The best news out of troubled Hempstead High School isn’t that it made enough progress last school year to avoid being put under the control of an outside manager. It’s that everyone involved in the effort — from the administration to the board of education to principal Stephan Strachan — is focused on the progress that still must be made. As Strachan said, “It’s good to celebrate, but celebrate short and keep working hard . . . We want more for all of our students.”
The news this week from state education officials certainly was good. Hempstead beat 2015-16 benchmarks in such categories as number of Regents diplomas granted and the all-important graduation rate. That was 52 percent, 57 percent if August graduates are counted — both above the state’s target of 45 percent. That’s real improvement from 2013, when it sank to 35.5 percent. But the graduation rate is still well short of Strachan’s own target — the state average of 78 percent. He’s right to set a higher bar.
In his less than two years on the job, Strachan’s initiatives seem to be working. A new block schedule lets students take extra classes, evening school and Saturday school allow them to recover credits lost in previous semesters, a dress code has reduced distractions, and suspensions are down. That makes for the better, safer learning environment Hempstead’s students have long lacked. Strachan says most teachers have embraced the new paradigm. And the school board, now controlled by reformers, has been supportive but not meddling. It all makes a difference.
This year, the second in the state’s two-year cycle, is critical. If Hempstead meets even tougher benchmarks, it could shed the designation it has had for more than 10 years as persistently struggling. That would be worthy of celebration. — The editorial board