Maribel Touré, attorney Fred Brewington and Ricky Cooke at a...

Maribel Touré, attorney Fred Brewington and Ricky Cooke at a news conference at Brewington's Hempstead office Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

There is no road map, no silver bullet for addressing the many problems facing the Hempstead school district. The difficulties are so many and so severe that focusing simply on getting through one day at a time could seem like a reasonable strategy.

But if the change the district really needs is to happen, it has to begin somewhere, and the steps taken by Hempstead's school board at its most recent public meeting are a promising start. The dozen or so initiatives addressed a variety of academic, financial and institutional concerns. Some require follow-up action to be effective. In other words, we won't know for some time whether the board's decisions will produce the desired results.

But we commend the board for accepting the challenge and buckling down to do the work necessary to bring quality, respectability and efficiency back to Hempstead.

The headlining move was the decision to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent. Board president Lamont Johnson said that's not a vote of no confidence in Susan Johnson (no relation), who is in her third go-round as schools chief. She can apply to retain her job when her contract runs out in 2016, he said. But you don't conduct a public search if you're satisfied with the current officeholder. If the board finds a strong veteran educator willing to embrace the task of transforming the district, it should not wait for Susan Johnson's contract to run out to make the move.

The board dove deeper into the district's academic difficulties by asking the heads of three departments -- special education, technology and bilingual education -- to submit action plans to resolve problems in those departments. Given Hempstead's difficulties absorbing and educating an influx of Latino immigrants, in particular, that's a good move.

The board -- with its new president and two new members, Maribel Touré and Ricky Cooke -- also took on the district's oft-criticized and opaque finances. It terminated the district treasurer, asked Susan Johnson to return more than $49,000 in salary overpayment, and ordered that requests for proposals be issued for an internal auditor and an external auditor. It also asked for the names of all employees on special assignment, a description of their duties, their base salaries and any stipends they receive. That's significant considering former board president Betty Cross was notorious for nepotism and favoritism in hiring. The board even stripped extra pay from one special-assignment employee -- a close ally of Cross -- and ordered that she receive only the pay her title allows.

Two stinging reports on Hempstead are soon to be released -- a state comptroller's audit on its finances and a BOCES audit on its special education program. If those were the sparks for the board's actions, that's OK. The most important thing is that after years of inaction, bad actions or ineffective action, this new board is stepping up.

"I want to get the academics up and the costs down," Lamont Johnson said. "We're prepared to do whatever we have to do."

That's the best news Hempstead has heard in a long time.


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