Charter School supporters turn out for hearing

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead Charter School principal and executive director Raymond Ankrum speaks at Tuesday night’s public hearing.

Parents, students, and teachers spoke out in favor of a proposed expansion of the K-6 Riverhead Charter School to include seventh and eighth grades at a public hearing during Tuesday night’s Riverhead school board meeting.

“What impressed me most about the charter school is the way the school adheres to principles that I want my children to learn and live by: accept and respect each other, appreciate the uniqueness and differences we have, and strive for your goals and dreams no matter what obstacles are in your way,” said Christina Santopietro, a parent of three charter school students.

If the application by the charter school to the New York State Board of Regents is approved, the school would eventually expand to a maximum of 400 students from its roughly 275 current enrollment.

Charter school principal and executive director Raymond Ankrum said the school would have rising students fill in the grades as they get older. Meaning the sixth grade class that would normally move out of the school at seventh grade would instead stick around. Then in year two of an expanded program, a second new class would start kindergarten and the school would have a full K-8 student body.

“We’re not looking to backfill in any kind of way,” Mr. Ankrum said. “We’re not going to poach any students from the district or any other district. We’re just looking to service the kids that we currently have.”

Under state law, the district pays $15,000 for each student from the Riverhead district who attends the charter school, superintendent Nancy Carney said.

So if an additional 100 students at the charter school came from Riverhead, the district would see costs rise by $1.5 million for the district, she said.

The school draws from a number of districts, with most students coming from the Riverhead and Longwood districts.

At the public hearing, many voiced their support for the school’s application.

Ms. Santopietro said she has three children in the school, including her sixth-grade son Eric, who was diagnosed with autism.

She said the charter school gave her special-needs son an inclusive learning experience that he couldn’t get at other schools, and teaches proper values to her children.

If the school’s application is not granted, her family would have to find another charter school for Eric to attend to receive the same quality of education, she said.

Rita, a second-grader at the charter school, said she would be happy if her older brother, who’s now in the sixth grade, could stay in the same school as her.

Rita’s mother, Laurie Nigro, said this past year was her children’s first year in the school and that administrators and teachers helped her children’s transition into the school.

“The school itself has excellent programs,” Ms. Nigro said. “My children are very happy there. They are excelling … and it would be beneficial for both of them to have this experience through the seventh and eighth grade.”

Eileen DiCosola, a parent of a special-needs Riverhead Charter School student, said she was happy the district had not voiced opposition to the charter school’s application.

“I’m glad the Riverhead School District does not view the charter school as a threat, but as a partnership with the same goals and wants for the students,” she said. “It is about what is best for the students and giving parents a choice in their child’s education.”

Board members did not speak at the hearing, and Ms. Carney declined to comment on the application.

Mary Ellen Weaver, a parent, teacher at the charter school, and Riverhead taxpayer said the school and the district “share the same passion” for educating students.

“We all want to give our kids exactly what they need, and one way to do that is to allow the children to remain at the charter school for seventh and eighth grade,” Ms. Weaver said. “If they’re successful in their program, they should be allowed to stay there and the overall benefit of that is stronger children coming out of the high school.”

No one spoke in opposition to the application at the hearing. The public hearing will be sent to the state, who will make a decision on the charter school’s application.

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