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From The Bryant Room Archive
A New High School for Roslyn
By Carol Clarke
What a sense of excitement must have been felt throughout the Roslyn community during the fall of 1925! The very sight of the impressive staircase rising from Roslyn Road to the front door of the newly opened, state-of-the-art Roslyn Junior-Senior High School would have evoked a feeling of pride and accomplishment in students, parents and community members alike. Since 1904, when a High School Department first joined the Grammar School Department of Roslyn’s Village School, high school classes had been held in “ill-proportioned and badly arranged” classrooms, designed for younger students. Now, on an eight acre hilltop site donated by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence H. Mackay, owners of the opulent Harbor Hill estate [now Country Estates at East Hills], Roslyn’s teenagers would be able to enjoy all the benefits of a modern high school building, including rooms for an array of academic and special subjects, as well as laboratories, a library and athletic fields for a variety of sports. As noted in Roslyn High School’s first yearbook, The Annual of 1927, “The new building transformed the Roslyn High School from a small, struggling institution, to a large, well-equipped one, able to compete with any high school in almost any field.”
Today, completing four years of high school, receiving a high school diploma, and continuing on to college or other post-secondary education is the norm for most Roslyn students. That was not the case in the early part of the twentieth century. Then, obtaining a grammar (elementary) school diploma was a major achievement for many students. Most went directly into the workforce after completing eighth grade. A small percentage attended a few years of high school level coursework before leaving to get a job. An even smaller percentage completed a full academic program and continued on to receive a college degree or other post-secondary training.
A small announcement in a September 1885 issue of the Roslyn News provides evidence that Roslyn educators recognized the need to offer more advanced studies to students who desired it. Notification is given of the formation of a “supplementary or high school class” “for the benefit of those who have finished the present grammar grade, and are desirous of continuing their studies another year.” Students had to pass an entrance examination covering arithmetic, algebra, geography, United States history, grammar, reading, writing, and spelling. Students who successfully completed first year high school subjects would then travel to Sea Cliff, which already had a High School Department, to take the New York State Regents examinations.
By 1904, the increased need for secondary education was recognized by the community. At the School Board’s Annual Meeting in August 1904, a resolution was made “that the Board of Education apply to the Regents of the University of the State of N.Y. for admission to the High School Department and that course of study begin with the opening of fall term of this year.” A small group of students began taking a full complement of high school level courses in September 1904 and the new academic department of Roslyn Union School was officially certified by the Board of Regents in December 1904. At the end of the 1904-1905 school year, the School Board voted to build an extension to the Village School to house high school classes.
Based on that year’s success, the School Board applied to the Regents for admission as a Senior School in the fall of 1905. In April 1906, the board authorized the Principal “to purchase apparatus of good quality sufficient to equip a laboratory to meet the requirements of the Department at Albany in order that our school may be entitled to admission as a Senior grade High School.” With 26 academic students, a fully equipped science laboratory, and a State-approved four year course of study, Roslyn Senior High School received its Absolute Charter in April 1907. Two months later, in June 1907, Roslyn High School’s first two graduates, Marion Tubby and William Hickson, received their diplomas.
By 1920, relatively few students continued on to high school after receiving their diplomas from one of Roslyn’s three elementary schools: the Village School, the North Roslyn School at Bulls Head/Greenvale, or the Heights School in Roslyn Heights. For example, of the 22 children (14 girls, 8 boys) who participated in the Roslyn Village School Grammar Department Commencement in 1921, only 5 (3 girls, 2 boys) were part of the twenty-member high school graduating class of 1925. However, the need for a new high school building was clear. With an increase in the school population, all of the schools were overcrowded despite the construction of additional classrooms during previous years. This was particularly true of the Village School, which rented space in a local hotel. In 1922, the Board of Education invited experts from the State Department of Education and Cornell University to conduct a study and “to make concrete recommendations for future building plans.” Their report concluded that
“The central building [Village School], now devoted largely to the high school was constructed for elementary school purposes and is therefore unsuited for modern high school work. The rooms are ill-proportioned and badly arranged for high school purposes. Except a make shift commercial room, no provision is made for the special subjects.” It was noted that there was “the very great need for rooms for shop work and home making and for housing better the high school, the commercial subjects, library, laboratories, etc.” and further, “An enrichment of the high school curriculum will tend to hold the older children in school.”
The School Board stated that the most suitable place for a high school building would be “at a point not too far from the railroad station” and proudly announced that it had located “an ideal plot at the end of Lincoln Avenue about 750 feet east of the station,” centrally located for 164 of the 199 students in grades 7-12. The benefits of the eight acre site, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Mackay, owners of the Harbor Hill estate [now Country Estates at East Hills], included its elevation (for proper drainage and a good view), its proximity to the main road and railroad station (yet “far enough removed to protect the children from the distracting noises”), and the fact that it provided a level site large enough to accommodate the school building and athletic field. Voters approved acquisition of the land in 1923, and the new Roslyn High School, housing grades seven through twelve, opened in September 1925. A Home Economics building and two shop buildings were added in 1935.
The high school curriculum included English, Mathematics, History, Geography, French, Latin, Science, Public Speaking, Domestic Science and Commercial Subjects. Courses in physical training, manual training, music, drawing and health were also offered. In addition to Katherine Cockcroft, the principal (who also taught Latin), there were 15 teachers.
Despite the size and grandeur of the building, Roslyn High School’s student population was relatively small in 1925. The graduating class of 1925, the last to complete their studies at the Village School, had twenty members. The Class of 1927, who walked up the steps as juniors in September 1925, had 22 members, 15 girls and 7 boys. Twenty graduated from the Academic Course while two girls completed the “Four Year Commercial Course.” The graduating class of 1929, the first to spend all four years in the new building, also had 22 members.
The statement of the 1927 yearbook’s editorial staff says it all. Addressing their remarks to “the people of Roslyn,” they wrote: “We shall never cease to be thankful for this gift. The class of 1927 spent half of its high school career in the old school, and half in the new, and it seems to us that we have been going to school in a palace the latter half.”
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