Jack Bierwirth is coming out of retirement to help turn around one of the state’s most troubled school districts.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia last Thursday named the former Herricks school superintendent a “distinguished educator” tasked with helping the Hempstead school district to get back on track.
Bierwirth, who retired from Herricks in 2015 after 14 years there, is the second distinguished educator the state has ever appointed. Those in the role, established in state law in 2007, are chosen to help districts that have not shown adequate progress for at least four straight years.
“He was well regarded as one of the more distinguished superintendents around, and he was always active at the state level, so it was not illogical,” said Henry Zanetti, a current Herricks school board trustee who knew Bierwirth when he was superintendent.
Bierwirth declined an interview and referred questions to the state Education Department.
When he starts work in Hempstead on Oct. 6, Bierwirth will “conduct an intensive review” of the district’s operations and systems and help develop an action plan for improving the district, according to an Education Department news release. He will submit a copy of that plan and future quarterly reports to the Education Department.
The school district must follow Bierwirth’s recommendations or give the state a compelling reason why it should not, according to state law. Bierwirth will be considered a consultant to the district, and the district will pay him as such, the Education Department’s release said.
The department listed six reasons why Hempstead needs a distinguished educator, including its designation as a “Focus District” with low academic performance since 2012; and the fact that it is one of only two districts in the state, outside of the five largest city districts, with more than one troubled school in the state’s Receivership program.
“Dr. Bierwirth has the knowledge, experience and skill to be a meaningful partner with the school board and district for the benefit of all children in the district’s low-performing schools,” Betty A. Rosa, the state Board of Regents chancellor, said in the news release.
The only other distinguished educator ever appointed was Judy Elliott, who was picked to help the Buffalo school district in 2012.
Before starting work in Herricks, Bierwirth was a superintendent in the Freeport and Sachem school districts and in Portland, Oregon. He worked in Hempstead early in his career as a district director from 1974 to 1977.
Zanetti said Bierwirth was an “intelligent guy and capable superintendent” in Herricks. He helped lead the district through a difficult recovery in the wake of the 2008 recession, Zanetti said.
“He very competently managed the budget and the priorities,” Zanetti said.