Hempstead High School's graduation list was growing last night, as school officials raced the clock to determine student eligibility for participating in Sunday's commencement.
Executive Principal Reginald Stroughn, who along with guidance counselors was checking seniors' records, said at 7 p.m. he expects at least 209 students to get diplomas at the graduation ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in the school auditorium. The current number of projected graduates is up from 158 students deemed eligible three weeks ago.
Stroughn, 62, took over the high school last July, but lost his authority over student and graduation records about six months later in a dispute with other district officials. Hempstead's school board restored Stroughn's authority on Monday, with just six days to go before commencement.
"I'm really surprised, with all the problems we had, we got it done as soon as possible," Stroughn told Newsday Friday.
Hempstead is one of the poorest districts on Long Island, and its annual graduation rates have ranked at or near the bottom in the region for the past several years. Stroughn said students added to the commencement list this week, along with 11 graduates last January, could boost the district's graduation rate for 2014 as high as 50 percent -- up from 35.5 percent in 2013.
Friday evening, high school staffers continued to update students' graduation status as they received the latest scores from state Regents exams administered last week. At a commencement rehearsal earlier in the day, many students were told to check later with guidance counselors to make sure they could participate in Sunday's commencement.
Administrative confusion is nothing new for the 6,600-student district. For many years, political fights over job patronage have resulted in frequent changes in board control and rapid turnover in management.
On June 12, a Hempstead board candidate filed an appeal with state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., alleging that she had lost a May election due to ballot fraud. A decision in the case is widely expected by August, though state officials have not confirmed this.
"Obviously, we're aware of the challenges the district faces, and we'll move as quickly as possible," King told a reporter this week.