Westbury ninth-graders were met by a special greeting party upon arrival Friday morning at Nassau Community College’s North Annex, where their classes will be held this year to ease overcrowding at the high school.
“Welcome to the Ninth-Grade Academy,” high school Principal David Zimbler said as students walked to the building in Garden City, more than three miles from the high school.
Educators unfurled a “Westbury Pride” banner with the Green Dragons mascot.
“It’s better than being in a crowded building,” said freshman Loren Hunt, 14.
The district is introducing an academy concept for the nearly 400 freshmen, with a focused academic program and resources, Superintendent Eudes S. Budhai said. The program, which costs more than $1 million, would have occurred even if the students were at Westbury High School, he said.
The ninth-graders will receive the programs they would at the high school, including music and art, and be bused back to the district for after-school activities and sports.
Use of the NCC building cleared a last-minute hitch.
District officials had made the contingency plan for the ninth-graders this past school year. With increased enrollment, they faced the prospect of trying to cram 1,600 students in the ninth through 12th grades into the high school, built in 1958 for 1,100 students. Voters approved the plan to lease the community college’s North Annex.
Then, the state Education Department in August said the district could not lease the building. School board president Pless M. Dickerson said the district had been told it could not lease the building under a statute that only allows a district to lease space it owns.
After the district made an 11th-hour plea to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Aug. 24, the state permitted a one-year lease for the 2017-18 school year.
Parent Renee Wright, whose daughter is a freshman, expressed relief Friday.
“The high school is overcrowded and this is a great solution to give the kids a jump-start with a ninth-grade academy,” she said.
Budhai said district officials are looking ahead to the start of school a year from now, in 2018.
“At the moment, we are all relieved,” he said. “We have already begun the discussion of what is going to happen in the future.”
The district’s total projected 2017-18 enrollment was 5,479, according to state figures.
It was among six public school systems on Long Island that began classes this week. Start dates for the other 118 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties are Tuesday through Thursday of next week.