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Riverhead Charter School looking to double its enrollment

Raymond Ankrum

Just over 400 students enrolled in the Riverhead Charter School last school year, reaching the maximum number of students allowed in the charter.

But come 2021, that enrollment could nearly double, if the school has its way.

Principal Raymond Ankrum said the K-8 school is seeking to renew its charter status and change its maximum enrollment from 414 students to 700.

The increase would occur gradually over a period of five years, he said, and would begin by introducing about 75 students during the 2017-18 school year. The goal is to bring most of the new students in at the kindergarten level rather than “poach” older students from different schools, he said.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at strategically in terms of just broadening our impact from the school,” Mr. Ankrum said. “You have to be strategic in how you do these things because you have to make sure you’re able to put the right staff in place and the right people in place in order to grow organically as a school.”

Looking to nearly double in size, the district would use both the new $14.1 million facility completed in January 2015 and the original, historic building used prior to its completion, Mr. Ankrum said.

“Even though our school will increase in enrollment, the class sizes would still be the same, or similar,” Mr. Ankrum said, mentioning that more staff and faculty members would be hired over time to meet demand. “We’re just utilizing all of our square footage on the property. It’s really not going to be of any impact to class sizes, per se.”

On Tuesday evening, the Riverhead Central School District held a public hearing on the school’s wish to increase maximum enrollment. Most of a charter school’s funding derives from tuition paid by the district each student would otherwise attend. The remaining monies come from a combination of state and federal grants and private fundraising.

During the 2015-16 school year, 51 percent of charter school students were from the Riverhead district, 20 percent were from William Floyd, 12 percent were from Longwood and 4 percent were from South Country. Thirteen 13 other districts made up the remaining 13 percent, Mr. Ankrum said.

During the public hearing, four community members, all whom had a connection to both the charter school and the public school district, spoke in support of the school.

They all spoke highly of the Riverhead School District and how it either worked for them or their children, but added that it was nice to have the charter school alternative because, for some of their family members, the public school wasn’t the perfect fit.

“I have two kids in Riverhead Central School District and a son in the Riverhead Charter School,” Baycan Fideli said. “I’m a big fan of Riverhead school district, but the charter school works best for him with the fit, style, size and mission … I think having this card on the deck of options is great.”

Mr. Ankrum said that, should higher enrollment levels be approved, the school would remain K-8, but added that parents have expressed interest in adding grades 9-12 to the school, which the school is considering for a future charter renewal.

During a charter renewal process, the school is required to submit materials to the State Education Department outlining the changes they want to make to their charter and detailing how the school is doing relative to the host district, Riverhead Central School District, and statewide averages, Mr. Ankrum said. 

At the Riverhead school board meeting, president Susan Koukounas explained that the board doesn’t vote on the charter school’s application. Rather, they hold a public hearing and send the recorded statements made at it to the State Education Department, which decides if the charter renewal gets approved.

Mr. Ankrum said a benefit of increasing the maximum enrollment is providing a larger sense of community.

“For us, we’re a family, so bringing people together, I think that could be beneficial to the community in terms of providing all students with a quality education,” he said.

Susan Ruocco of Hampton Bays, the mother of a first- and a third-grader in the charter school, said that, since class sizes would remain similar, she thinks the expansion would be “wonderful.”

“Any expansion is welcome,” added Wayne Bassey of Riverhead, who has a son in sixth grade at the charter school. “It’s welcome because they’re doing a great job so far and they’ve exceeded other schools around the neighborhood in the standardized tests. So, I think it benefits the community to have more students in the charter school system.”

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Photo: Riverhead Charter School principal and executive director Raymond Ankrum addressing the Riverhead school board Tuesday night. (Credit: Nicole Smith)