Hempstead High School could be placed on a short list of the lowest-performing schools in the state, if the troubled district goes ahead with its plan to dissolve the high school academy system it adopted three years ago and return to one large school.
The State Department of Education is reviewing its decision not to classify Hempstead High School as a "priority school," according to a letter sent to the district. The bottom 5 percent of schools in the state are identified as priority. Hempstead qualified to be identified as such in July 2012 but was not listed because the district had begun phasing out the large high school, which was slated to close this month.
"The Department must now reconsider the decision that resulted in the school not being designated as Priority," Ira Schwartz, assistant commissioner of the Education Department's Office of Accountability, wrote in a May 15 letter addressed to Hempstead Superintendent Susan Johnson.
The Hempstead school board approved in April by a 4-1 vote the plan that calls for dissolving the three college preparatory academies -- each of which now has students in grades 9-11 -- as well as the Senior Academy, with 12th-graders only, and consolidating all four grades under the name Hempstead High School.
The division into separate academies in September 2010 was the first of its kind on Long Island.
If the state Board of Regents approves the district's new plan, the high school will retain part of the academy structure by offering students the chance to focus in the same three areas: business and law, math and science, or music and art.
"Having four high schools operating autonomously in a single school building with no physical separation have presented significant operational challenges unique to this construct," Deputy Superintendent Julius Brown said. "Scheduling the school as a single school allows greater student course choice and more proficient and productive assignment of teachers and staff."
The priority school designation is based either on combined English language arts and math assessments or continuing graduation rates below 60 percent. Schools receiving the designation in 2012 were required by the 2014-15 school year to implement a school reform model, according to the Education Department's website.
"The priority school designation means that they are giving Hempstead a chance to clean up its act or it would take action, but there is no action the state would make because the state doesn't want to take over Hempstead," said Alan Singer, a Hofstra University education professor who focuses on minority school districts.
To address the potential restructuring of the high school, district officials in April fired the principals of the three academies, Brown said. One of the options for priority schools under state requirements is to remove the school's administration, he said.
"We understood when we first started deliberating that the high school's accountability status would be impacted," Brown said. "We understand the challenges of us doing that."