After developing and seeing through a five-year strategic plan to make improvements, helping to generate project ideas for a bond that was approved by voters to upgrade facilities and seeing the East Rockaway School District through the Covid-19 pandemic, Superintendent Lisa Ruiz announced at the Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting that she would retire at the end of the school year.
“I feel like I’ve spent almost 45 years in education, almost 42 years in public education, and I just felt that for personal reasons, this was a good time to move on to that next phase in my life,” Ruiz said. “. . . I was going to leave at the end of last year, but because of Covid, I wanted to see the district through its difficult time.”
Ruiz’s retirement is to take effect June 30 next year. 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 more than four decades.
Ruiz said she was proud of many accomplishments, including increasing the percentage of students attending college; raising awareness about student mental health and social-emotional learning by adding programs and partnering with the Northwell Health Behavioral Clinic; and increasing the availability of support services for students and professional development opportunities for staff.
She said she was most proud of the district’s five-year strategic plan, which put East Rockaway on a course for long-range planning and budgeting and aligned all 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.
Ruiz added that she was proud of hiring a “top-notch administrative team and highly-qualified teachers,” as well as helping to identify projects that were included in the $27.7 million bond referendum that voters approved in November 2019, which funded upgrades and repairs to all three district buildings and included a long-awaited new athletic field at the high school.
“One of our greatest accomplishments was to improve the facilities and in particular the athletic field, and the [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems for all three buildings,” Ruiz said, “because those improvements will be enjoyed by the community for many years to come, and our community and our students deserved to have a state-of-the-art facility.”
Additionally, Ruiz helped increase Advanced Placement and dual enrollment college course offerings, and brought upgrades and innovations to the district’s educational technology initiatives. She also helped oversee passage of all budgets during her tenure, with two coming in under the tax cap.
Board of Education President Kristen O’Hagan said Ruiz has made a major impact on the district in her time there. “We would like to congratulate Superintendent Ruiz on the announcement of her retirement,” she said. “We are thankful that she continued to lead the district after the challenges of Covid-19 as we continue to ease back into normalcy. Retirement is a time to look back with pride on achievements. After nine years at the helm, Superintendent Ruiz has so many accomplishments to be proud of.”
O’Hagan said the board would begin discussing plans to hire the next superintendent in December, when it will start to develop a vision for the next superintendent and create a timeline for the search’s progress. She added that the board plans to provide updates on the search at its monthly meetings.
Ruiz said she hoped her successor would build on the systems and structures put in place during her tenure, and student-focused decision-making would continue. She noted that she believed more could still be done in the future, and she hoped the next superintendent would continue to offer vocational and technical education courses and opportunities for students.
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 also 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. “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.”