A handful of members of the public came out to support a proposed expansion of the Riverhead Charter School on Tuesday night, at a public hearing on an application to increase the school size from its current 275-student enrollment up to 400 kids.
Riverhead Central School District board members voiced no opinion on the proposal, which will ultimately be decided on the state level, and no members of the public expressed opposition.
Riverhead Charter School Execituve Director and Principal Raymond Ankur told the board that the charter school has no intention of trying to enroll students currently in RCSD from the district.
"We're not looking to backfill or poach any students," Ankur said. "We are looking to service the students we already have."
Ankur said that of the charter school's 275 students, about 120 live within RCSD. The school district pays the charter school, located on Route 25 in Calverton, about $15,000 per student, and budgeted $1.7 million this year toward the charter school.
Charter school officials, including Ankur and Finance Director Michelle Dalpiaz, said on Wednesday morning that along with an expansion of students, a new facility would also be sought on the school's six-plus acres. Though the school is still in talks with their architect, costs for a new facility are estimated around $14 million, which would have to be bonded.
Dalpiaz said that because charter schools do not receive facility aid from New York State, "we have been very careful in terms of the price of the building. We have to find monies in our own budget to pay for this."
At Tuesday night's public hearing, speakers included a current student, former student, and parents, all of whom praised the charter school and supported expanding its capacity. Several noted smaller classroom sizes and subsequently, more individual attention given to students as opposed to a public school setting that some feel has become somewhat standardized.
"I just want to let everybody know, when I was in the Riverhead Charter School, it felt like we were a family … and now that I’m in the Riverhead public school, I feel like I’m on my own," said Alexus Gilmore, a freshman at Riverhead High School. Gilmore added that she believed her peers in the charter school were better prepared than those who came from Pulaski Street School once they got into middle school.
Several parents spoke about the "inclusiveness" the charter school provides their kids, for example, teaching students with special needs in a typical classroom setting.
"It's just another way for a child to proceed with a differentiated education," said Mary Ellen Weaver, a teacher at the charter school who has a child of her own in RCSD. "One way to do that is to allow a child to remain at the charter school throughout seventh and eighth grade. If they are successful in their program they should be allowed to stay there.
"And the overall benefit of that should be stronger children coming out of our high school."