Raymond Ankrum, the new executive director and principal of the Riverhead Charter School, wants to take the school to new levels—literally. At a public hearing before the Riverhead School Board, Ankrum recently discussed his plans to expand the school from kindergarten through sixth grade to seventh and eighth grade.
“We do phenomenal things in terms of our test scores, but we start to lose kids [at the end of] fifth grade because they want to go to their home [middle schools] because we don’t go all the way up to the eighth grade. So by doing that, we give students the best opportunity to prepare for high school,” Ankrum said.
He explained that the school outperforms the districts that it brings students in from. “So as long as we continue down that path, our students are going to be ready for high school,” Ankrum added.
According to the National Education Association, charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.
It is in this environment that Ankrum hopes to elicit yet more changes. “This is about coming in and finding out about the things we’re doing really well and improving on those things, and then also finding out the things we’re not doing so well and making those incremental changes,” Ankrum said. “It’s a really good school, but I want it to be a great school,” he added.
Ankrum recently upgraded the school’s outdated technology and made sure that teachers had working laptops and projectors. He also ensures that his teachers have access to professional development that it is directed by them. Rather than dictate what the professional development is going to be, he conducts assessments to determine directly from his teachers what they need.
Ankrum also has plans to expand the school’s physical campus. “It’s definitely in the works … there’s a lot of things that need to take place in order for it to occur but it’s looking like it’ll happen,” said Ankrum.
He explained that she school does not have a cafeteria, an auditorium or a gymnasium and that the new facility will serve all of those needs. It will be a place where extra-curricular activities and special functions will take place. “Our expansion is more to be able to fit our kids, to give them the quality education that they need … we do a great job now with less, but imagine if it was an equal playing field.”
The new building, that is expected to cost $14 – $16 million, will come out of the school’s operating budget and not from Riverhead taxpayers. Ankrum said that it will be a big but manageable challenge and that he plans on conducting a marketing campaign in the future.
Ankrum, who embraces the charter school model and the diversity and choice it offers, has spent much of his career teaching in charter schools. He served as the dean of students for Democracy Prep Public Schools, a group of charter schools, and was the principal for Harlem Village Academy, a New York City charter school.
Now, as executive director and principal of the Riverhead Charter School, Ankrum is taking full advantage of the opportunity he has to facilitate education reforms and develop innovative teaching methods that the charter school model affords.
SOURCES: Riverhead News Review, National Education Association