As Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed said recently, the effort Monroe went through to help Newtown following the events of 12/14 was “complex and extremely important.”
Within days of the tragic shooting, Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra announced Monroe’s willingness to help by providing a new home for Sandy Hook staff and students at its then-mothballed Chalk Hill Middle School.
“We are truly blessed that our Sandy Hook School family will be able to stay together at this facility,” Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein announced during a joint emergency meeting on Monday, December 17, 2012.
At that same meeting, the Board of Education, Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, and Legislative Council voted separately and unanimously to enter into an agreement with the Town of Monroe that would allow Newtown the use of Chalk Hill Middle School.
One day earlier then-superintendent of schools Janet Robinson and Ms Leidlein had sent an e-mail to the Sandy Hook School community, announcing the joint effort to make the unused school ready for Newtown. The letter said in part that the facility “is in excellent condition and will accommodate all of the Sandy Hook School students and staff. It is located across the border from Newtown and should be ready for occupancy in just a few days.”
That e-mail also expressed the importance of Sandy Hook School students returning to school “quickly in an environment that is familiar and safe.”
In a release that same week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy thanked “Monroe and its elected officials for acting so quickly and allowing the use of their school building at this incredibly difficult time.”
Dr Reed said this week that Monroe undertaking the effort, with government support, to transform a middle school into a place where elementary students could feel at home was a meaningful loan to Newtown. He also said the effort was an example of how one town, despite not being asked, can help another.
“That help was complex and extremely important,” said Dr Reed.
According to Mrs Llodra, she first heard from Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek on the day of the Sandy Hook School shootings though a text message. In that message he shared his personal support, and the following day he sent her another message expressing that he might have a solution to Newtown’s “school challenge.”
Mrs Llodra said she has been friends with Mr Vavrek for quite some time, and his quick response to the events of 12/14 started the process of transforming Chalk Hill into a new home for Sandy Hook School early.
Within a week of the shooting, Mrs Llodra said she met at Chalk Hill with Monroe representatives, Ms Leidlein, school officials, the chief of police, and representatives of the governor.
“Those meetings at Chalk Hill started that very next week,” said Mrs Llodra.
‘An Extraordinary Response’
Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, along with Gov Malloy, was also among the first people to offer support and help following the events of 12/14, according to Mrs Llodra. All of that support was brought to her attention within 48 hours of the shootings. She said people were recognizing that as a town, Newtown was dealing with horrible grief and would quickly be dealing with the practical problem of how to educate the students of Sandy Hook School.
“It was an extraordinary response,” said Mrs Llodra, who explained everyone put aside their own issues and personal challenges to make sure everything came together.
Many people would volunteer time in the following weeks, including business owners and individuals. Mrs Llodra said the Newtown community received tremendous kindness. There is no conceivable way, Mrs Llodra said, to pay Monroe back for that kindness.
“There are so many wonderful people in this world that just wrapped their arms around us,” Mrs Llodra said.
Mr Vavrek said his town was not alone in helping to make Chalk Hill School a welcoming place for elementary school students. Newtown residents also helped in the team effort, he said.
“It couldn’t have happened without a lot of dedicated Monroe and Newtown people,” Mr Vavrek said.
The two towns, Mr Vavrek continued, banded together, and in so doing, found how similar they really are.
Mr Vavrek also said Monroe was blessed to have Chalk Hill open for use at Newtown’s time of need.
“In the aftermath of all this, it is really great to see our communities rally around each other,” said Mr Vavrek.
He also wished the events of 12/14 had never happened, but it has brought about something that, Mr Vavrek said, proves “kindness and caring wins.”
Mrs Llodra wondered how to say thank you for Monroe’s overwhelming generosity. She drove to Chalk Hill every day the school was being put together, and as the days passed she noticed more and more homes putting out signs of support, signs of welcoming, or green ribbons. When she thinks back, she notes the extraordinary experience of witnessing a community offer a gift in kindness. Mrs Llodra also said she knows there is a special place in heaven for Mr Vavrek, because of what he did.
Dr Reed also said he has a range of emotions, primarily respect and gratitude, when he thinks of what Monroe has given to Newtown. He, too, marked the signs that Monroe, as a community, posted, seemingly telling the Sandy Hook School society that it was “truly welcome.”
As one of the receivers of Monroe’s loan and efforts, Dr Reed said he thinks it is important to not be afraid to express gratitude and to say thank you whenever possible, something he says he does each time he sees an officer on guard at Sandy Hook School.
“They’ve embraced us for all the right reasons,” said Dr Reed.