Entry is updated version of chapter “Schools” from White Plains, New York: A City of Contrasts:
Though there were schools in White Plains (WP) as far back as the early 1700’s little is known about them. According to Renoda Hoffman in her book Yesterday in WP, there was a school around 1738. Early schools for children were taught by women out of their homes & were supported by the families in the community.
A school building appears on a map of WP drawn by a soldier before the Battle of WP in 1776 on what was the Village St. Mrs. Adam’s School was located on what is now N Broadway near intersection with Lake St.
A school was recorded in town’s minutes of 1788. The structure was located in the area across from where Nordstrom is today and was used till 1848 when it was destroyed by fire. Another unpublished source at WP Public Library on WP schools states that the same school was located in the Nordstrom location and was destroyed by fire in 1855. After the fire, the school used a rented space in a blacksmith shop on Wallace Place till 1856 when they opened a four room elementary structure on Court Street. Interesting, the Court Street School was located across from the County jail that was part of a square block complex of court buildings along Court St from Main St.
In 1864, the Towns of Harrison & WP created the Union Free School District No 1. Court Street School and was expanded a number of times. In 1895, the high school (with four grades) was established at the Court St location. Below is a view of school from Martine at Court St corner and then the view on Mamaroneck Ave.
In 1898, two new grammar schools opened. East View, that John Rösch refers to as “East Side” in his book Picturesque White Plains, opened in the Eastbiew neighborhood. Fisher Hill School opened in the Fisher Hill neighborhood. Both structures had 8 rooms. In 1903, Hillside School opened with 8 rooms ( till 1942).
In 1908, WP annexed the Chatterton School on Washington Ave. The school was part of the Battle Hill District of the Town of Greenburgh School System. Structure (below) is a rebuild (possibly in 1914) and was at the corner of Chatterton Ave and Harmon St. Original building on Washington Ave was converted to a residence and might still exist though not yet located. Battle Hill was part of Greenburgh till WP annexed it in 1916. School St gets its name from the school that was there.
In 1909, a small two room school opened at Silver Lake Park in West Harrison.
The high school students making up WP High School housed at Court St moved to their own building on Main St. in 1909 at cost of $250,000. The building housed the high school till 1930. The building was later demolished in 1940’s. The City’s first Macy’s Department Store (1959) was located at the former high school location. Macy’s now has a store in the Galleria Mall & the City Center (opening in 2003) is now where the 1959 Macy’s building was located.
In 1912, North Castle became part of the Union Free School District No 1. A four room school was constructed on N Broadway in North White Plains (below at Holland Ave).
In 1914, Post Rd & Soundview School (8 rooms) were opened but not occupied till Feb 1915 when Battle Hill School opened at 65 McKinley with nine rooms. Both Schools got additions in 1924 and added the Jr High levels.
After WP became a city in 1916, the Union Free School District No 1 dissolved and the city’s White Plains Public School District was formed. The two one room schools Rosedale and Ridgeway were added to district (and will be discussed later).
In 1917, Ferris Ave School opened with 10 rooms.
Mamaroneck Ave School opened in 1921 with 12 rooms. Additions were made in 1923 and in 1926 when the Jr High level was added. Jr High level was removed in 1933. Additions were added at a later decade but not sure of dates. A likely time was in the 1960’s during the Baby Boom. Today, the school houses grades K-5.
Battle Hill Elementary School added rooms in 1933 when it combined with the Chatterton Ave School and the Jr High level was added. The Jr High was discontinued after June 1973 and in 1982 after the elementary school closed the building was sold. The structure was repurposed into a condominium, The Hill (1987).
In 1924/5, Eastview School (see above as East View) was extended with the addition of the buildings pictured below on the left that was added for the Junior High level (grades 7-9). In 1930, the school was modernized and expanded with the classrooms pictured below on right. The original structure of 1898 was demolished (date unavailable). For a number of years from 1992 ,the building was not used by students but was rented out to small tech companies (1994-98). When the building was again used by the school district, it was called the Eastview Campus of WP Middle School (grades 6-8). Starting in Sept. 2013, the school housed only 6th graders.
George Washington School opened in 1926 at corner of N Broadway and Holland Ave. It moved to Orchard St on the former Price property with the Price house used for classes with grades 5-7. By 1927, the house was gone and the new building opened in 1928 (Orchard St) without the seventh graders who went to East View while the students from the N Broadway school were transferred in. Today the school houses grades K-5.
On April 28, 1930, WP High School moved to 128 Grandview Avenue. The Highland building became a Junior High in 1960 when high school (grades 10-12) moved to North St location. In 1979, 9th grade moved to high school. Highlands later added the 6th grade when District reorganized but since 2013 it houses grades 7&8.
The next building for WP High School at 550 N St opened in September 1960 with grades 10-12. In 1979, the 9th grade was added. Major renovations and additions were completed around 2002 (starting in 1999) altering much of the original structure.
Post Rd School (dropping Soundview in name) added additions over the years to its original 1914 structure and in 1925 the school added the 9th grade and formed a Junior High (grades 7-9). Today’s K-5 Post Rd School is in a new structure that opened in 2009. The gym constructed in 1958 was renovated and remains attached to the new building.
The Rochambeau Building on Fisher Ave was opened in 1931; the Fisher Hill School closed. The building now houses the Rochambeau Alternative HS as well as Community School, Alternative Programs & Adult Education.
WP’s two early schools the first Ridgeway School (above in photo on the right) and first Rosedale School in the southern part of community were part of the Union Free School District No 2 till 1916 when they became part of the WP School District.
The first Rosedale School in WP at 171 West St in WP was used from about 1890 till 1953. The building dates from 1844 and was originally a Methodist Church. In 1953, when the school closed its students were transferred to the newly built Ridgeway School at the corner of Mamaroneck Ave and Ridgeway. The small school then became a private residence. WP did build another school that was named Rosedale School. It opened around 1959 (but not sure of exact date) at 30 Dellwood Rd but closed in 1979. In 1979, Solomon Schechter School established in 1966 moved to the former Rosedale School. Solomon Schechter bought the building in 1981 and was renamed Leffell School (7/2019).
The first one room Ridgeway School (donated by Israel Mott in 1847) was first used by local families (Mott, Horton, Purdy; Havilland). The school was used till 1933 (according to Renoda Hoffman). Another source states that the school was used till 1941. Girl Scouts used the building from 1948-1985. It is now part of a private residence at 408 Ridgeway (see picture above).
The former North St School on Partridge Rd was not ready for its opening in 1956 so the students were housed at Education House till 1957. The school was closed in 1979 and sold. Since 1980, the building has housed the German School.
Church St School opened in 1957 but for a number of years (around 1979/80) was closed & housed a pre-school. The elementary school did reopen in 1988 when schools were reorganized to racially & ethnically balance the district with a school choice plan. The school even added a new addition.
Over its history, WP has had a number of private schools; many are no longer. A number of schools were established in the 1800’s. White Plains Academy opened in 1826 (incorporated 1828) associated with the Methodist Church; closing in 1880. White Plains Female Institute opened in 1852 and closed in 1873. Alexander Institute opened in 1845. It changed its name to WP Military Academy till 1863 when the named switched back to Alexander Institute. Mrs. Francis Harris’ School opened in 1867. Miss Adler’s School opening in 1875 was also called Lafayette School and was run by the two Adler sisters, Mary (or Marie) and Emma, for 30 yrs and was located on Church St. A Victorian house built in 1893 at 99 Quinby Ave was once part of the Noble School (opening in 1909 at various locations by Mrs. Kathleen Noble Jerome till moving to Mt. Kisco in 1930’s) Roger Ascham School (on Soundview Ave) ran about 1908-1928 or 1932 (depending on source).
In 1901, the Good Counsel Training School opened and in 1918 they began a high school. The Academy of Our Lady of Good Counsel was established in 1922 & its buildings are in the center of the grounds of the Good Counsel complex at 52 N Broadway. At the end of 2014-2015 school year, the high school closed & the elementary school moved to another location. The property was sold to a developer (2015) who has plans to demolish most of the structures on the former school campus.
The private Windward School, established in 1926, now located on Windward Avenue dates from 1930. Archbishop Stepinac High School opened in 1948. Our Lady of Sorrows School was established in 1957 (the church was founded in 1929).
The buildings for St John’s Evangelist Parish School that closed in 2006 dates from 1930 and building is still next to the church on Hamilton Ave. Alumni from the school have Facebook pages (St John The Evangelist Elementary School). St Bernard Parish School (of St Bernard Church) opened in 1932 and closed in 1977.
American Renaissance School ran from the 1980’s to the 1990’s
Present Day Schools (Public & Private) in WP include the following:
WP has 5 elementary schools (k-5) (George Washington, Post Rd, Church St, Mamaroneck Ave; Ridgeway), 2 Middle Schools (6-8) (Highlands with grades 7 & 8 and Eastview for grade 6) one high school (White Plains High School for 9-12) as well as alternative programs that include Rochambeau Alternative High School (7-12) and programs/ classes for adults. District provides instruction for elementary children at NY Presbyterian Hospital. For more information about White Plains Schools see the District’s website (whiteplainspublicschools.org/).
Private Schools include Our Lady of Sorrows, Stepinac High School, Windward School, German International School NY, Leffell School (formerly Solomon Schechter), Westchester Torah School, Kodomono Kuni and in the future the French America School (on Ridgeway). See individual school websites for more information.
Board of Education & Administration:
WP’s first Board of Education office was on Hamilton Ave. Since 1955, the offices have been at 5 Homeside Lane in the former Charles Smithers mansion constructed in 1924. In 1935, the mansion was owned by Adolph Ochs, publisher of New York Times & his descendants till the school district acquired it.
The original part of the building connected to the Family Information Center at 500 North St (also known as Damon House) houses offices & meeting rooms was the former home of Henry C. Lomb, a musician, and the original structure dates back to 1920. There had been a similar structure once owned by JC Penney that was on the south side of the high school that was demolished with construction of the high school.
Post Secondary Schools & Preschools Past and Present:
WP has had a number of secondary schools (vocational/ academic) over its history. One was Wilfred Beauty School on Main St where the Vintage Restaurant Bar is located. The White Plains Education and Training Center now offers vocational training and other courses for free.
City still has a number of colleges campuses. Present campuses include: Pace School of Law, Berkeley, College of Westchester, Westchester Community College Center for the Arts (at County Center).
Mercy College had a campus in White Plains for some time. Pace took over the College of White Plains in 1976. The college began as Good Counsel College in 1923 and renamed the College of WP in 1972. Pace was expected to continue the undergraduate program but they did not keep the promise. Preston Hall was the location of the College of WP (that Pace now uses).
WP has numerous preschool programs that were not included in entry but it will have to be researched at another time. There are many specialized schools in the arts that are included in the entry for “Arts in White Plains.”
A source of digitalized pictures of WP schools can be viewed online at Westchester County Historic Society. They have materials at Library in Elmsford.
Reorganization and Segregation:
Most schools in City over the years were neighborhood schools and students living in the area went to the closest school. WP’s enrollment increased especially after World War II (WWII) & so did the number of neighborhood elementary schools. The District often reorganized itself following national educational trends by grades. A one time there were Junior High Schools with grades 7-9 and then Middle Schools with grades 5-8.
WP’s population had increased after the railroad came in 1844. After WWII, more children were born and by 1954, WP schools had become less integrated. The district transfered pupils and closed buildings to reduce racial imbalances around 1954.
WP did not have laws to segregate the schools and when there was just the one school on Court St. all children went to the same building. Segregation was the result of housing issues. Certain neighborhoods in WP were mostly “white” while others were more integrated. Real estate practices & banks not lending money to “blacks” and other groups were the main reasons for the neighborhood demographics being less or more homogenous.
WP’s Urban Renewal from around 1960 to 1980 affected Blacks and Italians living and running businesses in the Business District (BD). Some moved to other parts of the City but others moved out of the City. WP Mall was built to take in some of the businesses and there were lower income apartments in other parts of the City that took in residents.
White Plains Schools were reorganized and racially balanced in 1964 with enrollment at 8,853 (17% Black) under plan developed with Superintendent Dr. C Johnson. There were 4,543 elementary students of which 19 percent were Black and the elementary levels were integrated. Eric Files has more info on this plan: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED018486.
Students at High School had protested in 1968 about the lack of diverisity in the teaching staff and the need for Afro American studies to be added to the High School curriculum as well as other things. Library has an entry on this in Local History: https://whiteplainslibrary.org/2017/07/local-history-schools-out-pt-1/.
As a teacher at WPHS in 1978, the school district might have been desegregated from the outside but students inside the school were divided by levels and the lowest level had more “black” students while the higher level had mostly “white” students. At that time my Special Education classes were half “white” and half “black.” This was unfortunately a national problem with most children of color being designated as handicapped under IDEA. Teachers often referred students for Special Ed.
Back then the number of Hispanic students was low and there were few Asians. District was reorganized in 1979 to save money and reduce costs as well as the balance the school demographics. Controlled Parent Choice plan was implemented in 1988 to reorganize the student’s to balance the number of students by race and ethnicity. Superintendent Dr. Marcus reorganized the students in grades K-8. The student population of 5,000 was about 55% white, 30 % black and 15% Hispanic.
After 1980, the Hispanic and Asian population increased while the “black” population decreased. For a number of years before Keio was built in 1990, Japanese nationals attended White Plains Schools. It should be noted that the demographics of the City and the public school system are not the same with many attending private schools in and out of the City. With the increase with students whose first language is not English many more services, classes for students that English is not their first language (ESOL or ESL) and curriculum were introduced with state mandates. Bilingual classes are the norm.
There are fewer Black students now than back in 1960’s as the City demographics has changed. See other entries about WP Demographics for this. Now the district has a majority minority population. National Center for Education Statistics puts WP Schools with 33% Hispanic (of any race), 11% Black, 47% White and 8% Asian. Beginning in 9/2018–19, WP is providing free Universal PreK children age 4 but provided by outside agencies.
As a final note, WP Schools went online with remote learning when the schools closed in March 2020 at the beginning of a World Pandemic that had spread in Westchester County overnight. With the pandemic still spreading nationwide, it is still not sure what will happen in the future but for the 20-2021 school year parents were given a remote learning option for school opening Sept 2021 with a hybrid style model for in school learning on certain days of the week.