Roosevelt High School is marking a dubious milestone - its 20th straight year on the state's lowest-achievement list. But its new principal predicts this won't last much longer.
In Albany Thursday, state education chiefs released their annual compilation of "Schools Under Registration Review" - a roster that includes Roosevelt High and 80 other schools statewide. Roosevelt is the only Long Island school on the list, and by far its longest occupant.
However, the school's principal, Stephen Strachan, who took over in August, says that student attendance is up and fighting is down, and that this should be reflected in higher test scores during the 2011-12 school year. Strachan cautions that academic turnarounds generally take three to five years to complete, but adds that school morale is already mending.
"Students are respectful - there's a sense they want to do better," says the principal, who formerly headed an inner-city school in the Los Angeles area.
Currently, Strachan says, only 23 students are on suspension for fighting and other misconduct, compared with 51 students at this time last year. And academic improvements are on the way. Next fall, the principal plans to double to 10 the number of college-level Advanced Placement courses offered in his school.
Bishop J. Raymond Mackey, the school board president, voiced concern over the school's two decades on the poor-achievement list, but added that "significant improvements and academic gains have already been made."
Local parents, too, see at least limited progress.
"The feedback I'm getting is that things are getting better," said Susan Gooding, whose son graduated four years ago and is in college.
"Well, it's kind of getting better, because of the new principal," agreed Martha Sanchez, whose daughter is in 11th grade. "But there's still room for improvement."
The fate of this 720-student school has statewide significance. Albany took control of the Roosevelt district eight years ago - the state's only takeover ever. While control gradually is being returned to a locally elected school board, the state still holds a veto over budgeting and major hiring decisions.
Before the takeover, Roosevelt High suffered from high administrative turnover as rival factions within the community fought for control of the school board and hiring patronage. The Roosevelt district is the poorest in Nassau County.
Last year, the school reported a 60 percent graduation rate - just enough, under normal circumstances, to win removal from the SURR list. But Tom Dunn, a state Education Department spokesman, says his agency was not certain the figure was accurate, and that Roosevelt High is being kept on the list while data are reviewed.
Meanwhile, the department is encouraging school officials to reapply for a $2-million-a-year federal improvement grant - an award denied the school in 2009. Some state officials expect that, under Strachan's leadership, the school will have better luck this year.
"We've obviously seen a lot of progress," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the state Regents Board. "Once they get the money, they should get off the list real fast."