Niagara Gazette


October 14, 2013

HIGGS: Beech Avenue School and city integration


Niagara Gazette — Now on to Beech Avenue School located at 1800 Beech Ave. near the “big blue water tower” east of Highland Avenue. This elementary school was opened in 1958 and became part of the focus of the desegregation program where much of its history is centered. The school was designed by the architectural firm of Sargent, Webster, Crenchaw and Folley of Syracuse. A one-story building with 12 classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium and pool, it cost $910,963.78 which included land costs, building and equipment. An additional eight classrooms were added in 1958.

Henry J. Kalfas was appointed the first principal. Henry, more commonly known as Hank, was well-known and well-loved as he served in various capacities in Niagara Falls.

Following his service as principal at Beech Avenue School he was appointed superintendent of schools in January of 1969. A new career came after his formal retirement from the school district as he joined the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce as CEO which eventually led to his final working career as executive director of the S.P.U.R. an arm of the chamber. Hank, as we all knew him was considered the founder of the Festival of Lights as he journeyed to Simcoe, Ont., and came home with plans to light up the downtown of Niagara Falls. I volunteered each year of the Festival greeting visitors at the Wintergarden and coordinating the annual silent auction.

Following his appointment as superintendent in January 1969, an advisory committee was formed to study and implement a plan to desegregate the school. Integration was slow to happen and Beech Avenue School was still a predominantly black population in 1969. The plan was full integration by September of that year according to numerous articles on this subject in the Niagara Gazette. Voluntary busing was suggested by means of a questionnaire to parents to be returned in February if they were willing to transfer their elementary student to Beech Avenue at the start of the September 1969-70 school year. During July, 150 students were volunteered and during August 1969, 132 white students were registered under the voluntary program and evenly distributed through the kindergarten and sixth grades. The remaining 18 students were enrolled in the Informal Class. I do not mean to make this sound like it was easy but space limits the long back and forth discussions and some arguments among the advisory committee and the board of education members during the year.

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