It Takes A Community…

Just like people, communities have weeks that they will never forget, for good and less good reasons.

As followers of the Parent Imperfect know, for the ten years ending this past September, either one or both of the PI’s children attended the Rafael Hernández School in Roxbury. Vince left the school over two years ago to attend Boston Latin. For a variety of reasons, the PI and Liz moved Connie to the Hennigan School for fifth grade. Connie misses the place terribly, and will miss it even more tonight.

They touched and were touched by hundreds of lives while at the Hernández, which deserves to be called a community like few other schools. But one of those lives dominated their school experience more than any other, because it was one of those big, unforgettable lives. La Principal, Margarita Muñíz, was involved in all aspects of the life of the school. She knew EVERY student and felt perfectly comfortable pushing EVERY parent to do more. The school had been her dream, and she was living her dream like few other people ever can.

Canonization is probably not coming. Not everyone involved with the school liked everything that Margarita did, but no one could deny that she was absolutely committed to the school and to the success in life of every student who sat at one of its desks. She was both a tireless promoter of the idea of dual language immersion as an educational philosophy, and a fierce defender of the school against anyone who would question its value or restrict its access to resources. No one knew this more than the administrators on Court Street.

But Margarita would be the first to recognize that she did not create the Hernández, or keep it going, by herself. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community of children and their families, and many committed professionals, to raise a successful school.  By any measure, the Hernández is a shining success.

Ken Larson was the man behind the woman for many years. As the school’s Assistant Principal, he did much to create the conditions for Margarita to work her particular magic. He was always there, but almost never in the limelight. He was disciplinarian (of a style), administrator, community liaison, school bus monitor, fashion consultant, photographer and, occasionally, shoulder to cry on. Over the years, his relationship with Margarita became much more than that of Assistant to La Principal. As a white male submerging his own need for personal recognition to create space for a demanding and dynamic Latina on a mission, Ken played a role that few men can effectively play. The PI was never privy to the personal conflicts that must have happened from time to time, but the apparent synergy between them was as remarkable as it was unusual.

About three years ago, Margarita became ill. The whisperings that it was serious gave way to resignation to the possibility that there would be no recovery. Through all sorts of debilitating treatments, Margarita remained engaged with the school. leaving no question who was in charge. She rejected the idea of retirement and woe betide anyone who suggested it. Others, Ken included, stepped forward to help as illness claimed more of her energy. The sense that Ken would be there through all that was happening (and was about to happen) provided some kind of solace…some sense that things would be OK. Not only did he have to exert more leadership (always quiet) within the school, but, over time, he also became a primary caregiver and support for Margarita. Who else? Those who give care often overlook their own.

In October, the school held its annual Noche de Fiesta, a big community party to raise funds for special programs at RHS. To no one’s surprise, Margarita was there, every bit La Principal, but clearly a woman coming to the end of a long struggle. The PI spoke briefly to both her and Ken that night. Ken was, as always, dressed to the nines and doing absolutely nothing to draw attention to himself. When someone saluted Margarita from the stage, the PI looked around to see her raise her hand in appreciation, with Ken standing behind her, brimming with emotions even more mixed than the rest of the crowd.The view was an image that deserved to be preserved.

During the weeks after the fiesta, the Hernández community began to prepare itself for news of Margarita’s passing. The school put in place bereavement teams ready to work with  the loss that now seemed certain and imminent. And then, on Tuesday, came the news that the teams would need to spring into action. The school had lost a great leader, but it was Ken Larson, not Margarita, who had been found dead in his apartment. How could that be? There are still no details to be had, just the shock rippling in waves across a community expecting something, but something else. For once, in the very last instance, Ken was not behind Margarita.

Had Liz or the PI been dropping Connie off at the Hernández today, it would have been a morning never forgotten. Instead, the news came in a phone call. At some point last night, Margarita joined Ken, probably to tell him to talk to parents about the problem of late school bus arrivals, or something else. They will continue to be present at the Hernández, at every Math Night, Young Authors’ Celebration and, of course, whenever there is another Noche de Fiesta. Even so, now it will REALLY take a community.

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17 Comments

Filed under Boston Public Schools

17 responses to “It Takes A Community…

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. We administrators at central office have printed it out and it is making the rounds. You certainly captured her spirit and Ken’s as well — including their fierce devotion to their students. Here is the letter Dr. Johnson sent home to Hernández K-8 families this afternoon:

    Dear BPS family,

    It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Hernandez K-8 Principal Margarita Muñiz. At her core, Margarita was a great teacher who cared for her students and staff like family. She was a strong voice for quality education for all students.

    Margarita had been with the Boston Public Schools for 39 years, and led the Rafael Hernández School for the last 30. Just three days ago, the Boston School Committee voted to approve Margarita Muñiz Academy, our first dual-language high school. We plan to open the school next fall at the Agassiz building. Margarita advocated for this program for many years and fittingly, we plan to open it in the same site where she began her long BPS career.

    Margarita came to the United States without her parents at just 11 years old. She had an early talent for teaching and an extraordinary ability to relate to young children who were not yet confident in their language skills. In doing so, she was able to help them bridge the gap between language proficiency and personal confidence.

    She joined the Boston Public Schools in 1972 as an English as a Second Language teacher and within nine years was asked to lead the Hernández. There, she quickly established a clear mission: to provide a quality education for Latino students who, at that time, had very few options. It remained her life’s work. Indeed, she expanded her focus so that all children can experience the rich diversity that a dual-language education can provide.

    Her passing compounds the grief for the Hernández K-8 community. On Tuesday morning, we learned that school Director of Operations/Assistant Principal Ken Larson passed away unexpectedly. He was a true leader and dedicated member of the Hernandéz family, and in every way, went beyond the call of duty to serve students, families and educators.

    After consulting with Principal Muñiz and with her blessing, on Wednesday we named Maria Campanario the interim principal for the Hernández K-8 for the remainder of the school year. Today, she is working with a team of counselors at the Hernández to provide support for students, families and staff as they attempt to cope with this dual loss. Mayor Menino, School Committee Chairperson Reverend Groover, Dr. Amara and I visited the school this morning and were deeply impressed by the entire Hernández school community, which, while grieving, is honoring their memories with deep respect and gratitude. We are grateful to the team from the Office of Special Education and Student Support and the Office of English Language Learners for their assistance they have provided to the Hernández community.

    As you look ahead to Thanksgiving, please take a moment to remember the legacy of the many men and women who dedicated their entire lives to building better schools for our community. All of us share the same mission. We hope we can live up to the high standards they set.

    Gratefully,
    Carol R. Johnson
    BPS Superintendent

  2. Steve

    Good to hear of a successful community school…sad to hear about Ken and Margarita

  3. Parent Pluperfect (i.e. Liz)

    One of our first encounters with Ken was when Vince, as a K1 4-year-old, and a buddy of his investigated what would happen if they flushed a toilet in the boys bathroom an infinite number of times. Ken called to let us know what had happened, and that he had meted out the delightfully appropriate punishment of having them apologize to the custodian, and then wipe up the water under the custodian’s watchful eye. Ken Larson, !Presente!

    • Yes, PP, and then there was the time that Vince got sent to Ken’s office for fighting on the playground (third grade, I think). The pitch of his response was exactly right then, too, and it really made an impression on young V.

  4. Patti

    Oh such sadness for our community. Such a shock to have lost Ken too! Thanks for your words, the vision of Ken standing behind Margarita at La Fiesta – I didn’t make it this year, and I’m so sad now to have missed it.

    • Thanks, Patti. I do wish I had taken that photo at the Fiesta. Margarita, sitting at the table, surrounded by the women of the Hernández, with Ken standing behind her with his hand on her shoulder. It’s an image that won’t leave for a while. Sorry you couldn’t make it. I actually had it in my mind that I had seen your family there. So much for the mind of the PI…

  5. Jenny Silverman

    Thanks for your beautiful words. The Margarita -Ken team was in place when my daughter started in K-2 in 1987, and we remained at the school until my son finished sixth grade in 1999–12 wonderful years of being part of the Hernandez family. We still all feel part of the extended family, and will miss both Ken and Margarita. Maria Campanario has been appointed the interim principal, and Maria is wonderful. She was a teacher and director of instruction at the school when my kids were there–and we are lucky to get her in this role now.

  6. Sarah

    Thanks for your amazing words. I taught at the Hernandez for 6 years. I feel that Ken and Margarita were my extra set of Aunt/Uncle. The picture of them standing at Noche de Fiesta is a nice vision to close my eyes to. I will miss them deeply.

  7. Brian LaFerriere

    Thank you for your thoughtful words about Ken and Margarita. To know them was to love them. I joined the Hernandez family in 1987 and have not left. I am truly appreciative of all the wonderful people who have been supporting and praying for the Hernandez family during these difficult times.

  8. Veronica

    I met Ken and Margarita 15 years ago when my son entered K1 at the Hernandez School. I over the years Ken and I have enjoyed some good times together; in May 2011 we had a ball and took pics at the BAA gala . Sad to know it would be our last fun time together. May they both rest in peace.

    • Thanks, Veronica. Ken was definitely someone who knew how to have fun. Did you go to the memorial at the Hernández yesterday? There were many, many photos of the two of them having a good time. The shot of the two of them on camels at the pyramids was absolutely unforgettable! May they both rest in peace…

  9. Arrangements for Margarita: A wake will be held on Tuesday, November 22, from 4-8PM at te Mann & Rodgers Funeral Home, 44 Perkins St., JP and a funeral mass will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 23 at 2PM at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 1545 Tremont St. on Mission Hill

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