Roosevelt High School reopens after $66.9M renovation

The Roosevelt school district held a ribbon-cutting ceremony as it reopened its high school, with a $66.9 million facelift that caps the largest reconstruction project ever undertaken by a single Long Island school district. (Sept. 9, 2013)

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Roosevelt High School reopened Monday after a $66.9 million renovation that caps the largest reconstruction project ever undertaken in a single Long Island school district.

With completion of the 223,700-square-foot high school, the entire Roosevelt system -- formerly one of the Island's most dilapidated -- has been rebuilt at an approximate cost of $245.5 million, the bulk of it with state funds.

"This entire district has been reinvented," said Deborah Wortham, the new superintendent who took over in July.

Wortham spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony also attended by state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. The event included a display of blue-and-yellow balloons -- the school's colors -- along with a rhythm-and-blues performance by the marching band.

Roosevelt's hourlong celebration played out against a backdrop of continued academic challenges.

The high school remains on the state's list of lowest scholastic performers -- a spot it has occupied for more than 20 years. Several state authorities, among them Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have threatened to place such schools under new management, either by a state agency or a private charter manager, if they don't raise student test scores and graduation rates.

Roosevelt's middle school also is posted on the state's "priority" list.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, who attended the ceremony but did not speak, told a reporter she is concerned by a recent state report that Roosevelt High and many other underperforming schools had not substantially boosted achievement during 2011-12, the latest academic year on record.

"Without better education, a new building is just an empty shell," said Tisch, of Manhattan, whose board sets statewide educational policy.

Many of Roosevelt High's 800 students just seemed happy to be back after spending two years in the district's middle school during the reconstruction.

"I would say we're excited to move into our own building," said Kyle Manuel, 17, a senior who plays saxophone in the marching band. "There's a lot more room."

The rebuilt school includes a 27,700-square-foot expansion. Among the new facilities are 16 science and computer labs, a mirrored dance studio and job-training centers for prospective chefs and nurses.

All classrooms are equipped with electronic interactive whiteboards. Teachers can draw diagrams on them with a touch of a finger or press display-screen icons that produce instantaneous text, photos or music.

Alexandra Heisig, 27, a math teacher now entering her sixth year with the district, said the Smart boards give her more freedom to move about the front of classrooms and spark discussions with students without having to frequently reach for notes or other materials.

Monday, Heisig scribbled examples of "real world" math applications such as store prices and discounts on her board in bright electronic letters as her 10th-graders offered suggestions. Math applications including sophisticated modeling are among classroom topics emphasized under new Common Core academic standards now taking hold in New York and other states.

"I never have to be sitting at my desk," Heisig said.

Roosevelt, like other districts that are relatively poor, is heavily dependent on state financial aid to pay for both school reconstruction and day-to-day operations. Albany is financing 98 percent of Roosevelt's approved reconstruction costs under special legislation.

Roosevelt ranks as the second-poorest school district in Nassau County, with a taxable wealth that is less than 60 percent of the state's average, according to Albany's latest calculations.

Taxable wealth in the county's poorest district, Hempstead, is less than 50 percent of the state average. Hempstead also has two schools on the state's "priority" list.

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