The connection that Rochdale Village has with education is unmistakable. When the complex was first constructed by the United Housing Foundation, the plans were said to have included schools. According to Rochdale Village pioneer Herb Plever, when the first cooperators began moving in to the complex in December, 1963, they’d realized that not one single school had been built. What were parents to do with their school aged children?
In 1964 after strong insistence from the residents, Abraham E. Kazan, then president of the UHF, quickly erected multiple trailers on the Rochdale Village grounds where children were taught until such time that formal schools were constructed. When the dust settled, two public schools and one junior high school had joined the community.
The schools that were ultimately built were P.S. 80, P.S. 30 and I.S.72.
P.S. 80 was originally known as the Robert W. Higbie School. It is bound on the 137th Avenue side of Rochdale Village. Robert Higbie was on the Board of Directors of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair and integrally involved in the famous construction of the fair’s “World of Tomorrow” exhibit until his death in 1936.
The exhibit was at one point a modern marvel of the 20th century. It is no surprise that Mr. Higbie received a place in the history of Rochdale Village. What many people may not know is that Robert Higbie was born to a wealthy farming family in the Springfield Gardens section of Queens and settled in Jamaica with his prominent family after he was married. Higbie’s credentials as a retired banker, philanthropist and principal developer of the borough of Queens earned him a place on a Rochdale Village school wall.
I.S. 72, known as the Count and Catherine Basie School, is named for the inimitable jazz pianist of the 1930’s and 40’s. Originally, the junior highschool was named for Benjamin Schlesinger who was a three time president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and managing editor of a publication called the Jewish DailyForward.
Considering that Abraham Kazan was the father of cooperative housing and a fellow union leader as the president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union of America, it is no surprise that the name of his colleague in the union struggle should appear on the wall of I.S.72. Both men shared the belief that well constructed, affordable housing should be widely available for the working class citizen primarily in the form of cooperative residences.