Riverhead Charter School executive director Raymond Ankrum, right, with students inside the new school facility in 2016. File photo: Katie Blasl

A plan to expand enrollment at the Riverhead Charter School will air tonight at the Riverhead Board of Education meeting, when the board will convene a public hearing on a five-year extension of the school’s charter.

In its application to the State Education Department, the charter school seeks to nearly double its enrollment, from its current 414 to 700.

The Riverhead Charter School, which currently houses students in grades K-8, is privately owned, but publicly funded. It is physically located within the Riverhead School District, but accepts students from many surrounding districts. The students’ home districts, including the Riverhead Central School District, pay tuition to the charter school on a per-pupil basis.

Enrollment would increase gradually, adding about 50 to 75 new students per year according to charter school principal Raymond Ankrum. Since 50 percent of the current enrollment comes from Riverhead schools, that would mean about 25 to 37 of the new students would probably come from the Riverhead district.

“Given the recent concerns with overly enrolled classes in the district, we think this is a viable option to help accommodate the needs of students in the district,” Ankrum said in an email interview on September 1.

The expansion will have an economic impact on the Riverhead School District. A loss of students from the district translates into a partial loss of state aid to the district, since per-pupil funding from the state follows the child no matter where the student goes to school. According to the RCS website, “one-third of the per pupil allocation from the state still goes to the school district that the child resides in and the district has not ‘lost’ all of the funding.” But the Riverhead School District is still responsible for bus transportation of students living within the district that attend the charter school.

The charter school completed a major facilities expansion in 2015 and will not need additional space to house an expanded student body. In addition, the charter school is in the process of renovating the historic school building on its campus in Calverton. That building is currently not in use, Ankrum said, so the school will “not need any additional space until we expand to [housing a] high school, a topic that the RCS board is strongly considering given the current state of Riverhead Schools, as well as the demand from our parents.”

Ankrum was referring to the designation of four of the district’s six buildings being designated by the state as “focus schools.” The focus school label is based on the standardized test scores of sub-groups of students including black, Latino, economically disadvantaged, limited proficiency in English and students with disabilities. If one or more of the sub-groups’ test scores fall below the academic performance expectations set by the state, the school becomes a focus school.

“Riverhead Charter School is the only school that isn’t a focus school..nor were we ever on a local assistance plan. We are the highest performing school in Riverhead,” Ankrum said.

But for any school to be held accountable for sub-groups not meeting assessment standards, there has to be a minimum of 30 students in that sub-group per grade level, Riverhead Schools Superintendent Nancy Carney said at a school board meeting last month.  “So many of the smaller districts that don’t have 30 students in a subgroup are not held accountable, no matter what their scores are,” she said.

With fewer than 45 students in each grade level at the charter school taking the state assessment tests last year, it’s not clear whether any sub-group in any grade level at the charter school had 30 students in it.

Ankrum, however, has publicly criticized the Riverhead school district for its “inability to properly educate” minority students.

In an open letter to the NAACP dated August 12 and published on the charter school website, Ankrum said the school district, having been “recently cited by NY State for having four of its schools receive a failing grade” indicates the district’s “inability to properly educate the most difficult subgroups, Black and Latino students.”

Carney bristled at Ankrum’s criticism of the district and disputes his claims that Riverhead has failed its students by having been cited by the state.

“Our schools are not failing,” Carney said. “We are proud of the teaching and learning occurring in our classrooms. We are frustrated with the recent designation from the state,” she said. “Students should not be labeled as failing based on one state assessment — particularly students who are new to the language or students with disabilities.”

Carney maintains that the district is “committed to providing all our students with a quality education and we believe we are doing so.” And she reiterated her view that “multiple measures are needed to assess student learning and that one state assessment does not reflect the growth occurring in a given school year especially for the subgroups I mentioned above.”

Ankrum said, “We realize that there will be a lot of concern from taxpayers, and people that are anti-charter… We also want to remind people of the importance of everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status having a choice in where they send their children.”


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