Hempstead school administrators said Monday night they would create targeted learning communities and train teachers to better serve the district's growing number of Spanish-speaking students among other changes in an effort to fix their failing middle and high schools.
The meeting was in response to a plan to place the two campuses in state receivership.
Hempstead High School will have one year to show improvement under local supervision. Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School will have two years to show progress.
Hempstead High School principal Stephen Strachan said the district would create "learning communities" in which 150 to 250 students would be grouped together so they could be closely watched by staff to better address their academic needs.
He said teachers will be trained to serve an increasingly Spanish-speaking student population and that the children who were housed in an off-site annex last school year will be moved to the main campus.
The meeting came four days after state officials singled out the two Hempstead schools for years of poor academic performance. Putting them in receivership would give the superintendent broad powers to change staff and curriculum.
Strachan said the high school would assess itself and make needed changes to improve students' academic performance.
He said it would take three to five years to see marked, sustained improvement. Strachan said he would stay at the district for at least that long if district officials let him.
Also as part of the plan, the high school would have a staggered bell schedule with some students starting at 7:30 a.m. and others coming in at 8:40. It would also mark the return of the ROTC program.
Middle school students will have extra class time at the start and the end of the school day to address their academic deficiencies with their teachers, helping to make them better prepared for high school level work, administrators said.
There would be a renewed focus on reading and writing in every middle school class and more students would take Regents exams, officials said. Teachers would have more planning time, block scheduling would allow students more time to focus on core subjects and parents could track their child's progress online.
While the 200 residents in attendance applauded some of the changes -- including a dress code at the high school -- many remain skeptical that they could be carried through under the current leadership.
Arit Ekong, a mother of four in the district, was hopeful but also skeptical. She worried about the district's ability to meet individual children's needs. "It's encouraging," she said. "But they have to implement it -- and sustain it."
Her son, Nsikak Ekong, 17, said his experience at the high school was mixed. He said he'd love for the district to improve communication with students.
After the meeting, board member Maribel Touré said she was disappointed with what she believes is a lack of transparency by the district.
Touré said she was angry that school superintendent Susan Johnson did not allow some news organizations to attend and refused to answer parents' questions in public. Touré said the receivership issue was not properly addressed.
"We need change," she said. "But we need honest and sincere change."