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Hempstead school board gets early look at district improvement plan

Hempstead school district Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong, center,

Hempstead school district Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong, center, hands out a preliminary action plan to state-appointed adviser Jack Bierwirth, left, and board member Randy Stith. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The five members of the Hempstead school board got their first glimpse of a plan administrators hope will put the district on solid footing and satisfy a state-appointed adviser’s recommendations.

Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong showed board members a preliminary plan of comprehensive action — addressing issues from governance to safety — that will be revised over the next week to deliver to the state’s education czar.

The plan was not made public during the meeting of the board but trustees read it before going into executive session about 75 minutes into the meeting.

When the board returned from executive session, they hired Todd Shapiro Associates to do public relations work for the district.

Armstrong’s plan followed Hempstead school district adviser Jack Bierwirth’s report blaming entrenched divisions among district administrators as a barrier to boost academic performance in the 8,000-student system. The district’s academic performance rated among the nation’s lowest, according to Bierwirth’s report, which was released Jan. 8.

The report focused on 10 main areas of concern: governance, budget and fiscal operations, school safety, facilities management, high school instruction, pre-K instruction, special education, English language learners, nutrition and food and information technology infrastructure.

In response to Bierwirth’s report, the school board ordered Armstrong to prepare a plan to put the recommendations into action by the their next meeting, a work session on Feb. 1. That action plan is scheduled to be delivered to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia by Feb. 2.

Thursday night, Armstrong said the problems would be tackled throughout the year.

“Each area of concentration has a different due date,” she said.

The board named Armstrong acting superintendent as a replacement for Shimon Waronker, who trustees voted to place on leave for at least 60 days. Waronker is also banned from school grounds.

Waronker has sued the district to get reinstated as superintendent. He had been hired in May with a $265,000 annual base salary when the board had a different balance of power.

At that time, Maribel Touré, Gwendolyn Jackson and then-trustee Melissa Figueroa usually voted together as the majority, with trustees David Gates and LaMont Johnson in the minority.

The current board majority of Gates, Johnson and Randy Stith followed their vote to place Waronker on leave by firing Deputy Superintendant Varleton McDonald and Hempstead High School Principal Kenneth Klein at a Jan. 18 meeting.

Like Waronker, both McDonald and Klein had previously worked in the New York City school system. The board immediately rehired Klein as an administrator on special assignment, at an annual salary of $120,000.

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