Riverhead Central School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Aurelia Henriquez, who has helmed the East End’s largest public school district for the past three years, submitted her resignation June 29, “based upon certain irreconcilable differences and in the best interests of her family,” according to a press release issued by the Riverhead School Board.

Dr. Henriquez, who had formerly been the assistant superintendent of the Brentwood Union Free School District, was appointed to a three-year term as Riverhead’s superintendent in 2017 and her contract had been extended last year by the board for two more years, to 2022.

The school district has been faced with an unprecedented increase in enrollment during Dr. Henriquez’s tenure, and the district’s board of education floated a vote on two construction bonds to make room for more students this February that was roundly dismissed by voters.

Riverhead’s 2020-2021 school budget was also dealt a blow by voters this spring. While most East End school districts saw their budgets pass by wide margins in the first-ever all-mail balloting for school budget votes June 9, Riverhead’s budget failed, with 52.7 percent voting ‘no’ on the proposed $147.1 million budget.

The school board voted at its June 29 meeting to accept Dr. Henriquez’s separation agreement, effective June 30, and appointed Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christine Tona to serve as Acting Superintendent effective July 1. 

The board also voted on June 29 to adopt a contingency budget that shaves just over $2 million from programming, mostly in athletics. The board is planning to put its original proposed budget up for a revote when Governor Cuomo sets a date for a second vote for failed school budgets, as required by state law.

“The Board of Education wishes to thank Dr. Henriquez for her commitment to the students, staff and community during her tenure with the District. Dr. Henriquez extends her appreciation to the students, staff and community for their support of her leadership as Superintendent of Schools,” according to the statement from the school district. “It is the intention of the Board of Education to begin a thorough search process to identify the best candidate to serve as the District’s next Superintendent of Schools…. Since this is a confidential matter of personnel, the Board of Education, the District and Dr. Henriquez will have no further comments regarding this matter.”

Ms. Henriquez, along with several other school superintendents, released an op-ed in late May on “Post-Pandemic Promises of Equity in Education,” which called, primarily, for changes in standardized testing methodology, which, they said, “has been hurting diverse communities for years.”

“For those of us who serve communities that include students with special needs, students living in poverty and students with a variety of immigrant experiences, we have been aware of the flawed assessment system that has been in place for far too long,” they wrote. “We always understood that the achievement gap has everything to do with the “haves” and “have nots.” We’ve also understood that standardized testing only proved to illuminate those gaps and divide our children. We marched forward despite labels placed on us, our schools and, most importantly, our students because we did not quite measure up according to “THE TESTS.” However, we still left our offices each day thoroughly exhausted yet rejoicing at the true privilege of teaching and leading our students the very next morning. We have always celebrated this honorable profession because it is truly a great reward to make a difference in the life of a child and have an impact on generations to come. We have not and will not forget that.”        

        — BY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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