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Riverhead Charter School to add high school grades, boost enrollment

The school enrolls 490 students in K-8. Within the next four years, its student body is expected to grow to 787.

The Riverhead Charter School on Monday, March 12,

The Riverhead Charter School on Monday, March 12, 2018 in Calverton. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Riverhead Charter School, which draws students from a wide swath of central and eastern Long Island, will add high-school grades starting in the 2020-21 academic year, under an expansion plan approved Monday by the state’s Board of Regents.

The independently run public charter school, which now enrolls 490 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, also won permission from the policymaking Regents board to gradually expand its student body to 787 within the next four years.

This would represent a nearly 61 percent enrollment boost.

School officials said they were weighing the idea of building a new high school on a separate nearby site, while leaving elementary and middle-school classes at their present facility, a 50,000-square-foot building that opened in January 2015.

“Awesome,” said one parent, Phatima Mitchell of Sound Beach, who has three children enrolled. Her oldest, a sixth-grader, hopes to go on to the newly approved high school in three years.

“It’s definitely like a family here,” said Mitchell, who added that she was especially pleased with her children’s academic progress.

Riverhead Charter School in Calverton becomes the second charter institution on Long Island to opt for a high school program. Academy Charter School in Hempstead welcomed its first ninth-grade class in 2016 and is now adding one grade each year at the high-school level.

Monday’s approval vote was by the full 17-member Regents panel, which sets much of the state’s educational policy. Four charter schools operate in Nassau and Suffolk counties and a fifth is scheduled to open in Uniondale in September.

State Education Department staffers, who recommended the Calverton school’s expansion, said a survey conducted by the school in English and Spanish collected responses from 113 families. All responders indicated they wanted their children to continue studies at Riverhead Charter after completing eighth grade, department staffers said.

Public charter schools in New York State are run by independent boards and provide tuition-free educations to students who apply. Such academies operate on revenues provided by school districts from which students are drawn.

Raymond Ankrum, the school’s executive director and principal, said his school currently enrolls students from 16 districts, stretching from Central Islip in the west to Hampton Bays in the east. The school chief noted that expansion will allow students to remain in the same system rather than transferring out as ninth graders.

“It’s a huge transition to go from a small school where everybody knows who you are to a large high school,” Ankrum said.

Riverhead Charter School has experienced ups and downs since it first opened in September 2001. It began under the management of Edison Schools, at the time the largest private operator of charter schools in the nation.

By 2008, the school was struggling. Student test scores had dropped, the school had suffered rapid turnover in management, and it owed $4 million to the Edison corporation.

State education officials initially called for the school’s shutdown. But a local coalition of parents and others successfully petitioned for additional time to turn the school around and sever ties with Edison.

The state, in a March 1 report on the school, found that student achievement in English and math has improved for three consecutive years, and consistently outscores the local district.

“It was touch-and-go for a while, and they have really succeeded,” said Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the board and voted for expansion. “I give them a lot of credit.”

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