With its warm cream stucco and flanking wings terminating in white columns, Hicksville Middle School’s beautifully symmetric façade is a point-of-pride landmark sitting on 12 acres fronting Jerusalem Avenue in Hicksville. Today’s middle school stands as a symbol of the value the community placed on education when the residents voted to approve $20,000 for the purchase of land in the spring of 1923 and $250,000 for the building of a Junior-Senior High School. The emphasis on achieving a high quality education continues today, even during the challenges of conducting school during the coronavirus pandemic.
Looking back to the school district’s origins, archival records show that the first school in Hicksville opened its doors in 1831. Children of local farmers attended the Nicholai Street School, a one-room clapboard building. It was later demolished to create a larger grammar school on the same site in 1868. A flag flown at the school as a symbol of the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the Union Free Schools in Hicksville, along with an illustration of the Nicholai Street School, is displayed in a glass case in the boardroom at the Administration Building.
Hicksville’s population spiked beginning in 1923, and the Nicholai Street School could no longer hold all of its students. After the community approved building a Junior-Senior High School for secondary students, excavation was started in December of 1923. 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 4th, the new building was occupied by the pupils of the Junior-Senior High School (7th thru 12th grade). This greatly relieved the congestion in Nicholai Street grammar school.”
One of the most striking architectural features of the school is the two flanking collanaded wings housing the gymnasium on the south side and the auditorium on the north. Both rooms have been in near-continuous use for almost 100 years.
Shortly after its construction, the interior walls of the auditorium were decorated with beautiful murals depicting important moments in Hicksville’s history created by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists. The five arched-top murals were cleaned during the auditorium’s extensive renovation in 2007-2009.
Denward Collins, Hicksville High School Class of 1953, remembers his grandmother beating gold in her Hicksville home, something many in the community did at the time to earn extra money. “This was in the early 1900s,” Collins said. “It was a German craft. There was much demand for gold leaf at the time for use by China-producing companies, signage for businesses who used it with black outlines on glass, and in architecture for domes and accents in government buildings. When my grandmother had enough, she would turn it in for payment at a business on West John Street. That building is still there.”
Another interesting observation tied to the murals is the depiction of the land purchase from Chief Pugmpan at Cantiague Rock. “The rock at Cantigue Road and West John Street is still there, but it is much less visible than what is depicted in the painting. It has gradually sunk over the 370 years to the small rock we see today, still slightly above ground,” Collins said.
By 1925, Hicksville had a population of 4,762 according to the state census. With a population of over 4,500 the district was able to obtain more state aid and the Board of Education moved to hire a superintendent of schools. E. A. Van Slyke, the supervising principal of the Junior-Senior High School, was hired as the first superintendent in 1925. His vice principal, Mabel R. Farley, was appointed as principal of the Junior-Senior High School that same year. Van Slyke continued as the district’s educational leader for 13 years until his retirement in 1936. And Farley remained principal until her retirement in 1954—to date, the longest tenure as a principal in the school district’s history.
In 1948, the community held a commemorative pageant to celebrate Hicksville’s 300th Anniversary. Collins attended the middle school when it served as the Junior-Senior High School.“The years following WWII needed some way to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Hicksville’s founding and a community-wide pageant was the answer,” Collins explained. “Over 400 students and faculty were involved from the Nicholai Street, East Street and the Junior-Senior High School. Students were directly involved in the pageant planning. It was an exciting time for all. On the big day, the weather cooperated and it was a huge success. Crowds filled the blocked streets on Second Street, Fourth Street, and Jerusalem Avenue. At the conclusion, the entire group, along with an antique fire engine, old farm tractor and everyone in costume posed for a picture. We were asked to remain in place—no talking, no moving—while a large camera on a flatbed truck slowly turned and scanned the group. When the photographer gave the ‘all clear,’ a thunderous cheer burst forth, releasing all the pent-up excitement. It was a memorable time for all the participants and audience as we felt such a great sense of community and a job well done.”
The middle school cupola contained a bell that chimed every hour. Collins explained, “If you lived in the neighborhood, which I did, you couldn’t miss it—it was a cherished sound.” The bell still chimes today.
In 1954, the Hicksville Middle School was created when grades 9 through 12 moved from the original Junior-Senior High School to Hicksville’s new public high school on Division Avenue. Seven middle school principals have been recorded in district records since 1970 at the middle school. Albert Glass was appointed principal at that time, followed by William Feigin in 1974. In 1980, Gerald Klein became principal, followed in 1993 by Marie Marshall. Steve Aronowitz accepted the position in 1997, followed by Daniel Marquardt in 2007. Since 2009, Mara Jorisch has served as principal.
Supported by Assistant Principals Dr. Barbara Mrozik, Todd Wallace, and Benjamin Tangney, Mara Jorisch continues to lead the middle school. She has worked in the field of education for 39 years. Jorisch received all of her higher education at Hofstra University, earning a B.A. in economics, a Master’s of Science, a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration and entered the doctoral program, completing all but her dissertation. “I became a teacher because someone saw something in me that I did not see,” Jorisch explained. “Every path I took got me to where I am today. How lucky am I to do what I love in a place that I love? But I don’t do this alone—building relationships is so important. I have a great team that works together. I am grateful every day.”
Hicksville Middle School currently educates approximately 1,260 students with 625 being in-school for the hybrid learning model. Due to the pandemic, much about education has changed, but the middle school remains a vital, steadfast home for its students. Jorisch and her team have made great strides in advancing the areas of curriculum, social emotional learning and extracurricular activities while adding child-centered facility upgrades.
The middle school recently expanded its curriculum to offer American Sign Language (ASL), Living Environment, Algebra I, Global Conversations and two new Home & Careers courses: Food for Thought and Wearable Electronics. Extracurricular-wise, the middle school added new clubs—Robotics, Multicultural, Social Awareness, Astronomy, American Sign Language, Strategic Gaming, Ecology and Next Generation Christian Club—to its already wide offerings for students.
The school grounds and classrooms have changed, too. Most recently, the middle school opened a new school store, which is operated by the students, a library maker space, a quiet room for lunch, a renovated main gymnasium and a resurfaced track and turf field. The bus loop on the north side of the building was redesigned for the 2010-11 school year.
Carol Ruda, Hicksville Class of 1984, advanced through the middle school grades when it was still the Junior-Senior HS (grades 7, 8, and 9). She has lived in Hicksville for 54 years and has worked at the middle school as a main office secretary for almost 10 years. Her mother worked in Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) at the district level for 17 years and one of her daughters currently teaches in the district’s ENL program.
Ruda remembers her first day as an incoming middle school student. “I probably felt then the way an incoming student would now—nervous and excited. It was so exciting to see all the students—it was a large class of 550 feeding in from the seven elementary schools,” shared Mrs. Ruda. “At that time, there were so many students in the Junior-Senior High School that the district placed a ‘T-wing,’ a ‘U’ of temporary classrooms, at the end of the ‘blue’ hall to house the English Department.” She fondly remembers singing in the talent show as a highlight of being a middle-schooler. “I remember it like it was yesterday. The talent show was held at night so the auditorium was dark except for the stage, but I could see the murals and focused on them as I sang. It was so much fun.”
Due to the pandemic, all public schools in New York State were shuttered in March of 2020 by executive orders from the governor, including Hicksville Middle School. The school was determined to uphold tradition for the eighth grade students, however. “This is a tradition that we didn’t want to lose,” Jorisch explained of the school’s annual graduation ceremony. “It was important to us that we found a safe and befitting way to recognize and honor the middle school experiences of the resilient and amazing 8th Grade Class of 2020. This unique commencement ceremony allowed us to bring closure to the transitions and traditions of the middle school and provided a way to wish our graduating students well with fond memories and with hopeful thoughts for the future.”
“While this year has been a year of unprecedented moments, like the building itself, the amazing students, staff, and families of the middle school have weathered many challenges and continued to thrive,” Jorisch said. “The middle school is committed to its motto of Heart + Motivation = Success, and if there ever was a time when heart, motivation, and kindness matters, it is now. Our commitment to these values continues to be the cornerstone and foundation of our success as we look forward to a hopeful future and the return of all our students and staff to the gracious and historical halls of Hicksville Middle School.”
—Submitted by the Hicksville School District