Brentwood schools Superintendent Richard Loeschner, a charismatic leader who helped guide the district through turbulent years, will retire at the end of the week, wrapping up a career of nearly four decades in education and 24 years in Long Island’s largest school system.
Loeschner, 61, of Oakdale, will be succeeded by Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education and Bilingual Education Wanda Ortiz-Rivera, who will be the interim superintendent for the rest of the school year. His last day is Friday.
“I'm going to miss the kids,” Loeschner said Wednesday. “There's such a kindness and a passion about education here that I think is unparalleled.”
Loeschner, who became the schools chief in 2017, steered the 18,000-student district through the disruptive years of the pandemic and the difficult time following the murders of two Brentwood High School students, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, in 2016.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Brentwood schools Superintendent Richard Loeschner will retire at the end of the week.
- Parents and students praised him as a dedicated leader who helped guide the district through turbulent years.
- He will be succeeded by Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education and Bilingual Education Wanda Ortiz-Rivera, who will be the interim superintendent for the rest of the school year.
“He was there at every single event trying to make our community understand that we still have to move forward and we have to be there for our children,” recalled Maria Gonzalez-Prescod, a former Brentwood school board member.
“It was a devastating time, but he led us out of those tragic times to a better place,” said Gonzalez-Prescod, a mother of two children.
Loeschner was a math teacher when, in 2000, he came to the district to lead its math department. He later served as principal of the South Middle School and the high school. Parents and students praised him as a dedicated leader who is warm and full of positivity.
Always at events, schools
They often have found him at "Green Machine" Marching Band performances, sports games, pep rallies, parades and community events.
He rode his motorcycle to work every day when he was principal and has done so as a superintendent a couple times a week.
Loeschner said he spends his daily morning hours visiting several of the district’s 18 buildings. Students recall seeing him in hallways high-fiving people and walking around with a beaming smile.
That was his favorite part of the day before he returned to his office with hundreds of emails and lots of paperwork waiting, the superintendent said.
“My secretaries laugh at this because they know I always joke around with them and tell them that when I get to the office, it sucks the life out of me,” he said.
By his own estimate, Loeschner attends evening functions four nights a week and often on Saturdays.
Andres Rodriguez, a junior at the high school, was in the sixth grade when he met Loeschner at one of those events.
Rodriguez, who was helping out at the food stand for a My Brother's Keeper event at the time, recalled that Loeschner approached him to offer praise. Later, when the teen was at a low point over his advocacy work, he said, Loeschner called him into his office and offered him encouragement.
“Mr. Loeschner left a big, positive message in my heart,” said Rodriguez, 16. “He represents Brentwood. He bleeds green. There's no one else like Mr. Loeschner.”
Eric Stolfa, a longtime history teacher at North Middle School, used to coach the varsity girls soccer team. He remembered Loeschner, at the time the high school principal, coming to home games, hanging out on the sidelines and telling him how much he appreciated the work they put in.
Even after Loeschner became superintendent, Stolfa said, he would remember a conversation he had with him months earlier and follow up on it.
“With anything, a coach, a teacher, an administrator, it’s hard to find someone who’s universally loved,” Stolfa said. “He raised the bar for what a superintendent can be.”
Eileen Felix, the school board president, called Loeschner “a dynamite leader.”
“People believed in Rich and what he said because he stood behind everything he said, and he did exactly as he said,” she said.
Advocated in Albany
Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said the superintendent would travel to Albany every December, even during the pandemic years, to meet with him to lay out the details of the district’s financial needs ahead of the legislative session. Ramos cited the $78 million in additional aid Brentwood received this school year.
“All these things don't happen on their own,” Ramos said. “They happen when you have a good administration of a school district that realizes they have to take an active role and break it down as simply as possible for the elected officials so that we know what holes we have to fill as far as resources are concerned.”
Since announcing his retirement months ago, Loeschner said he’s had days of regretting it — he loves what he does.
“I'm looking out of my office right now and we're having turf fields put in,” he said. “That's something I've worked on for six years to get turf fields in. And I'm leaving before it's even going to be finished. But that's OK. The next superintendent will celebrate that with the community.”
Loeschner coins a slogan for the district every year, and this year is “better than ever” — even without him.