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Good Afternoon

A lot riding on Hempstead plan to fix schools

Susan Johnson, right, superintendent of Hempstead schools, with

Susan Johnson, right, superintendent of Hempstead schools, with board members, from left, Ricky Cooke Sr., JoAnn Simmons, and President Lamont Johnson, addresses the public at an emergency meeting of the Hempstead school board, Friday, June 26, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Hempstead school district has unveiled an apparently solid plan to transform its high school and middle school. Now comes the hard part -- putting those ideas into action. Educators will need to overcome resistance and modify strategies as needed. To do that, they must be sheltered from Hempstead's often-messy politics and remain relentless in seeking improvement for Long Island's worst-performing school district.

The high school faces the most difficult challenge: State authorities have given it one year to show progress; the middle school has two years. High school principal Steven Strachan is confident he and his team can meet the goal. His slate of ambitious proposals includes restructuring the school into small learning communities of up to 250 students with lots of support and quick intervention, partnerships with universities and other institutions, and a student dress code.

The middle school will focus on reading and writing, devote extra time at the beginning and end of the day to shoring up academic deficiencies, and allow parents to track student progress and attendance online. Both schools promise more training for teachers, especially to serve the growing population of Spanish-speaking students.

We remain skeptical about Superintendent Susan Johnson's leadership during this critical time. She banned some media from a community meeting Monday to discuss the plan and insisted that any audience member with a question write it down so she could reply later. Barring public discussion makes a mockery of transparency and openness.

Hempstead has dug itself a deep hole. Climbing out won't be easy. But the new plan is a good start. Support from parents and the board of education is essential. Everyone involved must remain focused. Because too many children have been lost for too many years.