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Charter School looks to add dual language programs for the 2024-25 school year

Riverhead Charter School officials discussed several “innovation programs” that are in the works for next school year, including dual language immersion and special education offerings.

Nicolas Timpone, the charter school’s director of academics, spoke about plans for the dual language program at a board of trustees meeting on March 27. Although in its beginning stages, pilots for English and Spanish dual language immersion have been happening since the start of this school year.

Another test run of the dual language program is currently taking place in a kindergarten math class, where the entire lesson is taught in Spanish. A two-week pilot is scheduled to happen in June and Mr. Timpone said school officials have considered a variety of versions for dual language — for example, implementing a 50/50 ratio of Spanish and English language instruction.

“The kids were not missing a beat,” said Mr. Timpone, who observed the kindergarten class. “The Spanish-speaking kids are so excited and so empowered — being an educator and a grandparent in a room of kindergarteners, I had tears in my eyes.”

A presentation about the dual language immersion program will take place on Tuesday, April 9, the night of the charter school’s admissions lottery, when incoming kindergarten parents can choose whether or not to opt in to the program.

Although this announcement follows the news of impending teacher layoffs in the Riverhead School District and cuts to its Dual Language Program, charter school superintendent Raymond Ankrum said this decision to introduce a dual language immersion program happened “prior to any cuts that were happening in the district.”

Riverhead Charter School is one of 10 schools nationwide involved in Transcend’s ten-month Rural Schools Design Community cohort program. Transcend is a national nonprofit that supports K-12 schools in creating more equitable, community-driven learning environments. The cohort program allows for the charter school to reimagine education in a rural community.

Beginning in August 2023, Riverhead charter school officials were instructed to choose from various innovation models and landed on dual language immersion. Transcend supplies the school with a coach who provides support and helps implement the program, Mr. Timpone said. They also have access to networking and collaborative events with the other cohort schools.

“I’m really, really confident that this is going to happen here — that we’re going to have bilingual kids by the end of kindergarten next year,” Mr. Timpone said.

Patrick McKinney, charter high school principal, said he and others in the leadership team made sure to consider community input during the summer by communicating with and distributing surveys to the different stakeholders to get feedback about a potential dual language program.

“We kind of went in thinking it was going to be a high school innovation — we were looking at internships and at all this great work — and based off of what the community asked for, it was something different, which is really nice,” Mr. McKinney said.

Diana Salcedo, school board clerk, said roughly 70% of the student community is Hispanic and speak Spanish, so she believes the program is essential for further academic support.

“We are excited to embrace our students’ culture,” Ms. Salcedo said.

Special education plans

Mr. Ankrum said the charter school is looking into a special education pilot program, as well.

The superintendent said the charter school loses a large number of students annually in special education specifically due to the inability to provide them with the services they need, which is due to a lack of space.

“A lot of times when a student goes back to the district, it’s due to the district being able to offer a smaller ratio class,” Mr. Ankrum said. “As we obtain more space to be able to do it, it is something we are looking to have be a mainstay at our school because we don’t want to lose our students.”

The pilot program would not only be an asset to the community, Mr. Ankrum said, but it would dispel the “myth” that charter schools underserve special education students.

The Riverhead Charter School was founded in September 2001 as a K-6 school. At the start of the 2022-23 school year, they opened a high school campus at the refurbished Old Northville School House on Sound Avenue. Last year, the school’s charter was expanded, allowing for the addition of 11th and 12th grades, and expanding enrollment to 1,244 students. Prior to that, students in grades 9 and 10 shared the building at the school’s campus on Middle Country Road in Calverton with K-8 students.

As of February, the total enrollment is currently 895 students and the prospective number of students for the 2024–25 academic year is approximately 876, with a 98% student retention rate.

At the time of the board meeting, the school board said they received 115 applications for kindergarten, but can only accept 80 prospective students due to capacity issues.