Riverhead Charter School was first opened in 2001 in Calverton, NY. They started out as a K-5 school and have since moved up to K-8 status. And Standards & Poors thinks they have some problems.
On the upside, Riverhead has just moved into a shiny $14.1 million new school, financed through two bond issues, including the first federal Qualified School Construction Bond ever awarded a charter school. Now students can eat in a cafeteria and have PE in a gymnasium. I'm sure there are plenty of public school students in New York State who are envious. Back in 2004, Riverhead also became one of the first charter schools in New York to unionize.
Riverhead has also had its share of controversy. Much of the more recent controversy appears to center around Principal Raymond Ankrum. This video clip will give you absolutely no real information, but watching this board meeting spin completely out of control gives a real sense of the level of volatility. Ankrum was brought in after a national search; he's an experienced charter hand, but he had been at the school only a couple of years before all hell broke loose.
At the Great Schools site, ratings are either very high or very low-- there's no in between. While these can be taken, always, with a lump of salt, they seem to lay out the issues pretty clearly:
The principle [sic] Mr. Arkrum has worked very hard to filter out all staff
members who chose to believe in a Union including the Union President.
There are all new teachers with less than 2 years experience and are
under Mr. Arkum rule!! There are no bad kids only bad behavior that
need to be redirected. I like to know why bad kids don't deserve a
place at that school? I know they are not special needs friendly.
The principal and teachers of this school do care and Mr Ankrum has
worked very hard this past year to filter out poor staff and bad kids
that don't deserve a place there. Children are pushed and encouraged a
lot but for their own good. Any child under Mr Ankrum's watch is safe
and this can't be stressed enough.
Ankrum apparently called a staff meeting, invited teachers to share how they felt about the teachers union, and then those that supported it were fired, some as soon as two weeks after the meeting, including a teacher previous lauded as "Teacher of the Year." Then the school filed a petition to have the school's union decertified. Ankrum reportedly reminded staff that he could fire them at any time. NYSUT did not take kindly to any of this, and the labor wrestling and lawsuits began. Ankrum (actually titled "executive director") is still in place.
Oh, and this is the school where the union president was fired over using eggs in a classroom experiment with an egg-allergic student in the room.
Then, just last week, this:
The Riverhead Charter School’s
bond rating was downgraded this week following a state report indicating
it’s at risk of closing due to poor performance in various areas,
including communication and oversight.
That's the bond issued on the new school building. S&P has downgraded that to a negative outlook, based on the state's on-site analysis that the school may not have a future ahead of it. Ankrum responded to the downgrade:
“The Riverhead Charter School
continues to strive for excellence by providing a rigorous education in
an environment where students are put first,” Mr. Ankrum wrote in an
email. “We are confident that S&P will upgrade our next rating since
parent satisfaction surveys are in the 90th percentile, we have made
academic gains over the past year and have a 92.5 percent staff
retention rate for next year, which is well above the 81 percent
national charter school average.”
Well, maybe. The state says that when given the chance to speak anonymously, parents and staff describe a school where Ankrum and the Board don't communicate effectively and establish an atmosphere where parents and teachers are expected to shut up and do as they're told. The descriptive phrase “in a degrading fashion to parents and staff” turned up. And folks are still concerned about the union-related purging of staff. A former board member is suing over her removal after she was critical of board policy. And the state criticized the lack of any formal job performance review system for Ankrum.
It all adds up to one more example of the instability that comes with charter schools, as well as the sorts of chaos that comes without job protections for teachers and a chartery hatred for unions in a system that doesn't have to listen to the taxpayers if they don't feel like it.