Hempstead school board votes to scrap academy system

Hempstead School District Superintendent Susan Johnson speaks at

Hempstead School District Superintendent Susan Johnson speaks at the Hempstead School Board's first ever 'State of the School District' address at Hempstead High School in Hempstead. (April 6, 2013) (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

The Hempstead school board has approved a plan to dissolve the high school academy system it adopted almost three years ago and return to one large high school -- a move greeted with mixed reactions and still requiring state approval.

A recommendation by Superintendent Susan Johnson to dissolve the three college preparatory academies -- Business and Law, Math and Science, and Music and Art -- and consolidate under the name Hempstead High School was approved, 4-1, at a special meeting in her office Wednesday night.

Board president Betty Cross and trustees Waylyn Hobbs Jr., JoAnn Simmons and Shelley Brazley approved the restructuring. Trustee Brandon V. Ray voted no.


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The troubled district began the division into separate academies in September 2010. The restructuring was the first of its kind on Long Island.

Returning to one high school, said Alan Singer, a Hofstra University education professor who focuses on minority school districts, "doesn't address the challenges that Hempstead faces: students that live in poverty and students who don't speak English that need a lot of assistance."

Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the state Board of Regents, said, "One of the most important things is stability. The restructuring is certainly not adding to the stability of the high school."

State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said Thursday he could not respond to the district's plan because "the district has not shared their plan with the state department."

"I think what they did is good," Caprice Rines, co-president of the special education PTA, said after the Wednesday meeting. "The superintendent knows what she is doing."

Parent and student reaction at a restructuring forum Thursday night at the high school was mixed. Some criticized the district, saying it did not give the academies a chance.

"The bottom line is that you are destroying something without seeing the results first," said Maribel Toure, a parent of a high school student.

Deputy Superintendent Julius Brown said, "Four autonomous schools simply were not working. Operationally, we had some serious issues."

But, he conceded, he did not know whether the academies were successful because they have not operated long enough to produce graduation rates.

The four academies were identified by the state Education Department as needing improvement for the 2010-2011 school year. Only the Senior Academy referred to as Hempstead High School was listed that way for 2011-2012. The district also was listed as needing improvement because of its low performance in English language arts and graduation rates.

The board should have analyzed the performance data for another school year before making a decision, said David Evans, outgoing principal of the Academy of Music and Art. Evans said 70 percent of his students are on target to graduate. "The small school environment allows you to have personal contact as an administrator or a teacher in the classroom," he said.

Evans was one of five administrators -- including the three academy principals -- fired without public explanation by a 3-2 board vote last week.

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