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To Number a School

Dec 20, 2012 2:41 PM | 1 comment

The New York City school system has over 1,700 schools and while numbering them may seem simple, it is actually fraught with difficulties.   Because there are so very many schools, sometimes school numbers are doubled or even tripled.  The repeating numbers are partly due to the fact that before the Department of Education was consolidated, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan had their own school systems.  To alleviate the confusion after consolidation, letters which represented each borough were added to the end of all public school names.  For example, schools in Manhattan have the letter 'M", Brooklyn (Kings) "K", The Bronx "X", Queens "Q" and Staten Island (Richmond) "R".  Today, school names are generated by a computer program to avoid duplicating school numbers.

The graduating class of 1899, Public School 26

Take for example my elementary school, Public School 8.  The school was established in 1892 and the current building was constructed in 1915, replacing the old wooden schoolhouse.  Now, one could think I went to a school in Brooklyn Heights or even Washington Heights because PS 8 can be found in both neighborhoods but I went to the PS 8 in Great Kills, Staten Island.  Much like my grammar school, there are multiple PS 1s, PS 2s, PS 3s (the list goes on and on) and three or four PS 26s as we'll soon find out.

PS 26 was organized in 1856 as a primary school in a frame building on New Bushwick Lane and Ralph Avenue. In 1857, eight lots of land were purchased on Gates Avenue and Ralph Avenue for a new school building which opened in September 1869.  Twenty years later, because of an increase in the student population, an annex was built to expand the school from twenty-two classrooms to forty.

Atlas Page, 1904

The papers didn't report much on the school again until 1950 when in the early morning hours on April 10, a fire engulfed the annex of PS 26.  The nearly 60 year-old structure was severely damaged but thankfully no one was injured in the blaze.  While repairs were made, the nearly 1,200 students were relocated to PS 74 on Kosciusko Street near Broadway and PS 29 on Quincy Street and Stuyvesant Avenue (which is no longer there).

Brooklyn Eagle, April 10, 1950

In 1944, plans had been made to erect a new PS 26.  However, in November 1950, seven months after the fire that caused over $75,000 in damages, residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant were still asking Borough President Cashmore for a new school building.

Brooklyn Eagle, November 26, 1950

Eventually a new school building was erected on the current site on Ralph Avenue and Quincy Streets, behind Junior High School 57. The school operated without incident until the mid-1960s when it experienced a slew of break-ins.  Then shortly after the schools' expansion with a new wing in 1968, PS 26 experienced fifteen break-ins within a two-month period.  During one of them, vandals ransacked the library and "tossed books and cards from the catalogue all over the place and poured glue over them" according the Eagle.

Google Maps indicating the three different locations of PS 26.

Today, Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School is on the former site of PS 26, on Quincy Street and Ralph Avenue.  Brooklyn Connections partnered with Excelsior to do a project about the history of their school.  Eighth grade students were asked to analyze primary sources including a New York Times article and an atlas page.

 'Public School 26 (1900)

What we learned from this document...

"Is that this part of the school was built in the nineteen hundreds.  This used to be the front of the school and then a few years later, it became the back.  This part of the school no longer exists because it got burnt."

Students made connections to their current school building from the resources and began to understand the complicated history of the school.  News of the school traveled quickly, and by lunchtime, practically the entire student body knew the history of the building.  It was amazing to not only watch the kids become student history detectives but to see all the students teach their fellow classmates about the school and experience how excited they were to share the information with one another.

If you're a teacher or administrator and are interested in learning about the history of your Brooklyn school, please contact Brooklyn Connections at and we will be happy to share our lesson plans with you!


8/14/2013 1:46:04 PM #

Went to school there and our class was
the last to graduate from there in 1954. I loved it!

Arthur Murphy