr. Coard to the Blue Waves family,” Tornatore said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.