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State says two Hempstead schools make academic progress, but more is needed

Exterior of Hempstead High School on July 10,

Exterior of Hempstead High School on July 10, 2018. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Hempstead's struggling high school and middle school both made demonstrable progress in student achievement and other areas in 2018-19, but not as much as had been hoped, Albany officials announced Friday.

The state Education Department listed Hempstead High School and Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School among 14 "receivership" schools statewide that showed at least minimal improvement during the past academic year. Eight of those schools hit their expected targets fully, while six other schools, including the two in Hempstead, fell somewhat short. 

As a result, none of the 14 schools risk being turned over to outside managers known as independent receivers. Instead, all will remain under the control of local district superintendents who, under state law, are authorized to see that the schools continue to progress.

Carmen Ayala, vice president of Hempstead’s school board, responded to the state’s announcement with praise for the district’s 7,600 students, but implied criticism for Albany.

“The Board of Education is extremely proud of the achievements of our students,” Ayala said in a prepared statement. “This was accomplished despite receiving a below-the-average increase in state aid for all schools on Long Island last year. Imagine what could be accomplished if we were to simply receive our fair share of financial aid?”

One of the state lawmakers responsible for aid approvals, Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Garden City), said he wanted to make sure such money was used "as efficiently and effectively as possible."

"Students in Hempstead deserve the top-of-the-line education that Long Island schools are known for," said Thomas, whose constituent area includes Hempstead. "Hempstead's recent progress is promising, but we still have a ways to go." 

Hempstead is receiving $134.5 million in state financial assistance this year, equivalent to about 60% of its total budget. That's a high proportion of aid compared with amounts received by most districts, but represents only a 1.42% increase over last year's aid.

Hempstead is the largest K-12 district in Nassau County, and also the poorest in terms of taxable real estate and family incomes.

The state's chief education policymaker, Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa of the Bronx, acknowledged improvement made in all 14 schools, but added in a prepared statement that "we know that there is still much to be done to ensure that every child has equitable access to a high-quality education."

Such is the case with Hempstead High. The 2,500-student school met its improvement targets in six areas, including safety, passing rates on math tests, and overall graduation rates. It fell short in five other areas, including passing rates on English tests and percentages of students graduating with advanced diplomas. 

The 1,400-student middle school also showed a mixed record. Targets were met in seven areas, including safety, overall achievement on math tests and provision of extended class time. Targets were missed in four areas, including lower student suspension rates, overall achievement on English tests and overall achievement in science. 

All 14 schools included in Friday's announcement were identified as needing extensive improvement in July 2015, under a new state receivership law. Some of Hempstead's schools had been tagged as struggling many years before that, under a series of other state improvement efforts. 

Hempstead's two schools were the only ones on Long Island included on the state's list of receivership schools whose status was updated Friday. The list also included four in Rochester, three in New York City, two in Buffalo and one each in Syracuse, Troy and Yonkers.

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