2011-07-01 / School News

At Far Rock HS School's Out, Forever

By Howard Schwach

Far Rockaway High School closed on June 27, with its last graduation. Far Rockaway High School closed on June 27, with its last graduation. After a 114 year run, there is no longer a Far Rockaway High School for its thousands of alumni to call home.

On June 27, the final graduation was held at the school, with alumni honoring a symbolic “last graduate,” Latia Denson, with a scholarship for college.

In a 2007 decision, the Department of Education voted to phase out and then close the school due to poor academic achievement and a low graduation rate.

It was not always that way at Far Rockaway High School, alumni say.

The school had once earned high marks for both academic and athletic performance.

“Far Rockaway High School has a long and storied history,” Department of Education spokesperson Matthew Mittenhal said. “Its legacy will be wellserved by its alumni and the four new schools on its campus.

In September, the building that was called Far Rockaway High School for 114 years will morph into the Far Rockaway Educational Campus.

Graduates sit at graduation exercises, with their relatives and friends behind them. Photo by Marty Nislick. Graduates sit at graduation exercises, with their relatives and friends behind them. Photo by Marty Nislick. The school opened in 1897 with 19 students. It graduated three students in June of 1899.

In August of 1927, a contract was awarded to build a new high school, seating more than 2,500 students, with a swimming pool, rifle range, three-story auditorium, two gymnasiums and other athletic space. For its time, it was one of the largest high schools in the nation.

It opened in 1929, with its students marching from several sites on the peninsula, including PS 39 in Far Rockaway and PS 42 in Arverne, to open the new school.

One of the students who marched From PS 42 in Arverne to finish his high school career in the rand new building that day was Stanley Schwach, the father of present Wave Editor Howard Schwach. The Schwach family lived on Beach 69 Street at the time that Stanley marched to Bayswater for the opening of the new, state-of-the-art (for the time) facility.

His family, like many others in Rockaway, could trace their history through the local high school.

His father graduated in 1929, with the first class at the new building.

His mother, Rosalind, graduated from the school in 1934.

He graduated from the school in 1957, his wife, Susan, in 1960. His son, Robert graduated from the school in 1983.

There were many more notable graduates of the school, however.

Baruch Samuel Blumberg was a 1976 Nobel Prize winner in medicine.

Joyce Brothers, well-known psychiatrist and advice columnist, graduated in 1943.

Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post, graduated in ’58, the same year as Ruth Alpert, the wife of Bernie Madoff, the well-known Ponzi schemer. Madoff graduated two years earlier.

Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in 1965.

Carl Ichan, financer and billionaire, graduated in 1954.

Nancy Lieberman, arguably the best woman basketball player who ever lived and who won an Olympic medal at age 16, graduated in 1973.

Burton Richter, who graduated in 1947, won the Nobel Prize in 1976.

MC Search, the noted white rapper, who attended the school as Michael Berrin, graduated in 1983.

And John Warren, who played basketball for St. John’s and the New York Knicks also graduated from Far Rockaway High School.

The list could go on and on.

Over the years, tens of thousands of students, most who moved on to other areas and became solid citizens graduated from the schoo.

City Councilman James Sanders Jr., is another graduate of the school, class of 1975.

When asked about the closing by the Daily News, Sanders said, “It is better to close my beloved school than graduate one student who cannot compete in the 21st century. My hope is that the new schools that will be housed in the old Far Rockaway High School building will pick up the mantle of academic greatness and carry it even further than anyone ever envisioned.”

Some students, however, do not feel the same.

Denson, the symbolic last graduate, who will begin college in the fall, told the News, “I had fun there and I learned a lot of stuff. The school is not bad at all.”

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