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Hempstead board members raise questions about schools' oversight

Susan Johnson, right, superintendent of Hempstead schools, with

Susan Johnson, right, superintendent of Hempstead schools, with board members, from left, Ricky Cooke Sr., JoAnn Simmons, and President Lamont Johnson, addresses the public at an emergency meeting of the Hempstead school board, Friday, June 26, 2015. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Hempstead school board members, in an emergency meeting Friday night, peppered Superintendent Susan Johnson with questions about possible state intervention into control of the district's middle and high schools.

Board member Maribel Touré called for the meeting after a recent news report that Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School and Hempstead High School, which have been identified by the state Education Department as performing poorly, are in jeopardy of being placed under receivership.

Four other Long Island schools, all on the state's "priority" list as struggling to meet achievement goals, are in a similar position. They are Roosevelt Middle School and Roosevelt High School in the Roosevelt district; Ralph G. Reed Middle School in the Central Islip district and Milton L. Olive Middle School in the Wyandanch district.

Such regulatory measures are included in the Education Reform Act, enacted in April, which would direct $75 million into "persistently struggling schools."

Touré and board member Shelley Brazley said they were concerned that Johnson did not notify them that the district's two schools apparently are in the late stages of the process leading to receivership.

Receivers would wield broad powers, including modifying budgets, hiring and firing staff and teachers, changing curricula or even recommending converting the schools into charter schools. A provision of the act, however, gives superintendents time to make changes and show improvement before schools are placed under that regulatory control.

Johnson countered the notion that receivership is imminent. She said school officials will have a chance to fend off receivership by explaining to state education officials the district's long-term efforts to improve. That presentation is scheduled for next month in Albany, she said.

"There is no receiver, no monitor, no distinguished educator," Johnson said, referring to possible types of oversight and stressing that the meeting that could trigger receivership has not taken place, much less the conditions implemented.

Still, Brazley and Touré said they were puzzled to learn that the district had not been notified of a May meeting where school officials could have made a case to state education officials.

"The biggest problem in this community is a lack of communication," Brazley said. "It looks to me there was an opportunity in May that we slept through. I know now we can't do anything until July, but we had opportunities."

She read from the text of state education law that outlines some of the conditions that could exist under receivership, including the power to make sweeping personnel and administrative changes.

"We should have been informed from Day One," Touré said. "I'm asking why we didn't discuss this before."

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