This alternative education pioneer is named a Nassau top educator


Acute learning challenges, ranging from a difficult home life to homelessness, are among the reasons why, in any given year, a minority of students in the Valley Stream Central High School District struggle to stay in school.

These outside pressures can slowly eat away at these students’ confidence and well-being, and as their school performance slips, so does their likelihood of earning a high school diploma. Some just quit.

Under the intervention and guidance of a non-traditional education at the district’s Twilight Alternative Program, its principal, Danielle Williams, who also serves as the director of the district’s alternative programs, has not only helped prevent students from walking out on their education, but helped them achieve a level of academic success previously unknown to them.

The Takeaway

  • A small minority of students in the Valley Stream Central High School District struggle to stay in school due to various acute learning challenges, which can lead to a decline in school performance and an increased likelihood of dropping out.
  • The Twilight Alternative Program, led by Principal Danielle Williams, provides a night high school option for over-aged and under-credited students who were not successful in a traditional high school setting. 
  • Danielle Williams will be awared the Nassau BOCES Education Partner Award  for her years of dedication to alternative education in a ceremony this spring.

Generated through Open-AI

For this, alongside years of dedication to the alternative education space, Williams will join 10 other educators to receive the Nassau BOCES Education Partner Award in a ceremony this spring. The honor recognizes those “who have made a substantial impact on public education in Nassau County” and “enabled students of all ages and abilities to achieve their maximum potential.”

From 2017 and 2022, between six and 15 students dropped out of the Valley Stream Central High School District each year. With a population of roughly 4,600 students, the district’s dropout rate has teetered between one and two percentage points, persistently lower than the state’s average of five to six percent.

What’s more, in recent years, the number of Valley Stream’s high school dropouts has thinned down to single digits. The introduction of the Twilight Alternative Program, three years ago, likely has a part to play in that reduction.


Rescuing students from the academic brink

What is the program, exactly?

The program, as Williams puts it, “provides a night high school option for students who are over-aged and under-credited” —meaning those who have fewer credits for graduation than a student their age would normally have— and, for whatever reason, “were not successful in a traditional high school setting.”

There are currently about 20 students in the program, up from three in its first year, with a maximum enrollment of 50. The school, which runs Monday through Thursday from 3:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., is robustly staffed with licensed teachers including those with special education and special language backgrounds, an on-staff social worker, a school counselor, and a teaching assistant.

The reasons that brought these students to the program vary, noted Williams.

“My students have anxiety. My students have to work during the day for their families or take care of their little brothers or sisters,” she said. “Some of my students just fell far behind (in their studies) and then all of a sudden their grades drop and believe there’s no way to recover.”


Lives transformed, school redefined

While the circumstances often differ, Williams says students commonly come to her program as a last attempt to finish their schooling when nothing else seems to work.

Every potential and future student sits down face-to-face with Williams to gauge their specific difficulties, personal motivations, mental and emotional fears, and stumbling blocks.

The conversation is done in an “interview-style” format to show the intended seriousness that the program has in turning the tide of a student’s educational decline.

“Some of my students are hopeless within themselves if you understand what I’m saying,” said Williams. “It’s their mind, it’s their battle, and what we offer is an opportunity of forgiveness and reprieve.”

But alongside a compassionate fresh start, students are also given discipline. Cell phones are not allowed in the classroom. There’s a dress code and an expectation to be punctual.

“One of the quotes I use with my students currently at Twilight is: ‘You can’t teach desire,’ and during my initial interview with students, I tell them, ‘I will support you and give you every resource you need, but you have to believe in yourself to be able to get to the finish line.’”

Williams’ motivation for helping set her students on a path toward graduation comes from her own “underdog” story.

Despite being a “terrible test-taker with severe anxiety” at a young age, Williams pressed forward with her education and attended Hampton University at 16 where she would go on to earn a litany of titles and certifications.

“I’ve always had an affinity for working with students who are considered the underdogs,” said Williams. “I’ve always had an affinity for students who think they cannot do and show them they can do more than they ever thought possible.”

Have an opinion on this article?  Send an email to