By Micaela Erickson
The Hempstead School District has suffered for years because of a comparatively low graduation rate. The New York State Legislature passed a measure in June to appoint a board of outside monitors to oversee and begin to rebuild the district, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo had not signed it as of September, and the state Education Department decided in November that state oversight was not yet necessary.
Last month, state officials announced that Hempstead had made “demonstrable improvements” during the 2018–19 school year, and that implementation of outside monitors would be unnecessary, so control over the district will remain in local hands. With a 2019 graduation rate of 44 percent, however, a number of community members fear that progress is insufficient.
Hempstead borders the Garden City School District. U.S. News & World Report named Garden City High School one of the top 300 schools in the nation last April, while until recently, Hempstead High School had one of the country’s lowest graduation rates.
“There is a marked difference in quality of service depending on what community you live in and what you look like in Nassau County,” state Assemblywoman Taylor Darling said. “The state Education Department allowed the district to crumble at the sake of our children and community, and we need to make sure that we’re not just surviving, but thriving.”
Hofstra University, an institution with more than $1 billion in assets, according to ProPublica, sits in Hempstead, next to Uniondale. Hofstra offers programs and service projects to help students and residents in the surrounding area.
The Hempstead High School Initiative is one of the resources that Hofstra offers for current Hempstead students. Daria Valan, a junior philosophy major and fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement, is one of the program’s current co-leaders. The tutoring program has 12 volunteers who visit Hempstead High School about three times a week. The initiative was spearheaded by Hofstra’s Honors College and the Center for Civic Engagement and aims to improve Hempstead students’ academic success.
“We help students prepare for the New York Regents, a series of standardized tests the students need to graduate,” Valan said. “We also help with homework questions and college applications.”
Hofstra students have expressed interest in wanting to do more for the university’s surrounding community. “It would be great to get more involved in the community and combat the underfunding that leaves specific communities disadvantaged,” said Jules Dickinson-Frevola, a sophomore journalism major.
Dr. Alan Singer, a Hofstra education professor, isn’t convinced that the university’s support is a lasting solution. “Hofstra’s help is necessary, but not sufficient for what the district needs,” Singer said. “Only state action can make any significant change.”
Madie Mento, a junior public relations major and former co-leader of the Hempstead High School Initiative, believes that Hofstra students are unaware of the injustices happening in the local community.
“As an educational institution, it’s Hofstra’s responsibility to educate its students about local issues,” Mento said. “We’re so focused on bringing awareness to national and international issues, but we seem to forget that these issues are coming to fruition in our neighborhood.”