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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Five issues new Hempstead school board president should address

Hempstead School board president Lamont Johnson in the

Hempstead School board president Lamont Johnson in the Hempstead High School auditorium where he was voted into the new position on July 1, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Lamont Johnson, Hempstead's new school board president, has a real opportunity to remake the district. And he made a start Wednesday by stabilizing district leadership.

Two weeks ago, Hempstead was losing its high school principal, Reginald Stroughn, even as the board voted to request an investigation of Superintendent Susan Johnson.

In an interview with Newsday Wednesday, Johnson said he intended to keep the superintendent and Stroughn. That's stability Hempstead needs as it readies for the upcoming school year.

But there are other things Johnson needs to address, even as Hempstead awaits resolution of serious issues including a complaint to the state Education Department over results of May's school board elections.

Here are five of them:

Be strong, be independent

Johnson, a former New York City and Hempstead Village police officer, will have to prove to skeptics that he is his own man. There have been times as a trustee that he's voted with former president Betty Cross, and times when he opposed her. It's a record that, to some, made him the right candidate to unify Hempstead's too-often split school board.

Yet some community members fear that he could be Cross' front man. Johnson should want to confront that assumption, and knock it right down. Hempstead, one of Long Island's poorest school districts and one that consistently ranks low in tests and other student achievement benchmarks, needs a functioning -- not fighting -- board.

End chaotic school board

meetingsThis should be easy. Advertise meetings in a timely manner, not at the last minute. Schedule them during times when parents and Hempstead residents are more likely to attend, and take public comment in an orderly and open fashion.

Publishing an agenda and supporting materials -- preferably in advance -- would be good, too.

Grow the crowd

Some 100 parents and residents have been showing up at recent school board meetings. Yes, they're critics. But they're also the crowd that could ignite and sustain the kind of change Hempstead children need and deserve in their schools. Johnson would do well to engage -- and grow -- the number of parents, teachers and residents attending school board meetings.

There's been discussion of appointing a state monitor for Hempstead. Stroughn, in fact, asked the state to be considered for the job. But if Hempstead is to improve, the push will come from the bottom, rather than be imposed from the top -- as illustrated by the state's failed decadelong takeover of the Roosevelt school district.

Ensure transparency

Residents, and especially parents, need to know what is working, what is not and where their services are needed in Hempstead. There's a perception that the board balks at giving information.

That must end.

Be inclusive

Hempstead has not been immune to the region's demographic changes. The district, in fact, has been majority Hispanic for years. And there are other increasing immigrant populations in the district as well.

That reality, however, is not reflected in the district's leadership and staff. On Wednesday, Johnson told Newsday that he intends to reach out to the changing community. It's a start.

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