Wyandanch's Milton L. Olive Middle School has improved and risen off the state's low-performance list to the equivalant of good standing. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

A once-troubled Wyandanch school has won an upgrade in its state academic rating, as staffers there plan further improvements that include expansion of college-prep coursework, theatrical training and technical education. 

Milton L. Olive Middle School, which enrolls 620 students in grades six-eight, is being elevated to good academic standing, nine years after being identified by state authorities as academically "struggling," local administrators said. The school's new status becomes official July 1. 

Gina Talbert, superintendent of the Wyandanch district, described the school's progress as the result of years of intensive work that included accelerated coursework for advanced students, together with intensive tutoring in English for those newly arrived from other countries. 

"So we're elated, we're very encouraged and happy for our scholars and families and faculty and staff," said Talbert, who has served as schools chief since 2019. "Districtwide, we're very happy about the direction in which we're going and looking forward to continued improvement." 

The state Department of Education in Albany, which rates public schools under federal law, is allowing local districts to announce upgrades in status after freezing designations for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hempstead released news of improvements at its high school and middle school on March 13, and Roosevelt scheduled a formal announcement of similar progress Tuesday night. 

In a media advisory, Roosevelt officials said they were "thrilled" by the decision in Albany to remove their high school and middle school from a statewide needs-improvement list and raise the schools' status to good standing. 

At the Olive school in Wyandanch, Principal Shannon Burton told a visiting reporter on Monday that student attendance rates had improved markedly over three years, rising from 84% to 91%. Burton said that improved attendance, along with higher test scores among bilingual students, were both factors in the state's decision to boost the school's rating. 

More improvements are on the way, the principal added. Starting next fall, accelerated learning will expand, with about 150 of the middle school's students to be enrolled in courses such as algebra and geometry usually reserved for high schoolers. 

Meanwhile, other students will be allowed to focus either on performing arts or career and technical education, while also meeting regular academic requirements, Shannon said. Course choices in the arts are to include theater, studio art and African band. Choices in the career area would include culinary arts, software coding and marketing.

"We'll be doing courses here that not a lot of middle schools in New York are doing," Shannon added, in reference to the accelerated courses. The principal came to Wyandanch in July, after working as a teacher and administrator in Yonkers and New York City.  

Federal and state systems for rating schools are complex and heavy on acronyms. For example, schools requiring overall improvement are categorized as in need of Comprehensive Support and Improvement, or CSI. Those needing upgrades in one area or a few areas are identified as Targeted Support and Improvement, or TSI.

Schools meeting all requirements, which were formerly described as in good academic standing, now are grouped in a new category of Local Support and Improvement, or LSI.

Olive middle school, formerly in the TSI group, is moving to LSI status. Meanwhile, Wyandanch's high school, which was also TSI, is moving down a notch in ratings, because the school failed to adequately boost achievement among students who were economically disadvantaged, district officials said. The high school's new designation will be Additional Targeted Support and Improvement, or ATSI. 

Talbert said the district was "working toward upgrading that in coming years." 

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