Uniondale board weighs policy on school plaques

Uniondale resident Rachel Harris recently advocated for inclusion of community members on a commemorative plaque that is to be placed in all nine Uniondale schools to mark a major renovation effort funded with a $158 million bond. // Photo by Ethan Albin/Long Island Advocate

By Lily Anzalone and Ethan Albin

Uniondale School District residents called on the Board of Education at its Oct. 26 meeting to honor those who advocated for a $158 million bond to renovate all district schools with plaques bearing their names.

The community passed the bond in November 2018, allowing construction to proceed at the district’s nine schools. H2M Architects drew up the plans, and Triton Construction completed the work.

A Board of Education-approved plaque is to be placed in all district schools. At press time, the California Avenue School had already received its plaque. At the board meeting, though, Uniondale residents said there was no mention of the residents who campaigned within the community to pass the bond.

Patti Harris and Olga Hernandez are two community members who voted for the bond. They attended the meeting to ask whether there had been any updates on wording of the proposed plaques.

“We, as a community, passed the bond for $158 million,” Harris told the board. “It’s not just you guys. It’s a collaboration of people who were here before you came that have worked on this. We passed the bond. Why wouldn’t we want our students to know that their community worked hard for this?” 

An image of the plaque at the California Avenue School. // Photo by Ethan Albin/Long Island Advocate

Certain current board members were not part of the district process that led to the bond’s approval, and residents said they were concerned board members would receive undue credit for the bond’s passage.  

Referring to the plaques, Hernandez said, “Look at these names. They’re the architects, and this is giving them [publicity]. Why should we give them improper credit?”  

Residents are also calling for the Board of Education to review the policy regarding names on facilities plaques. Board policy 7500 states, “All major building projects will be identified by suitable plaque(s) identifying the project, year completed, the names of the board members, superintendent and the architectural firm.” The policy is found in the district manual and is dated Jan. 21, 2003.

“In almost every school district, I think this is what happens when construction is finished,” said the board president, Dr. Mary Bediako, of the plaques. “They thank us for the construction, and that is the policy right now. Unless the policy changes, we can’t [add community members to the plaques]. We’re going to take a look at the policy to see if there is something else we can do.”

Dr. Mary Bediako, current president of the Uniondale Board of Education. // Photo by Ethan Albin/Long Island Advocate

Bediako, the first director of personnel for the Uniondale School District who is now retired, began her board tenure in July 2020 and so was not board president during the bond process, but as the current president, her name appears on the plaques as such. Current Trustee Charmise P. Desiré served as board president in the 2019-20 and 2021-22 academic years, and Trustee Adelina Blanco-Harvey was president from 2022-23. Neither woman’s name appears as president on the plaques, but rather as trustees.

Construction at the nine schools was divided into three phases. Construction started in 2020 at Smith Street, Grand Avenue, California Avenue and Northern Parkway elementary schools. Construction on Uniondale High School’s new track and turf field began in August, while other schools within the district have finished renovations or have almost completed them. The coronavirus pandemic halted some construction until recently.

The new gym at the California Avenue School. // Photo courtesy Triton Construction Company

“The community wants their history to be on these plaques. We want the students to know that the community put this through,” Harris said.