Tuesday, July 28, 2015

NY Charter in Trouble

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.


  1. If you want the real skinny on this school, go to RiverheadLOCAL online, put charter school into the search box, and read away. Some of the articles are linked here, but there are others. Denise Civiletti has written some extensive and indepth pieces on the shenanigans there. BTW, NYSUT is mostly silent regarding the anti union policies here.

  2. The state of affairs at RCS saddens me, however nothing in this article is a surprise to me. I worked at RCS for eleven years and truthfully I never wanted to leave. Charter Schools, even RCS, can be great. The problem is that the administration has too much autonomy. It is very simple...absolute power corrupts absolutely! The school’s culture at RCS during my last year there was extremely volatile and from what I understand it remains so even now. The truth is, had there been a democratic system of checks and balances in place I, as well as the multitude of other staff members that were overhauled between 2012-2014 would still have their jobs. What got me through that horrific time in my life was the sincere love I have for my students and for teaching. On a positive note, over the course of my tenure at RCS I witnessed first hand how well the school works when there is a cohesiveness between board members, administration, staff and parents. Until the current problems are rectified the biggest losers will be the children.

    The parents and caregivers who place their children at RCS want them to have the very best education. The staff, children and families are the infrastructure of the Riverhead Charter School. Once they regain their voice, they will regain their strength and be on a strong footing once again! Most of us are all familiar with the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well, a school is like a village. The people within its walls creating an environment in which to live, grow and learn. With the comings and goings at RCS in its current condition the staff will continue to be plundered, more children will come and go and the village will become an even more unstable environment.

    The feelings that surface when I think of the Rivherhead Charter School are mixed. Being let go from this school was like an amputation, for it was so nuch a part of me. It took a very long time for me to realize that losing my job did not negate all that I had worked for. My best friend at RCS let me know that those of us that were forced out in what ever way, shape or form have left a legacy that we can all be proud of! My wish and hope for RCS is that the components that are bringing it down will be replaced or dissolved and it is up to the community at large to make that happen!