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Educators Respond to Newtown Shooting

“I spent the weekend, as did many fellow heads of schools, listening to the news for any details of the story that could shed a light on how we might better protect our students from such violence,” said Stuart Country Day School Head Patricia Fagin in the aftermath of the December 14 tragedy at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Our hearts are broken for our neighbors in Newtown,” wrote Community Park Elementary School Principal Dineen Gruchacz on that school’s website. “We will be prepared on Monday morning to handle our children with love and care.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the students, teachers, and families of Newtown, Connecticut,” said Principal Gary R. Snyder on the Princeton High School website.

In remarks to be delivered at Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting (after Town Topics went to press), President Tim Quinn plans to say that “while this heinous act will continue to spur many substantive discussions about violence in our society and about school safety, speaking personally, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the principal and school psychologist who ran toward gunfire, and the teachers who shielded their students from bullets. Their actions were brave, selfless, and student-focused.”

In a letter to the Princeton Community, Superintendent Judy Wilson advised parents and teachers to “model calm and control; reassure children that they are safe; remind them that trustworthy people are in charge,” and “let children know that it is okay to feel upset.” In similar letters to parents and teachers, school officials like Ms. Fagin expressed their condolences to the Newtown community, described the availability of school psychologists and counselors ready to work with children distressed by the images, descriptions, and conversations going on around them, and listed additional resources that provide coping strategies.

They also reassured parents about the safety precautions in place — and now, not surprisingly, being reviewed — at each school.

“Inevitably, events like this stimulate review of our own safety procedures,” said Headmaster Jonathan G. Brougham in a letter to the Hun School community. “As the details of the Sandy Hook events unfold further, I assure you we will consider them carefully, and, if necessary, apply what we learn.”

“As you know, we have made security a priority at Stuart and have brought on board highly trained and experienced security professionals with extensive law enforcement backgrounds,” wrote Ms. Fagin in her letter to parents. “As part of our protocol, we regularly conduct various safety drills. Today we had a prescheduled lockdown drill during which faculty and staff secured the students in classrooms.

“Under normal circumstances, lockdown drills may create uneasiness, and in light of today’s tragedy, children may feel particularly ill at ease,” she added.

A message on the Johnson Park Elementary School website reported on the availability of Ms. Wilson’s district website message, adding that “we will be marshalling resources to help parents and staff members deal with inevitable questions that our children may ask (or may be too frightened to ask).”

Community-wide responses include an “Interfaith Gathering of Remembrance, Unity, and Hope” sponsored by the Princeton Clergy Association on Thursday, December 20, from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. on the Palmer Square Green in front of the Nassau Inn. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, as they try to cope with their unimaginable losses,” said Clergy Association Treasurer Robert Moore, who is also head of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action. “But let us do more than think and pray for them,” he added. “Let us remind our neighbors, friends, and families that gun violence in this nation is an epidemic and we must fight.”

Mercer County administration has also posted an online message about the shooting, noting that those who are “feeling particularly affected by this tragedy and would like to speak to someone about it ”may call Mercer County Human Services professionals Michele Madiou or Ann Dorocki, at (609) 989-6897.


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