Smithtown Christian School, a ministry of Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, opened in 1978, at the former Sweetbriar Elementary School, an excessed Smithtown Public School building that had been purchased by the
Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle. A church Christian Education Committee had been formed and these founding fathers had spent the previous year praying, researching, cleaning up the empty building, and purchasing desks, chairs, books and other essentials to start the new ministry. Happy Time Preschool had opened in 1972 at the original Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle-built church on New York Avenue in Smithtown, and the purchase of the 15- acre Higbie Drive campus was with the intention to ultimately move all church and other school operations to that one location.
That first year there were three teachers teaching multi-aged classes and 59 students in grades K-5. Lynn Rowlinson served in the dual role of kindergarten teacher and principal that first year, Joyce Schreck taught 1st and second grade, and Judy Olitsky taught 3rd through 5th grades. Betty Olsen, who had been hired to teach a combined fifth and sixth grade class was asked to delay her start at the new school by one year when only two fifth graders and no sixth graders enrolled in 1978.
Mrs. Olsen and Mrs. Schreck both recently recalled that in those pioneering days they were covering lunch duty, and teaching special areas and Bible in addition to their regular classroom subjects. By the next year, school records indicate that enrollment had doubled, and it was in that second year, the fall of 1979, that Salvatore Greco, Ed.D, an ordained Assemblies of God minister and educator who, despite an earned doctorate, was more often addressed as Pastor Greco, came on staff at SGT to serve as principal of the new school and oversee Christian education ministries at the church.
The school continued to enjoy God’s blessing under Dr. Greco, as enrollment grew rapidly. By 1985, there were two more administrators on staff, teachers to cover specials and aides for the lunchroom, and over 300 students in grades K-9, with more in the preschool and daycare programs.
The original Sweetbriar campus layout was a series of smaller buildings, each with several classrooms inside, as well as a school auditorium and cafeteria. These were connected by a maze of outdoor concrete sidewalks and overhangs. In 1979, the Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle began a building program at the Higbie Drive site to connect the various buildings, build a church sanctuary, and add more classrooms. This was to fulfill that goal of having the church and school ministries all at the same location.
The construction was completed in 1983, and in September of that year the church officially moved from New York Avenue to the Higbie Drive facilities. As the school continued to grow, the need for a high school was seen and in 1988 the school expanded to 10th grade, subsequently adding a grade a year until the first class of seniors graduated in 1991. With the expansion of grades and need to upgrade facilities in order to accommodate needs of the growing high school academic and sports program, facilities were again upgraded with a significant building project completed in 1994 that included the redesign of the sectionable multi-purpose Gym/Cafeteria. By that time, the school enrollment was about 500, with approximately another 100 children in the day care and preschool programs.
With the growth of the high school, it was in the mid ’90’s that Dr. Greco’s role was modified and his title changed to superintendent of all the schools — Smithtown Christian Day Care, Happy Time Preschool, and the elementary and high schools of SCS, while all responsibilities of principalship were delegated to administrators on elementary and high school levels. By the time he had retired after 29 years of service in 2008, the school was continuing to maintain enrollment in the difficult economic times that saw closing of other Christian schools both locally and nation-wide, and the school and church facilities were again in the midst of another construction project to add science labs, expand the gym and cafeteria, add church conference rooms, and add music performing group rehearsal rooms.
The fall of 2008 saw SGT Administrative Pastor Derek Prezzano take on the role of overseeing the operations of SCS on an interim basis while the search for a new superintendent continued.
In the summer of 2009, Pastor Roger Erdvig, M.Ed, President at the Center for the Advancement of Christian Coaching in Reading PA, an experienced minister and administrator who had previously served on the pastoral staff at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, came to serve as the new superintendent of Smithtown Christian School. He came on at the close of the latest major construction project. Under the leadership of Pastor Erdvig, Smithtown Christian School has continued to stay the course; seeking to cultivate a culture of honor and integrity, to raise the bar that SCS faculty and students would exemplify still higher standards of conduct in seeking to please God as leaders and leaders-in-training. Pastor Erdvig moves forward in the vision that was first caught by the Christian Education Committee back in the 1970’s, and carried on by Pastor Greco through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and first part of the 21st century. Smithtown Christian School moves forward in its mission to work with parents in training up this next generation to make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ; to be a witness and serve Him with excellence and integrity wherever He calls them, whether in business, trade, ministry, academia, or the arts.
–Researched by SCS 6th grade Information Literacy Skills classes from April – June 2010. Special thanks to all who provided access to primary sources or willingly agreed to be interviewed by our 6th graders for this project: Dr. Sal Greco, Superintendent of SCS (retired), Mrs. Betty Olsen, SCS teacher (retired), Mrs. Joyce Schreck, SCS teacher, (retired), Mr. Larry Anderson, SCS School Board Vice-President, Mr. Bob Conti, SCS Board Member, former SCS Business Manager and Administrator (retired), Mr. Jim Gleason, Former SCS Board Member, Mrs. Jennifer (Farrell) ’85 Coggin, SGT/SCS Accountant and alumnus (one of the original 59 students), Mr. Bill Grob, SCS parent who attended Sweet Briar School in the early 1960′s, Mr. Pat Nieto, SCS Athletic Director, and Mrs. Cathy Ball, Librarian, Smithtown Public Library. Written by Tricia Gleason