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Headway and a hiccup for revamped Hempstead school board

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, interim superintendent of the Hempstead school

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, interim superintendent of the Hempstead school district, outside the district's office in Hempstead on Friday, July 1, 2016. The school board voted 5-0 on Wednesday for Atiba-Weza to be the interim schools chief until June 30, 2017. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

It took reformers only two years to gain control of the school board in Hempstead. But it will take time for the new members to learn the best ways to change the district.

The surprise vote to hire Fadhilika Atiba-Weza as interim superintendent, for example, happened on June 29 after attendees at a school board meeting left the building after being told the board would not return from its private executive session. That’s disappointing, especially because the reformers had campaigned on a pledge to conduct business openly. They should be given a once-only pass this time. The board’s longest-tenured member, LaMont Johnson, who at the time was president, has served three years. Three members have served a year or less.

Other actions, however, have been encouraging. The board acted quickly to terminate ineffective Superintendent Susan Johnson, who was in her third go-round. Her temporary replacement, Atiba-Weza, is a veteran administrator whose track record in tough places like Roosevelt, Central Islip and upstate Troy suggests he can help move the district forward while the board seeks a permanent superintendent. And the new board members, led by current president Maribel Touré, have tenaciously questioned spending and personnel decisions that in the past were approved with little scrutiny. They of all people know the district has a long way to go: Hempstead has by the far the lowest graduation rate on Long Island and has struggled for years to provide good educations to children in a community beset by entrenched poverty and racial tension.

It’s time community members beholden to former power-brokers put aside their hostility and give their new leaders a chance. The old way did not work, and hadn’t for years. Voters agreed. It’s time to let change proceed, but it must be done properly.— The editorial board