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Hempstead district chief sees progress in school ratings

Regina Armstrong, acting superintendent of the Hempstead school

Regina Armstrong, acting superintendent of the Hempstead school district, at a board meeting Thursday night. Credit: Shelby Knowles

New accountability ratings released by the state Thursday underscored the need for the Hempstead school system to strengthen efforts to boost student achievement, district leaders said.

The nearly 8,000-student district as a whole was listed as a “Target District,” but there was good news: Three elementary schools formerly on the Education Department's list of low performers — David Paterson, Jackson Main and Front Street — were in "Good Standing" in the new designations. In addition, Barack Obama Elementary held onto its Good Standing status.

“We’re very excited about the progress we’re making,” said Regina Armstrong, the district's acting superintendent. “The next step is to make sure we’re addressing all of our subgroups [of students] so that those schools that are still in accountability status will come out.”

Under the new designations, Hempstead High School and Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School were named as schools needing “Comprehensive Support and Improvement," or CSI, the most serious classification. Franklin Elementary, which this year was renamed Joseph A. McNeil Elementary, and the Jackson Annex School were listed schools needing “Targeted Support and Improvement," or TSI.

The high school and middle school already have been required to submit expansive improvement plans to the Education Department. They are two of 43 schools statewide in the new ratings, including Wyandanch's Milton L. Olive Middle School, that were placed under receivership by terms of a 2015 law aimed at turning around chronically struggling schools. The department in December said all three Long Island schools had made "demonstrable improvement" in their academic performance in the 2017-18 academic year.

Hempstead, the largest K-12 system in Nassau County, has struggled for decades with low academic performance and continues to be closely monitored by the state.

The new ratings support recent reports filed with the Education Department by Jack Bierwirth, a special adviser to the district, who has said it is making progress.

"I see a real seriousness in the district to getting itself off every list and staying off lists permanently," said Bierwirth, who was appointed by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in September 2017 as "distinguished educator" to help turn around the district.

"Whatever that gets labeled, is just a notation," he said of the new ratings. "The real thing is they've got to make that progress."

In response to the new ratings, the district next will update the improvement plans for the high school and middle school and create action plans for its two TSI schools to meet the state’s targets, Armstrong said.

Along with state test scores and graduation rates, the district also must focus to improve the success of certain subgroups of students, specifically black and Latino students, students with disabilities, and those economically disadvantaged.

“Whether it’s our English-language-learner students who have been identified, or our black students, we’re going to delve into the data, see exactly why these subgroups are not meeting their targets, and put the necessary resources or manpower  … in place to make certain that in the next cycle we’re out of accountability status in those schools as well,” Armstrong said.

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