The Riverhead Board of Education during its May 24, 2022 meeting. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Riverhead Board of Education hired a new director of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Tuesday night, who will help integrate a MakerSpace program within the district.

Jeannine Campbell, who is currently the assistant principal of the middle school, was hired as the district’s director of STEM at an annual salary of $151,077. MakerSpaces are communal lab spaces that enable a wide range of STEM and construction related activities, including 3-D printing, coding and robotics, according to Makerspaces.com.

Tornatore said in an interview last month that he envisions a makerspace in every building. The program would introduce the building blocks of coding, and construction and design of basic manipulatives, like Legos, in elementary schools and then students would transition into bigger projects as they enter secondary schools using tools like 3-D printers and laser cutters, Tornatore said.

“My long-term ideas and planning with this is to then meld that with our work experience program that we have at the high school, because students at the high school could earn those credits by their internships and work experience,” Tornatore said. “And how great would it be if we have students who are using this high-end equipment to be able to make things that they could then sell and they could become entrepreneurs.“

“It’s important to be able to provide opportunities for students to learn so that they could apply that when they get out of college to these different job pathways that are out there,” Tornatore said. “And there are so many job opportunities where graduates can make a lot of money. But if we don’t provide them that exposure while we have them in grades K through 12, then we’re really doing a disservice to kids.”

Parents ask district to omit Regents test scores from class averages

A number of parents are scolding the district for not instituting a “do no harm policy” within the district, which would omit students’ Regents exam grades from their class averages, saying the results of the exams may harm the students grades due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on student’s mental health and attendance rates.

Four members of the community sent in comments urging the district to reconsider the adoption of the policy. Regents exams currently count for 20% of a student’s final class average. The Board of Regents canceled the state exams the last two years and modified the requirements to graduate because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am disheartened to learn of the decision not to waive the ‘do no harm’ policy for regents [exams] this year,” said Alison Matway of Wading River, who sent a virtual message to the board. “Given the trauma our students have faced this year and the multiple interruption of their education due to covid, I truly think it would be in the best interest of our student to waive the policy of counting these tests for 20% [of the grade] or as much as an entire quarter of school.”

“Personally, my daughter has had multiple teachers absent for extended times, including one very recently as they began their Regents review,” Matway continued. “This puts an unfair disadvantage on the student who missed a week for review instruction, while other students did not.”

Parents within the district said this year was plagued by absences of staff and students caused by the virus’ contagious variants, leading to a disruption in students’ studies throughout the year and the last few weeks approaching the state exams.

A letter from state Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa on March 15 states that the department believes the Regents exams can be administered “safely and equitably” across the state this year and “it is important for schools and districts to offer these exams as one of multiple measures of student achievement in the 2021-22 school year.”

Tornatore said in an interview after the meeting that a committee of administrators and teachers recommended against instituting a “do no harm” policy in the district. 

“One, we have 100% students back in the district this year and we need to get back to a place of normalcy and accountability,” Tornatore said. “But also two: the state has provided us the opportunity if there are students who are failing, that we could put in for a waiver for them to also be able to graduate. So going that pathway, we feel is the better pathway to choose for students.” 

This year, Rosa canceled the exam for the U.S. History and Government class following the fatal racially-motivated mass shooting in a Buffalo supermarket. She said in a letter that, after a review of the exam, she determined it had content that may “compound student trauma caused by the recent violence in Buffalo.”

Both students and staff will be off for Juneteenth this year

Both students and staff in the district will have off Monday, June 20, this year in celebration of the state and federal holiday Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

Originally, the day was scheduled to be a superintendent’s conference day, where only students had off. 

The board passed a resolution introduced during the meeting Tuesday night to make it a holiday for staff, as well. Tornatore said going forward his intention is to have both staff and students have off for the holiday each year “out of respect for the history.”

Mr. Crump to return to Phillips Avenue

A beloved Phillips Avenue Elementary School security guard is returning to the school after a transfer that caused a protest from the building’s parents and students.

Jeremy Rand, a parent of two at Phillips who has come to nearly every board meeting in the last three months since Tim Crump was reassigned to the middle school to urge the district to bring him back to the building, finally got his wish when he approached the podium again Tuesday night.

“We have spoken that Mr. Crump will be back for those last days with the students and with Ms. Rogers so they will be able to engage and wish her off in her retirement and wish the students well for their summer,” Tornatore said.

“Well, I just want to let you know, we want Mr. Crump back next year,” Rand 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. Email: [email protected]