The Hempstead school board voted 3-2 Thursday night to approve a four-year contract for incoming Superintendent Shimon Waronker that will pay him $265,000 a year.
Waronker, 48, an administrator known for turning around struggling and dangerous schools in New York City, will start July 1.
The school’s middle school and high school were placed in New York State’s receivership program in 2015 and must show “demonstrable improvement” within specified periods or risk having the state appoint an independent monitor to oversee them.
“These are tough things that we all have to work together to overcome,” Waronker said in an interview. “What the teachers and administrators need to know is I’m going to be there to support them, and help them through this process.”
Waronker, a Harvard-educated Hasidic Jew from Chile and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, also is a veteran schools administrator and protégé of former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. He currently is dean and head of school at the Jewish Academy in Commack and academic dean of the Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy.
He oversees three city schools as chief executive officer of the New American Initiative, a Brooklyn nonprofit. Waronker said he would leave his paid posts with the organizations.
Waronker’s hiring capped a six-month national search that involved applicants from across the country. The school board had approved his selection as superintendent on April 27, also in a 3-2 vote, even as contract negotiations continued.
Waronker did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
The trio of board president Maribel Touré and trustees Melissa Figueroa and Gwendolyn Jackson comprises a 3-2 majority on the board. Trustees LaMont Johnson and David Gates opposed Waronker’s hiring and contract.
Two hours after Thursday’s vote, Figueroa was arrested and charged with marijuana possession after she was stopped by Lynbrook police for allegedly not wearing a seat belt. She claimed in a text message that she was “set up” and that her attorney was handling the matter.
Waronker, in the interview, pledged to conduct a “listening tour” in the district.
“I want to do a lot of one-on-ones with teachers,” he said. “I want to roll up my sleeves and find out from their perspective, what are the challenges they’re facing, and how can I help them.”
“He’s going to commit full-time to Hempstead. . . . We are excited, we are happy,” Touré said in an interview after the board meeting. “It’s a very fair contract.”
Credited with helping remove JHS 22 in the South Bronx from the city’s list of the most violent schools, Waronker said the state designations imposed on the Hempstead schools under receivership “are serious challenges.”
He said that “once I find out what’s really going on, I’ll know what my chances are. But right now it’s hard to tell.”
Waronker will earn the same salary as interim Superintendent Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, who began a one-year term on July 1, 2016, at a $215,000 annual salary. The board approved a $50,000 raise for Atiba-Weza in October after the state Education Department denied his request for a Section 211 waiver, which would have allowed him to simultaneously receive pension payments.
The vote on Waronker’s contract came five days before Tuesday’s school board elections, in which trustee Figueroa faces a challenge from Randy Stith and Deborah DeLong.