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Long IslandNassau

Principal job, influx of students rile parents at Hempstead schools meeting

Sheriva Scott, 57, of Hempstead, shares her concerns

Sheriva Scott, 57, of Hempstead, shares her concerns at the Hempstead School Board public meeting on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Parents in the Hempstead school district told trustees at a board meeting Thursday night they must find a high school principal -- the position has remained unfilled since Reginald Stroughn left at the end of June -- and improve school security to reduce on-campus violence.

Parents also expressed concern about an influx of new students, which has led to overcrowding.

Board president Lamont Johnson said some classes have up to 50 children; students who attended the board meeting said they sit on the floor and on tables, having run out of desks.

More than 1,200 additional pupils enrolled in the district at the start of the school year, sometimes at a rate of 100 a day, the board president said.

Johnson said it's the school district's job to educate all children -- "We are not turning people away from Hempstead" -- but he thinks it unfair that it did not receive additional funding for them.

Many of the children are unaccompanied minors who immigrated to the United States from Latin America, but Johnson said he did not have an exact number, saying none had been provided to the district by any outside agency and that school officials had not yet determined the figure on their own.

Members of the community expressed frustration about the additional children.

Why add more "when we are not doing right by our own?" asked Sheriva Scott, 57. Two of her children graduated from the district.

Several parents said they worried the children were not properly supervised. They said they acted out in school and were disrespectful to their teachers and to one another.

"As I was leaving the high school campus one day this week, I saw a bunch of kids fighting," parent Victoria Culbreath said.

She said she fears a child could be seriously hurt.

"We have got to fix this," she said.

As for the district's leadership issues, Superintendent Susan Johnson said the board of education has interviewed a finalist for the high school principal and that a decision will be made on the matter shortly. After that, a dean will be selected, she said.

She also said the district has added extra periods and staff to reduce class size.

The board president further expressed regret over his decision to extend an invitation to rapper Nicki Minaj, asking her to visit the school. He said he should have consulted with the other trustees before acting.

The board meeting was then derailed by infighting.

Ricky Cooke, a newly elected trustee, asked the board how it plans to ensure all students earn the credits they need to graduate; he asked why the school district went from nine periods to eight, a decision that wasn't explained to some in the school community until the summer.

Johnson said lawyers for the district made the decision. Trustee Shelley Brazley asked why the district pays for a superintendent when such important decisions are outsourced.

Moments later, the superintendent said Brazley submitted some travel receipts late and in violation of the district's policies. She said the state has been alerted to the issue.

The board then went into executive session.

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