Doug Elmer from John Hopkins School of Education discusses the...

Doug Elmer from John Hopkins School of Education discusses the potential partnership to assist Hempstead High School students with academic achievement on Monday, March 30, 2015 in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

In its latest departure from past practices, the Hempstead school district is talking to outsiders. That's a good thing -- for Hempstead and for its students.

The notoriously insular district is reaching out to educational institutions -- including Hofstra University, Johns Hopkins University, Farmingdale State College, Nassau Community College and the Internationals Network for Public Schools -- to help its struggling system. These institutions have staff and programs that could benefit Hempstead, which has been unable to right its foundering ship on its own.

The move reflects the attitude of Hempstead's new board of education, whose president, Lamont Johnson, bluntly says, "We need all the help we can get. And as many universities with clout and prestige that want to get involved would be very helpful to us."

The institutions offer various expertise. Hofstra and its school of education, which long has worked in Hempstead, can provide services in areas such as curriculum audits and development, teacher training, literacy, budget planning and grant management. Johns Hopkins has proposed to restructure the high school into small learning communities -- groups of up to 105 students, each under the direction of a team of teachers. The Internationals Network specializes in helping districts with large populations of English language learners, like Hempstead.

Hempstead's board and educators must decide which mix of programs would be most helpful. Teachers and building principals must be involved, so they understand the programs are offered as support, and not a threat. The effort must be coordinated at all levels, a problem within Hempstead in the past. And the financially strapped district should work with the state Education Department to identify potential funding.

It has taken time, and changes in personnel, but Hempstead's school board seems to understand that change not only is possible, but essential. It is working with the state Education Department and attorney general's office to reform enrollment and educational policies after it turned away or delayed educating some of the hundreds of immigrant children who flooded the district last year. It is poised to adopt a host of policy changes in response to a scathing state comptroller's audit of Hempstead's business and educational practices.

Now the board is reaching out -- a sea change for a community whose residents and leaders have decried outside involvement, most recently in last year's controversial school board elections. To be sure, outside intervention doesn't always work. Johns Hopkins last year pulled out of a contract to help two low-performing public high schools in Buffalo after staff members were overwhelmed by the administrative burden they were asked to assume.

Hempstead is seeking program support, not administrative oversight. State officials support the effort. There's no margin for missteps and this cannot be rushed, but it's time to make it happen, before we lose another generation of kids in Hempstead.