THE HISTORY OF GREAT NECK SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Great Neck School District 7 was created in 1814 which was about 200 years ago. This means we have an old district; two years after New York was started to have a statewide public school system. In this time period, it was common practice for schools to be open for 6 days instead of 5 for the whole year, so the students could divide their school year into quarters. This way they could drop out for a few months during crop season to help their family or friends.
Fairview Aveunue school, used from 1840- 1869.
Arrandale, which was originally Fairview Avenue School, was pretty interesting. Since paper was scarce, students had to bring in their own slate and sponge for their work, sitting in double-row desks and seats. The things that they learned consisted of reading, writing and arithmetic. The recreational time that the kids had were separated between girls and boys with a fence in between their spaces. Also, if they got thirsty some student had to get a bucket and go to the well.
In January 1895, the district became a Union free school district. Moses R. Schenck, who was the first chairman, served a few years before being succeeded by John C. Baker. His wife, Elizabeth M. Baker, was an ex-schoolteacher who joined after her husband resigned and later became board president. On October 7, 1895, the first high school in this district was created! The district bought a $29 microscope and models of the human eye, ear and heart to offer its first science class just to qualify for Regents certification.
In 1900, the district spent $24,000 to make a new 3-story building in Arrandale from grades 1-12. It was a nice school but sadly burnt down in the 1920’s. Great Neck’s population began to rise due to the opening from the Queensboro Bridge and the building of the Long Island Railroad.
In 1914, the district built a gymnasium which was one of the the nicest gyms in the country. The school didn’t have a gym teacher but the students still made a football team and played their home games on a cow pasture.
The Kensington school was built in 1921 and during this time period, many actors, artists and writers lived in the community. This included F. Scott Fitzgerald, George M. Cohan, Ed Wynn, Groucho Marx and Eddie Cantor.
Great Neck North was made with a $1,500,000 bond issue and opened in 1929. The structure was created so nicely that it caught newspapers’ eyes. The same time, Lakeville school opened in District 8 (Lakeville). Lakeville and district 7 (Great Neck common school) combined to make the district we have today.
May 12, 1938, was the most debatable day in history of Great Neck. About 800-1200 students left their classrooms to go to the auditorium to hear student leader speech’s about the administrators decisions to get rid of teachers that had been working there for many years. The reporters were there. Two hours later the principal tried telling everyone to go to class but it drew an even bigger crowd of about 1,500 people and parents. The Board of Education wanted to fire the four teachers, the principal and the dean met, so they met 11 times in two weeks and made parent teacher investigation committees. Later that fall, the New York State Tenure took effect and created the Great Neck Teacher Association.
After World War 2, John L. Miller had to deal with four times the amount of students than in the preceding 20 years, and still only had four schools. New schools were built within the next ten years.
CELEBRATING THE DISTRICT
With the 200 year celebration just over a week ago, schools in the district are holding special events. Our principal, Steve, told me that here, at Village, we are having a bbq with trivia and some traditional food that was eaten 200 years ago. Hopefully, people will enjoy it! North High made an episode on the Guide Post. South Middle School’s TV production crew created a film on the history of the Great Neck Schools. Steve also mentioned how this past Sunday, all the high schools: North, South, and Village, chose an alumnus that represents the population; they made speeches and introduced themselves to everyone.
IN STEVE’S WORDS…
What makes Great Neck so great to celebrate?
“I’ve been working in this district for 20 years, and with everyone I have ever spoken to in 20 years, that worked anywhere else, it’s just not the same. Great Neck education can open doors to kids. This is a district that is, I think, ranked third in the country, but in my opinion, best in the country because of its attitude and the way that it thinks. So what we’re dealing with here is, kids go to good colleges, everything from Ivy League to community colleges and everything in between, and there are programs and schools like Village School, SEAL or the ACE program at North or [The] Peak [Experience Program] at South. Every kid that exists in this town, has a place to go to, where they can feel like the place was just about created for them which gives them confidence, [and] sets them on the right path after high school. And the reason that all these programs exist is not because of any political reasons, but because Great Neck cares for their kids, and it really does. It’s an educated community, it’s wonderful educators who want to be in this community, and all of this to me, makes the school district worth celebrating.”