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Hempstead district weighing high school 'restructuring'

Doug Elmer from John Hopkins School of Education

Doug Elmer from John Hopkins School of Education discusses the potential partnership to assist Hempstead High School students with academic achievement on Monday, March 30, 2015 in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead school officials are in early talks with higher-education institutions about possible instructional reforms and changes at the high school, which is on a state priority list because of students' poor academic performance.

A representative of Johns Hopkins University School of Education Monday proposed a restructuring of the high school to break up the student population into "small learning communities" of 75 to 105 students who would go to classes under "teacher teams."

The "whole-school transformation" program also would address attendance and behavior problems with increased support for students, said Doug Elmer, chief program officer with the Talent Development Secondary program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

The team effort would increase staff cooperation, give more attention to students in overcrowded classrooms and place added emphasis on math and English learning, he said.

The changes would phase in over time, starting with the ninth grade in the 2015-16 school year, Elmer said, and the costs would depend on how intensive the involvement of Johns Hopkins' experts is, among other factors.

"The idea is that in three or four years, Hempstead High School would look pretty substantially different," he said.

The school had about 1,860 students in the 2013-14 school year and a graduation rate of 43 percent, according to the most recent figures available from the State Education Department.

The district's administration had invited media coverage of the meeting to showcase its efforts, but held the presentation behind closed doors. They said the district has not settled on a plan to submit to the school board. Officials from Farmingdale State College also attended, according to a district spokesman.

Hempstead High School Principal Stephen Strachan said the meeting was "a follow-up conversation with some of our potential partners" in seeking to improve academic performance.

"We're focusing on professional development to support our teachers in the delivery of the Common Core learning standards," he said.

Superintendent Susan Johnson said the talks "hopefully will result in a higher level of student performance" through a "focus on teacher learning."

The State Education Department placed the school on its "priority" list in 2013, meaning it officially ranked among the lowest 5 percent of schools statewide, and it remained on that list this school year.

Priority schools are required to submit their reform plans to the Education Department, spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie said. Changes for the next academic year aren't due until the summer.

The district's enrollment procedures also are being monitored until 2018 by the state attorney general's office, which investigated community complaints about immigrant kids being turned away this year.

Elias Mestizo, president of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association, said he had to crash Monday's meeting because he was "not notified" it was occurring.

He said teachers want "to see how we could support children" but need to know more.

"We've heard a lot of promises, we've seen a lot of plans and we are waiting to see exactly what is different with this," Mestizo said.

School board president Lamont Johnson, who is not related to the superintendent, said the administration's efforts are "about us reaching out to universities and to anyone that we can to make sure that we provide the best for our children." He added it is too early to estimate the potential cost of any changes.


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