The history of Craig School spans well over 100 years. It was on March
20, 1819, that Sebastian Pearse and John Plank, Commissioners of the Common
Schools in Niskayuna, set up School District No. 2, which later became known
as the Craig School District. Town meeting minutes of February 25, 1820
indicate that 25 "scholars" attended Common School District No. 2 in that
year, but the location of the actual school building is unknown. Land was
conveyed to the school district by Archibald Craig and his son, James Craig,
and it is believed that Craig School was named after this family.
The first known Craig School was a one-room schoolhouse built at the top of Aqueduct Hill, on land purchased from William Brinkman and his wife in 1877. Frederick Napper was elected as the first Trustee. This building still stands, and is now a private home located at 2798 Balltown Road. The schoolhouse had one teacher who taught 20 to 30 pupils in grades one through six. Many of the students came from the families living in the settlement of Craig, which was along the Erie Canal at the bottom of the hill. Others lived on farms in the surrounding area. By 1912, it was clear that the one-room, frame schoolhouse was too small for what had now grown from six grades to eight grades. In 1913 the back room of Izzy Davis's store on the banks of the Erie Canal was used as a classroom to ease overcrowding. (The store was more popularly known as the place to buy penny candy before boarding the trolley home after school each day). Today it is the Boat House at 2855 Aqueduct Road.
In 1914, the district voted to build a new school. Mr. Davis, who owned the land around the schoolhouse property, and who was also a building contractor, agreed to sell the district about one-half acre of land for $1, provided he was given the contract to build the new school. The district agreed to do this at a cost of no more than $10,000. Mr. Davis moved the old school next door and turned it into a one-family house. On the new school-house property, Mr. Davis built a two-room, two-story, red brick school with a basement. Thomas Goldsworthy was Trustee. Forty to sixty students attended this school each year in the 1920's. The building is now painted white, and is owned by Schenectady International. Children and teacher traveled to school by trolley and by foot. On particularly rainy or snowy days, parents might bring children to school by covered wagon or on platform sleighs pulled by horses. The students might also ski or bring their sleds to school. Laura Mae Talman Brown, a student who had attended the old brick school, recalled the story of a student loaning his sled to the teacher so that she might get to the bottom of the hill faster in order to catch her trolley. The teacher ended up with a broken leg, and over a month out of school. On a cold and windy stormy day in the 1920's the school board decided to close school. Radios and telephones were not common in those days, so Laura Mae's mother called families with telephones, while she and her father, a member of the school board, got in the car to tell the others about the closing. In 1925, the two classrooms in the two-story brick building were becoming over-crowded. With Bardor Fox as Trustee, the school district voted to renovate the basement of the school in order to provide a third classroom. A third teacher was hired when the room was completed 1926.
Growth in the District continued, and in 1946 about fourteen acres of land were purchased from Edward J. Snell Quackenbush and his wife, Anna. The Quackenbush farm was about one half mile south of the brick school on Balltown Road. The cornerstone for the current Craig School's original six classrooms was set in 1948, and construction was begun. Robert Helmed was named principal in September, 1949. The new building located at 2566 Balltown Road, had an innovative design according to Stanley Reynolds, a former Craig School Trustee. The original design allowed for each classroom to have three window walls and plenty of light, and was supposed to reduce the use of electricity. Unfortunately, as soon as the school was completed, drapes, blinds and shades were installed because there was too much light and glare, even on a cloudy day. The windows were a problem for several years, not just because they added so much light, but also because they were steel-framed and impossible to seal completely. They were eventually replaced with wooden-framed windows. In the 1980's insulation was added as were smaller, more energy efficient windows. Other innovations found at Craig School were green chalkboards and fire exits in each classroom. It was about 1951 when three additional classrooms were added to the school. Even after that addition, it was apparent that more room would be needed. In 1953, the school was enlarged with another wing of classrooms on the east side of the nine classroom wing, joined by a main hallway, to form the present H-shaped Craig School. This addition was without the experimental design, but with showers in the gym locker rooms. By 1955, the new Craig School was already growing too small. Kindergarten had to be taught in the cafeteria. Craig School in the 1950's housed grades K-6, with grades seven and eight attending Van Antwerp School. In 1959 the sixth grade was moved to Van Antwerp to provide more space for the K-5 students. Overcrowding was still a problem, however. One year in the late 1950's, all but one kindergarten class were housed at the high school. The kindergartners moved back to the elementary schools but problems of student population and space continued.
This situation was reversed in the mid 1970's, however, and declining enrollment became the plague of the schools. Concerned parents campaigned to keep extra teachers and smaller classes. In 1977 Birchwood Elementary was closed, and it appeared that Craig would be closed also, as it was the building that could most easily be sold. Rumors circulated that GE had already made the district an offer on the land. Many options were aired: reopen Birchwood and close Craig; close Craig and move the studentsto a section of Van Antwerp; close Van Antwerp and move most of the students to Iroquois with sixth grades at Craig; or close Iroquois. Parents and teachers made impassioned speeches at public hearings to save Craig School. The commitment of the Craig staff and community to keep the school open had prevailed when, after reviewing revised enrollment projections, the school district decided to keep Craig School open and close Van Antwerp School.
Because of the decision to close Van Antwerp School in 1982, several sections of sixth-grade were relocated to Craig, making space tight once again. Both art and music classes were taught from "carts" rather than in rooms dedicated to that purpose. By January 1985, after two and a half years, an addition to Iroquois School enabled the sixth-graders to leave Craig, making it a K-5 school once again.
Several important instructional changes occurred at Craig in the last seven years. In all areas, the changes have moved instruction from an emphasis on isolated, discrete skills toward integrated, connected learning. Students read high quality literature and write for specific audiences and purposes. In math, students use hands-on materials and solve real-life problems to help them better understand the concepts being taught. Connections are made between science and social studies, social studies and literature, writing and technology. Students work together cooperatively to enhance learning at all levels, and to help prepare them for the world of work when successful group participation will be expected. Students now learn keyboarding early and begin applying these skills both in the computer lab and the classroom. Special education has always been an important program - the district's primary and intermediate learning centers were located at Craig. During the early 1990's, the special education programs began moving from separate, self-contained classes to a higher degree of regular class integration based on specific-student need. Changes have also occurred in the delivery of resource and remedial programs. Increasingly, the supplemental instruction provided by these programs occurs within the regular classroom with the dual goals of helping students during actual lesson time and permitting staff members to increase their skills by learning from each other. Having evolved over nine years, the Craig Steering Committee became an important decision-making body within the school. The committee (composed of teachers, staff and parents) has worked on school goals in the areas of order and discipline, positive school climate, and increased family and community involvement. Parents work closely with staff in many ways to support learning. More than a hundred volunteers work at Craig on a regular basis, helping to enhance programs in the library and the classroom, providing after school enrichment programs, running the Craig Publishing Company, and generally supporting the program wherever needed. A beautiful playground, funded by the Craig community, was completed in 1993 and is enjoyed by all. During the last ten years there has been an increasing emphasis on Craig as a community of learners. Teachers work closely with one another and with parents to enhance effectiveness. Students are also given opportunities to support one another. Fourth and fifth-graders have been trained as mediators to intervene during playground disputes. As peer leaders, fourth and fifth-graders also help kindergarten and first-graders during physical education time. There are many cross-grade cooperative activities where classes pair-up and work together. Classmates form "circles of friends" to help integrate students with special needs into their classes. These activities and others have helped to increase the social skills and awareness of all Craig students. Craig School combines high academic standards with concern for the total well-being of its students. The experience at Craig is driven by the school mission summarized in the acronym: Caring; Respect; Adventure; Involvement; and Growth. Each year the school community focuses on one of the five letters for its annual theme, with the best successes adopted as permanent features of the program. The original wing of the current Craig School is 45 years old. In those years many memories have been created: raising bunnies in the kindergarten classroom; the first grade Thanksgiving feasts, the second grade Mother's Day luncheon; the Melting Pot dinner in third grade; and the fifth grade Boston trip. Old memories linger and new memories are always in the making. They are a fond testament to the oldest living elementary school in the Niskayuna Central School District.