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Esteemed Educator Faces Opposition As He Takes Over Hempstead School District

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- An esteemed educator known for fixing failing New York City schools is ready to roll up his sleeves in one of the worst performing school districts on Long Island. So why is there opposition?

By a razor-thin margin, the Hempstead school board recently made big waves with its choice for a new superintendent in a district that 99 percent minority, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

"A Hasidic Jew is not somebody you're going to find in Hempstead," Dr. Shimon Waronker said.

That is, until now.

Waronker has a Harvard Phd. and a history of working wonders. He's now tasked with turning around a district with a paltry 48 percent graduation rate.

"I'm very hopeful," he said. "I don't see how my religion is going to affect --other than Jews value education, and I bring that philosophy and spirit to this district. And the children will be like my children."

It's a district fraught with administrative chaos, dysfunctional classrooms and alleged rampant nepotism, Gusoff reported.

The former Army intelligence officer turned around violent city schools by suspending gang members, firing substandard teachers and instituting uniforms. Does he plan to bring that style to Hempstead?

"One has to have discipline in order for there to be a safe community, but at the same time, there has to be love," Waronker said.

Choosing him came as a result of the district's first ever national search. Opponents say the community didn't have enough input.

"The board majority took the liberty to sort of kind of silence the community," Hempstead School Board member David Gates said. "This is going to be the new superintendent, and you have no say."

The opponents are even planning a protest.

"This is a matter of racism, and that's very sad. We have to come together instead of continuing to foster this otherness," fellow school board member Melissa Figueroa said.

"The deadly seven words 'that's the way we've always done it,' is a curse upon the Hempstead School District," civil rights attorney Fred Brewington said.

Waronker, an immigrant from Chile, speaks fluent Spanish. He plans to begin with a listening tour, meeting every teacher one-on-one.

Waronker said he's not deterred by high expectations, and it's low expectations that for years have harmed the district.

His contract is for four years. He said a long term commitment is needed to make significant improvements.

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