34° Good Morning
34° Good Morning

For sake of children, Hempstead needs functional school board

Members of the Hempstead school board, from left,

Members of the Hempstead school board, from left, LaMont Johnson, David Gates and Randy Stith, with adviser Jack Bierwirth and Deputy Superintendent Varleton McDonald at a meeting Nov. 29, 2017. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

The fighting never seems to end in Hempstead.

A recent brawl that resulted in five arrests reportedly stemmed from long-standing tensions between black and Latino high school students. But the ongoing tensions and fighting on the fractious school board have even more troubling implications for the struggling district.

Relations have been so bad recently that some on the board have sought to expel other members in rival factions, requiring State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to step in last week and rebuff their attempts. Pretending that peace suddenly will reign now that Elia has returned LaMont Johnson to the board and rejected a request to remove rivals Maribel Touré and Gwendolyn Jackson is to ignore both the board’s long history of nurturing chaos and the role some members of the community have played in stoking that divisiveness.

This must stop. Generations of Hempstead kids have been failed by adults who mouth concerns about their fate but continue to misbehave.

It was encouraging to hear the new three-trustee majority, which includes Johnson, talk at last week’s meeting about wanting to be more inclusive and transparent. But we’ve heard such talk before; real change would mean actually doing it. And even as we wonder why the new majority held the meeting at a time that would exclude Touré because of her work hours, deciding to wait to take action on various issues until she and ally Jackson could be present was the right move.

Among the issues: the status of new Superintendent Shimon Waronker. Johnson’s bloc, including David Gates and newcomer Randy Stith, strongly opposed Waronker’s hiring last spring, but even though they now have a majority to oust him, doing so would bring more disruption for students and staff. A new schools chief would be the fourth in 18 months.

In charting the path forward, the board would be wise to listen to a trio of experts strongly committed to Hempstead’s success — Elia; Jack Bierwirth, the highly respected former schools superintendent Elia appointed as a distinguished educator to advise the district; and Robert Dillon, the Nassau BOCES superintendent, whose office has been providing Hempstead with technical assistance in areas like business, technology and facilities. They have much to offer.

There is so much riding on this.

The ongoing attempt to revitalize Hempstead Village will never fully take root if the school district is not turned around. The district will never flower if it is viewed by members of the school board and the community primarily as a jobs program for friends and family. And the children of Hempstead, the victims of all these adults behaving badly, will never get the education they deserve or reach the potential they possess.

It’s time to stop repeating the past and to do what every adult in Hempstead knows is right:

Put the children first. — The editorial board