The fast-growing Academy Charter School organization, with campuses in Hempstead and Uniondale, is seeking to open a third center — in Wyandanch, where its plan faces opposition from some educational and political leaders.
The State University's Charter Schools Institute, which reviews applications, has strongly recommended approval of the school. A committee of SUNY trustees, authorized to approve charters, is scheduled to take up the recommendation on Thursday.
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A proposed new charter school has split the Wyandanch community, with some saying the school will benefit students and others saying it will undermine existing public schools.
The proposal comes from the fast-growing Academy Charter School organization, which already maintains campuses in Hempstead and Uniondale.
SUNY trustees are scheduled Thursday to take up the school proposal, which has won a strong endorsement from their staff.
In a summary of findings, the institute acknowledged receipt of an Aug. 31 letter from the Wyandanch school district's superintendent, Gina Talbert, contending that the planned charter school was "devoid of adequate community support" and would have a "devastating financial impact" on her district. The institute concluded, on the other hand, that the planned school would provide "a significant educational benefit to the students expected to attend."
Academy officials, in their application, stressed the "urgency" of opening a school in Wyandanch as an educational alternative. Reasons cited include the relatively low academic performance of Wyandanch's traditional public schools, as evidenced in state records.
Opponents of the plan acknowledged that Wyandanch was mismanaged in the past. However, they noted that the 2,700-student district has been assigned a state monitor since April 2020, adding that the additional oversight should be given a chance to work before other things are tried.
The plan advanced by the Academy charter team calls for the new Wyandanch school to open in 2022 with 175 students in grades K-2. The school would expand over five years to 475 students in grades K-6.
The lead applicant is Bishop Barrington Goldson, founder and chief executive of Academy Charter School. Goldson also is founder and senior pastor of Calvary Tabernacle, an apostolic church in downtown Hempstead.
Under state law, the nonprofit charter schools are run by independent boards rather than elected boards of education. Such schools are funded by tuition payments from school districts, depending on the number of students the charter campuses recruit.
Wayne Haughton, a spokesman for Academy schools, said his group filed its application with SUNY trustees "based on its growth and clear academic success in Hempstead and Uniondale."
Academy's organization established its Hempstead campus in 2009, and current enrollment is about 1,729, according to SUNY's institute. The Uniondale campus was established in 2018, and current enrollment is about 950.
Schools run by Academy management provide extended learning time for students, including eight-hour instructional days, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Extra instruction is offered on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saymone Nixon, a Wyandanch mother of two, is among more than 130 parents already signed up for the proposed school. Nixon said she was especially impressed by Academy's promise of after-school instruction.
"I just think it should be better for my kids," Nixon said.
As of August 2020, 94 of 95 high school seniors at Academy's campus in Hempstead, or 99%, graduated on schedule, according to the latest data from the state Education Department. Of those students, 41% earned advanced Regents diplomas indicating successful completion of upper-level courses such as geometry, trigonometry, chemistry and physics.
In contrast, 58% of 183 high school seniors at Wyandanch High School graduated on time by August 2020, among the lowest rates on Long Island recorded by the state. Of those students, 13% earned advanced Regents diplomas.
"We all agree, the district could have been managed better," said State Sen. John Brooks, a Seaford Democrat whose constituency includes Wyandanch.
Brooks pointed out, however, that Wyandanch has managed to straighten out its finances and win voter approval of two balanced budgets since a state monitor was brought in to help. He went on to say during a phone interview that Wyandanch's newfound financial stability could be jeopardized, should the district be forced to make millions of dollars in tuition payments to a charter school.
Brooks was among a dozen officials and local residents who appeared at an Aug. 18 public forum in Wyandanch to speak out against the charter application. Other forum speakers agreed that the district was headed in the right direction — for example, in negotiating a potential hookup between schools and the Southwest Sewer System — and that this was the wrong time to introduce drastic new change in the form of a charter school.
Such forums are required under state rules governing charter applications. No Academy charter representatives attended the August session.
"We still have a long way to go, but we are making tremendous progress here in Wyandanch," said one session speaker, Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights).