Although Tuesday night’s Hartford Board of Education special meeting had only two agenda items for public comment, you would have never known it from the hundreds of people, especially Weaver students, who packed into the Fred D. Wish Elementary School gymnasium. It was a sea of forest green hoodies. Proudly emblazed on the hoodies was the rallying cry of the night: “Weaver Strong.” In addition, Weaver students greeted every attendee with a handout celebrating the school’s achievements. Thundering drum beats in the school’s lobby foretold of a battle. Handheld placards proclaiming “Weaver Forever” were placed on every seat. Ironically, the presumed fight over the future of Weaver High School was the least contentious event of the night.
The massive turnout of Weaver students, parents, alumni, and staff was the dissatisfaction with the Board’s communication with the school’s community. The show of force was to ensure the survival of Weaver, including its traditions, history, and legacy. The issue at hand was the future move of Weaver Culinary Academy to a temporary location at the Lincoln Culinary Institute on Sigourney St. Weaver High School is slated for a $100 million rehabilitation and the entire school must be relocated to Lincoln while construction occurs.
Rumors had been swirling over the future of Weaver, but the real issue, as the school’s principal Tim Goodwin explained, was the glacial pace of the project and the numerous unanswered questions over the school’s future. The leadership of the Blue Hills Civic Association also peppered the board with questions over the developer of the Weaver site and lack of communication with the neighborhood. Acknowledging the crowd’s need for detailed answers, Board member Robert Cotto launched into a series of questions directed at the Building Committee, including when the move would begin and how the process of moving the school would occur. Unlike previous communication with the Weaver community, Cotto was attempting to make everything as explicit and open for a crowd eager for specific answers. There was little controversy in the final vote as the Board unanimously voted to approve the contract with Lincoln as the temporary location of Weaver.
The resolution of Weaver’s move was a breeze compared to the proposal construction of the Kinsella Performing Arts High School on Main St., behind SAND elementary. The Kinsella construction, which was the only other item on the public agenda, has received nearly unanimous derision from the Kinsella community. The dissatisfaction continued Tuesday night, with the Superintendent desperately attempting to salvage the project. At issue was the state’s offer to reimburse the city for 95% of the construction costs of the school or approximately $30 million. Superintendent Kishimoto repeatedly reminded the crowd that this offer was for the specific site behind SAND, not an alternative site. Throughout the debate over Kinsella, the school’s community hammered away at the notion that they had been involved in the decision. When the public comment section of the meeting ended, the Board reluctantly was then faced with the Kinsella vote.
Board members Stallings, Colon-Rivas, Cotto, and Mayor Segarra all questioned the process, including the lack of community support, the numerous examples of K-12 schools in Hartford, and how $30 million could be used for far more pressing needs in the district. As the Superintendent’s position became more and more tenuous, it became clear that the Board was listening to the Kinsella community. It was difficult to parse which members voted in favor or against the move to Main St. since most mumbled their verbal votes. With the proposal’s failure, it is now unclear how the state will respond this change or what alternative sites or school arrangements could happen (like one building for Kinsella as a K-12 school). The Building Committee is now charged with developing a list of alternative sites for Kinsella.
Many in the education activist community were also hoping for a showdown over the controversial Capital Prep principal Steve Perry. Scheduled during executive session was a personnel issue involving Perry. Nearly three months have passed since Board Chairman Matt Poland ordered an investigation into Perry’s activities following a threatening tweet posted by the principal. The public comment section of the meeting was explicitly to be only related to Weaver and Kinsella, but that didn’t stop community activist Hyacinth Yennie. When she finished her Weaver and Kinsella comments she bellowed, “We are the laughing stock of this nation! When will you punish Steve Perry?!”
Nothing will be known about what went on in the executive session concerning Perry unless information is leaked.
Check out the live tweets from Tuesday’s BOE meeting: