Hempstead school officials unveil plan to deal with mounting issues

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Hempstead's embattled school board unveiled a plan Thursday night to address a long list of problems in the district.

The blueprint for improvement, the ambitious "Course of Action," calls for overhauling nearly every aspect of the district, from governance to school safety and classroom instruction.

In the area of governance, the plan calls for adherence of open meeting laws for board meetings, as well as training to foster a more cohesive Hempstead Board of Education. This course of corrective action is designed to address the state's criticism of the board -- that its entrenched divisions are blocking efforts to run the 8,000-student system and boost academic performance.

On the issue of school safety, the plan calls for upgraded security cameras and exit doors equipped with motion detectors to enhance security. The idea is to reduce fighting among students.

The blueprint also outlines improvements in high school instruction, with an eye toward increasing the number of high school students earning state Regents diplomas at a rate of 5 to 10 percent annually.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia ordered the district to submit an improvement plan by Friday.

In September, Elia appointed Jack Bierwirth, a distinguished educator, to help Hempstead devise a plan that could eventually remove Hempstead from the state's list of dysfunctional districts.

In his report, Bierwirth said the district needs to address a host of problems – including school violence exacerbated by gangs and overcrowding; entrenched divisions in school leadership, which has led to frequent turnover among top administrators; high dropout and low graduation rates; and poor maintenance of school buildings.

Bierwirth said Thursday night that if carried out successfully, the plan will help lift Hempstead from the state's list of dysfunctional districts. He told the board he would be monitoring the execution of the plan continuously and will let them know if it gets off track.

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