East Rockaway School District administrators and staff bade farewell to Superintendent Lisa Ruiz, who was variously described as “bold” and “brave,” at the June 14 Board of Education meeting.
After nine years at the helm, Ruiz announced her decision to retire last November, and will be succeeded by James DeTommaso, the district’s current assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, effective July 1.
School board President Peter McNally lauded Ruiz for her accomplishments, and for being able to work well with an evolving board, which has taken on five new trustees since she started.
“As I’m sitting here tonight, I’m trying to put myself in Mrs. Ruiz’s shoes, because until I was on the school board, I didn’t realize the dynamic between a school board and the superintendent,” McNally said. “I don’t know how many superintendents go from one school board, five members, to five different members in such a short time, and just seeing the different expectations, it’s not easy. Mrs. Ruiz has handled it with grace, and has always put the students of East Rockaway first.”
Ruiz’s retirement comes after she helped develop and carry the district through a five-year strategic plan to make improvements to the schools. She also helped generate project ideas for a bond initiative that was approved by voters to upgrade facilities, and helped see the district through the coronavirus pandemic.
She came to East Rockaway nine years ago, after serving as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Merrick and as the director of pupil personnel services in Levittown. She has been in education for more than four decades.
The five-year strategic plan helped put East Rockaway on a course for long-range planning and budgeting. It aligned the district’s building action plans and goals through pillars of achievement, opportunity, innovation and connection. The plan was developed by a panel of 35 community members, which comprised PTA members, teachers, students, administrators and district parents.
Keith Gamache, who served on the school board from 2014 to 2020 and had two terms as president, said he was proud of the achievements the board had with Ruiz’s help.
“It’s easy to take many of the things today for granted, to assume that our children have always had certain opportunities and protections, to think that improvements from two years ago, five years ago, nine years ago have always been here for them. You listened to families and you protected children. You were bold and you were brave, and for all these reasons, I am grateful and for so many more, I say thank you.”
Gamache said Ruiz was instrumental in bringing in enrichment specialists to the schools, improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses, ushering in new clubs and teams, creating comprehensive writing courses, forming a partnership with Northwell Health and adding full-time security enhancements in all district buildings.
East Rockaway High School Principal Richard Schaffer said he was impressed with Ruiz’s dedication of her time to help anyone who needed it.
“She makes time to meet with families to listen to their concerns and ensure that all voices are heard,” he said, “and that the decisions made are reflective of multiple voices. She is giving toward anyone and everyone she meets. Lisa, you’ve made a lasting imprint on the East Rockaway School District and will always be remembered for your commitment to excellence.”
During the meeting, several of Ruiz’s colleagues took to the lectern to speak about her positive impact on the school community. They included Rhame Avenue Elementary School fourth grade teacher and East Rockaway Teachers’ Association President Gayle Beyrer, DeTommaso, Director of Pupil Personnel Services Vincent Healy, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Jacqueline Scrio and Director of Technology and Learning Analytics Ryan Fisk. The board also showed a video featuring well wishes from other district personnel.
In retirement, Ruiz said, she plans to spend more time with her husband, Carlos; her children, Alan, Meagan, Andrew and Alex; and her granddaughter, Sophia.
She plans to travel, volunteer and work in some capacity in education. She said she was grateful to the school board and proud to be a part of the community for nearly a decade.
“I feel it’s been a very rich and fulfilling experience to work in such a caring and supportive community,” Ruiz said in November. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet wonderful people, and that will stay with me forever. This is a very unique and special community, and it was the most fulfilling role I’ve had in my 40-odd years of education.”