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Hempstead school district focuses on grades, curriculum

From left, special adviser Jack Bierwirth and Hempstead

From left, special adviser Jack Bierwirth and Hempstead school board members David Gates Jr., Randy Stith, LaMont Johnson, Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen at a meeting on Aug. 27, 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Raising the graduation rate and student test scores, improving the curriculum, stabilizing the system's financial position and addressing overcrowding are among top priorities the Hempstead school district plans to tackle this school year .

The goals were outlined in an updated action plan the district submitted to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia as it moves into its second year with special adviser Jack Bierwirth, named by Elia to help turn around the largest K-12 system in Nassau County.

“We work every day to fulfill our motto of 'Students first' and we are confident that our priority list reflects that commitment,” school board President LaMont Johnson said in an emailed statement. “We know we have a lot of work to do, but having a game-winning plan is the first step to getting there.”

Bierwirth, a veteran Long Island educator, was appointed by Elia in fall 2017. In his role as "distinguished educator," he serves as a nonvoting board member, assessing difficulties in the 8,000-plus student system and reporting back to the commissioner.

On Oct. 2, Elia extended Bierwirth’s appointment for a second one-year term  and called on the Hempstead school board to “develop a revised action plan to address significant areas of concern and ensure they are priorities of the district.”

The plan, created over the last few weeks by the five-member board and Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong, also outlines what the board would like Bierwirth to work on with them for the remaining 11 months of his appointment.

The state Education Department on Monday confirmed its receipt of the plan and said it is being reviewed.

Bierwirth, noting the board's "excellent discussion" of the action plan, said, "I was very glad to see the board come together and spend a lot of time focusing on the priorities that need to be addressed over the next year. I really appreciated all of the time and attention given to instructional issues.”

The plan breaks down the district’s goals into five subject areas — student achievement; student safety; facilities; fiscal responsibility and accountability; and policies, practices and procedures.

The district plans to implement comprehensive curricular program and instructional framework, according to the document. It also will create an intervention plan for students in prekindergarten through third grade to “increase students’ likelihood of becoming fluent readers and writers.”

Priorities include increasing overall graduation rates and the number of students earning Regents diplomas by 5 to 10 percent annually, and implement additional pathways to graduation, according to the document.

Hempstead had the lowest high school graduation rate among Long Island's 124 public school districts in 2017 and one of the lowest in the state, with 219 students receiving diplomas out of a class of 596, or nearly 37 percent.

The district will continue upgrades to the district’s technology and infrastructure, as well as provide Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) programs. Improvements to security cameras, rewiring and alarming exit doors, and training for safety officers are part of the safety strategy.

The board also will update the district’s 2016 five-year capital plan to improve school facilities, remove portable trailers that are being used as instructional space at the middle school, and acquire real estate to help eliminate overcrowding, according to the document.

In addition, the plan calls for the creation of business and operational procedures that will ensure corrective action from past and present audits is implemented and adhered to.

Many of the priorities are a continuation of the district’s original goals, which were submitted to Elia in February and addressed points brought up by Bierwirth in his initial 56-page report to the state. Elia, in response to that first plan, ordered the acting superintendent to send monthly progress reports on the turnaround efforts, saying local authorities had not yet “adequately addressed” festering problems.

The district has since made “significant progress” but still has substantial issues to overcome, Bierwirth said in his third quarterly report to the commissioner, dated July 20. His fourth-quarter report originally was expected out in October but has not been released. State Education Department officials said that report will be out in the coming weeks.

Next, the board will fill in the details of how they plan to address the priorities, Bierwirth said.

“They spent a lot of time talking about instruction and I haven’t seen that before,” Bierwirth said. “It was really good to see.”

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