Friday, 10 July 2009 00:00
In 1928, district voters authorized the construction of a second schoolhouse to serve the hundreds of homes already constructed in Williston Park and Albertson. In order to operate multiple schools with separated grades, they first had to hold a special meeting to authorize the transformation of Common School Nine into Union Free School District Nine. By that time, more than two-thirds of Nassau County’s Common schools had already made the very significant jump to Union status.
“Union” districts were first authorized by the state in 1853, and were intended for villages and communities that had grown to a certain population density. “Union” meant that two or more schools could be operated by one district (sometimes when two Common districts were merged) in what we think of today as a local school system. “Free” meant that no extra tuition would be charged to the families of enrolled students.
Until 1867, attendance at Herricks and the other Common schools was not free of charge. State funds and a local property tax funded most expenses, but the teacher’s salary was paid for through a “Rate-Bill.” This was an actual paper list of fees owed based on the number of days each family sent children to the school. Union districts could charge extra property taxes in order to provide free schools to all students.
The old Common school was supervised by three elected trustees who had to ask for taxpayer approval for all but very small expenditures and most other important decisions. As a Union district, there was now an official board of education with significant added powers, including the right to select textbooks, purchase classroom equipment, create a kindergarten and more, all on their own authority. Union districts could open secondary schools and schools with classes divided by grades or academic subject. It would take another 25 years for the district to add a ninth grade.
Another Union district power that was not exercised here for many years was the ability to appoint a local school superintendent. In 1934, the school board appointed Mr. Lester Peck of the Park Avenue School staff to be the district’s principal-in-chief, supervising teachers and performing some of the functions of today’s Superintendent. The “District Superintendent John W. Chisholm” listed on the dedication plaques of the Herricks Community Center and most of the schools was the longtime head of the local school Supervisory District, then made up of the Towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay. He continued to play a role in decisions involving teacher tenure and other educational policies until his retirement in 1961. At that time, the board of education appointed Mr. Peck to be its own local superintendent.
Something else the district did not have for a long time was an actual, official name. Most school districts did not have official names, only numbers within townships. Central school districts, formed by combinations of districts, were exceptions, including Sewanhaka and Mepham (named after another longtime district superintendent). In Nassau and other counties with large towns, the many numbers were confusing and the location of the Common school or the village around which a Union district was formed became an identifying nickname. By 1930, just over half of the residents of Number Nine lived in the new Village of Williston Park, and there are still local people who grew up calling this the “Williston Park” or the “Herricks-Williston Park” School District. There is ample documentation in education directories, newspaper articles and other sources to support this.
By the early 1950s, the district had new schools and thousands of new residents, and the local use of “Williston Park” in the district name receded. It was only in 1973 that a state law required districts to formally adopt an “official” unofficial name (“Herricks Union Free School District”). By the late 1990s, regulations allowed districts to completely drop any mention of the type of district and the number.
Today, the last visible evidence of the old numbering system is found in some statistical reports by the State Education Department, which continue to list school districts in the old town and number order.