Let’s Talk Charter Schools: Q & A Session with Raymond J. Ankrum, Executive Director and Principal of Riverhead Charter School
Question: What are the main differences between charter schools and traditional schools?
Raymond Ankrum: We offer flexibility when it comes to curriculum choices, which proved to be of great value to our students. In addition, each student is getting personalized attention based on their academic level and abilities, as well their needs and challenges. It is important to note that parents, in general, seem to be more invested in their children’s education, due to a variety of educational options available. Also, there are fewer worries and concerns about school safety.
Question: In your view, what are the three most important and attractive attributes of a charter school?
Raymond Ankrum: When it comes to pedagogical practices, our educators use their creativity and think outside the box. Furthermore, we build partnerships that strengthen local communities, and we take pride in our open door policy with regards to problem solving.
Question: How are charter schools being held accountable for results?
Raymond Ankrum: We regularly administer standardized testing for students and stimulate intrinsic motivation. Our teachers work hard and thrive on being the best at what they do. In my professional opinion, we are a better alternative to our counterparts in traditional public schools.
Question: How about student performance evaluation?
Raymond Ankrum: There are a myriad of ways our students are being assessed at Riverhead Charter School. We conduct summative and formative evaluations and offer project-based learning, which allows kids to consistently show some improvement or demonstrate personal growth.
Question: What message do you have for charter school opponents? What are the most important points you would like to communicate to them?
Raymond Ankrum: Charter schools are about school choice, and school choice is larger than any individual thoughts. Imagine NOT being able to make choices in life or letting other people make choices for YOU. Those days are over, so we must support parents in their decision to choose schools that can provide the best education for their children.
Question: What are the best and most effective ways to hold educators accountable? Do you have any specific criteria for teacher performance evaluation?
Raymond Ankrum: We use the Danielson model to evaluate teachers. The Framework for Teaching, created by Charlotte Danielson, is a comprehensive framework that identifies those aspects of a teacher’s responsibilities that have been documented through various studies and research as promoting improved student learning. The Framework for Teaching is a validated tool. In fact, studies have shown that teachers who receive higher ratings on their evaluation produce greater gains in student test scores. There is another point I would like to make. From my perspective, some of the best teachers are being reflective, thoughtful and insightful. Reflective practitioners are continually striving to make adjustments, challenge students, and serve as role models for kids.
Question: What is your perspective on Common Core State Standards?
Raymond Ankrum: I am glad to say that we have readily embraced Common Core Standards at RCS. The problem with Common Core was the rollout. Common Core should have followed a cohort of kindergarteners, and there should have been a 12-year rollout plan, with continual improvement as the major objective.
Question: What leadership strategies do you use to propel Riverhead Charter School forward?
Raymond Ankrum: Distributed leadership, allowing teacher-leaders to take ownership of teaching and learning, and setting the standard for how we run our school, getting buy-in from stakeholders (i.e. community leaders, parents, students, and staff members), and encouraging a solution-based environment where we focus on how we can get better, stronger and more effective as a school.
Question: The principal’s job has been called the most important, demanding the stressful in a school building. What are your secrets to success?
Raymond Ankrum: I think sense of humor helps. Also, I try not to take anything personally. In addition, I developed a customer service approach to problem solving which works for me. What’s important is that I love my job. I love what I do. And I am very passionate about teaching, inspiring and motivating young students, and bringing out the best in them.
Question: Are you trying to embrace new educational practices or trends that could further improve results?
Raymond Ankrum: We are open-minded and we always embrace and explore new technologies, innovative approaches and operational strategies. Simply put, we are not afraid to change systems that don’t work. When we make mistakes, we fix them.
Question: What steps are you taking to prevent bullying or educate students about its consequences?
Raymond Ankrum: One of the things we are going to do is participate in the upcoming assembly on March 10, in an effort to heighten awareness about this problem and explain its impact on children. Bullying is a big problem across the United States, and we are doing everything we can to prevent it, which is part of our job.
Question: How do you involve parents in the educational process and make sure they actively participate in the educational process?
Raymond Ankrum: We survey parents, and we’ve created an open door policy for parents to voice their concerns. We are always visible to stakeholders, and parents know how to easily find us. Communication is very important and we are always ready to listen to their opinions or take their thoughts and ideas into consideration.
Question: What progress has been achieved since your first day at RCS?
Raymond Ankrum: We are currently listed on www.greatschools.com, parent surveys provide positive feedback, test scores have improved, and we have a lower teacher turnover, and we are working extremely hard to attract and retain the best teachers for our students. I am also convinced that after graduating from RCS, most students are better prepared to transition to college than students who graduate from comparative schools in the surrounding area.
Question: What do you like most about working at Riverhead Charter School?
Raymond Ankrum: I would say, diversity of the student body is very appealing to me. Also, I see so many parents who want the best for their kids, who are vested in their children’s academic success and are so passionate about the educational process at RCS. In addition, we have amazing staff who always put students first. It is a privilege to be a part of this organization.