At an historic time when life is so uncertain and our point of reference for “normal” shifts almost hour-to-hour, reflecting on the stability and constancy of our educational system provides an anchor we can all hold on to.
As our community continues to adapt to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 health crisis, maintenance of our school community relationships has never been more important. Teachers, students, parents are working together in-person and electronically to move forward in our “new normal.”
At the high school, Principal Raymond Williams recently reflected on the positives he sees. “For me, joy comes from being back in the building and interacting with students and colleagues, and in finding different ways to promote student learning,” he explained. “We developed strong relationships before the constrictions of COVID and that is why we have been successful. We established a solid school community that cares and respects each other. ‘Compassion’ is a word we all need to embrace right now.”
The district continues its “Telling Our Story” series to remind us all that we are part of the greater community of which Williams speaks. Practicing patience, resiliency and compassion has seen Hicksville through a long history of prosperous and challenging times alike. Attending Hicksville High School (HHS) remains the pinnacle of a student’s educational path in the district. And that has not changed–whether a student is attending in school classes or learning remotely-high school is the most important stepping stone toward a bright future filled with hope and possibilities.
Situated on 27.3 acres, the blond-brick building itself stretches solidly along Division Avenue in a classic mid-century style. The building’s cornerstone records 1954 as its starting point, but the high school actually began decades earlier in the current middle school building on Jerusalem Avenue.
Noted in a publication held in the high school archives, “It was not until shortly after the sharp upward trend in population in 1850 that there is any record of schools in Hicksville.” The first school was the Nicholai Street School, a one-room clapboard building that was later demolished to create a larger school on the same site in 1868.
On February 21, 1901 the school district was organized as the Hicksville Union Free School District No. 17. It is reported that in 1914 the school had 438 enrolled pupils and a staff of 14 teachers. In 1914, the high school was created and Regents certificate granted by the University of the State of New York. The first graduating class consisted of five members and the second class had two members.
One of the earliest images of graduates of Hicksville High School is simply labeled as the “Class of 1915.” The image features four young women standing together on the porch steps of the Nicholai Street School.
Hicksville’s population continued to grow, having a spike from 1923 to 1936. In the spring of 1923, the community voted to approve $20,000 for the purchase of land for a new high school and $250,000 for the building of a Junior-Senior High School. In December 1923, excavation was started for the construction of the Junior-Senior High School on Jerusalem Avenue. The cornerstone was laid on April 26, 1924, the same year the district built East Street as its second grammar school.
Archival records note that during the Thanksgiving vacation in 1924, “high school equipment was moved to the new building and on December 4 the new building was occupied by the pupils of the Junior-Senior High School (7th thru 12th years). This greatly relieved the congestion in Nicholai Street grammar school.”
By 1925, Hicksville had a population of 4,762 according to the state census. With a population of more than 4,500, the district was able to obtain more state aid and the board moved to hire a Superintendent of Schools. E. A. Van Slyke, the supervising Principal, was hired as the first Superintendent in 1925. His Vice Principal, Mabel R. Farley, was appointed as Principal of the Junior High School that same year. Superintendent Van Slyke continued as the district’s educational leader for 13 years until his retirement in 1936.
Hicksville’s population burgeoned after World War II. In November of 1948, a public vote was held to acquire the funds for new school sites. Burns, Dutch, Fork, Lee, Old Country Road, and Woodland elementary schools were built in rapid succession to meet the suburban housing demands. In 1954, the new high school was built at the Division Avenue location. Mabel R. Farley was appointed as the principal, a position she held until her retirement in 1956. To date, Farley has been the high school’s longest tenured principal.
Denward Collins, Hicksville High School Class of 1953, knew Farley, the new building’s principal. In fact, Farley was Collins’ mother’s teacher at the Nicholai Street School. He attended and graduated from the high school when it was still located on Jerusalem Avenue. His family represents five generations in the community–his son is the fourth generation to live in the family home.
Collins remembers Farley quite well. “She was the principal at the high school when I was in kindergarten at Nicholai Street. If Hicksville had an unofficial mayor, she was it. She was married to the school–as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar, but had empathy for the students and she really knew teaching. She commanded and got a lot of respect. Once, she called me to her office to tell me that I was selected by the American Legion to attend Boys State. I felt really honored–I had such respect for her.”
In addition to Farley there have been many great leaders during HHS’s ensuing decades. Raymond Williams has been the principal at Hicksville High School for eight years.
“Hicksville is a potpourri of wonderful cultures coming together,” he explained. Principal Williams completed his bachelor’s at Adelphi University, his master of arts and New York State Administrative Certificate at the College of New Rochelle. He spent two years teaching middle school physical education in East Hampton, served as a dean in Westbury for one year, an assistant principal at Robert Moses Middle School in North Babylon for two years and for eight years, served as the principal of North Babylon High School.
Many of the community’s interesting stories hearken back to Hicksville High School. For example, if you’ve ever noticed the majestic concrete eagle at the Hicksville train station, you are seeing the results of efforts by a Hicksville High School Latin teacher, Samuel Goldberg, and his students. Goldberg’s class, which included a young Latin scholar, Harvey Goldstein, HHS’s Class of 1964, wrote letters to secure the preservation of one of the eagles from the old Penn Station in New York City, set for demolition in 1963. Erica Sinisky, daughter of Mr. Goldstein recalled, “My dad tells the story of how Mr. Goldberg was passionately opposed to the demolition, and how the Latin class took a stand by writing letters and eventually acquired one of the highly coveted 22 eagles that immortalized the old Penn Station.”
“Every time I go to the Hicksville Train Station and see the eagle, I’m very proud,” Goldstein said. “Mr. Goldberg was a great teacher. He felt that New York City was changing and losing its Neo-Classical architecture. His methods of teaching were intriguing. He gave us a lot of background and made learning Latin interesting.” Classmate Joseph Platt agrees. “I had Mr. Goldberg for four years. Latin can be very dry and he made learning interesting and fun.”
Like so many longtime Hicksville residents, Carolyn Pinto’s family has been deeply tied to the district for three generations. Her father was one of nine children and spent most of his childhood in Hicksville. Her mother-in-law went to Burns Avenue, and she was a student at Burns. In fact, she met her future husband Louis, Jr. in kindergarten at the school. They both graduated from HHS in 1999. Their children currently attend the middle school and Burns Avenue, and Mrs. Pinto is the co-president of Burns’ PTA. “The teachers here have always been incredible,” Carolyn shared. “This community is about the people. At the high school, the music and theater programs were amazing. Chorus teacher Mr. Dan Kristoff (for whom the Little Theatre is named) was inclusive and caring. My husband actually went on to study theatre in college because of his experience in the high school. Hicksville feels like home. I have so many happy memories. My children are and were in the same classrooms we were in. Now they will have happy memories, too.”
Life goes on during COVID, albeit in very different ways. The school district moves forward serving its students, providing a welcome breath of constancy and hope in an otherwise changed world. After all, its times like these that teach us to slow down and reflect upon the people and places that really matter in our lives.
To learn more about Hicksville High School, visit www.hs.hicksvillepublicschools.org/; Visit www.hixnews.com/2003/ for HHS alumni news. You can also follow the high school on social media–Twitter: @hps_hhspride and Instagram: hicksvillehigh.
—Submitted by the Hicksville School District