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  • Kathleen Walter, G.R.B.H.

First Day of School

All across New Jersey, school districts are struggling to open their doors to students this challenging year. Teachers, principals, superintendents and Boards of Education are scrambling to find staff, supplies, and enough space to make sure the pupils in their care stay safe and get the excellent education our state provides (New Jersey’s education system was ranked number one in the country by Education Weekly 2 years in a row). The citizens and parents of Glen Rock have always wanted the best for our children and in 1954 they pushed to open the town’s own high school instead of sending students to Ridgewood for 10th through 12th grades. In the United States at the peak of the post war baby boom, every seven seconds a woman gave birth; there were youngsters everywhere and people were rushing to move out to the suburbs. After a population study, the Glen Rock Board of Education learned that there was going to be a desperate need for classroom space. Board members presented their plan for the new high school on March 1, 1954, putting the $1.4 million project up for a town wide vote by March 23 of that same year.

Schools in town either had to expand or explode. In 1940, there were 5,177 residents, 1,556 homes and 224 high school aged students. By 1954, there were 10,600 residents, 3,000 homes and 275 high school aged students. By 1965, the borough was predicted to have 755 high school aged students. The planned expansion included 11 new classrooms, a home economics room, a new gym, an improved library, a large cafeteria and kitchen, staff spaces, and the purchase of some land for an expanded athletic field system. The referendum was of course, a hotly debated topic in town. The Civic Association opposed the expense, doubted the need for the school, and protested the short period of debate before the scheduled vote. Borough Council also opposed the new school because it would increase the tax rates. Board of Education members held 8 major meetings, 30 different coffee hours, and published many articles to convince Glen Rockers to support the expansion. The vote passed and ground was broken by early 1955.

Passing the referendum was not the only struggle to opening the school. Construction was slowed by violent storms, a series of contentious nationwide strikes in the steel and electric industries, and overall material shortages. With the building not fully completed, Glen Rock High School opened its doors for its first year in September of 1956, with only 10th graders walking the newly built hallways. Meanwhile, 11th and 12th graders from the borough were still attending Ridgewood High School. Even with only 1/3 of the students in the building, Glen Rockers were celebrating that accomplishment in 1956. Midland Park and Ramapo High Schools were also supposed to open that year and never made it because of the lack of supplies, while Waldwick and Ramsey schools were opening in split sessions because of the number of students and slow progress on the construction of their new schools.

With the building still rising around them, Glen Rock High School’s first Student Council set about the task of choosing the school’s colors-red and white, our mascot-the Panther, the name for the school newspaper-the Glen Echo, and write our alma mater. The first principal of Glen Rock High School, Robert Ax, traveled around the nation looking for the best and the brightest teachers for this new school. Mr. Ax also had many safety protocols to create and worry about, there were air raid sirens in Glen Rock and air raid drills to prepare. In the first Glen Rock High School Student Handbook, teachers were supposed to “conduct their classes to the first floor halls which were not bordered by outside windows. All students will stand against the wall in single file away from doors and other openings.” This was Glen Rock’s version of “duck and cover” in the Cold War.

Each new generation of Panthers who walk the hallowed halls of our school will have their own special trials and tribulations to face and overcome. The Glen Rock Historical and Preservation Society and the Borough Historian wish this year’s students a safe, healthy year of learning and growing. And, hopefully we will even get to hear “Glen Rock We Stand” being cheered down the beautiful tree lined streets of Glen Rock!

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