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Samuel J. Tilden High School is a defunct New York City public high school in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. It was named for Samuel J. Tilden, the former governor of New York State and presidential candidate who, although carrying the popular vote, lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in the disputed election of 1876.
In order to save the New York City government money during the Great Depression, Samuel J. Tilden High School, Bayside High School, Abraham Lincoln High School, John Adams High School, Walton High School, Andrew Jackson High School, and Grover Cleveland High School were all built from one set of blueprints.
Plans to construct Samuel J. Tilden High School were filed in 1927. The construction of the school was estimated to cost between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000 and would feature specialized facilities including a swimming pool, rifle range, auditorium with a capacity of more than 1300, library, and science laboratories. While the school was eventually constructed on Tilden Avenue and East 57th Street, residents in Brownsville, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, and Borough President James J. Bryne initially opposed the site because of poor transportation options around the location.
Shortly after the Board of Education decided on the location of Samuel J. Tilden High School, a formal recommendation was made to change the name of not-yet-built school to Edward B. Shallow High School. This recommendation followed the death of Edward B. Shallow, the Superintendent of the Board of Education who initially recommended a high school be named after New York State Governor, Samuel J. Tilden.
Tilden High School opened on February 3, 1929. It cost $2,500,000 to construct. It was built to serve 3,969 students.
In 1935, a field and stadium were designed and constructed with Works Progress Administration labor and appropriations. Several years later, the WPA would make another addition to the Samuel J. Tilden High School, this time in the form of a mural for the auditorium. The project took nearly two years to complete, as muralist Abraham Lishinsky, working with his colleague Irving A. Block, designed and painted a 2,400-square-foot (220 m2) mural depicting “Major Influences in Civilization” for the auditorium. Among the six assistants they employed over time was the artist Abram "Al" Lerner.
By the 1940s, Tilden H.S., initially criticized for its difficult-to-reach location, was overcrowded. At one point 5,700 students attended. In order to limit the crowding, S.J. Tilden administrators split the school day offering one session from 7:50am to 1:04pm and another from 1:11pm to 5:45pm.
In 1942, Samuel J. Tilden H.S. was the first Brooklyn high school to hold a mass blood drive. This was one of many ways that World War II affected students at Tilden. During the war, new home economics curricula were introduced to better prepare girls for the war effort. Girls took cooking classes that taught them how to cook more with less, as everyday ingredients were rationed and shipped off to soldiers. There were no food surpluses, and soldiers were the main priority at the time.
Other students supported the war by purchasing more than $15,000 in United States Savings Bonds and Stamps (see war bonds) to help the government finance military operations, leading the nation in money raised by students. Over 100 girls knit sweaters and scarves in conjunction with the British War Relief Fund and American Red Cross. The Red Cross also agreed to send instructors to teach nursing and first aid methods; if the war were to last long enough, the girls would become nurses-in-aid to care for wounded soldiers.
During the 1940s and 1950s, individuals and organizations all over the United States were accused of affiliations with socialists, communists, and radicals. At Tilden High School, students and teachers were accused of radicalism. Even the then principal Dr. Abraham Lefkowitz was accused of being a radical for distributing a statement to teachers and students that denounced complete free enterprise and called upon students to think critically about their role in America.
Students were also affected by the Red Scare and were warned by administrators that affiliation with Communist-linked clubs such as the American Youth for Democracy would adversely affect their future careers.
During testimony before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, a former student claimed that both Mr. Eugene Jackson, a language teacher at Tilden, and Mr. Terry Rosenbaum had expressed sympathy toward student Red groups. The former student alleged that an American Youth for Democracy unit at school was asking to obtain speakers for the unit’s meetings. Apparently, Mr. Jackson told them that he agreed with their point of view and thought it was very good.
“I hereby declare my loyalty to the Constitution and Government of the United States and the State of New York and promise to support their laws.”
The racial tensions that swept the nation during the 1960s and 1970s were felt at Samuel J. Tilden High School as well. The school’s African American population was growing. The school’s demographics were changing; Tilden High School was becoming more diverse. In 1962, of the 5,000 students that attended Tilden HS, 97.9% were Jewish and Italian. By 1971, of the 3,000 students at Tilden, 63.4% were “others”, the Board of Education’s term for non-blacks and non-Puerto Ricans. Changing demographics and under-enrollment set the stage for controversy around rezoning and plans for Samuel J. Tilden HS.
Tensions came to a head during the March 1972 hearings on rezoning the catchment areas for three Brooklyn high schools. The hearings aimed to assure an integrated education in Samuel J. Tilden High School, Canarsie High School, and South Shore High School. Parents groups linked to each high school had their own ideas for a zoning plan that would preserve the racial and ethnic diversity of each school while maintaining a quality education for every student.
A number of Tilden High School students prepared a flier in which they outlined their position regarding the rezoning. They wanted to preserve an ethnic balance in the school but wanted to avoid a result in which the majority of students were nonwhite. The students who prepared the flier were concerned that if the ethnic balance were to tip too much, "an unfortunate chain of events [would take] place: white families [would flee] the neighborhood." The school and the surrounding neighborhood would no longer remain integrated. The result would be "another segregated school, another segregated neighborhood.”
In order to attract students, specialized honors programs were established with Samuel J. Tilden High School. Students from all over the city would be able to apply to the special programs. This marked a shift in New York City School zoning, as a student’s school options were no longer only determined by geography.
Tilden High School's demographics continued to change into the 1970s and 1980s paralleling changes in the surrounding neighborhood, East Flatbush. The neighborhood saw increased immigration from the Caribbean. Media coverage of Samuel J. Tilden also changed, with a focus on incidents of violence. Although crime had become a problem in East Flatbush, the media coverage prompted the then principal Everett Kerner to state that the high school was getting a "bum rap.”
When it opened in 1929, Principal John M. Loughran adopted the slogan, “athletics for all.” Equipped with facilities, sports field, three gymnasiums, swimming pool, etc., Principal Loughran set to find the personnel and coaches that would establish Tilden High Blue and Greys as an athletic power in New York City.
The sports program hit its first obstacle 1934 as the faculty moved to change the baseball and football teams from inter-school competitive programs to intramurals in efforts to better distribute the school budget while balancing school spirit.
In 1935, a new stadium was constructed and designed by the WPA. This new facility and the gyms inside the building were made available to adults in the community several years earlier during evenings, with separate times for men and women.
The Tilden Blue and Grey won a number of Public Schools Athletic League titles in football, baseball, tennis, track, swimming, and fencing.
During the summer of 1987, teacher and Dean of students Joanne Belinksy became the 6th woman in history to run 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the country.
In 2006, the Department of Education declared Samuel J. Tilden High School to be a failed school. In 2007 it became the Tilden Educational Complex, home to several new, separate small schools. These include the Cultural Academy for the Arts and Sciences (CAAS), the Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School, and It Takes A Village Academy (ITAVA). With the growth of the new schools, Samuel J. Tilden High School was finally phased out in June, 2010.