In his first annual report on the Hempstead School District, New York State-appointed adviser Jack Bierwirth painted a positive picture while emphasizing much work remains in the academically struggling, gang- and corruption-plagued district.
Bierwirth noted progress in special education and improved scores on state English language learner and math assessments. The graduation rate also improved to about 51 percent. The report credited the district with completing year-end financial reports on time and taking steps to address maintenance issues such as replacement of the Rhodes School, science labs and a track.
In a visit to the district, state Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said that “significant challenges” remain and the district is not yet back on track.
“The constant attention to the Hempstead District from the commissioner is making a difference,” Roger Tilles, Long Island’s State Regents representative, told reporters. “And it will continue to make a difference. [The district] can’t afford to slip back.”
Skeptics were not hard to find.
“The Hempstead school district, its children and the community do not have one more second to devote to the character development of its leadership or staff,” says newly elected state Assemb. Taylor Raynor (D-Hempstead).
Former Hempstead school board member Gwen Jackson says that Bierwirth “has painted a picture of the glass half-full and the Commissioner drank the Kool-Aid.”
Jackson believes an independent auditor should be appointed to monitor the district’s business practices.
“I am calling on our newly elected Assemblywoman Taylor Raynor and Senator Kevin Thomas and even the governor to send in an independent oversight committee to monitor the questionable decisions/practices of the board, and the daily operations of the district, especially in the business office,” she says.
Alan Singer, a professor of Learning Technology at Hofstra University and vocal critic of the state education department, also remains concerned.
“Hempstead High School continues to be rated by New York State as ‘persistently struggling,’’” he says. “ABGS Middle School is rated as ‘struggling.’ Yet both schools were credited with ‘Made Demonstrable Improvement’ with scores of 83 percent on the latest state education report.”
Singer says the report is “imaginary school progress” that seems to justify abandoning the children.
“In February 2018 the New York State Education Department announced it would not take over the failing school district,” Singer says. “Since then, it has done everything it can to justify that decision.”