HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Students headed back to school in the suburbs Tuesday.

On Long Island alone, 70 public school districts held their first day of school, including one that just years ago was on the verge of total failure.

As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the Roosevelt school district was so troubled, it was the first and only district taken over by New York State. For more than two decades, it sputtered and stalled.

But the district resurrected itself. As classes start this year, its five schools are no longer on the watch list for fiscal or academic concerns.

“The parents have to be involved, and that together with the principals and the school board we can do great things,” parent Deirdre Clements said.

“Sometimes it can get hard, but I still like it,” one student said.

“The board is committed to stability. We are using what is in the room,” Superintendent Marnie Hazelton said. “We know what works. We know the community.”

The secrets to success include respected administrators who are from the area, bringing in local business and community leaders and homeowners as mentors, along with uniforms, free breakfast and lunch, accepting advice from state educators and hiring bilingual teachers for the growing Latino population.

“They’ve never played before,” said orchestra teacher Andrea Thompson. “This is their first experience with string instruments.”

Middle school grades are slowly improving and other districts are taking note, says Hofstra University’s Dean of Suburban Studies Lawrence Levy, who has studied Roosevelt for years.

“The biggest lesson of Roosevelt is that a community and a state cannot allow persistent problems to fester. We’ve lost a whole generation of students,” he told McLogan. “While they’re not there yet, they’re well on their way.”

“This is one team. We are doing this all together to bring our children from good to great,” said middle school principal Jeremiah Sumter.

Roosevelt has a lofty goal of 100 percent graduation by 2020, focusing not only on academics but on social and emotional learning.

“Everybody is friends and we all get along, even though there are some hard times in school,” said another student.

Hard times mean intellectual strides as students with sudden pride say they hope their Roosevelt renaissance goes viral.


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