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Editorial: Reason for hope in Hempstead school district

Hempstead community activist Maribel Touré awaits election results

Hempstead community activist Maribel Touré awaits election results in a rare school board revote against veteran Betty Cross. Photo Credit: Jo Napolitano

Bravo, Hempstead!

Residents in the local school district have spoken resoundingly, choosing reform candidate Maribel Touré over entrenched power broker Betty Cross by a wide margin in their race for a seat on the school board. Congratulations to Touré -- and to the voters.

Touré took 62.5 percent of the vote. Just as important as her share were the raw numbers: about 1,000 new voters in a race that usually would have terrible turnout -- a special election one week before the general election.

Civic groups worked hard to register new voters and bolster turnout, proving parents and other Hempstead residents do indeed care about their troubled schools. Now the board must respond to this awakened community with actual reform. That's the really hard work, and the challenges are considerable.

Touré and Rickey Cooke, her running mate and the top vote-getter in May's regular election, ran on a platform to improve the board's transparency and communication. But Hempstead has many problems -- a dismal graduation rate, overcrowded classrooms, decaying buildings, racial tensions between blacks and Latinos, nepotistic hiring and opaque finances, among others. Those challenges will test board president Lamont Johnson's ability to run the district.

It also will be a test for state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. He deserves praise for calling a special election after Cross' ballot shenanigans in May and for ordering polling-place monitors this time. Now he needs to monitor closely Hempstead's educational progress and, if necessary, offer help.

What happens in Hempstead's schools matters -- to the children they have failed, to the community whose renewal has been held back. For too long, it's been too easy to be pessimistic about any prospect for change. For the first time in a long time, there is reason to believe.


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