HPS Community Celebrates MLK Campus Reopening with Ribbon Cutting
Above, flanked by community members and dignitaries, Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez (center) helps students, Marcus Edmonson, Kadian Megee, Kayden Glasgow, and Lauren Preddie with the heavy ceremonial scissors as the ribbon is cut.
On Oct. 7, 2020, Hartford Public Schools celebrated the reopening of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Campus with students, teachers, principals, public officials, and the community gathered at the new entrance off of Ridgefield St. in Hartford’s North End. The newly renovated campus is the result of a $100 million investment and the culmination of a key part of the district’s strategic plan, the District Model for Excellence.
The event started with Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez welcoming guests and introducing students from both schools that make up the MLK Campus: Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Middle School and Breakthrough Magnet School-North. The students led the community in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.
Following the Pledge and Anthem, the Superintendent introduced Mayor Luke Bronin. “This is a great day for the City of Hartford,” he said, before calling for a round of applause. “It’s hard to imagine a place with more history than this building in our community.” He remembered the old building with all of its problems, including mold and pests. “The students, whether at Breakthrough or MLK, get the chance to study in an environment that is worthy of them,” he said.
He went on to give credit, first and foremost, to the community. “We did it because of partnership,” he noted. He also thanked the State of CT, State Senator Doug McCrory, Josh Hall, Matt Ritter, and the entire Hartford delegation, City Council, members of the Board of Education, and the design and construction teams, among many others.
In her remarks, Dr. Torres-Rodriguez stated stated, “I am so proud to stand before this beautiful, historic building, the original home of Weaver High School. This new facility represents an equitable commitment to our students, in our neighborhood and magnet schools, as well as our community.” She highlighted the commitment of district leaders, pointing out that the renovation of MLK was the first step and central focus of the district’s strategic plan.
She also emphasized how the social justice theme of MLK affirms the district’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist school district. This focus responds to the rise in racial tensions nationwide and trauma facing our students, teachers, and staff. She thanked and acknowledged each member of the Board, Kosta Diamantis, the Office of School Construction, Melvin Colon of the Hartford Building Committee, Downes Construction, Arcadis, elected leaders, partners, parents, and the entire North End community. “Your partnership and support over many years made this dream a reality,” she said.
Next, Principals Doreen Crawford and Katherine Leonard shared their thoughts. Crawford, who described the difference between the old and new MLK with emotion, said, “Today, I’m proud to say the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Middle School has regained its status in the Blue Hills neighborhood community.”
Katherine Leonard also used the word “proud” when she rose to the podium and introduced herself as Principal of Breakthrough North. She described the Breakthrough motto and focus on character education, “turning breakdowns into breakthroughs,” as well as the story of the school that now shares a home on MLK Campus after three moves in just a few years.
The principals were followed by William Rab Smith, a 94-year old alum of Weaver High School, which was originally located on the site that MLK occupies. He recalled graduating from Weaver in 1944 and reminisced about the history of the building, even reciting the preamble of the Constitution as he did many years ago upon the insistence of a former teacher.
Mr. William (Rab) Smith, Weaver High School, Class of 1944, received a standing ovation.
Next was long-time partner and representative of the Blue Hills district, Senator Doug McCrory. He explained how the MLK journey started when a prior superintendent wanted to close Weaver, and the community got together and said no. McCrory emphasized the significance of the school name, what it means to black men like himself, and social justice theme.
Representing the community partners, Pastor AJ Johnson of the Center for Leadership and Justice, closed the program. He was joined by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and a parent, who held up two enlarged checks made out to MLK Middle School. Johnson said that the students of the new MLK “are worthy of everything that was put into this school, worthy of the opportunity to aspire, achieve, and thrive.”
After all of the speakers concluded, students, teachers and administrators gathered before the school’s entrance to cut the ribbon.
Left to right, the community gathers to cut the ribbon; former SCG Chair Natalie Langlaise, Board Chair Ayesha Clarke, Pastor A.J. Johnson, Mayor Luke Bronin, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School students, Marcus Edmonson, Grade 8 and Kadian Megee, Grade 6, Dr. Doreen Crawford, Principal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, State Representative Douglas McCrory, Breakthrough Magnet School – North Students, Kayden Glasgow, Grade 5 and Lauren Preddie, Grade 5, Breakthrough Magnet School – North Principal, Katherine Leonard, and 1944 alumnus of Weaver High School, Mr. William Rab Smith.
The ribbon-cutting celebrants are joined by more community members including, second from right,Leah Baranauskus, a middle school language arts teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Middle School and the 2015 Hartford Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the size of the event was limited, and Hartford Public Schools streamed the event on Facebook.
You may watch the ceremony here.
You may take an online Virtual Video Tour of the school campus at https://www.hartfordschools.org/virtualtour/.
You may read the online event program at https://www.hartfordschools.org/program/.
You may see more photos from the event here.
On social media:
It was wonderful to attend the ribbon cutting today for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Campus in #Hartford. Congratulations to our @JCJarchitecture team and @Hartford_Public Schools but especially to the community for their unwavering commitment to education. pic.twitter.com/xqxOymEgvC
— Jim LaPosta (@jimlaposta) October 7, 2020