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Riverhead Charter School hosts admissions lottery for next year’s kindergarten class

After receiving an estimated 115 applications for the 2024-25 kindergarten class, the Riverhead Charter School was only able to accept 80 students during its admissions lottery last Tuesday.

According to the school’s website, if the number of applications received exceeds the number of available seats at the end of the enrollment period — which was April 1 — students are then randomly selected for the 2024-25 academic year until enrollment capacity is reached.

Parents and children filled the school’s gymnasium and eagerly waited the names to be announced by special guest and chair of Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Taskforce, Mark McLaughlin. Many who heard their child’s name called broke into applause, while others were left disappointed their child had not been selected.

Superintendent Raymond Ankrum said the lottery is a bittersweet process for the school’s leadership, however he assured the remaining applicants they will be placed on a waiting list.

“Tonight is one of the worst nights of the year for me,” Mr. Ankrum told the audience before the lottery began. “I really don’t like being the bearer of bad news. What I say every year to the folks that may not get selected via the lottery, I’m going to work hard to make sure that if your kid is on a waiting list, that we clear that waiting list.”

Nicola Graham, the school’s chief financial officer, encouraged parents in the audience to reflect on the “significance” of their decision to apply to Riverhead Charter School and said the lottery “symbolizes a choice and a promise for a brighter future.”

The lottery process began in order of enrollment preference: the first names drawn were two children of current charter school employees, followed by 37 applicants who are siblings of current charter students. Lastly, 41 prospective kindergarteners residing in the Riverhead district were chosen.

All lottery admissions are preliminary, which means the drawing is not final until the charter school receives completed registration forms from accepted students.

Sonia Spar, who serves as a Spanish language facilitator for grades K-2, acknowledged the significant number of kindergarten applicants who are from Spanish-speaking families. She said the children are “valued and cared for” and the school provides them with the necessary tools they need to thrive.

“I have witnessed first hand the incredible work Riverhead Charter School is doing to provide high quality education to all students enrolled in the school,” Ms. Spar said in an email. “Having the option to give your child this opportunity is a dream for many parents who speak Spanish at home and who are frequently seen through — from what in the educational world is considered — a deficit mindset.”

The notion of a “deficit mindset,” as defined by the American Psychological Association, is when educators blame a student’s personal circumstances — most times out of their control — for poor academic performance, rather than looking at how the school could provide better support for each student.

Research shows educators are more likely to engage in deficit thinking when working with students of color, ELL students, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and students with disabilities.

In a previous Riverhead News-Review report, charter school board clerk Diana Salcedo said roughly 70% of the student community is Hispanic. Charter school officials recently announced its plans to launch a dual language immersion program next year, for which they presented an overview to parents during the lottery drawing.