Telling Our Story: Burns Avenue Elementary

Telling Our Story: Burns Avenue Elementary
Posted on 12/03/2019

Tucked away on a quiet side street is Burns Avenue, one of Hicksville School District’s seven elementary schools. Opened in 1952 on close to ten acres of land, the school was one of dozens built across Long Island to serve the burgeoning post-WWII population explosion. “Homes were going up so fast in Hicksville and families were moving in faster than new schools could be built,” explained Denward Collins, Jr., Interim President of the Hicksville Historical Society (https://hicksvillehistoricalsociety.wordpress.com/about/history-of-hicksville/), about the expansion.

Eighty-four years young, Mr. Collins graduated from Hicksville High School in 1953, and attended Hicksville’s first elementary school on Nicholai Street. His family represents five generations in the community – his son is the fourth generation to live in the family home. “Growing up here was wonderful  -  I loved it. It was a small farming community and you could see farms in any direction. In those days, students walked to school; the only students who took a bus were from outside the district.”

Burns Avenue shows evidence of the early influx of children and its need to expand – only two years after opening its doors, a new addition was added. A bronze plaque marks the spot where the new wing more than doubled the size of the original building. Today, approximately 300 students representing 11 different countries attend the Pre-K through fifth grades at Burns. “Our students come from all walks of life,” shared Principal Dr. John Comer. “Thirty-two languages are spoken – our diversity is our strength." And, similar to parents in Mr. Collins’ Nicholai School generation, current parents at Burns are hoping to give their children a better life through education.

“Relationships are the key to our success - we are in the people business – little people and big people, I want our people to know who I am,” said Dr. Comer. “Building trust is huge – if there is no trust, you can’t build the relationships you need to sustain a positive school community.” As a former water polo player in high school and a member of St. Francis College’s Division I water polo team, Dr. Comer understands the importance of developing a team mentality. He works closely with his staff, parents, and students to build the relationships so critical to educational success. He maintains a Twitter account so parents can see happenings at the school (@BurnsHps), and he even lunches with the students to gain insight.

As an educational leader, he understands that all roads – from pedagogy to pizza to the safety of his students – lead to the Principal’s Office. As the son of teacher-parents and, himself, the father of four, he has a deep commitment to the field. “If we are not producing the best possible education for our students, we are failing. There is always something we can do better. It’s critical to practice reflection. We look at how far we have come and where we can do better – it’s all about working toward what we can do better. Excellence has no finish line.”

Burns Ave.

Burns Avenue Elementary Principal Dr. John Comer visits a third grade science class. The students are wearing lab coats purchased by their teacher for a lesson on fossils.

Burns Ave.

Dr. Comer dropped in to visit a kindergarten art class where the students were creating turkeys for Thanksgiving using paper, feathers, and googly eyes.

Burns Ave.

Dr. Comer often eats lunch alongside his students to learn about what’s happening in their lives.

Burns Ave.

In a recent RISE class focused on the causes of the Revolutionary War, Dr. Comer questioned the students about entries in their interactive notebooks.