Riverhead High School
There are 10 candidates running for three open seats on the Riverhead Board of Education this year.
All 10 candidates answered eight questions posed by RiverheadLOCAL about the school district and what they would do if elected.
Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, 76, of Jamesport, is a past member and past president of the Riverhead Board of Education. She served from 2008 to 2014 and again from 2015 to 2017, when she resigned from the board with one year of her term remaining.
Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse is a 50-year resident of the school district and worked as a teacher in the district for 35 years. She is also the past president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, the union that represents Riverhead teachers.
Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse is a graduate of Abilene Christian University and holds an advanced degree from Hofstra University.
“I think we need to address the issues regarding the bottom one quarter of our student population,” said Ms. Cotton-DeGrasse when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Center School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. ‘Raising tide lifts all boats!’ We have managed to make some progress in this area, but we need to design a curriculum and teach study habits that will raise our graduation rate. I feel that BOE should take an active part in that planning.”
Ms. Cotton-DeGrasse said the top three things she would like to accomplish as a board member include making the BOE work as a team, work to establish trust between the community and the school district and make the education of the whole child for the entire school district population.
Angela DeVito, 71, of South Jamesport, served on the Riverhead Board of Education from 2006 to 2011, when she resigned from the board with one year of her term remaining.
Ms. DeVito is a 20-year resident of the school district. She is employed as a workforce development specialist.
Ms. DeVito earned a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University in 1971 and a master of science in public health from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 1981.
“In my opinion, the plan for re-opening our schools is the most pressing — not just when, but how,” said Ms. DeVito when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “Our district has the responsibility to create an environment that protects the children, the staff and the public. We will need a plan that incorporates the rights of staff under the NYS Public Employees Health and Safety Act and at the same time adheres to current public health best practices. Any plan created to allow for re-opening will also have to address the impact of ‘new work practices’ on daily instruction and school operations in general.”
Ms. DeVito said the district must address several questions, including but not limited to, how to maintain social distancing, how to and how often PPE should be provided to staff, faculty and students, how often classrooms need to be sanitized, where will those with elevated temperatures be kept until they leave the building and how often staff will be tested.
Christopher Dorr, 52, of Baiting Hollow is seeking re-election to his second three-year term of office on the school board. He was first elected in 2013. When he sought re-election in 2016, he polled third in a race for three seats, which meant he was elected to fill a one-year unexpired term of board member Lori Hulse, who had stepped down from the board to take office as Riverhead Town justice. Mr. Dorr was elected again in 2017, to a full three- year term.
Mr. Dorr, who has lived in the district for 23 years, is a program specialist at Nassau BOCES. He earned an associate’s degree in computer science from Suffolk County Community College in 1988, a bachelor’s degree in economics from SUNY/Potsdam in 1991 and an MBA from Clarkson University in 1994. He holds a teaching certificate from Stony Brook University (2001).
Mr. Dorr and his wife Maria have three children, CJ and Mackenzie, who are Riverhead High School juniors, and Sabina, a 2013 Riverhead High School graduate.
“The most pressing issue facing the District is addressing the many concerns families expressed throughout the Capital Construction presentations,” said Mr. Dorr when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Center School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “There are many families that are concerned with the school district and we have to ensure that students come first. The BOE has to work closely with all district stakeholders to ensure we continue to provide a quality education for all.”
Gregory-John Fischer, 63, of Calverton is a business consultant with a background in computer programming and software development. He has lived in the school district for 18 years.
Mr. Fischer has undergraduate degrees from CUNY/Manhattan Community College and SUNY/New Paltz and an MBA from SUNY/Albany. He is the father of four children.
Mr. Fischer has been a candidate for school board in each school district election for the past six years. He has also run for town and state office and is currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the First Congressional District.
“Student health and well-being is really top priority,” said Mr. Fischer when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “As well, we have to diligently prepare children for college, and the trades, and other post-graduation placement and success. Clearly, many children are falling through the cracks now. We have to take on an active preventive role to make sure our kids do not sink and our children do not fall victims to drugs, or self-injury, or gangs, or any other form of harm. The Board of Education must take a leadership role and not wait for Albany or Washington to be proactive in problem prevention. Albany and Washington are generally “reactive” and not generally proactive. The RCSD has to be constantly vigilant and look ahead. Importantly, we need an emergency plan for screening and treatment of children’s mental, emotional, and physical health issues — school counselors and services were already at their limits in March.”
Ryan Gregor, 37, of Riverhead is seeking elective office for the first time.
He has lived in the school district for 10 years. Gregor studied business management at Bryant College and Dowling College. He works as a trucking supervisor. He and his wife Meaghan have two children, Emmy, 8 and Leo, 5.
“We need to ensure that the children get back into the classroom. Learning through a screen isn’t as effective as learning in person,” said Mr. Gregor when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “Screen time should always be limited, during the COVID shut down, the kids’ screen time has multiplied. They need their teachers and friends.”
Mr. Gregor said if elected he would like to see overcrowding issues in the district taken care of.
“We also have to stop taxing residents to death,” he said. “It decreases our home values and puts added financial stress on middle and low income families.”
Virginia Healy, 58, of Wading River, has lived in the school district for 21 years. She is a homemaker, former financial planner and education consultant.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University in 1983 and a holds certification as a financial planner from Adelphi University (1987) with graduate-level courses in business.
Ms. Healy and her husband Kenneth have eight children, ages 12 to 32, three of whom are currently in district schools.
She is the treasurer and past president of the Special Education PTA (SEPTA) and regularly attends School Board meetings on behalf of the organization.
“The most pressing issue is growing enrollment and meeting all our children’s needs,” said Ms. Healy when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “The BOE can address these issues by supporting fidelity to NYSED’s Blueprint for Improved Results For Students with Disabilities and Blueprint for English Language Learner/Multilingual Learner Success. Improved outcomes conserve resources in the long run and thus ensure that varied programs for all our students can be preserved.”
Amelia Lantz, 55, of Riverhead, served on the Riverhead School Board from 2010 to 2017, when she resigned in June of that year, with two years of her three-year term remaining.
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Ms. Lantz is a graduate of Riverhead High School and Suffolk County Community College. She and her husband David have a child who is a student at Riverhead High School. Ms. Lantz has been a resident of the district for more than 30 years.
Ms. Lantz said if elected she would like to “put to rest the ‘us and them’ attitude that the majority of this BOE has created with our community.”
She said she would also like to create a balance between meeting the needs of students and the needs of taxpayers and put out all new Requests for Proposals (RFPs).
“Now more than ever, it is difficult to predict what the district will have to work with as far as state aid is concerned,” said Ms. Lantz when asked what the district should consider to deal with the financial fallout of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. “State aid is slated to be drastically cut and the little we do receive, can be pulled out from under us without warning. Doing more with less in all areas will become the reality.”
Yolanda Thompson, 48, of Baiting Hollow has lived in the school district for 20 years. She is a regular attendee at board meetings and a special education advocate. She is also a part-time home health aide for seniors. Ms. Thompson and her husband Daniel have two children, a son who is a 2018 Riverhead High School graduate and a daughter who is a freshman in Riverhead High School.
“The most pressing issue facing our district is delivering an equitable education to all students while meeting the various needs of our students such as our English language learners and our students with disabilities,” said Ms. Thompson when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “Prior to the pandemic students were in classrooms receiving in person instruction by their teachers. English language learners as well as students with disabilities were receiving additional supports and services such as speech, PT, OT and counseling. Many of our economically disadvantaged students were receiving free breakfast and lunch. This was all abruptly upended and changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district found itself setting up remote education on the fly as many other districts did. The district also found many students did not have access to technology and/or WiFi at home. The Board of Education needs to ensure there are committees and teams to handle each issue as effectively as possible. The district’s ‘Technology Plan’ needs to be revised and updated to ensure that teachers have the training to utilize technology effectively to reach and teach all students in real time and on a regular schedule. The board needs to ensure that parents are being kept in the loop on the schedule of lessons and when assignments are due so that they are able to manage their work schedules around the online learning as well. The Board needs to ensure that our teachers also have the support of administration during this time of crisis.”
Stephanie Ranghelli, 47, of Riverhead is running for office for the first time. She is a real estate agent and an educator. She earned an associate’s degree from Nassau Community College in 1996, a paralegal certificate from Hofstra University in 2000, a bachelor’s degree from Dowling College in 2012 and a master’s degree in special education from Dowling College in 2014.
She and her husband Jason have three children at Riley Avenue Elementary School, Jonathan, Mia and Colton.
“While I feel that there are several pressing issues; one of the reasons why I decided to run for the open Board of Education seat is the safety of our students because it’s a multilayered concern here in our district,” said Ms. Ranghelli when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “We as a board need to really listen to the concerns the community present to us. On RTACC, I tend to listen more than post because it’s important to see what concerns are more frequently presented. This past year overcrowding was the hot topic, but if we really listen to what the community presented to the board, it was safety. The most frequently presented concern from the community was the overcrowding and physical altercations, evacuation concerns during emergency situations, and class disruptions (lack of student respect to teachers). The district cannot legally turn away students that ‘reside’ within our community to resolve overcrowding issues. One way we can address these concerns is to have a ‘true’ zero tolerance disciplinary program that is effective. The Board needs to revisit inhouse suspension programs, and an alternative school. Once we have addressed these concerns learning can take place.”
Therese Zuhoski, 52, of Riverhead, is seeking re-election to a second term of office on the School Board. She has lived in the district for 17 years and works as a self-employed real estate salesperson.
She earned a bachelor of social work degree from Marist College in 1989 and an MSW from Columbia University School of Social Work in 1996. Ms. Zuhoski is the mother of four children in Riverhead schools.
“Prior to COVID-19 Riverhead has had a few ‘distractions’ that took a tremendous amount of time and attention (still) away from education and this GREAT district,” said Ms. Zuhoski when asked about the most pressing issues facing the Riverhead Central School District in the wake of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus crisis. “Now more than ever, the FOCUS needs to be on the success of our students, teachers, best practices. We need to take a serious look at rebuilding trust and communication throughout our schools. In an ideal situation, to go back to core values, we start by creating a forum to hear from students, educators, staff, administrators, parents, community, taxpayers, etc. What do you want from your district? What would you like to achieve?”
Ms. Zuhoski said if elected she would like to establish “a cohesive board with a focus on achievable goals, build a trusting and transparent relationship with teachers and community and maintain a fiscal responsibility to all taxpayers.”
For full interviews with Riverhead candidates for the board of education, visit riverheadlocal.com.
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