Dr. Jack Bierwirth Says Improving Graduation Rates Could Take Up To A Decade

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island school district is moving ahead with steps to dismiss its superintendent.

Earlier this year, the struggling Hempstead School District suspended a reformer who was brought in to combat reputed corruption. Now he may be getting booted permanently, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Wednesday.

Dr. Shimon Waronker was brought in to root out corruption in the district, but now the new school board has voted to take steps to terminate him after suspending him earlier this year.

There was a gleeful sendoff when Waronker was first accused of possible bid rigging, using the foundation he created to turn around a 37 percent graduation rate. The district spent scarce resources investigating him.

“It is costing the district money and it is diverting attention,” Dr. Jack Bierwirth said. 

Bierwirth, the state-appointed monitor and “distinguished educator,” weighed in on camera with CBS2 for the first time. He wouldn’t talk about Waronker, but said he is seeing progress.

“I’ll be optimistic because I am that it will keep on going and that one way or another the district will get where it needs to be as fast as possible,” Bierwirth said.

After viewing “37%,” CBS2’s new documentary on the district’s turmoil, Bierwirth said he doesn’t dispute the alarming allegations.

Dumbed-down work, grade changes, no curriculum, and ultimately a graduation rate of 37 percent are “not acceptable,” Bierwirth said. “I didn’t say we are successful. I’m not trying to argue against the problems. My job … what the commissioner expected of me … is to come here and help the district turn things around.”

Nor does he condone bitter infighting.

“It would be nice if they functioned more civilly, but if they get what needs to get done done, that is of primary importance,” Bierwirth said. 

He projects a turnaround will take up to a decade.

“You can’t build buildings overnight. That alone is five to 10 years. Moving academic achievement is going to take sustained effort over a period of time. I’m going to report lack of progress, progress that isn’t fast enough or things that go backwards,” Bierwirth said.

It can’t happen soon enough, said Hofstra education professor Alan Singer, who has been tracking 20 years of abysmal graduation rates.

“It is long past time that New York state take over Hempstead. The children of Hempstead cannot wait five to 10 years,” Singer said.

Bierwirth said he is not removing any school board members and to critics he offered this: “The state did come in. The commission appointed me and continues to monitor. The state is here.”

As for the 37 percent graduation rate, Bierwirth said he is not expecting this June’s numbers, when released, to be much better.

To watch 37%, CBS2’s documentary about the educator who came in last year to turn the district around only to have his plans unravel, please click here or here. It is streaming in its entirety.