Signs of improvement at Hempstead High School

Last year, New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia confirmed that Hempstead High School was 1 of 20 schools in New York State deemed as “persistently struggling.” The high school entered “receivership” in July 2015 due to constant changes in administration, an upsetting graduation rate at 38 percent, and a troubling academic performance. 

Receivership law is the appointment of a school receiver to monitor student performance in “priority schools,” which are located in the bottom five percent of all public shools in New York State.  Although receivership varies depending on the school’s academic status, the receiverships are created to effectively turn-around a failing school system with financial assistance from the state.

All struggling schools will be placed under close supervision by the district’s superintendent and given one year to successfully improve all areas for students to advance academically.

“As a former school superintendent, I know how important it will be for superintendents to use their new authority to develop robust plans to improve student performance,” said Elia in a press statement from the New York State Education Department.  “Superintendents have an obligation to act on conditions that have persisted for too long in these schools.”

Hempstead High School’s administration focuses on the students’ academic performance and accurate placement for classes. When discussing issues that deeply affect students and members of the faculty, some are reluctant to speak out in fear of losing their jobs.

Linda Mizel, who is currently in her sixth year as an art teacher for Hempstead High School, said while pushing for changes in the department, art courses are often viewed as credit requirements for graduation and not something that would advance students’ skills from one level to another.

“Despite having fought for years to make improvements to the department, due to constant changes in the administration and a lack of care for the art department, nothing has really been moved forward,” said Mizel.

Students who are interested in becoming art majors in their collegiate careers have an option to attend  the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) as an extra-curricular activity in connection with the high school. However, due to a shortage of materials in their art department, teachers are forced to work with tools that are supplied by the school.

Mizel, who teaches art and digital photography, uses still photos as an alternative because of the school’s lack of camera equipment.

“I don’t know what the issue is, so I don’t want to say any theories because you never know what the reason is behind us not getting cameras,” said Mizel. “I don’t know if it’s just not brought to their attention enough, or it’s not ordered when it needs to be ordered. The point is, if we’re teaching a digital photography class, we should probably have them.”

A good foundation in the arts, sufficient college prep courses, and proper course scheduling are just some of the fundamentals she suggests for students to excel in the arts field.

However, helping underprivileged students succeed is difficult when issues affecting academic performance are continuously overlooked by the administration.

“Our classes are often a dumping ground for holes in schedules or newly enrolled students throughout the year, or ENL [English as a New Language] students,” Mizel said.

Some students are wrongfully placed in second semester courses without learning the basics in introductory courses.

“There is no care to what course a student actually wants to take or if they have taken what should be the required class prior to that course. For example, taking Studio Art A before going into a Ceramics class,” said Mizel.

According to a CBS News report, Hempstead High School’s administration department failed to properly keep track of class schedules, transcripts and enrollment information.

Reginald Stroughn, a former principal for the school, says the course credits and attendance were unmanageable during administration adjustments.

“I’d be willing to bet if you asked them right now, what is the attendance in Hempstead right now, they couldn’t tell you,” said Stroughn.

Under the receivership law, Superintendent Susan Johnson developed an “intervention plan” to improve English proficiency by hiring outside sources, expanding the school day or year for students seeking additional help, and modify funding under school budget.

In a recent update from the New York State Education Department, Hempstead High School made ‘demonstrable improvement’ under receivership during the 2015-16 academic year. The school aimed to increase the graduation rate to 45 percent – it actually increased the rate to approximately 52 percent.

To ensure students are on the right path to graduation, developing a relationship with a school guidance counselor is beneficial for those who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives post-graduation.

Michael Higgins, who has worked as a guidance counselor at Hempstead High School for eighteen years, said his role is to help each student develop personal growth and confidence to effectively navigate through their four year experience.

“A primary goal as a counselor is to ensure that each child is adequately prepared to design a plan for life after high school should that person enter college, the military, the workforce or move in another direction.”

Hempstead High School has partnered with local trade schools and universities to prepare students for college-level course work as a part of the intervention plan.

“In addition to the AP courses available in the four core subject areas of Science, Math, English and Social Studies, the school offers a number of college level courses provided by SUNY Farmingdale and Syracuse University,” said Higgins.

Although the school has made improvements to increase academic performance, the attendance rate has been significantly low due to the village’s lack of bus transportation for the students.

Higgins says it is extremely difficult for students to excel if they’re constantly missing key information in the classroom because of transportation issues.

“The community should work with the school district to determine how to establish a system of transportation for the students that live on the outskirts of the village,” said Higgins. “The lack of busing, especially during inclement weather and the winter, greatly affect the school’s attendance rates.

Under the receivership law, Hempstead High School was given approximately two years to maintain improvements before independent receivers’ take over the establishment.