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Hempstead board hires teachers, OKs $450G support pact

Hempstead school board president Maribel Touré and vice

Hempstead school board president Maribel Touré and vice president Gwendolyn Jackson and Superintendent Shimon Waronker attend a special school board meeting on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school board has voted to approve the hiring of four “master teachers” at annual salaries of $135,000 each and enter into a $450,000 contract with a school support service founded by the district’s new superintendent, Shimon Waronker.

The votes on both actions Tuesday night were 3-1, as board president Maribel Touré and trustees Melissa Figueroa and Gwendolyn Jackson gave approval and trustee David Gates was opposed. School board member LaMont Johnson was not present.

Gates had made a procedural motion to postpone acting on both matters, saying he wanted more time to learn about them, but he did not get support from the other three trustees.

Tuesday’s meeting did not address the ongoing special hearing that seeks Johnson’s removal as trustee. That hearing followed a June 8 board resolution — passed on a 3-2 vote, with Touré, Figueroa and Jackson as the majority — that accused Johnson of improper conduct for allegedly revealing a list of Hempstead district employees and their addresses in violation of district rules.

The hearing was scheduled to resume Wednesday but was postponed when a state Supreme Court justice issued a stay in response to Johnson’s application for a delay for health-related reasons, said Douglas Thomas, his attorney.

Now, State Supreme Court Justice Anna R. Anzalone is scheduled to hear the case Thursday and is expected to determine whether the hearing can continue. Overseen by a board-designated hearing officer, the hearing has been held behind closed doors during special meetings called on June 19, June 21 and June 23, with each session lasting for several hours.

The flurry of school board activity comes as the panel’s membership is about to change, which could usher in a new voting majority. Figueroa was defeated by Randy Stith in the May school board election, and her term expires Friday.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, some members of the audience expressed displeasure with the board’s votes on teacher hires and the move to contract with the New American Initiative.

Gates said the district’s just-voted contract with the organization may represent a “glaring” conflict of interest for Waronker, and he took issue with hiring teachers at that salary level.

“To add an additional $450,000 to an already stretched budget without having any data to support the success of any of these programs or any of these particular categories, I have an issue with that,” he said.

Waronker, a noted education reformer who started June 2 as superintendent, created the Brooklyn-based New American Initiative to spread his education model. It emphasizes team teaching, with mentors overseeing other educators; open classrooms; merit pay for teachers; and higher salaries.

Waronker’s four-year contract specifies that he not draw any compensation from the New American Initiative, as well as three other entities with which he has had connections: Harvard University’s graduate School of Education, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the New York City Leadership Academy.

The three board members who voted in favor of the measures said those steps were long anticipated, and a large part of the reason Waronker was selected to lead the 7,500-student system.

“For the record, the New American Initiative and the master teachers — this is all part of Dr. Waronker’s plan and it’s one of the reasons why we hired him,” Jackson said.

Touré, Figueroa and Jackson voted in late April to hire Waronker pending negotiation of his contract, and in May approved the contract at an annual $265,000 salary. The three also voted for him to begin work one month earlier than the July 1 start specified in the contract. Gates and Johnson voted against all of those actions.

Board members debated the merits of hiring the master teachers. Gates questioned the process by which they were selected, asking how long the jobs had been posted to solicit applications and just what a master teacher would do, saying he is not familiar with the title.

Waronker explained that a master teacher is a “master of the craft of pedagogy, both for children and adults.”

During the discussion, Touré said Gates might recall that, during Waronker’s interview process, the candidate said he hoped to redesign the district’s curriculum and that his plan included the hiring of four master teachers.

The New American Initiative was incorporated in New York as a not-for-profit in November 2013, according to state records.

Schools currently shown online as being in The New American Academy and participating in the New American Initiative are The Jewish Academy, a small private school in Commack that Waronker began leading last year; PS 770 in Brooklyn; PS 274 in the Bronx; and The New American Academy Charter School in Brooklyn.

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