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Troubled Hempstead School District Finally Making Progress, Top Educator Says

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – New York State's education commissioner was in Hempstead, Long Island Friday to meet with the people who run the embattled school district.

Hempstead notoriously had a 37-percent graduation rate last year, one of the lowest in the country.

"I am pleased that there has been some progress, but it has to continue and it has to speed up," commissioner MaryEllen Elia said.

Cautious optimism from the state's top education official.

Elia met with Hempstead board members, educators, and parents following a report of "substantial progress" in the troubled district.

Hempstead is one of only two persistently struggling districts in New York to be assigned a monitor - a distinguished educator tasked with recommending fixes for the schools.

Dr. Jack Bierwirth arrived as the district was managing to graduate just over a third of their pupils.

WATCH NOW: The 37%

He now cites progress in finance, curriculum, facilities, and a graduation rate that's inching up.

Chaos however, is still cropping up in Hempstead, including a sparring session at Thursday's school board meeting between a parent and a highly visible school activist. That activist is also a registered sex offender.

"You're a sex offender, I'm a parent, you don't belong here," the angry parent was recorded saying at the meeting.

Skeptics, including a newly elected state assemblywoman, want proof of progress.

"I am skeptical because there have been reports of fudging numbers and reporting inaccurate data and that is what we would use to determine and track progress," Taylor Raynor told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

Elia cautions a turnaround will take time, but vows Albany is watching closely.

"They can't afford to slip back," Roger Tilles, a New York board of regents member added.

The district has yet to even schedule long awaited hearings against their ousted superintendent, while continuing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollar to Dr. Shimon Waronker and lawyers working on the case against him.

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