Academy Charter School's Hempstead location.

Academy Charter School's Hempstead location. Credit: Todd Maisel

Proposed charter schools in Wyandanch and Central Islip won state approval Thursday, signaling a substantial expansion of educational alternatives in parts of Suffolk County.

Both new schools — South Shore Charter School in Central Islip and Academy Charter School in Wyandanch — are due to open next year with early grades. They will then expand to grades K-5 or K-6, respectively, within five years.

Further expansion could be approved later. For example, Academy Charter's Hempstead campus began with primary grades in 2009 and has since grown into a full-fledged K-12 system with more than 1,700 students.

Both new charter schools were approved unanimously by a committee of SUNY trustees authorized to grant charters.

Supporters of charter schools, who include more than 130 Wyandanch parents, welcomed Thursday's unanimous vote by four SUNY trustees. Some supporters noted that the charter schools coming to both Central Islip and Wyandanch offer solid curriculums in technology, including a program known as "Lead the Way" that serves as pre-engineering training.

"Oh, that is amazing, that's great!" said Juanita Clark, a Wyandanch mother of three, when informed of the trustees' decision. "I know there are mixed feelings about this, but maybe in time, other people will feel the way I do."

Wyandanch school officials reiterated warnings Thursday that any outflow of students to a charter center could undermine the finances of their district, which recently began to stabilize. Charter schools are run by independent boards, and their funding is based on tuition payments from districts where students enrolled on charter campuses reside.

Academy representatives estimate their new school, by its fifth year of operations, could take in $9.7 million in tuition from Wyandanch, equivalent to 13% of the district's annual budget. The charter officials contend this will not adversely affect Wyandanch's economic prospects; the district disagrees.

"I know that it is their intent to provide a good education for scholars in this community," said the district's superintendent, Gina Talbert, in a phone interview held after the trustees' vote. "However, the financial impact this will have on the majority of students will be detrimental."

In recent weeks, Wyandanch authorities have emphasized efforts to upgrade the district's physical plant — for example, by planning for potential bond borrowing that would pay for needed extra classrooms. Charter proponents point to academic advantages of their approach, which include extended instructional time.

Extra time pays off, they said.

As an example, 41% of 95 high school seniors at Academy's Hempstead campus last year earned advanced Regents diplomas. This reflected completion of upper-level courses such as trigonometry and chemistry.

In contrast, 13% of 183 seniors at Wyandanch Memorial High School earned advanced diplomas. At Central Islip High School, the figure was 28% of 475 seniors.

In both Wyandanch and Central Islip, state legislators and teacher-union representatives appeared at public forums to denounce charter schools. In Central Islip, a number of churches and colleges expressed support, as did hundreds of parents.

Dermoth Mattison, executive director of the South Shore charter group.

Dermoth Mattison, executive director of the South Shore charter group. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

An attorney for Central Islip, Kevin Seaman, whose office is in Stony Brook, wrote to SUNY trustees accusing the executive director of the South Shore charter group, Dermoth Mattison, of acting in "demagogic fashion."

Mattison, a former administrator at the Academy school in Hempstead, was asked during Thursday's trustees meeting for his response to criticism from the Central Islip, Bay Shore and Brentwood districts.

Mattison acknowledged districts' financial concerns but added, "a common theme in these meetings with the leaders is that everyone is committed to supporting students and to ensure that our students are poised for future success."

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