New School Ready for Students’ Return

When Tuscaloosa City Schools return for in-person classes, a new $18 million elementary school will welcome its students.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School is complete, with virtual instruction happening now. The Tuscaloosa City Board of Education is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a plan that would return students to the classroom throughout the system.

While some Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary students have elected to do virtual learning for the entire school year, the portion of the 488 currently enrolled students that return will be coming into a gleaming new building filled with light and color.

“The students are very excited about coming back. I can’t wait to see the students and how all these colors bring that happiness to them. This is what an elementary school should look like,” said Principal LaTanya Williams-Collins.

Signs, inspirational quotes from King and artful decorations are featured throughout the new building. Williams-Collins said the community feedback has been positive and she feels that the school will be an inspiration and point of pride for everyone.

“For so long, they have wanted this for the community. Now that they have it we are going to see an increase in parental involvement. We are going to have a school pride like no other from our students. I think it is going to be the heart of the community,” Williams-Collins said.

Superintendent Mike Daria echoed her comments.

“It’s a building that very visibly reflects the same high expectations we have for students in our school system. It is a building that is truly second to none. It has all the equipment and facilities that we need, so we can keep those expectations high for all the students. This is an amazing facility with amazing teachers, students, and parents, and now we ready to get to the work of producing those positive outcomes for all of our students here,” Daria said.

While both Daria and Williams-Collins appreciate the new structure, they say that teachers are the backbone of the school.

“The most important thing for students is having high-quality teachers in every classroom. Here at MLK, they have that, but we believe we can do it even better in a high-quality facility,” Daria said.

The new school came about as a result of a change to the Tuscaloosa City Schools capital plan. Daria said that some projects that concluded under budget enabled the system to look at the possibility of replacing the old school rather than doing the planned renovation of the existing building. The board examined the budget and finances then moved ahead with constructing an entirely new building on the site at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and 25th Street.

The new building has a total of 70 rooms, with 40 being dedicated to classroom instruction. There are 15 offices, myriad supporting workrooms, a library, a gymnasium/multi-purpose room and cafeteria. There are self contained classrooms that have improved technical support and equipment for students with special needs. There is also wing with classrooms dedicated to arts education.

The building incorporates a storm safe area that will house 1,023 people and protect them from tornadic wind velocities of up to 250 miles per hour.

Williams-Collins, who taught for seven years in the old building before moving to a principal’s role at another facility, sees the school inspiring not only better academic performance but better community involvement.

“I can say this is just a structure – it is all about the teachers – but I can say having a place that is nicer to learn in, I think we will see students with a sense of pride in that they are going to perform academically. I think we will see a huge increase in parental engagement, and I think we are going to see our students become very successful. I think the building will play a part in it. I do think it is going to be an inspirational place for them.”

Gary Cosby Jr. Tuscaloosa News USA TODAY NETWORK