by Dr. Pelham Mead.
Chapter 1- In the beginning
The name Kakiat JHS came from the name of a local Native American Tribe that used to live in the High Mountain area in New York. When the High Mountain school district began to explode in student population in the 1960’s it was decided that an additional Junior High school needed to be built. At the time there was only two junior high schools North JHS and South JHS. The students at South JHS were overcrowded in their school and they were on double sessions for a few years until the Board of Education of High Mountain school district put before the community a bond approval to build a third Junior high school to deal with the overcrowded conditions of the existing schools. The name of the new junior high was put up to the South JHS students to determine in a school-wide vote since ½ of these students would be sent to the new Junior high when it was finished in 1960. The choices were: Central High Mountain JHS, Washington JHS, and Kakiat JHS JHS. The students in South JHS did not want to go to the new Junior high school so as spoilers they choose the worse name they could and that was Kakiat JHS JHS.
The current Assistant Principal of South JHS was to be transferred to the new Kakiat JHS JHS when it was finished. He was given the choice of what teachers he wanted to bring with him, so he chose his best friends whom were all department chairman. They were all older men in the late 50’s and early 60’s. This seemed like a good base with which to start a new junior with experienced teachers. Actually no teachers transferred, only administrators. All of the rest of the teachers were hired new. In 1967 alone 300 teachers were hired in the High Mountain school district to meet the every expanding student population expansion. Kakiat JHS JHS started with 600 students and by 1975 had doubled to 1600 students in the one building built for only 1,000 students.
When the fall of 1960 came about the construction was not completed however the district moved the students into the unfinished building anyway. Construction delays caused the problem. While teachers were teaching in their classrooms, workers were drilling and nailing walls together in the next classroom. The noise problem was difficult to teach in without distraction. The auditorium was half finished with the seats not completely installed. Technically it was illegal to occupy a building that had not been finished but the district had no Plan B in case the building was not completely finished. Somehow the school district managed to avoid being fined by the local building code inspectors.
No sooner had Kakiat JHS JHS been built than it became overcrowded, and an extension was planned for and built in 1967. A small gym later was started in 1968 and finished by 1970 to accommodate the increase in student enrollment. A lot of problems developed with the heating and air circulation systems in the new extension requiring more construction and repairs to be made. Some classrooms lost all heat and were as cold as the outside weather in the fall and winter of 1967. Teachers had to move classes to the cafeteria or auditorium or library when the classrooms had no heat. A fire was started in a closet in the large gymnasium when a worker with a blowtorch accidently ignited the insulation in the ceiling while he was wielding metal braces under the roof. Fortunately the damage was limited to the storage closet and the fire department was able to get to the fire fast enough to prevent serious damage. The real damage was water damage to the gymnasium flooring. The boy’s locker room had showers but no hot water until that problem was fixed. In the 1960’s is normal to give out soap and towels to students to shower after class. It was mandatory at that time. When the 1970’s came in with the concern for individual liberties and student’s rights and many lawsuits to determine student’s rights the required showers were abandoned and a shortage in funds dropped the expensive towel and soap program in Physical Education. Eventually only the sports teams would use the shower rooms and Physical Education students went to class smelling and sweating.
The teaching staff grew from 70 teachers initially to over 120 teachers by 1975. Many part-time teachers also joined the teaching ranks and teachers who traveled from one school to another became another portion of the teaching staff. Para-professionals came into use known as Teacher Aides who needed only two years of College to be eligible for the job. The district used to have team teaching but para-professionals provided a cheaper approach than two full paid teachers to one class. For a few years there was a special education teacher and a mainstream teacher teaching a mixed ability group of students including special education students.
Community voting on public bond issues was always difficult because the majority of the High Mountain school district was represented by Jewish private schools called “Yeshivas.” The private Yeshiva population grew from 7,000 students in the 1960’s to 15,000 in the 1990’s. The Jewish community had to be courted by the Superintendent of High Mountain school district in order to secure their support of the public school budgets. Many trade offs had to be offered the private school community such as universal busing, used textbooks and used school furniture and special professional services. The Jewish community voted as a block against the expansion of the public school bond issues by busing Jewish voters to the voting poles. No public referendum could be passed without getting the Jewish community vote. The Jewish community were paying both for Yeshivas for their children to attend and for public school tax. Under New York State law the High Mountain school district Superintendent was legally responsible for all public and private schools within the borders of the High Mountain School District. Therefore, Yeshivas had to meet NY State Education requirements or they would not be certified. The High Mountain school district was one of only two major Jewish districts in New York State that had a significant number of students attending Yeshivas instead of Public schools. This meant that the formula for repayment to the High Mountain School from New York State did not include the private Yeshiva students. The public school system of High Mountain did not get any revenue from New York State to offset the cost of carrying thousands of Yeshiva students who were not in public school. This also included Catholic Schools that were a much smaller number of students. This lack of funds from New York State would eventually cause the High Mountain School district to develop a major shortage of funds to pay for the school budget every year. The shortage of funds developed into threatened teacher strikes, no teacher contracts for three years sometimes, cutting back in hiring new teachers, cutting back in sports programs such as elementary soccer, softball and basketball programs were cut. Concern Parents had to form their own sports associations to provide sports for elementary school children. This community sports program eventually grew to include Junior and Senior Highs students that could not qualify for the school teams.
The 1960 were a turbulent time in American with the Civil Rights movement taking hold, Black Power, radicalism in student organizations and the anti-Vietnam war movement. Coupled with the “drug generation,” and the Anti-war movement of hippies and beatniks the 1960’s and 1970’s were troubled times in American. These problems translated down to the local level with students mimicking what they saw on TV and what was happening in the media. Student protests were the thing of the day. Fake bombing calls INS were also the fade of the generation. Bomb fake calls came on a daily if not weekly basis and the entire school had to be evacuated every time. No one was every caught. This fad went on for years until a Principal from another school district had enough of the fake bomb threats and decided not to evacuate the building. After that many other school districts follow suit and made changes in their fire alarm systems with a yellow detection spray, video cameras, and a new approach to bomb threats. Twenty years later bomb threats would be a thing of the past, just as the Vietnam War became a thing of the past.
Some teachers were considered militant when it came to anti-Vietnam policies and that was unfortunate because they affect the minds of the children they taught. Militant teachers painted their rooms with psychedelic colors and logos to mirror the slogans of the times. Some of the militant teachers had long hair and dressed in jeans and worn t-shirts with logos like “No WAR,” or “Peace.” Militant song groups appeared on the music scene and could be heard in the militant teacher classrooms. The administrators were useless in being able to stop the militant teacher activities. The anti-War issue divided the faculty but no one would support an administrator trying to make a stand for or against the War or Militant teachers.
The term “politically incorrect, “ came into play. Black student could not longer be called Negro students. Black or Black Americans or African Americans became the buzzwords. The word “nigger” was the ultimate insult for black students when it was used by a white student or white teacher, however it seem OK for one black student to call another black student a “nigger.” It became known as the “N” word for white teachers or white students. There was a lot of racism during the 1960’s and 1970’s and many teachers tried to straddle the line but did not succeed. Expressions such as “your people,” smirked of racism. Black parents and black students were very race conscious during these turbulent years. All of these issues translated to problems at Kakiat JHS JHS as in all schools in the United States.
Teachers at Kakiat JHS JHS had to be especially careful in their language and how they treated black students in regard to how they treated other students. The sensitivity of race issues was on the surface and would not go away. Many teachers got into trouble when they used language that was misinterpreted by black students. Black students would often run to administrators and tell false tales to get a teacher they did not like in trouble because of the sensitivity of the racism issues during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Teaching during these turbulent times was no picnic. The militant teachers twenty years later cut their hair short and became part of the mainstream society as if they were never militant in their lifetime. It was amazing how some militant teachers became moles for the administrators after fighting the administration for so many years. It shows that in time you either conform to the rules and policies or get out. If a teacher wanted to make it to retirement age they all had to change over time and become more liberal or conservative in their philosophical approach to teaching and issues of society.