Almost as soon as the armed assault on Sandy Hook School abruptly ended on December 14, 2012, cascades of information flowed outward to the world — some of it false, some of it true, some of it useless, some of it essential. Concurrently, there was an emotional response that was beyond telling but which moved with such power and force that it perturbed the flow some of the most useful information at a critical time for those victims’ families at the center of the tragedy. That was one of the poignant insights shared last week with the governor’s appointed Sandy Hook Advisory Commission by David and Francine Wheeler, parents of Benjamin Wheeler, who died at the school that tragic morning.
Newtown’s congressional representatives announced ten days ago that the town had secured another federal grant — this one $7.1 million from the Department of Justice — for mental health services and school safety measures. It is the latest infusion of money from the government in the wake of the December 2012 tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, following earlier grants from the Office for Victims of Crime and the US Department of Education’s School Emergency Response to Violence program totaling $4.7 million. No one was prepared for the local horror of 12/14, and nothing seems to impel the flow of federal money like after-the-fact “precautions” in the wake of profound tragedy.
This is the season when, after years of having their heads filled with ideas, ranks of graduates put on caps and gowns and contain their excitement long enough to hear a succession of speakers offer a few final insights before they step out into the future. Whatever the horizon looks like from beneath the mortarboard this year, two things are certain: the future is brighter with a college education and a college education is now so expensive that its financial obligations are likely to be a part of that future for a long time to come.
The streets have names like Old Farm Road, Washington Square Street, Fairfield Circle, Primrose Street, and Loop Lane. It sounds like a nice neighborhood, except no one lives there.
When Newtown bought the 186-acre Fairfield Hills core campus from the state in 2004, the $3.9 million purchase embodied the town’s hopes for an enhanced community through a variety of desired development, from athletic fields for the young to facilities and programs for senior citizens — but no housing.
We publish The Newtown Bee this week on June 6, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, which ultimately restored the French Republic and set the stage for the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Few who took part in Operation Overlord are still alive. Those who survive are in their 90s, and the passage of time quiets their first-person stories of this historic date. No one gave voice to the wartime experiences of GIs in World War II better than Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, who was himself killed in action by Japanese machine gun fire on a small island near Okinawa in April 1945. To remind ourselves of the incalculable personal sacrifices made by ordinary soldiers for the greater cause of humanity, we offer this column by Ernie Pyle about what he witnessed on the beaches of Normandy that June 70 years ago:
The tenth edition of Newtown’s Relay For Life takes place overnight Saturday into Sunday, this weekend. It returns to the Newtown High School Blue & Gold Stadium after several years at Fairfield Hills. Scores of teams and hundreds of registered participants will be on track, literally, to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the American Cancer Society. In the decade since Newtown’s first Relay in 2004, the local event has raised more than $2.4 million. The Relay teams in Newtown are joining more than four million people in 20 countries in what has become a fundraising juggernaut in support of the fight against cancer.
A fundamental rule of communication is that the quality of information depends on the path it travels. Direct is better than circuitous. Primary sources are better than secondary or tertiary sources. We learn this as kids by playing the “telephone” game, passing a word or phrase ear-to-ear around a circle transforming nickels into pickles, church steeples into birch people, and giving everyone a good laugh along the way. So, a proposal making the rounds of Newtown’s public safety departments and agencies to move the town’s Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street to a regional center 25 miles away in Prospect seems, on the face of it, to violate this basic rule. Because, as Newtown knows all too well, the quality of information in emergencies is no laughing matter, the plan has drawn a lot of questions, many of which still have no definitive answers.
The state’s Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor received a letter from the US Department of Education last week telling him that Connecticut has another year to implement a system of teacher evaluation that is linked to student performance — much to everyone’s relief. The state was supposed to start the new evaluation system next year, but this aspect of the state and federal government’s push for education reform has proven to be an easier thing to talk about than to implement.
When Newtown property owners got their local tax bills last year, there was concern and consternation among some people for whom the basic calculus of assessment and taxation seemed to have changed. In addition to the 3.5 percent increase in the tax rate for 2013-14, certain property owners were facing assessment upgrades in the recently completed revaluation. Owners of waterfront homes and other “high value” properties throughout town and those who bought over-55 condos were hit with the taxation double-whammy. The news was especially grim for the senior citizens among them. With limited and fixed incomes, some elders opened their tax bills and had to face yet another life decision: whether to abandon Newtown for a more affordable place to live. Now, nearly a year later, the town is taking steps to try to address their dilemma.
Starting this Saturday morning, four-legged family members can join the bipeds for some unleashed exercise at the park. At 11 am, May 3, Newtown will celebrate the grand opening of the Park & Bark, a two-acre field on Old Farm Road at the Fairfield Hills Campus that that has been transformed over the past year to become the town’s first dog park. Administered by the heretofore people-centric Parks and Recreation Commission, this newest addition to the town’s park system has come about largely through private bequests and fundraising, with minimal investment of public funds. It is a long-overdue formal recognition by the people of Newtown that most occasions are a lot more fun when dogs are around.