Half Hollow Hills, A Special School District

Tonight, the Half Hollow Hills school district did something pretty remarkable. They approved next year's calendar, which has days off for two holidays not previously noted by the district: Diwali and Eid al-Fitr. I am proud of the school district from which I and my children have benefited. I am also proud of my childhood friend and former neighbor Niti for being a leader in the push for observance of the holidays.

Half Hollow Hills is pretty unique among suburban school districts in the U.S. I am not familiar with such highly ranked (#9 in NY according to Niche)/highly regarded suburban districts that represent so many neighborhoods (Dix Hills, Melville, Wyandanch, Wheatley Heights, Farmingdale, East Northport, Deer Park), and have a broad range of ethnic groups and socioeconomic strata--from the impoverished to the filthy rich. The budget for the 8000 students and 2000 employees is a quarter of a billion dollars.

When my family moved to the district in 1984, I can't say that I was happy. Fleeing the SuperFund site that was two blocks from our house in Old Bethpage--which I am convinced, to this day, was the primary cause of cancer in so many people who lived there in the 70s and 80s--I didn't find my new neighborhood so welcoming. I missed sidewalks. My 5th grade teacher could have played Nurse Ratched on Broadway. A boy in the neighborhood pulled a knife on me. I wanted out.

But sometime during Burr's Lane Junior High School, I discovered there is something special about the district. People stay in touch. People come back. People help people out. I have so many close friends from Hills that have shared the most important moments of my life. And, when I set out, post-college in the late 90s, to produce an indie movie, I got in touch with a Hills alum named Marc Schiffer, who made an indie film called "Strong Island Boys." He gave me so much useful advice. I even cast one of the stars of his film, Brett Tabisel. And if my memory serves me correctly, he got a lot of sage advice from Greg Mottola, who directed "The Daytrippers," and went on to make "Superbad" and "Adventureland." People here pay it forward.

A bunch of famous people have come from our neighborhood. Ralph Macchio hit the stratosphere when I moved here. Another filmmaker, Todd Phillips, made a movie called "Road Trip" that had a great scene with my buddy Charlie. I had the privilege of directing my friend Lisa in the Competition Night skit before she became a movie star and successful theatre producer herself. NBA star Tobias Harris gives clinics to area kids year after year. Even 50 Cent and John Coltrane lived here!

Last week, my buddy Mark and his brother James and I went to trivia night at Finnegan's, the oldest bar in Huntington. Huntington hasn't changed much. And we have been doing this every so often for a couple of years now, under the team name of "Burr's Lane." Our junior high school is now Five Towns College, but the memories are still there. Mark invited an old friend, AJ, who used to run track with me at Burr's Lane and Hills East. I hadn't seen him in decades. We caught up quickly. This seems to happen often around here: people have been, in many ways, changed by forces and relationships that came post-high school, but, ultimately, the good people who I hardly knew much about during my awkward years turn out to be pretty awesome.

Too bad Burr's Lane didn't bring the pain this time. 2nd place, and no cash prize. But so what. We came for the memories.