The Academy Charter School in Hempstead is marking the debut of a new middle school, and educators and parents voiced hope Tuesday for creation of a high school.
Classes start Wednesday from kindergarten through the new, added seventh grade. The expansion is expected to bring the 600-student enrollment to 750 for the 2014-15 school year.
"We wanted to continue this standard of excellence," Wayne Haughton, the school's executive director, said Tuesday night at a ribbon-cutting replete with songs and speeches.
Addition of the eighth grade is planned for the 2015-16 school year. The school is one of five charter schools on Long Island, including Evergreen Charter School, also in Hempstead.
Camille Green's daughter, Aaliyah, 11, is among The Academy's first seventh-graders. She has been a charter school student since second grade.
"It's the best thing," Camille Green said, noting the school's curriculum, extended day and requirement that students wear uniforms. "I hope they go through to high school."
Charter schools -- open to all students -- are tuition-free public schools that are created by parents, educators and community leaders and operate under a five-year contract, or "charter." Their students are required to take all state tests and comply with laws on health, safety, civil rights and special education.
The SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which oversees some charter schools, approved a revision to permit The Academy Charter School to serve K-8.
"They allowed us to expand so the children could be able to continue without going back into the [Hempstead] district," Haughton said.
The new middle school is in a former State Insurance Fund building on North Franklin Avenue, Haughton said. The building's purchase and renovation, plus construction of a new gymnasium, cost $12 million, he said.
When The Academy Charter School opened in 2009, it leased space from a church. Two years later, classes started in a renovated building that cost $8 million.
The school has a waiting list of about 500 students, Haughton said. Many charter schools, because of limits on enrollment, often have waiting lists and choose students by lottery.
Students in grades 3-6 at The Academy posted test scores well above the Island's other charter schools. On state tests taken last spring, an average 62 percent of Academy students met or exceeded math proficiency levels and an average 34 percent met or exceeded English Language Arts proficiency levels.