Jefferson Primary School is poised for one of its best years ever in 2019/20. The building is filled with a great group of more than 300 boys and girls spread across kindergarten to third grade. They all bring something special to the proverbial table. The faculty and support staff is top notch, too.
“We spent a great deal of time and energy preparing for the start of the school year,” Principal Valerie Capitulo-Saide said. “We already selected our third grade Jefferson Jaguar leadership team members in June and planned an exciting new project we will pursue. Under the guidance of school psychologist Dr. Kathleen Mallen-Ozimkowski and in collaboration with social worker Giselle Soto, social worker and classroom teacher Carol Coffey we developed a ‘Kindness Campaign.’”
Jefferson Primary School Principal Valerie Capitulo-Saide. (Darin Reed photo)
When the Jefferson School community gets behind an initiative, nothing can stop its momentum. It’s been that way since the building first opened in 1962.
“The Jefferson Jaguars know how to ‘Be the Change,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “Our primary school Jaguars may be young, but they are ready and willing to respond to the ‘Call for Kindness’ that is fortunately spreading across this great country.”
The new initiative will formally launch soon. “In a couple short weeks, they are going to hit the ground running with their Kindness Campaign, which encompasses engaging in creative ‘kindness gestures’ all year long,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “The goal is to foster empathy and prosocial behavior among our young Jaguars, inspire them to be proactive and ultimately show them that kindness is contagious, feels good and easy to offer up to others. The campaign will also connect both school and home in a very collaborative way.”
There’s already a buzz around Jefferson about the coming campaign. “This activity, set to be rolled out on September 11 is called ‘We Believe in Human Kindness’ and is part of the #makeKINDNESSloud initiative that is growing across the country,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said.
Jefferson Primary School is clearly on the move. “On September 11, students will select a ticket with an individual ‘act of kindness’ to do at school during the week,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “A letter will go home to parents rolling out the activity and the individual ‘kindness act’ their child was assigned. These kindness gestures are small, yet achievable and grand in the scheme of making kindness a natural part of a child’s spirit. Things such as, ‘I am going to… write a kindness note and put it on a classmate’s desk; say thank you to my bus driver when I get off the bus; draw a picture and give it to a classmate; say, ‘great job’ to a classmate are some examples. Parents will be asked to encourage and help their child fulfill their ‘kindness mission.’”
Considering Jefferson School’s well known penchant for doing whatever is necessary to accomplish a goal, how can the new initiative be anything but a success?
“Going forward each month, classroom teachers will select several kindness gestures that the class will discuss during morning ‘carpet time’ and work on engaging in together,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “Then during monthly SPOT assemblies where students are celebrated for being safe, respectful and responsible, the display of ‘Acts of Kindness’ will be another of criteria used to determine Student of the Month Award honors.”
The school has served the community very well for more than 50 years. “Kindness is certainly not new to Jefferson,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “From creative PBIS initiatives, along with the Jaguar third grade leadership team, great things are always happening here. Last year’s leadership team made quite the impact by leading the Thanksgiving Food drive, running the winter pizza/game night fundraiser to help victims of Hurricane Michael and the California wildfires, working with the Huntington High School Interact Club to make and sell rafiki bracelets, working on a month-long empathy reading project with students in Jefferson’s kindergarten classes and rounding out the year with the second annual Can-Can, that collected nearly 600 cans of food (and clothing as well) for the Helping Hand Rescue Mission.”
Ms. Capitulo-Saide is Jefferson School’s eighth principal since the building opened in September 1962. Jefferson’s “graduates” have moved on to attend many of the finest colleges and universities in the country and realize success in just about every possible career field.
“As the third grade leadership team’s campaign slogan says: We Believe in Human Kindness,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “We feel passionate about coming together to make kindness loud. Kindness is contagious, but the spark has to start somewhere. Why don’t we start here? And why don’t we start now?”
Ms. Capitulo-Saide is optimistic that the 2019/20 school year is going to be one in which Jefferson shines and the veteran administrator is going to do her part. “I look forward to helping others and promoting kindness throughout the community beyond Jefferson,” she said.
Jefferson School’s Proud History Dates to 1962
Sensing the need to add another elementary school to meet the needs of a growing community, the Huntington School District purchased an eight acre tract of land on Oakwood Road more than 58 years ago and in 1961-62 erected what would later be named Jefferson School, in honor of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson was the fourth Huntington UFSD building named for a U.S. president, with the others being Lincoln, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools. The district had earlier decided to name any new school south of 25A in honor of a former president and schools north of that boundary after the area in which they were built.
After purchasing the land, the district engaged the architectural firm of Eggers & Higgins to design the new school. Some of the early designs were rejected in whole or part. The general contracting firm of D. Fortunato was retained to erect the new structure.
Construction began in the fall of 1961. The cornerstone was laid in 1962. J. Taylor Finley was the superintendent of schools and Louis C. Bernst was the board of education president at the time.
The design that was ultimately chosen included a central courtyard visible from the front door and main lobby, a timeless fieldstone façade, extensive interior brick walls, dynamic utilization of massive exposed wood beams in the cafeteria and very liberal use of terrazzo-type floors. These features combined to give the new school a stunningly attractive look.
Construction of Jefferson Elementary School completed a longtime plan to place one school in each of the four corners of the district. The project cost $1.171 million. The bond that funded the work was paid off in 1991. As originally constructed, Jefferson included 18 regular classrooms, one “special” classroom, one remedial reading room, two kindergarten rooms, two music practice rooms and a combination gymnasium/auditorium, a library the size of a regular classroom, a main office with an administrative area, a nurse’s office and a 200 seat cafeteria with a large kitchen. The building measures 45,400 square feet. There is no useable basement.
While Jefferson was under construction, a citizen’s advisory committee consisting of two PTA representatives from each of the district’s elementary schools was formed to help develop recommendations for a redistricting of attendance zones. Eventually students from Woodbury, Lincoln and Roosevelt elementary schools, all of which would eventually close, were placed in the Jefferson zone.
Jefferson’s founding principal was J. Allen Matthews, who served in the post through June 1967 when he went on an extended sick leave. He was succeeded by Frank J. Marlowe, who served only until October 1967. Philip Nardone, who was a fifth grade teacher on the original faculty of the school, then stepped into the post and remained as principal until June 1980. The school has had only eight principals in its 57 year history.
Over the years, the parents of Jefferson School students have been extremely supportive of the school and its programs. That same tradition continues today. The school is a single story structure set back from Oakwood Road. A long driveway leads to the building with athletic fields and a large playground visible to the thousands of cars passing along the busy thoroughfare.
When Jefferson was built, most of the nearby land was used for farming and other agricultural purposes. Today, some of those large areas have been set aside for perseveration and are forever free of development, although they are no longer used for agricultural endeavors.
The building includes two large wings that are connected by a shorter span. There are two playground areas and a fully functional and modern library-media center. The spacious cafeteria overlooks the school entrance.
For decades of its existence, Jefferson housed students in grades K-6. Today it serves more than 300 students spread across grades K-3. Valerie Capitulo-Saide is the building’s principal.
Jefferson’s Principals through the Years
1. J. Allen Matthews: 1962 – June 1967
2. Frank Marlowe: July 1967 – October 1967
3. Phil Nardone: November 1967 – June 1980
4. Jack Abrams: July 1980 – June 1986
5. Joan Skelly: July 1986 – June 1995
6. Anthony Barresi: July 1995 – June 2006
7. Margaret H. Evers: July 2006 – June 2012
8. Valerie Capitulo-Saide: August 2012 – present