Honoring a Dyker Heights icon.
On Tuesday, April 21, Councilmember Justin Brannan and State Senator Andrew Gounardes announced that they will officially push for I.S. 201 Dyker Heights Intermediate School, 8010 12th Ave., to be renamed after the beloved late former principal Madeleine Brennan, who died on Thursday, April 9 at the age of 93.
Brennan was the city's longest-ever serving principal and led I.S. 201 for 50 years in one of the city's most successful public school districts. She became principal in 1963 after 17 years as a public school teacher. She retired in 2013.
"Mrs. Brennan was an undisputed legend,” said Brannan. “Not only was she one of the longest serving school principals in the country, but back when she started, she was one of the first women to be principal of a middle school in New York City.”
He also described what made Brennan so special to the Dyker Heights community over the decades.
“A trailblazer, the world may have changed around her, but she remained the same,” he explained.“ Her old-school, tough love, no-nonsense style won her the adoration of students, parents, teachers, and staff over many generations. I really hope she knew how much everyone loved and respected her.”
He added that, “She deserves the honor of having her name on the school she devoted so much of her life to, and the present and future classes that come through I.S. 201 should all have the chance to know it well.”
“Principal Brennan was a beloved and iconic figure for students, educators and her community,” he said. “She deserves to be long remembered for all the good she did in our school system and beyond. To commemorate her by renaming IS 201, where she made decades of impact on the lives of so many, is a great way to celebrate and honor her remarkable life."
Locals also shared their thoughts on the possibility of the tribute.
“Mrs. Brennan was a legend and an inspiration to thousands of students who passed through her doors – a true innovator and trailblazer- the longest serving principal of one school in U.S history and it is fitting and long overdue to have I.S. 201 renamed in her honor,” said President and CEO of New York Building Congress Carlo Scissura. “I will do all I can to support our elected officials in making this dream a reality.”
He also told this paper what she meant to the community.
“She was one of the first educators and principals in her day to really become community minded and community focused,” Scissura said. “She fought to build the library branch on 13th Avenue, the Dyker Heights library. She was active at events, parades, community groups and cleanups. She really epitomized community education and was a mentor. Dozens of principals across the country worked for her and got their start with her.”
He believes the renaming is long overdue.
“I think the community aspect of what she was is really what touched everybody’s lives and I think for that, she will be remembered,” he said. “Sadly, she won’t be here to see this happen alive but I’m sure her spirit will know it’s happening. I wish we could’ve done it while she was alive.”
Community activist and Vice President of Liberty Kiwanis Penny Santo is pleased with the latest efforts to rename the school after Brennan.
“I think it’s what is needed, it’s great and this is what Madeline Brennan wanted,” she said.
Santo attempted to get the school named after Brennan in 2013.
“She had helped me pull up two people in the ‘70s who had schools named after them while they were still alive,” she said. “Both of us submitted them to Carmen Fariña who was the school chancellor.”
Ultimately, the renaming didn’t come to fruition.
She also described what the former principal meant to her.
“I moved here 30 years ago,” she explained. “My kids weren’t born yet and I went and introduced myself. I had my kids and they went to school there. She came to my oldest daughter’s law school graduation like she was her own child because she was so proud of the children. If you had an issue and went to her with a concern, she tried everything she could to help that kid succeed.”
Santo also described her best memories of Brennan.
“I was there one day and a father said to her, ‘I can’t wait until he’s 18 and gone.’ She said with a finger pointed to him that for the rest of your life, you have to worry and take care of them,” Santo recalled. “I sat there saying, ‘Boy does she get how I was raised.’ That’s why we got along. We went to restaurants together. We would go eat lunch. She ate at my house. She was old school and strict, but she’s what we needed.”
Scissura also cherishes memories of her.
”I tell the story when I first met her, I was elected to the school board,” he explained. “I went to see her and did not wear a tie and boy, did she let me have it for not being fully dressed with a tie. Good for her because all of her students were well dressed. She really taught people the importance of professionalism and respect and we’re grateful for that.”
In 2013, Santo had 600 signatures to try to rename the school after Brennan and is confident that even more locals will be on board tom seven years later.
The two friends even talked weeks before she died as they discussed the coronavirus pandemic.
“She asked how my kids were,” Santo said. “I have two nurses. My older daughter is a lawyer. They were concerned how they were doing and if they were being safe. She was always concerned about me. Even though she was strict, she loved you. No matter who you were. She loved her staff, students.”