The audience rose from the benches and applauded Monday, Jan. 14, as the Town Council voted unanimously to rename Stratford Academy Honeyspot House in honor of Victoria Soto. The vote came one month after Soto was murdered by an armed gunman while protecting her students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
“Anything we do will fall short in honoring her in a lasting and meaningful way,” State Rep. Terry Backer (D-121st) said during the public comment portion of the evening. “We cannot honor her fully but we can do what we have the ability to do.”
To that end, the schoolhouse that comprises one-half of Stratford Academy will be renamed Victoria Soto School. There, teachers will educate children in kindergarten through second grade. Soto taught first grade in Newtown.
Relatives of Soto, including her sister Jillian, sat in the crowd as speakers got up to offer their support during the public forum. Shortly after the council voted the family left Town Hall, with a trail of media cameras tailing them.
While naming a school in honor of Soto met no resistance, there were a significant number in the audience calling for more to honor the Stratford native. In particular, a petition containing a total of 15,111 names was presented urging the council to consider renaming a street in her honor.
The road targeted for a name change is North Parade, which runs between Town Hall and Stratford High School, from which Soto graduated. A proposed name would be Victoria Soto Way.
Chris Barbee started the online petition. During the public forum he approached the podium and read a list of names. It included a number of notable figures from Stratford’s past and concluded with Soto.
“All but one of these people have something in common,” Barbee said. “All of the them have a street named in their honor.”
Barbee noted that the petition was started before the idea of renaming Honeyspot House was floated. However, he hoped that the town could view the two proposals as a case of “in addition to” as opposed to “instead of.”
A contract for the rebuilding and refurbishment of Honeyspot House was awarded in March of 2011. The timeline shows that construction isn’t expected to conclude until the end of this year. Some members of the audience feared the timeline could extend and delay official dedication of the school to Soto.
Earlier in the evening, Jim Mihaley suggested another means by which the town could honor Soto’s memory.
“The town should consider a four-year teaching scholarship in her name,” Mihaley said. The proposal would help Stratford students who wanted to be teachers, following Soto’s dreams.
Before the vote, Councilman Matt Catalano read the resolution to rename the school aloud. His voiced periodically strained and cracked as he choked up slightly.
There was little discussion on the matter outside of the semantics of the name. Honeyspot House comprises a portion of the Stratford Academy magnet school. The other section is a separate building called Johnson House, which houses third through sixth grades.
One proposal was to name the school Stratford Academy Victoria Soto School. The resolution originally read Victoria Soto Elementary School.
Council Chairman Joseph Kubic declared they were risking over-complicating what should be a sincere gesture to honor Soto, settled on Victoria Soto School and called for the vote.
There was no wavering or hesitation in the council’s unanimous approval.