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Editorial: Hempstead reading-list errors spell another sad chapter

Hempstead High School.

Hempstead High School. Credit: Joel Cairo

Hempstead school district's summer reading list this year includes more than 30 spelling errors of book titles and their authors, underscoring a crucial barrier to improving the district's dismal academic performance: You can't teach what you don't know.

Never heard of writers Emily and Charlotte Bonte? How about dystopian novelist George Ornell? Or the 20th century classic "The Great Gypsy"? If not, perhaps you should take the reading list's opening maxim -- "Those who read more, achieve more" -- a bit more seriously.

The typos put an embarrassing exclamation point on the troubled district's failures, which include more than 80 percent of high school seniors scoring below proficiency in the 2012 state English Language Arts exams. And they raise a question for Hempstead officials: If you can't even put out an accurate summer reading list, what can you do?

The district hasn't answered how such incompetence went unnoticed, but angry parents will surely want answers at the next scheduled school board meeting on July 18.

Sadly, this is not the worst of the district's missteps -- not by a long shot. But it's the latest chapter in the same old story. Administrators revealed in June that schools had been automatically rounding up failing marks in grades 6-12 for decades. The district has seen seven superintendents in the past eight years. Its most recent hire, Susan Johnson, was fired from the same position in 2005 amid state probes of wasteful spending.

The turmoil -- coupled with a gamut of socioeconomic hardships for students -- led to a 38 percent graduation rate in 2011-12. Never mind the district spent nearly $3,000 more per pupil than the state average as of two years ago.

Should Johnson stay until 2016, her base salary will peak at $265,000. She's also eligible for up to $40,000 in annual performance bonuses. Let's hope the list of criteria for that money includes proofreading.