Dec. 10, 2019 By Allie Griffin
A Jackson Heights elementary school that opened at the start of this school year was renamed today in honor of an international labor movement leader who lived in the neighborhood.
PS 398, located at 69-01 34th Ave., is now The Héctor Figueroa School in honor of the late union leader who passed away earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced this morning.
Students, teacher and families voted for their school to be named after Hèctor Figueroa from a number of significant figures from the Jackson Heights community.
Figueroa was president of the Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more than 175,000 security guards, school cleaners and handypersons, doorpersons and airport workers. He was a leader in the Fight for 15, a grassroots effort started by fast food workers in New York City which grew into a nationwide campaign for a higher minimum wage.
Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Figueroa came from a family of educators. His father was a school principal and his mother was a teacher and principal. His family has called Jackson Heights home for years.
“I am proud, and a little sad, to celebrate PS 398 taking on the name of my dear brother Héctor Figueroa,” said Kyle Bragg, current President of 32BJ. “Héctor loved Queens as a place where families from all over the world learned to call each other neighbors, friends, and family. That’s why we are so glad his name and legacy will have a chance to live on in the county he called home, where he was so happy to raise his family and work to make things better for all families.”
The Héctor Figueroa School currently serves 117 Pre-K and Kindergarten students and will grow to serve a total of 476 students in Pre-K through fifth grade.
The state-of-the-art building is fully ADA-accessible and fully air-conditioned. It includes art, music and science resource rooms, reading and speech rooms, a gymnatorium, community meeting room, an early childhood playground and rooftop playground for upper grades.
The school will help alleviate overcrowding in the district. More than 2,100 new seats have been created in Queens for the 2019-2020 school year, according to the Mayor’s Office.
“Héctor Figueroa was the embodiment of the fight for fairness and justice. His legacy lives on across the entire City – from workers who now have benefits they deserve to those who continue to draw inspiration from his mission,” Mayor de Blasio said. “Now, children from this school will see his name daily and learn how to take action for what is right.”
Friends and colleagues of Figueroa were grateful for the school’s honor.
“Héctor was an intellectual giant, an unwavering moral compass, and a human being who lived each moment with such humbleness and kindness, it would take you aback and melt your heart,” said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Among all in the labor movement, he was just the real deal. I can think of no one more deserving and no legacy better to remind our children of how to have a life well lived.”