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Hempstead school leaders explain receivership status to community

Hempstead Superintendent Susan Johnson listening to the lawyers

Hempstead Superintendent Susan Johnson listening to the lawyers from Guercio and Guercio talk about the legal aspect of the changes to come in the new school year during a public hearing at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Leaders of two low-performing Hempstead schools on a new state receivership list spent Saturday morning explaining the designation to parents, teachers and residents, while emphasizing that improving the struggling schools would be a communitywide effort.

"The process we're getting ready to embark on is not one we can do as individuals," Superintendent Susan Johnson said before a packed room at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School during a public hearing on the new receivership law. "It's crucial that we learn to work together as a team in order to get this process moving and for this process to be effective."

The middle school and Hempstead High School are among five schools on Long Island and 144 statewide placed on the state Education Department's receivership list last month because of poor student performance.

The high school, deemed "persistently struggling," has one year to show improvement under local supervision, while the middle school, classified as "struggling," has two years to show progress.

If the schools do not show improvement within those time periods, an outside manager may be called in.

"We have a lot of work we have to do in the next two years," James Clark, the district's associate superintendent for secondary education, said at the hearing.

The middle school will return to a nine-period school day this year and double students' daily class time in math and English to address the gap, in addition to adding two classes where students can get homework help, administrators said.

At an earlier meeting in the high school's auditorium Saturday, Principal Stephen Strachan said the school not only would have to improve its graduation rate, but also its student and teacher attendance and its student suspension rate, which was twice the state average in the 2012-13 school year.

He said only 65 percent of the students who were freshmen in 2010 were proficient on state math tests four years later -- nearly 20 percentage points below the state average.

At least one audience member asked about what kind of supplemental funding the high school will get from the state, since it falls under the more severe "persistently struggling" category.

Strachan said while the state hasn't yet approved the funding, he believed it will be about $4 million.

"Once we know what those specific numbers are and what we can spend the money on, we'll be able to come back and speak more intelligently on it," Strachan said.

He added a sentiment that's been echoed at other schools about the receivership process: "We are flying the plane while we are building it."


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