Riverhead Charter School is advancing plans to establish the first charter high school in Suffolk County and is looking at locations in downtown Riverhead for the new campus.
The Calverton K-8 school is requesting state approval to add grades nine and 10, as well as to increase enrollment from 500 to 787 in the fourth and fifth years of its current five-year charter, which runs through 2022.
The school would add grade nine in the 2020-2021 school year and grade 10 in the 2021-2022 school year, principal Raymond Ankrum said.
“We are building organically,” Ankrum said. The high school will not enroll students other than Riverhead Charter School eighth-graders, he said. It is expected that the high school student body will number about 200, with the charter school’s total enrollment in grades K-12 topping out at 965.
The expansion application is before the State Board of Regents, which will likely make a decision on it as early as March, Ankrum said.
State law requires the board of education in the school district where the charter school is located to hold a public hearing on any proposed charter revision or extension. The hearing on the addition of grades nine and 10 will take place tonight at 7 p.m. at Riverhead High School.
The Riverhead Charter School draws students from 16 different school districts in Suffolk County. The bulk of its student body is from the Riverhead Central School District, the Longwood Central School District and the William Floyd School District.
The charter school first opened its doors in September 2001, enrolling 150 students in its first year of operation. It was initially a K-6 school and added grades seven and eight in 2013.
“Our school community has been asking for this for years,” said Shannon Ruffner, director of curriculum and instruction for grades six through eight. “We do some really great things here and we’re looking forward to continuing to do that in the secondary grades.”
Ankrum said the high school will offer a curriculum comparable to the curriculum at any public high school, though he said the school plans to offer more advanced placement classes to students.
“We’re doing what’s in the best interests of our students, giving them the education they deserve all the way up to 12th grade,” he said. “The small size of the school is very important to our parents.”
The Riverhead Charter School currently has an $8.4 million operating budget. Tuition paid by the students’ sending districts was $7.9 million for the 2017-2018 school year, Nicola Graham, director of finance and operations said. The balance is mostly grant funding, she said.
The charter school receives about $15,700 per student, paid by the sending district.
“One of the largest areas of contention is the claim that a charter school is taking money away from the district, but no — the money follows the student,” Ankrum said.
“The choice belongs to the parents,” he said.
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