Hempstead splits ninth grade into preparatory academies

In an effort to turn around a struggling education system, Hempstead High School split the ninth grade into three separate college preparatory academies.

The division of the school is believed to be the first of its kind on Long Island, but New York City schools like James Monroe Educational Complex have been using the split system for nearly 20 years.

“A lot of other school districts that were trying to increase the graduation rate of the schools have adopted a similar model,” said James Thomas, principal of the School of Business and Law.

“I do not feel that the small school movement is succeeding in many small schools,” said Tom Porton, coordinator of student activities at James Monroe Educational Complex.

Like the academies at Hempstead High School, James Monroe split because of its low graduation and college acceptance rates in the early 1990s.

Hempstead High School has students in all three schools take the core classes required by New York State, and then offers the elective courses in latter years, according to Principal Evans of the Music and Art school. Evans said the difference between the schools will be most evident in three years when the split is complete.

“I know for a fact that the movement to these smaller schools definitely hurts many of the activities, which traditionally made a high school career memorable,” said Porton, who has worked at Monroe for nearly 40 years.

“We have a one-on-one relationship with our teachers,” said Jennifer, 14, a ninth grader in the School of Business and Law.

“It was a lot of students, the school was small, and it was hard to get attention, now here, it’s different,” said Yennis, 14, who also added that many students shared a positive response to the redevelopment of the school.

“This [the splitting of a school] is a good option for a school if they’re about ready to sink like the Titanic,” Porton said. The struggling school district, where verbal and physical confrontations among students happened on a regular basis, has no “plan B,” and will not need one because of the split, according to the three principals.

“In order for the students at Hempstead High School to be successful, we had to make this type of a change,” the school’s superintendent Patricia Garcia said.

“This is the best option. Of course there are other options but those options weren’t the best options for the students,” Principal Artiles of the Math and Science School said.  “Remember that we are not manufacturing computers, of course when we put a part in there [a computer] and we know how it’s going to work… We’re dealing [here] with human beings.”