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Shimon Waronker's time as schools chief

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker on Sept. 12,

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker on Sept. 12, 2017, slightly more than three months after he started work as the system's top administrator. Credit: Howard Schnapp

In spring 2017, a divided Hempstead school board voted 3-2 to hire Shimon Waronker as superintendent of the chronically troubled 8,000-plus student district.

The Harvard-educated proponent of reforming traditional models of education was known for turning around struggling and dangerous public schools in New York City.

But a hoped-for fresh start for Hempstead in the 2017-18 school year soon ran into controversy. This timeline recaps some of those events.


April 27: The Hempstead school board votes 3-2 to hire Shimon Waronker as superintendent under a four-year contract, with details pending negotiations. At the time, he is head of school for The Jewish Academy, a small, private institution in Commack, and is overseeing three city schools. Voting for Waronker’s hiring are Maribel Touré, Melissa Figueroa and Gwendolyn Jackson, and voting against are David Gates and LaMont Johnson.

May 12: The school board votes 3-2 to approve Waronker’s contract, with an annual base salary of $265,00 and benefits. The contract runs from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2021. Voting in favor are Touré, Figueroa and Jackson, and voting against are Gates and Johnson.

May 17: Randy Stith wins election to the board. The election of Stith, an ally of Gates and Johnson, portends a shift in the panel’s balance of power. He is to take his seat on July 5.

June 2: The board, at a special meeting, votes 3-2 for Waronker to start work as superintendent a month before the July 1 start date in his contract. Touré, Figueroa and Jackson vote to approve, and Gates and Johnson vote against. The board  also acts to let go Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, the interim superintendent whose contract was scheduled to end June 30.

June 27: The board votes to enter into a $450,000 contract with the New American Initiative, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit Waronker founded that emphasizes team teaching, open classrooms, merit pay for teachers and higher salaries. The panel approves hiring four master teachers at annual salaries of $135,000 each. Votes on the actions are 3-1, with Touré, Figueroa and Jackson in favor and Gates opposed. Johnson is not present.

Sept. 14: State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, in an unusual move, appoints veteran administrator Jack Bierwirth as a “distinguished educator” for the Hempstead district to bolster efforts to turn around the system. Bierwirth, who answers to the commissioner, is empowered to conduct an intensive review of all district systems, from governance and finances to academics, facilities and security. He is to work with the superintendent and trustees and sit on the board as an ex-officio, non-voting member. Appointed for one year, he starts work in the district on Oct. 2.

Dec. 7: During a work-study meeting, the board rejects Waronker's push for a voter referendum in February on a $46.8 million bond issue for the demolition and replacement of the long-shuttered Marguerite G. Rhodes School to relieve school overcrowding. Gates, Johnson and Stith voted against the measure, saying it was too rushed, while Touré and Jackson voted in favor.

Dec. 21: The board, at a regular meeting that extends into the early morning hours, suspends the district's contract with the New American Initiative and votes to lay off the four master teachers hired in June. The teachers' employment with the district ends Dec. 22. Both votes were 3-2, with Gates, Johnson and Stith in favor and Touré and Jackson opposed.


Jan. 5: Waronker, in an "open letter" to the community with this date posted on the district's website, calls on residents to support his efforts to overhaul the district. In the two-page letter, he writes that the three-member board majority stood in the way of that progress by dropping the master teachers, firing investigators hired to look into possible corruption, and blocking a bond issue to rebuild the Rhodes school.

Jan. 9: The board places Waronker on a 60-day paid administrative leave by a 3-2 vote, with Gates, Johnson and Stith in favor and Touré and Jackson opposed. Associate Superintendent Regina Armstrong is named acting superintendent. The board's resolution, effective immediately, says the district's "special counsel" is to investigate Waronker's involvement in the New American Initiative contract. The resolution bars Waronker from district property without written permission from the acting superintendent.

Jan. 19: Waronker sues in federal court in Central Islip, seeking an injunction forcing the board to allow him to return to work immediately. He claims his removal is a punitive suspension and that his right to due process before being disciplined has been violated.

Jan. 30: U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley rejects Waronker’s request for a temporary injunction. Hurley notes that the superintendent still is receiving pay and benefits and dismisses claims that Waronker’s constitutional rights have been violated.

March 1: The board. in a special meeting, votes to extend Waronker’s paid leave through April 1.

March 26: The board, at a special meeting, votes 3-1, with one abstention, to extend Waronker's paid leave through June 1. Gates, Johnson and Stith vote in favor of the resolution,Touré is opposed and Jackson abstains.

May 15: District voters approve an approximately $215 million budget and a $46.8 million bond issue for the demolition of the Rhodes school and building of a new facility. Voters OK the budget 500-354, and the bond passes 623-245. Jackson and Touré lose bids for re-election to Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen, who garnered 542 and 547 votes, respectively, to Jackson's 358 and Touré's 325.

May 17: The board votes 3-2 at its regular meeting to extend Waronker’s paid administrative leave through July 31. Gates, Johnson and Stith vote in favor, and Touré and Jackson are opposed.

July 2: The board, at its annual reorganization meeting, swears in Ayala and Spleen. Johnson is named president and Ayala as vice president, also in unanimous votes.

July 27: In a 5-0 vote, the board extends Waronker’s paid administrative leave through Aug. 31.

Aug. 7: The school board, at a hastily called morning meeting, votes unanimously to take steps against Waronker that could lead to his dismissal. Waronker's contract specifies that he must be served with charges within two days of a board vote and has the right to select a public or private hearing.

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