Birchwood Elementary has a direct connection with the public schools that
came into existence during the 19th century, long before land developers and
real estate agents began the process of changing Niskayuna from a rural area
into the suburban residential community it is today.
Birchwood's direct antecedent was "Niskayuna Four," a school whose building still occupies its location on the west side of Rosendale Road just before that thoroughfare rejoins Route 7. The Beers Atlas published in 1866 shows a school on the same site, probably a descendant of a public school built there at least as early as 1819, when "District Number Four" appears for the first time in the minutes of the Niskayuna Town Council. The history of "Niskayuna Four" is interestingly written about in the Niskayuna School District"s 30th anniversary history book, Thirty Years of Academic Excellence, in an article by Betty Shaver.
Birchwood School came into existence in 1956. It developed as a result of
the centralization division where several small Common School Districts were
combined with the Van Antwerp "Union Free" District in 1953. Clara Louise
Ross, a faculty member at Niskayuna Four, and then at Birchwood when it
opened, describes Birchwood's opening days in Thirty Years of Academic
Excellence. She tells of how Birchwood continued to grow, of the creation of
its "nature park" under the leadership of its second principal, Stephen
Isarel, and of the enthusiastic support of the school's Parent Teacher
Over the years, Birchwood children benefited from many new and innovative programs. These included a reading program for first graders, overnight outdoor camping experiences for fifth graders, and an Adirondack Mountain climbing experience substituted as part of the health/science program. The school's physical education program focused on the mental and physical well-being of the child rather than the usual sports-oriented program. As part of the program, winter field trips were taken to local cross country ski and skating areas.
Birchwood celebrated the country's bicentennial in May 1976 with a community wide open house in which each grade level had developed materials describing an era in the history of the country. On display in the school lobby was a 200 gallon aquarium built and maintained by members of the Parent Teacher Organization. The aquarium was later used as a terrarium, full of wild flowers and plants from the Nature Park and maintained by the students. Parents volunteered in the school as reading tutors and in the library.
Elementary school enrollment declined in the late 1970's resulting in a surplus of space for elementary school pupils in the district. On February 7, 1977, the Board of Education voted to close Birchwood and consolidate the elementary school population into the four remaining schools. Although Birchwood did not operate as a Niskayuna public school for 14 years, it was leased to and operated by the private, non-profit Wildwood School for children with special needs from September 1977 to June 1991.
Change is the watchword of life. The declining elementary population
began to increase again in the late 1980's. As the number of houses being
built in the eastern portion of the school district increased, residents
seeking the return of their neighborhood elementary school helped approve a
referendum in December 1990 to reopen Birchwood Elementary.
The referendum funded some building refurbishing that included a new kitchen, expanded library, addition of a computer lab, renovated gym, new classroom furnishings and equipment, and improved outdoor facilities. Thomas Buckley, who had served as the principal of Craig and Rosendale schools, was named the first principal of the newly renovated Birchwood School.
Mr. Buckley, along with the Parent Teacher Organization Transition Committee, chaired by Debbie Hind and Kathy Putz, set about organizing the re-opening. On February 8, 1992 they held the first walking tour of Birchwood. Community members, former students and staff returned that day to enjoy, once again, their neighborhood school.
Birchwood officially opened on September 9, 1992, with a student population of 237 and staff of 35. During the first year, the Birchwood faculty set goals for the building and implemented a Shared Decision-Making Committee. The newly formed PTO raised approximately $15,000 to provide fitness stations, a sound system for the auditorium, an After-School Enrichment Program, a popcorn machine, a school sign, shrubbery, funds for Arts-in-Education, and began planning for a new playground.
In 1995 Birchwood was involved in another referendum as the student population grew into the 300's. Four full-size classrooms were added along with several smaller rooms for specialized services. The gymnasium was doubled in size along with an expansion resulting in the addition of several new classrooms. At this same time a new ball field was added and parking lots were expanded.
Since 1992 several new programs were initiated. The 1000 Book Kid Program was established to foster a love of books among the pre-kindergarten population. As of November 2008, a total of 285 children have participated in the program with 106 of them meeting the goal of reading 1000 books. Also, over the years, a variety of reading incentive programs have been developed to encourage Birchwood students to read independently. Birchwood strives to involve students and families in hands-on investigations to bring learning to life. Every two years a Learning Fair is scheduled, encouraging all students to research and share an area of interest. At Birchwood the emphasis has been placed on integrating Character Education within all areas of the curriculum. The five themes of respect, responsibility, self-control, independence and tolerance have been stressed. This has helped build a strong Birchwood Community of staff, parents and students.