School History

Monroe Street

UNHS looking north from Monroe Street

University Neighborhood High school opened its doors to its first freshman class in September, 1999. Founded in partnership with nearby NYU, the school was given space by the New York City Board of Education in the old P.S. 31 building on Monroe Street, located in the heart of the historic Lower East Side. In September, 2011 UNHS welcomed its thirteenth incoming freshman class.

Plaque commemorating building’s construction, 1902-1903

The building which UNHS occupies has been a fixture in the neighborhood since the days when overcrowded tenements surrounded it. Designed by architect C.B.J. Snyder, and built by the firm of Alfred Nugent & Son in 1902-1903, it is a classic example of the Beaux-Arts architectural style. The main entrance on Gouverneur Street features a doorway with a gothic arch and the Board of Education’s crest carved in intricate scrollwork above it. Classrooms feature high ceilings and tall windows originally created to allow as much natural light to filter in as possible. Teachers teaching in classrooms located on the east side of the school early on became accustomed to blinding sunlight in the afternoon, and inspiring views of both the Brooklyn Bridge; then later the Manhattan Bridge completed in 1909.

The original school at 200 Monroe Street was P.S. 31. The school’s name is commemorated in scrollwork carved into the building’s stone exterior, as well as on the bronze plaque in the main entrance. For six decades the school educated the neighborhood’s grade-schoolers, including current UNHS secretary, Shelly Maldonado. In the 1960s, nearby Seward Park High School opened an “annex” in the building and a new era began at the corner of Gouverneur and Monroe. As UNHS does today, the Annex reflected the neighborhood’s and the city’s rich ethnic and racial diversity. Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, and Chinese immigrants comprised a student body with a wide range of abilities, interests, and expectations. The author Frank McCourt, whose memoir Angela’s Ashes received a Pulitzer Prize, taught at the Annex in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In his 2005 memoir of a career in teaching, Teacher Man, McCourt wrote about the challenges of reaching students in those years.

 Frank McCourt’s 2005 memoir, Teacher Man

UNHS is fortunate in that two of its faculty, Stanley Friedland (Mathematics) and Sergei Lopuchin (Special Education and Science), both taught at the Annex before joining the current faculty. This provides our school with a strong sense of both continuity and organizational memory. In fact, Mr. Friedland also attended the Annex as a student, graduating from Seward Park High in 1969. Mr. Friedland’s colleague in the Math Department, Ms. Jean Wright, also attended the Annex as a student, graduating class of 1985.

Stanley Friedland, Seward Park H.S. “Annex”, class of 1969

University Neighborhood High School was the product of collaboration between NYU and the Board of Education (now the DOE). The thinking behind the school was that students from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education would serve as student-teachers, interns, and tutors, thus bolstering the faculty’s capacity to help students graduate and attend college. Of the current faculty, six are graduates of NYU. Ms. Rosa Pietanza was the school’s founding principal and is still an advocate for its continued relationship with NYU. Ms. Pietanza left UNHS in June of 2005 and was replaced by Mr. Robert Miller. In January 2010, Mr. Miller was replaced as principal by Ms. Elizabeth Collins. Ms. Collins has been a strong advocate for both continuing the school’s relationship with NYU, and expanding new relationships with Baruch College and other universities.

UNHS looks forward to graduating its tenth senior class this June; and welcoming a new freshman class next September. We take pride in the role our school plays in this historic building in this historic neighborhood. For 108 years students have been educated in the venerable building on the corner of Gouverneur and Monroe. Perhaps you, or your child, will become part of this rich history in public education in the years ahead.