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Middle schools in Hempstead, Wyandanch show progress, state says

Kenya Vanterpool, back middle, principal of Milton L.

Kenya Vanterpool, back middle, principal of Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch, stands with the school's leadership team on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

Two Long Island middle schools that once struggled academically have shown satisfactory progress for two years in a row, thus avoiding the prospect of supervision by outside managers, the state has announced.

Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead and Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch were among 61 at-risk schools statewide that demonstrated improvement in test results and other areas during the 2016-17 school year, according to an annual list released Tuesday by the state Education Department. Both schools, classified as “struggling,” improved in 2015-16 as well.

Meanwhile, the status of Hempstead High School remained in question as state officials review the school’s latest test records, reports on student conduct and other data to determine if the information is accurate.

State authorities had reported some progress there last year, but the high school will remain in “persistently struggling” status at least until the current inquiry is completed.

Shimon Waronker, who took over as superintendent of the 8,500-student Hempstead district in June, voiced satisfaction over results at the middle school and hope for renewed progress at the high school as well. The schools chief and board trustees in July appointed a new middle school principal, Adrian Manuel.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of teamwork, and I’m really happy that the [middle] school has a bright future,” Waronker said.

He went on to say that turmoil at Hempstead High School is “starting to quiet down” under a new interim principal, Kenneth Klein.

Klein recently replaced the former principal, Stephen Strachan. Waronker, as incoming superintendent, had denied Strachan tenure and requested that the state double-check test records and other data compiled during Strachan’s administration.

Supporters of the former principal have demanded that he be returned to his post and have questioned the current administration’s contention that the high school’s academic climate is improving under new leadership.

“What good is it for a middle school to be improving when students there will eventually be placed in a high school that is in chaos?” said Nicole Epstein, spokeswoman for a Hempstead community group that supports Strachan and opposes the district’s school board majority.

Strachan, in a message to Newsday on Wednesday night, said, “I can only hope that personal agendas and bad politics do not take away from the hard work the parents, students and staff have done over the last three years. I wish the high school continued success and progress.”

Charlie Reed, president of Wyandanch’s school board, described Olive Middle School’s results as “good news.”

“We made a lot of progress, but we want to see more,” he said.

Reed reiterated the district’s position that it needs to find a way to expand classroom space to accommodate an influx of immigrant students and relieve overcrowding.

Tuesday’s report from Albany reflected a steady reduction in the number of schools both statewide and on the Island rated as “persistently struggling” or “struggling.”

Such rankings are the state’s lowest, and they indicate that schools are at risk of being placed under independent receivers. Such schools are run not by district superintendents but by outside managers appointed by district school boards.

When the state launched its receivership program in 2015, it listed 144 schools statewide, including five on the Island, as persistently struggling or struggling. The list has since been pared to 68 statewide and three in this region.

“I have visited many of these schools, and I am seeing schools tackle their issues in new and positive ways, which is encouraging,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a prepared statement.

The Education Department is due to announce later this academic year which schools have improved enough to be removed from the receivership list. One requirement is that at least 95 percent of students in those schools participate in annual state testing.

In recent years, thousands of parents across Long Island have pulled their children out of state tests, making the requirement difficult to meet. Education Department officials said Tuesday that neither the Olive school nor the Schultz school met that criterion in 2016-17.

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