Westbury freshmen scheduled for Friday start
Westbury High School parents breathed a sigh of relief last week, after the school district received last minute approval from the state education department to hold classes for freshmen at the Nassau Community College (NCC) Annex.
The board of education voted in April to split the Class of 2021 into taking classes at the Annex or Cradle of Aviation, in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding at the high school, but last week, parents were alarmed to find that the state education department had denied the district’s request to use the spaces.
The board held a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the high school, where parents voiced their frustrations and concerns on how the freshmen class of 370 students would be accommodated in a school that was already overcrowded. But at a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 24, Superintendent Eudes Budhai told the crowd of parents and students that at 4:55 p.m. that afternoon, the state had reviewed and approved their request to use the building.
“What you did today and yesterday made a huge difference for our children. That shows the engagement we need in Westbury. When parents and [the district] get together and do something for our children, we make sure it happens,” said Budhai, noting that many parents made calls to the state and to their local elected officials, asking them to advocate on behalf of the students.
According to board president Dr. Pless Dickerson, the state originally denied the district’s request because they didn’t feel they were maximizing use of instructional spaces.
“There is a state statute that says the board of education can declare an emergency and it’s their obligation to address overcrowdedness by leasing space,” said Dickerson. “Our conflict with the state had to do with them saying we were not utilizing space appropriately in the high school. But we knew the halls were crowded, classrooms were crowded and class size was unacceptable.”
After several back and forth letters, and intervention from Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Senator Elaine Phillips, parents and others, the state approved the district’s use of the Annex for a one-year lease.
“I am gratified to have been able to lend assistance to the district in getting our pleas heard by the State Education Department,” said Lavine in a statement. “These are challenging times for public education in our nation. Like so many Americans, were it not for public education, I would have received no education whatsoever. Public education is of critical importance to our democracy.”
While parents noted they were happy that the Annex was approved, just eight days before classes were slated to start on Friday, Sept. 1, discussion rose again of what the district could do to curb the growing enrollment, as well as what the administration’s long-term plans were to alleviate overcrowding in buildings districtwide.
“When we started these discussions, we said ideally two years for this lease. In that time frame, the board of ed, with input from the community and administration, are going to be able to address what we need to do to our facilities to accommodate students,” Dickerson said. “We’re going to start the planning phase, but first we need to get kids settled in the Annex.”
And while the Annex was approved for use, the Cradle of Aviation was not, with the state education department saying the district did not have adequate control over the building, which is open to the public. The entire freshmen class (with the exception of overage, under-credited ninth-grade students) will now be taking classes at the Nassau Community College building and eighth-grade students who had been slated to go to the Cradle will take their classes at the middle school.
Budhai said the Annex does have capacity to hold the high school students originally slated to go to the Cradle, and added that while the facility may have changed, the course work would not.
“We’ll be able to make field experiences to the Cradle more frequently. We’re trying to maximize everything we can and we want to expose students to things they’re not usually exposed to and bring in people from the Cradle to support our children,” said Budhai. “We are making sure our students are getting the same curriculum they would have if they were at the high school, cradle or Annex. Our students will be able to be in an environment that’s not crowded and students at [the high school] will also have the ability to have more space to do work.”