Hempstead School District Problems: Like Many Other School Districts


Shimon Waronker Former Hempstead School Superintendent

These were the graduation percentages in Hempstead since 2004.  Those rates are highly suspicious.  Schools are supposed to improve steadily, but the decline in 2008 must reveal some form of corruption and general poor performance by all.  2004 49.6 % 2005 39.3 % 2006 47% 2007 58% 2008 51% 2009 50% 2010 46% 2011 27.8 % 2012 37.5% 2013 35.5 % 2014 37% 2015 40% 2016 47.7%.  The statistics were revealed in New York Newsday on January 21, 2018.  There were years that were much better than others.  Did academic levels rise and then fall or could it be that the school district did not keep good exit interviews with students who just dropped out or transferred as well?  The significant rise in graduation in 2016 seems like a good indicator of success for 2017, but there has been chaos again this last school year and maybe no prediction of success should be made.

Shimon Waronker has worked in different boroughs of New York City and we were introduced by Joel Klein when Klein was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s chancellor of New York City Schools.  I live fifty miles from Department of Education headquarters outside of the city, but I went there to support parent involvement, particularly District 27 which is in Far Rockaway.  I believe that strongly in parent involvement, but I can assure you that those parents and I had differences about what to do.

I had to do research about Waronker just as you would have to if you did not live and work in New York City.  Most of my research came from reading the book authored by Joel Klein after he left his position in New York City.  I was down south when I first looked at the book and I was amazed to learn that I was quoted on page 39.  It intrigued me so much that I bought the book.  Since Bill Bradley, the great basketball player and former senator of New York wrote a book and wrote about education, I have made it my business to see what was said by candidates for public office.  I did the same for Donald Trump and others when I saw their books and I have not been impressed by anyone.  Although Joel Klein was not a candidate for office, I paid for the book and I was glad I bought it, because I added a chapter to my own book about the Bloomberg-Klein mistakes.

Shimon Waronker took over the Hempstead School District on June 2, 2017, but on December 21, 2017 he wrote a letter to the community that 90 percent of English Language Learners are on Level 1, the lowest level.  And only 17 percent of the students pass the US History Regents (a state-wide exam).  Students who cannot read or write and others who fail all their classes are promoted.  And his plan of action is for staff to make changes for September of 2018 so that there would l be teaching to the individual needs of the students.  My questions include where did things go wrong in September of 2017 and what was being done to provide the students with what they needed?  

Waronker, I knew, would have trouble.  He was and is what community people can and do call “a carpetbagger I asked someone who is well connected to Hempstead what takes place from day to day if the people who helped hire Waronker are corrupt and his answer was that they are corrupt.  I spoke with a person very connected to the Hempstead School District and she told me that is what the opposition says.  What is the truth?  The opposition is a large part of the Hispanic community and the new majority is largely African-American.  Even around 2004 I heard from a Salvadoran who worked in government in Nassau County that the African-Americans controlled the Title 1 funds and programs, which means that Hispanics would not get the support they needed. 

Enter Shimon Waronker, a Spanish speaking Chilean Jew who served in the United States military and who turned a dangerous school in the Bronx around through para military tactics that he learned in the army. He did some nice things in the school, but the test scores did not really go up and he received special attention and materials from the chancellor that I found out about by digging deeper for information that was available on the internet.  Later, his dual language school was being touted and he attracted a following in Brooklyn, but my research again showed that the test scores did not go up there as well.

In my book Issues of Our Times: Educational Solutions Matter I write that Shimon Waronker should be interviewed today, because it would be helpful to everyone.  His impact was great and he seems open minded.  His efforts have been written about in The New York Times and more.  Joel Klein writes that the results in the third grade were disappointing in the New American School that Waronker founded in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  Klein also states that middle class parents found out about the school and wanted to send their children there.  Of course the poor third grade results would turn most parents off, but there certainly were positive things happening, including a trilingual program. The school that he commanded when I met him was still in need of great improvement in 2016. 

This is something that I dug up about J.H.S. 22 in the Bronx years after meeting Waronker and seeing how close he and Joel Klein were.   Joel Klein did not write about the extra services that the school had been given including: social workers, guidance counselors, family workers, and the school had a new science lab, a new library, laptop computer carts, and much more. These were things that were never revealed in Joel Klein’s book and you must understand why.  All of this was left out as Joel Klein praised his principal leadership program.  Even the New York Times fell for it.  What Joel Klein was supposed to say was that the test scores did not go up.  I say that parents must know about these things to be better informed.  In addition, on math, ELA, and science tests the school recently scored 2 percent, 6 percent, and 18 percent receiving 3 and 4 on the state tests.

Joel Klein met with “very bright” and “motivated” students.  This group was called the Chancellor’s Advisory Council.  Among the things that he asked the students was were there gangs in their schools.  Most of the students were seniors.  I learned soon after retiring that there was significant dropout from school by Latinos in the ninth grade.  If the council were influenced mostly by seniors who already could see the light at the end of the tunnel or their graduation, the focus was wrong.  I wonder if the students told Joel Klein yes there were gang members and that they come from dysfunctional families the way Mayor Bloomberg told it on the radio.

In the Greek democracy everyone was represented and we don’t see that in his book.  We can see a much better effort to help the school system in the way that Shimon Waronker brought gang members close to him in the school student government, but there are gangs all over the city and there is no mention of the spread of good ideas into other schools. I am was in touch with the gang unit of the DOE providing new ideas.

I also watched videos posted on FACEBOOK that show important details.  There was chaos at meetings and possible obstruction by people.  Audience shouting out was unnecessary.  But there are things that really hit my nerves.  At a victory celebration people were talking repeatedly about taking back their community, ignoring the fact that there was another side of the community.   They declared that they would have the children in mind.  What I saw were two groups that had unified after working against each other.  In describing how they came together they recognized the importance of sitting down to talk.   It really appears to me that this important tactic and strategy of uniting people did not occur with the Hispanics on the other side. 

This kind of failure by the school district had to result in the state finding fault in the “governance” of the school board, among other things.  One would think that the state would find a school district or two in the area for everyone to learn from, even if it is on video so nobody would not have to travel.  People must learn how to handle objectional material at a meeting without hindering the progress of the meeting.  There was a lot of argument over the swearing in of someone which did not even need a vote.  There have been fifty fights by students since September in the high school.  Instruction was determined to be in need for special education students, English Language Learners, pre-kindergarten, the high school, and computer and technology. 

Four years ago, I read about the changes that were being made in Hempstead School District) and my conclusion was that the high school would show hardly any improvement (my article was published in Spanish in La Tribuna Hispana USA August 27, 2013).  The administration was expecting a fifty percent graduation rate in June 2014 and it achieved less than forty percent.  There were two more graduates that year than in the previous year.  The school district still had not achieved fifty percent in the Spring of 2017. 

In reading about the Hempstead School District in the newspaper New York Newsday it seemed to me that Superintendent Waronker, the majority members of the board, the minority members of the board, the New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, and the New York State legislature were to blame with different degrees of blame.  And that also includes elected officials that I have spoken to in Hempstead in the past.  I have just sent my article about educational solutions to the New York State Board of Regents and I would hope to hear from the Regents this year.

Also as it has been mentioned (as in other years) is the possibility of a take-over of the school district by the state.  Two of the things mentioned by the state are the school district’s “community relations” and the school superintendent in need of “maintaining an appropriate working relationship with a board of education.”

One of the key solutions to helping the world and this information was sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo with no response from anyone in the state education department.  You decide.  My nickname is “El Quijote del GED” which was given to me by Salvadorans close to Hempstead, New York.  I made front page news with that title.  Think about all the students that do not get enough help and who cannot study well enough to pass or get high grades.  On one occasion I was near some high school students in a fast food restaurant where one student asked an Asian student how much he obtained on the physics.  The answer was 91.  When the Asian student asked his fellow classmate his grade the answer was 72.  Then that student called out across the restaurant to a friend of his who was with another group of friends, asking his friend how much he got.  The answer was preceded by a laugh and the youth answered 40.  I asked the student who scored 72 if the felt the teacher taught him enough and his reply was “not really.”  Now just imagine the challenge in Hempstead where about 35 percent on the students had dropped out.  There are lots of “solutions” but one key thing is that there must be a constant flow of tutoring that attacks the weaknesses of each individual and there must be good results.   Many tutoring programs fail.

This is taken from a movie treatment that I wrote about what Chicago needs.  Hempstead is not Chicago, but it has lots of the elements that plague communities in Chicago.  New York Newsday did publish my letter to the editor about educating the parents and the children in universal pre-kindergarten programs, but communities do not learn and do the right thing.   In the 1970s the graduation rate in the United States was over seventy percent, leaving urban areas and communities like Hempstead, way behind.  New York State’s African-American population has the largest failure rate on the high school equivalency test in the nation, ranking it at the bottom with Alabama and Mississippi each year.  My nickname comes from being a voice in that equivalency program called the G.E.D.  With that extremely high dropout rate from high school and the low percentage of adults taking and passing the G.E.D., the Hempstead community has been a very desperate community and even the F.B.I. has been called in to help the police at least twice over the years.  I have fought to help the Hispanic community in Hempstead to get back its G.E.D. program in the county program called CASA after the school district cut out that program.  And it was not restored, leaving many communities with far fewer job opportunities in the so-called “land of opportunity.”

You will now see a link between the past and the present.  Too many people from all races and ethnic backgrounds are so concerned with the present that they forget the past.  And the actions we take have to be measured by the truths of the past and the present to make a great difference in this world.  I always say that nobody has walked in my shoes as an educator and I am probably right.  My years teaching in a regular school, the time I spent in GED programs, and the campaign that I launched in 2001 have made me really unique.  The great fame that I obtained has not made me content.  Why?  The massive failures that I have seen by community people, government, and society in general could have been avoided, but the fight does on.

Allow me to introduce to you to an artist-teacher from Florida who teaches art classes, basically, to students who are African-American.  He really got my interest by telling me that his students had listened to my free telephone conference call about Black Lives Matter (which is positioned on my website).  This easily explains to you just how Waronker could get much greater support in the Hempstead community among its African-American population.  Mark shows this painting to his thirty-five students and asks for their thoughts and criticism.

Michael Brown was the youth who was killed in Ferguson and his killing set off demonstrations and violence leading to what is now known in the United States as the “Ferguson Effect.”  The students ask Mark who the artist is and he reveals to them that he is the artist.  Mark Cohen says that to reach his students he uses “empathy.”  Mark is correct and he reaches those students in the second day of class and transforms them.  Mark has about a dozen Holocaust paintings as well and the rich combination of both groups paintings makes him a human bridge to connect with African-Americans anywhere.  He could take his effort into Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore as well.  See the 400 Year Struggle now.

Over the last few years there has been controversy in the Hempstead School District related to both charges of anti-Semitism and unfairness in elections.  This poster had been circulated a few years ago and recirculated as a reminder about people who have attained positions on the current board of trustees.  Was there a disclaimer when it was posted?  It doesn’t matter that such negative information is passed by a relatively unknown candidate for the school board or the current president of the United States.  Great harm is being done by incendiary comments and then we hear either an apology or some comment that should never have to be made in the first place.   As you can see, one could conclude that the person posting this might be a Republican or someone else, but not a Democrat.  Often it is someone rather conservative who does not wish to spend a lot of the tax payer’s money.  And it could be from just about anyone as well.  There could be parallels between the person or persons who put this piece of information together to Donald Trump who witnesses say called Haiti, Africa, and El Salvador “shithole” countries.  The tiger happens to be the mascot of the Hempstead School District.  I later found out that this information which I call “Hitler in Hempstead” was handed out during the election campaign by candidates to take votes from those so-called Democrats.

Mark Cohen not only paints Black Lives Matter subjects, but also paints Holocaust subjects and he perfectly describes how the two are interrelated. “The lessons of the Holocaust apply to all racism and religious bigotry around the world. In a recent survey commissioned by the Anti – Defamation League (ADL) 26 percent of respondents transcending boundaries of nationality, religion, race, age and sex admitted to harboring anti–Semitic feelings,” he writes. Please see his paintings before completing your reading of this article.

I went deeper into this issue, checking out online information.  I went to FACEBOOK where there was talk about “taking back” our schools when the schools belong to everyone in the community.  And this reminds me of taking back our country or even Make America Great Again.  This is quite common as people are competitive, but again I would urge caution in the use of words that divide.  The campaigns taking place are clearly seen as the battle between African-Americans and Hispanics, even though I did notice a call for “unity” on the “Hispanic” side.  I noticed that there are people on the Hispanic side that are community leaders who I have found great fault with and I believe the community people that do not have a voice and who have lost faith in the leadership of the schools of the school district throughout the years might very well agree with me.  And I later sent articles to Hempstead For Hempstead and nobody ever got in touch with me.  That’s how all of Hempstead reacts and probably because some or many people will lose power in their community.

If we use this example to illustrate, you might see what I mean.  George Steinbrenner was very well known to sports enthusiasts as the owner of The New York Yankees.  He was made even more famous due to appearances on The Jerry Seinfeld Show.  I have always given Steinbrenner credit for taking a youth who he caught doing graffiti outside his famous ballpark, Yankee Stadium, and turned this slightly delinquent artist into a family member of the team front office.  Donald Trump has turned a young man who caddied for him into a confidante, but that was after noticing the key determinant in that young man.  Loyalty!  Steinbrenner used empathy to turn around Ray Negron.  That is exactly what is needed all over Hempstead and the greatest solution of all has been rejected by everyone connected with that school district.  Educate the child and the parent at the same time. 

The school district has invited a well-known educator to speak that I used to send emails to him a decade ago (Dr. Galloway).  I noticed that he talked about parent involvement in different forms to the community, but there has not been a significant improvement in the district.  Isn’t something wrong when so many parents have been turned off in that district and that solution has not worked?  A major part of the problem is attendance by parents at meetings and the use of technology to reach parents to bring them into the dialogue has been missing, even in Far Rockaway where I urged its use.  That school in Far Rockaway is on the list to be closed.  I feel that schools such as Hempstead and Far Rockaway must engage many more parents instead of having a small group of parents and community people control things that bring forth small gains.  I would love to see Hempstead and other poorly performing school districts make public their sign in sheets for parent meetings (required in Title 1 programs).  Hempstead school be scrutinized in this way because of the great investment in time by the state. 

And right now, New York City has put together a 50-school plan that I plan to write about next (the Bronx Plan).  The Department of Education of New York City should study the Hempstead School District and the things that it has tried to accomplish to make the district a much better district and look at the things that have failed before starting the Bronx Plan.

I gave a brief talk at the National Black Violence Conference in Philadelphia a couple of years back and a young man came up to tell me that I was right when I gave my solutions to the audience.  Those solutions were being captured on video and I have not received that segment from the organizers after making a request to receive my small talk.   The video would have been very helpful for me to show to people.

There always is some progress as statics are kept each year, but the progress is always too slow.  The State Education Department could learn from this and help people all over the state.  Even school districts that are doing very well can prevent students from falling through the cracks.  Again that is another thing that the Bronx Plan should take a look at now.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *