On April 22nd, the Half Hollow Hills Central School District turned 60! First established on April 22nd, 1954, the HHH CSD, at the time, was one of the largest school districts on Long Island with a student population of 1,146. Today, our district has a student population of nearly 10,000 students. Our district’s website states that we are “a learning community privileged to build futures one child at a time,” a promise the HHH school district has fulfilled for 60 years.
The HHH CSD of Huntington and Babylon was formed when three Union Free School Districts were merged: Districts 14,15, and 16. These districts contained the area within the Town of Huntington and Babylon. When combined, these three districts became “The Half Hollow Hills Central School District Number 5 of the Towns of Huntington and Babylon.” The decision to merge the three school districts was prompted by their lack of a high school.
This newly formed district consisted of three elementary schools. Upon reaching the age of high school, students attended high school in Huntington, South Huntington, and Farmingdale. Within the span of only ten years, the district built a high school, two junior highs, and six more elementary schools. The HHH community was growing exponentially faster. In 1970, HHH opened West Hollow Junior High School, Vanderbilt Elementary, and Chestnut Hill Elementary. At this point in time, the district had eleven elementary schools, three junior high schools, and one high school. The overpopulation was so evident that the high school was operating over capacity and on double sessions, fitting more school time into each day.
The district needed more room to expand. Thus, High School West was opened in 1975 as a tenth-grade school; during the time, the district’s enrollment was slightly over 13,000 students. When 1978 came, High School West was housing grades ten through twelve to better accommodate the needs of the growing district.
However, in 1980, the district’s enrollment began to decline. Manasquan, Taukomas, and the Hills School, three of many schools in the district, were closed. Later that decade, in 1987, Sunquam Elementary and Burrs Lane Junior High were closed as a result of decreased enrollment as well. Sunquam later reopened twelve years later, in 1999, to accommodate the once-again growing district. Although the exact causes of the enrollment fluctuations in the district are unclear, it can be inferred that the age-population distribution of the community had an impact on the spikes and dips in enrollment.
As HHH celebrates its 60th Anniversary, the district now holds seven elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, an administration center, a natatorium, a planetarium and a transportation/maintenance facility, all spanning over 34 square miles.
Current Vice President of the Board of Education Frank Grimaldi has been in HHH since 1972, with the exception of five years within that span. “Both my wife and I are HHH graduates,” Grimaldi said. “My son Tyler graduated [from] West [in] 2013. My daughter, Courtney, will graduate this year, and finally my daughter, Danielle, is a sophomore at West,” Grimaldi continued. The Grimaldi family truly represents a HHH family, extending through two generations. Grimaldi believes “[HHH is] amazing, diverse, friendly, and just an incredible place to raise a family.” “This is abundantly evident by the number of people who have moved back to raise their families or have never left [HHH],” Grimaldi continued.
Dr. Harrigan, the Deputy Superintendent of HHH, has been in the district since 2005. He expressed his pride in the growth of our district. “I have seen a tremendous increase in the number of students taking Advanced Placement Exams at the High School Level,” Harrigan said. In addition, Harrigan has noticed a positive trend of more eighth-graders taking Algebra and Earth Science in middle school. “At the elementary school level, the use of technology, in particular the number of SMART Boards, has greatly increased and the Universal Pre-Kindergarten program has grown from one classroom in Central Office to opportunities for roughly 200 children per year in every elementary school,” Harrigan continued.
As a result of budget cuts paired with decreased enrollment in the district, two elementary schools, Chestnut Hill and Forest Park, have been closed for the 2014-2015 school year. Although it is rumored that these properties will be leased in order to keep the potential for reopening alive, it is unclear the fate of these two schools.
Harrigan continued that, “the change to five elementary schools creates efficiency that both saves budget dollars and improves programs.” This is exemplified in the current situation in some elementary schools. In Sunquam, there is a different art teacher every day that is shared from the other elementary schools. In addition, Otsego has a different music teacher everyday. However, “next year every elementary school teacher will have one dedicated staff,” according to Harrigan.
Another example of the need for remedy is evident in the sharing of assistant principals and school psychologists between buildings in the district. Next year, each school will have “a full-time school psychologist and a full-time assistant principal.”
Harrigan continued that “the 2014-2015 school budget does not cut any programs. In fact there are some items added back.” These include a Middle School Theatre Production along with multiple Assistant Coach Positions for some athletic teams and increased funding for the robotics program in our district.
As we struggle through budget turmoil in the deteriorating economy, we must remember the importance of education in all forms, such as that of HHH. As our district has evolved over the past 60 years, it is clear “what has not changed is the community’s commitment to our great students and schools,” Harrigan stated. “I am very excited about the future of the Half Hollow Hills Central School District: increasing numbers of students taking Advanced Placement classes, expanding the use of technology in the classroom, and continuing our 60 year tradition of excellence,” he concluded.