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Hempstead charter school welcomes 125 ninth-graders

Ninth-graders at The Academy Charter School in Hempstead

Ninth-graders at The Academy Charter School in Hempstead meet their homeroom teacher, Jessica Cohen, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, the first day of class for the 2016-17 academic year. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Academy Charter School in Hempstead welcomed 125 ninth-graders Tuesday as the first charter institution on Long Island to expand to a high school grade.

“It’s something new and we are excited,” principal Travis Holloway said after greeting students who ultimately would be members of the Class of 2020. “But our expectation is we are not only going to grow academic scholars, we are also going to grow people of character, people of integrity.”

Most of the students at The Academy, which opened in September 2009, are from the Hempstead district, though it also draws from nearby school systems.

Ninth-grader Kmani Panthier, 14, said he has been at The Academy since second grade.

“It has made me the person I am today,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the new opportunities this school is going to offer.”

The school, which enrolls more than 950 students, won unanimous approval in December from the SUNY Board of Trustees’ Charter Schools Committee to operate a high school program.

The Academy’s students are chosen by lottery. School officials said there is a waiting list of 900, but space is a challenge for any expansion. Students are required to wear uniforms, and the school day runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The charter school follows the Common Core curriculum and the high school also will focus on STEM education and a Regents diploma track, executive director Wayne Haughton said.

“This is a dream come true,” he said of the ninth grade’s debut. “It is great to see our babies grow to this level and be brought to this high standard of excellence.”

The Academy’s five-year charter runs until 2019. The charter revision permits the school to serve up to 1,050 students in kindergarten through 11th grade by the 2018-19 academic year. After enrolling ninth-graders for 2016-17, the high school program would grow by one grade a year, according to the SUNY Charter Institute, and add 12th grade after the school’s next charter renewal.

Holloway said The Academy’s educators, in working to prepare students for college and careers, have planned partnerships with local universities. They also are developing programs in which students will earn college credit while in high school.

Board chairman Barrington Goldson said he appreciates the parents who enrolled their children in the ninth grade for their trust in the new initiative. “That was a great expression to us,” he said.

Alesha Grizzle, 13, one of the ninth-graders, formerly attended school in the Uniondale district.

“I’m kind of excited,” she said. “I was really looking for a change and I came here.”

The high school classrooms are located on the fourth floor of the high school and middle school building on North Franklin Street in Hempstead. The middle school, which serves fifth through eighth grades, opened for the 2015-16 academic year.

School officials spent the summer renovating the top floor of the building, where classrooms are equipped with smartboards and brand-new science labs. The ninth-graders are divided into groups of about 12, with each group led by a teacher.

The charter has provided an alternative to the public school district, chronically among the Island’s lowest-performing systems. Hempstead public school officials have been critical of such schools, saying that charters take away needed education funding and divide the community.

Local districts pay the tuition of charter students, and funding for charter schools is based on the number of students the schools attract.

Goldson noted that cooperation between the district and the charter has improved. The Academy, by taking in students, has helped alleviate crowding in the public system, he said.

The Academy is one of four charter schools on Long Island, with another one in Hempstead, one in Roosevelt and one in Riverhead in Suffolk County.

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