Move Afoot for First Latino Name on a Waterbury School


Heriberto “Eddie” Rivera, a Latino firefighter who died on duty, is being suggested for the name of a new Waterbury high school.
By Robert Cyr
A school in Waterbury set to open in the fall could be the city’s first to be named after a local Latino. Some are rallying for Heriberto “Eddie” Rivera, a Latino firefighter who died on duty and has since had a charitable foundation started in his name by his wife and daughter. There is also support for Eldemiro Arroyo, who spent many years on the Waterbury Board of Education.
In 1990, Rivera and fellow firefighter Howard Hughes were responding to an emergency call when the brakes on their engine failed. They were killed (and three others injured) when the apparatus slammed into a four-foot wide tree. Rivera was only 29 and left behind five children – the last born just a month before the crash.
Two years ago the Waterbury Board of Education formed an ad-hoc committee tasked with naming another new school. Now it will hold a public hearing March 18 to hear arguments for the dedication and to recommend a name for the school by April 11.
The $68.2 million high school in northeast Waterbury on Birch Street is still under construction, tentatively dubbed the “Waterbury Career Academy High School.” But some involved in rallying for their choice of the eight candidates for the honor believe it’s time for the city to have its first building named for an important Latino.
While Rivera is a strong contender, he has some opposition from another Latino candidate – Eldemiro Arroyo, a former board of education member who died more than two decades ago after several years in the education field.
First-term education board member Felix Rodriguez, a member of the naming committee, said that even though he’s a Latino, he’s going to stay neutral in the process and listen carefully to the public’s support and vote accordingly. To be eligible for consideration, a candidate must be deceased for at least three years and have had a substantial impact on Waterbury education.
“As a Latino, I’m extremely excited that people are submitting names of Latino candidates,” he said. “But I’d rather let the public have their say. We want to make sure that it’s a process that’s fair.”
Jay Gonzales, a member of the Waterbury Republican Town Committee, told in an email that, “Waterbury does not have one school named in honor of a Latino. I find that unbelievable. I am a conservative Latino and feel that we have gone too long without this being accomplished. I’ve appealed to some of the Democratic Latino leaders in Waterbury yet haven’t gotten any support likely due to the fact that our Democrat mayor has his own idea for a name for the school.”
In a March 1 column published in the Waterbury Observer, Gonzales wrote, “Our city, as well as our school system, has a large Latino population. Over 30 percent of Waterbury’s citizens are of Latino descent and that number is even higher in our public schools. With such a large demographic, I feel that the new school’s name should be fitting to the people that attend the school, not merely the location of the school.”
But while Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary has publicly said he’d like to see the school named the “Career Academy,” his predilections have no bearing on the final vote, which will be conducted by the 10-member school board, said President Charles Stango. The board will vote on a recommendation from the five-member naming committee.
“We will listen to support,” he said. “Anyone can speak on the suggested name that has been submitted already. The mayor can make his views known at public hearing, too. The board has the final say.”
O’Leary and Superintendent of Schools Kathleen M. Ouellette did not return calls for comment.
The Rivera Memorial Foundation Inc. was started after Rivera’s death by his widow, Maritza Rivera, and joins local charitable groups for Latino-centric benefits in the city. The foundation was not able to be reached for this article.
Photo © Rivera Memorial Foundation Inc.