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What Do You Know About Herricks?: June 19, 2009

Creating the Herricks School District (Part I)

We don’t know when the district actually began operating its own school. There was a school by 1842 (there is a reference to it in a state report), and maps from the 1850s show a schoolhouse in the location of the former Administration Building. But the early years are murky, and it’s not easy to pick a specific moment when the Herricks schools were definitively created.

Soon after they showed up here in the middle of the 17th century, Europeans established schools that lightly dotted the countryside. The Dutch had encouraged publicly-funded schools, and liquor taxes were used to pay a schoolmaster at Hempstead as early as 1658. After the English booted the Dutch out once and for all, most local schools were sponsored by churches, or by interested families willing to pay a subscription fee. However, there was no formal public school system as we know it until many years after the Revolution.

Enlightened national leaders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, insisted that informed citizens who could read and follow basic arithmetic were essential to a functioning republic and urged states like New York to invest in mass education. In 1795, New York made a first attempt to create a voluntary system of local districts, funded partly by the state, but it lasted only five years. By 1812, funds had built up and another try was made. Elected town School Commissioners were obliged to divide the township into local “Common” (meaning “public”) districts, and could then apply for state funds to assist in building and operating an elementary school in each district when property owners were ready. North Hempstead was first divided up into eleven districts on August 19, 1813, but it’s not clear that anything else happened. The next year, the state legislature mandated that every town had to actively participate in the new system of schools and, over time, actual schoolhouses began popping up.
The school districts of North Hempstead were not “founded” in the sense that there was a convention or a flag placed in the ground. It’s a matter of interpretation, an innocent fudging, to call Herricks one of New York’s “original” or “oldest” school districts, because just about every settled area in the state was divided into districts at the same time.
The early configurations of the local districts would be unrecognizable to modern residents. Originally, District 11 ran from what is now Roslyn Heights and Searingtown down through what is now Mineola to the Hempstead town line. District 10 stretched from the Herricks Community Center area to the Hempstead line and then to the border with Flushing (now Queens County) up to Lake Success. District 9 included the immediate area around Lake Success and much of today’s Village of North Hills. There were frequent adjustments to the districts in an effort to balance the number of enrolled children and, most of all, the ability of each district to fund a schoolhouse. In the first 20 years alone, the boundaries were changed six times. The 1818 changes placed the bulk of today’s Herricks district within North Hempstead No. 9, but the 1823 changes put most of what is west of Herricks Road into No. 8, with the school that had been built next to Lake Success. It was all switched again several years later.
By the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, No. 9 took in all of the current district, and it was larger on all sides. The district would be significantly reduced several times. For example, in 1870, neighboring No. 10 (Mineola) was increased in size and in 1886, a separate school was organized for New Hyde Park.
Actually, the district has never stopped changing. There have been numerous small adjustments, particularly along the northern border in the Village of North Hills, as new residential developments are assigned by the county to the tax rolls of one school district or another. This is why the 2000 Federal Census reports the size of the district as 2,778 acres, while it was 2,756 acres in 1980 and 2,846 acres in 1960.
The basic size and shape of the district we know today was in place before the start of the 20th century, but it would be almost three more decades until it would transform from a rural “district school” into the modern Herricks School District. Or, as some will tell you, the Williston Park School District.