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State receives plan for Hempstead school district’s overhaul

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks to members

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks to members of the state Board of Regents at a meeting in Albany on Monday, July 17, 2017. Credit: Hans Pennink

State Education Department officials confirmed receipt Friday of the Hempstead school district’s ambitious “Course of Action” plan — a road map to overhauling operations in the struggling district.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia had ordered the plan’s submission to her by Friday.

“Commissioner Elia will now review the report to determine if it complies with all requirements,” department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said.

The confirmation came as Hempstead administrators got word of a separate development: The state agency on Friday awarded the district a $5.4 million Community Schools grant, to be used both for academics and capital improvements.

“We’re excited,” Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong said. “It definitely will help the community out a lot as we prepare our students academically.”

On Thursday night, the five-member school board unveiled the “Course of Action” plan, and Armstrong explained it in a 45-minute presentation. It has been posted on the district’s website.

Technically, the blueprint is called a response, because it addresses points that Jack Bierwirth, a state-appointed adviser called a “distinguished educator,” raised in a wide-ranging report to Elia last month — findings and recommendations that the commissioner approved.

DeSantis said the state agency “will work with both the Distinguished Educator and the District to ensure the plan is implemented with fidelity.”

The district’s plan touches on all aspects of the 8,000-student system’s operations, from governance to classroom instruction and technology to school security. It lays out a series of actions that eventually could remove Hempstead from the state’s list of dysfunctional districts.

Most steps required under the plan would be in place by the end of the current calendar year. Some could require more time — most notably, the formulation and execution of a five-year plan for renovating and expanding school buildings.

Armstrong, in her presentation Thursday, emphasized the need for building improvements and announced that a possible bond issue for construction and renovation would be discussed at a Feb. 15 board meeting.

The Community Schools grant will be used for a range of improvements at the high school and the middle school. While the grant covers the current academic year, the district has until the end of August to spend the money, Armstrong said.

The state money will go toward programs in science, technology, engineering and math; expansion of arts and music education; and widening the selection of after-school programs for academic enrichment, among other improvements.

It also will be used for some capital expenses, such as renovating the track and field site, upgrading science labs at the middle and high schools, and installing better lighting in the high school auditorium.

Officials hope to put some of the funds toward “alternative pathways” to graduation, including vocational programming in fields such as carpentry and plumbing, Armstrong said.

“We’re just truly excited for the students,” she said. “They definitely deserve better facilities and alternative pathways to graduate and enter careers.”

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