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State recommends expansion of two LI charter schools

From left, Evergreen Charter School students Jeymily Cajimila,

From left, Evergreen Charter School students Jeymily Cajimila, Tiffany Maldonado, Ivanna Rivera and Araya Williams react to news on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, that the Hempstead school plans to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes after gaining state approval. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Two Long Island charter schools — one in Hempstead, the other in Calverton — would be able to expand student enrollments by 60 percent or more under a new recommendation by state education officials.

Education Department staffers have called for Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead to increase its enrollment from 375 students to 600 over the next five years. Meanwhile, Riverhead Charter School in Calverton would grow from 414 students to 700.

Both schools also would obtain five-year renewals of their state charters, according to proposals from the Education Department. Final approval of the staff recommendations is up to the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy.

The board originally was scheduled to vote on the proposals Monday, but the meeting was canceled because of a snowstorm upstate.

Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said the Regents will take up the charter school plan at a later date, probably at the panel’s next monthly meeting in March.

Evergreen, in addition to expanding enrollment, would add seventh- and eighth-grade classes to its kindergarten through sixth-grade structure. The prospect has cheered parents, who feared they might have to transfer their children to other schools after grade six.

“I almost cried, I was so excited,” said Ana Campos, a Baldwin resident whose younger daughter now is a sixth-grader at Evergreen.

Riverhead Charter School will continue operating under its current K-8 grade structure.

Public charter schools are tuition-free and run by private boards independent of traditional school districts. Charter schools obtain taxpayer funding that is based on the number of students they recruit.

The charter movement captured increased public attention last week with the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Michigan philanthropist and ardent supporter of charter schools, as U.S. education secretary.

DeVos’ predecessor, John B. King Jr., a former New York State education commissioner, had himself founded a charter school in Massachusetts and run a nonprofit charter-school management company before taking the state and federal jobs.

Some charter schools, both on the Island and across the country, have attracted so many students that selection has to be determined by annual lotteries. Gil Bernardino, board chairman at Evergreen, said his school has a waiting list of about 250 students.

At Riverhead Charter School, Principal Ray Ankrum, also executive director, said demand is strong.

“At this point, compared to last year, we’ve doubled the number of applicants — to over 100 for 75 available seats,” Ankrum said. “And we haven’t even advertised. This is just by word of mouth.”

A local parent, Magdalena Talik of Calverton, recalled her family’s experience nine years ago, when they moved from Brooklyn. At the time, Talik’s young son, who attended a Brooklyn public school as a first-grader, was struggling with reading.

Within weeks of entering second grade at Riverhead Charter School, the boy was reading fluently, his mother said.

“It became like a hobby. We started going out and buying books on weekends,” Talik said.

Her son has since moved on to a Catholic high school in the area. A younger sister is enrolled in second grade at Riverhead Charter School.

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