Hempstead High School has been posted on a state "priority" list -- the lowest academic rung -- and 34 other Long Island schools have been placed on a newly created watch list.
Hempstead High's new designation as a "priority" school by the state Education Department means it officially ranks among the lowest 5 percent of schools statewide.
District officials, in phone interviews Thursday, vowed to work toward boosting their high school's standing.
"I'm not pleased with it at all, but if that's what the state says, we have to respect it," said Betty Cross, president of Hempstead's school board. "And I can tell you the high school won't be on the list long. We have a reading plan, we have a math plan, and an overall academic plan for the district."
Hempstead's latest reported graduation rate of 38 percent, for 2011-12, was Long Island's lowest.
In June, state officials warned that the 1,600-student Hempstead High could be placed on the "priority" short list, if the district dissolved separate academies within the building that had been established three years ago in an attempt to improve student performance.
A plan for improvement
The school's new executive principal, Reginald Stroughn, confirmed in a recent letter to parents that the academy system -- which some considered unworkable -- had been eliminated. Stroughn's letter went on to outline new alternative steps taken to try and bring about improvement.
Stroughn said the district was reinstating a night school for about 100 teens who struggled academically in a traditional school setting. The principal added that he was re-emphasizing a disciplinary code that banned wearing of hats and headgear within the building, use of cellphones and other electronic equipment, wearing of "inappropriate or suggestive clothing" and unauthorized early departures from the school campus.
"What I'm looking to do is bring unity," said Stroughn, who returned to the high school earlier this month. He had served in the equivalent capacity from 2003 to 2009, when graduation rates were higher.
Stroughn was hired by Cross and other members of a new school board majority that took over the district last year.Hempstead High's posting brings to six the total number of "priority" schools on the Island. An additional 16 schools are in the "focus" category, meaning they fall in the bottom 10 percent. Another 105 buildings are "reward" schools, signifying either high achievement or rapid improvement, and making them eligible to apply for certain state grants.
A new category
All listed schools except Hempstead High are holdovers from last year, when the "priority," "focus" and "reward" categories were created. This month, the Education Department created yet another category -- Local Assistance Plan schools -- which state authorities describe as a watch list of buildings that need to improve to avoid slipping into "focus" status.
Schools on the new list are located in a variety of poor and middle-class communities. One building, John F. Kennedy Elementary School, is part of the Great Neck system, which is one of the most affluent and high-achieving on the Island. The state's posting does not explain why Kennedy school was included, and Great Neck's school superintendent, Thomas Dolan, did not return Newsday's call Thursday.
The new list also includes Roosevelt Children's Academy, a public charter school. The academy, like other charter schools, is run by a private nonprofit board and receives public funding based on the number of students it attracts.
Academy officials said they recently took steps to raise test scores that included summer school for 160 students.
"We realize that the rates have been sliding, but I can tell you something -- Roosevelt Children's Academy is taking education very seriously," said Ella Portero, a spokeswoman.
The new list
Schools on New York State Department of Education's Local Assistance Plan list:
Amityville: Northwest Elementary School, Edmund W. Miles Middle School
Babylon: Babylon Memorial Grade School
Baldwin: Meadow Elementary School
Bay Shore: Gardiner Manor School
Brentwood: North Elementary School, Brentwood High School
Center Moriches: Center Moriches Middle School
Elmont: Gotham Avenue School
Glen Cove: Robert M. Finley Middle School
Great Neck: John F. Kennedy School
Hampton Bays: Hampton Bays Elementary School
Hicksville: Hicksville Middle School
Lawrence: School No. 2, Lawrence Middle School
Long Beach: Lindell Boulevard School
Malverne: Davison Avenue Intermediate School
North Babylon: Belmont Elementary School
Patchogue-Medford: Tremont Elementary School, Bay Elementary School, Medford Elementary School
Plainedge: Charles E. Schwarting School
Riverhead: Roanoke Avenue School, Phillips Avenue School, Pulaski Street Elementary School
Sachem: Gatelot Avenue School, Hiawatha School
South Huntington: Oakwood Primary Center, Maplewood Intermediate School, Henry L. Stimson Middle School
Westbury: Westbury Middle School
William Floyd: William Floyd High School, William Paca Middle School
Also: Roosevelt Children's Academy Charter School