HEMPSTEAD - Hempstead School District officials say the long-troubled district is making improvements, but critics are casting doubt on the claims.

Hempstead School Board President Betty Cross gathered with other staff and administration officials to announce the strides they say the struggling district is making. The district ranks among the lowest performing in the state, but school officials say more students will be graduating this year.

Superintendent Susan Johnson says the data isn't in yet and the district will not know exactly how much the graduation rate has improved until June.

Two candidates for the district's school board, Ricky Cook and Maribel Toure, are disputing the claims. They say that if more students are receiving diplomas this year, it's only because of a former program that broke up the high school into four academies several years ago. That initiative was disbanded by the current administration at the beginning of the school year.

Superintendent Johnson says the academy model wasn't working. She says the rise in graduation rates is because of all of the new academic programs instituted this year.

The two candidates argue that with the school board elections just weeks away, today's announcement may have been nothing more than politics.