Montclair, NJ – Hundreds of people – alumni, faculty, community leaders, current students and families – gathered at Glenfield Midde School on Sunday to celebrate the school’s 125th anniversary. The event provided both an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and to recognize the important role the school played in the desegregation of the Montclair School District.
The festivities began with a ribbon cutting on the school porch. Glenfield Principal Erika Pierce was alongside community leaders including Mayor Sean Spiller, Superintendent Dr Jonathan Ponds, Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, council members and school board members.
Terrell Paige, Deputy Chief of Staff to NJ State Senator Nia Gill, presented a resolution on behalf of the New Jersey State Senate, “celebrating the success that 125 years of Glenfield has brought” to Montclair .
Mayor Spiller told the crowd:[Glenfield’s history] testifies to our evolution and our evolution towards a better Montclair. A Montclair for all our students and residents. This celebration is an opportunity to recommit to our schools. To give them the resources they need to ensure that the next generation of students, that the next 125 years are as bright or brighter than the last 125 years.
Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, son of longtime Glenfield teacher Daniel Gill, presented proclamations at Glenfield Middle School from the Essex County Board of Commissioners and MP Mikie Sherrill.
Glenfield Chorus 8th Grader Taylor Robinson opened the historic presentation by singing the national anthem. In her remarks, Headmistress Pierce pointed out that the school, then known as Maple Street School, opened in the 1896-1897 school year. This was on the heels of the Supreme Court Plessy v. Ferguson decision which declared that racial segregation was sanctioned under the “separate but equal” doctrine.
Eighty years later, as Glenfield Middle School, it played a vital role in desegregating the neighborhood by attracting students through its Magnet of Visual and Performing Arts. Since that time, Montclair has grown into one of the oldest and most successful magnetic school districts in the country.
“It is not these four walls that have held Glenfield’s structure and foundation together, it is the members of the Montclair community who are committed to supporting, celebrating and honoring this school’s legacy.” Principal Pierce said.
Mr Daniel Gill, who taught at the school for 45 years, gave a presentation on the history of Glenfield, explaining how the school originally served both Irish and Italian immigrants and African-American residents. Americans who emigrated from the South and lived in the South End. . Before Maple Avenue School was built, there was no school to educate these children. Their parents worked for the houses “on the hill” or in local businesses, including a sawmill located near the school.
Gill also led a roundtable on the desegregation of Montclair schools with members of the Montclair community who grew up in Montclair and went on to impact its schools as adults. Dr. Renee Baskerville, a former Fourth Ward council member and BOE member, was an elementary student plaintiff in the 1966 Rice v. Montclair Board of Education lawsuit that resulted in an order desegregating Montclair. Dr. Carol Willis attended Glenfield as a Kindergartner and returned to Montclair years later to raise her family. She was appointed to the Board of Education in 1977 and was integral to the design of the current Montclair Public Schools Magnetic System. Current Board of Education member Kathryn Weller shared her own unique and memorable experience as a student at Glenfield in the 1980s
Attendees were also able to experience part of the Glenfield program with its award-winning robotics program, Science Olympiad, world languages and arts activities for all ages. And the day ended with a photo of ‘All Grades’ alumni and staff under the 125th anniversary banner with its logo designed by Grade 7 student Clay Swanson.