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5 Long Island schools added to state’s ‘priority’ list

Roosevelt Middle School Principal Nateasha McVea observes

Roosevelt Middle School Principal Nateasha McVea observes seventh-graders Jason Melendez, 13, left, and Randy Ramos, 13, as they work in Alex Verstraete's music technology class on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. The state Education Department on Friday announced the middle school is in "good standing" academically. Credit: Barry Sloan

Five more public schools on Long Island are on the state’s latest “priority list,” meaning that they run the risk of being placed in academic receivership within three years if student test scores do not improve.

At the same time, the state Education Department on Friday restored the good academic standing of another 40 schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties that had faced a degree of difficulty with low student test scores in the past.

New “priority” designations went to Charles A. Mulligan Middle School in Central Islip, Franklin Elementary School and Jackson Annex School in Hempstead, and Martin Luther King Elementary School and LaFrancis Hardiman School in Wyandanch.

That brings the total number of area schools in “priority” status to eight, including three that also were in the category last year — Hempstead High School, Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in the Hempstead district and Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch. A total of six schools in the region were in “priority” standing at this time last year.

Local school authorities reacted to Albany’s latest action with mixed feelings, particularly in districts where some schools experienced a boost in academic status while others got a downgrade.

Ratings are based on a complex combination of state and federal testing regulations. Under those rules, which face major changes in coming months, a drop in scores for one particular group of students — for example, those in bilingual classes or special education — can affect an entire school.

“Of course, we face our challenges,” said LaMont Johnson, president of Hempstead’s school board. “Any progress is good, but we want to make sure all our children get a good quality education.”

Johnson referred to progress at Hempstead’s Barack Obama Elementary School, which saw its status lifted Friday to “good standing” from last year’s “focus” category. The “focus” level is a step above “priority.”

In addition, the Hempstead board president said he was “encouraged” that the middle school in nearby Roosevelt — formerly on the “priority” list — was named Friday as in good standing and will shed its receivership status by June 30.

In Central Islip, Superintendent Craig Carr noted that his district’s high school also recovered its good standing, while the district’s Ralph G. Reed Middle School saw its status upgraded from “priority” to “focus.” That illustrated the district’s emphasis on creating a “culture” of increased student achievement, he said.

“The high school graduation rate for the Class of 2015 increased over 2014 by double digits, and Reed is making significant inroads towards academic success,” Carr said in a statement. “We will continue increased emphasis to declassify Mulligan Middle School.”

Nathan Jackson, a Wyandanch spokesman, said that district also is upgrading its learning programs in an effort to boost test results.

“The problems of the district are no secret, but steps have already been taken to upgrade the status,” Jackson said.

Ten schools in the Nassau-Suffolk region were newly designated Friday as in “focus” status, bringing the regional total to 14 schools. Six of those most recently placed in the category are in the Riverhead district.

Riverhead’s Aquebogue Elementary School had its good standing restored, meanwhile.

Susan Koukounas, president of the Riverhead school board, said “focus” ratings based on performance by non-English-speaking students and those in special education provided an incomplete and inaccurate picture of schools’ overall performance.

“We have great academic programs in Riverhead,” Koukounas said. “I would invite the state Education Department to come down and look at what we’re doing.”

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