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Superintendent: Support Is There, School Will Resume January 3



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Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said on December 20, that school will begin at Monroe’s Chalk Hill Middle School for Sandy Hook School students on January 3, and support is available for those who need it.

Thanks to the support and help of many, Dr Robinson said Chalk Hill School will be prepared for teachers to return on January 2 for staff meeting time in the morning, then to welcome interested family members with their students to the school in the afternoon.

“This is about the parents and their kids,” said Dr Robinson, “and I want them to be able to enjoy getting comfortable again.”

The Town of Monroe, Dr Robinson said, has been instrumental in preparing the space for the elementary school community.

“Monroe has just been such a good neighbor. It is incredible,” said Dr Robinson.

Further help was found in former Sandy Hook School principal Donna Pagé and former Sandy Hook School assistant principal Cathy Mazzariello. Both women have announced they will return to help see their former school through the time of transition, and Dr Robinson said the district will begin looking for an interim principal to oversee the school for the remainder of the school year.

On Thursday afternoon, Dr Robinson was still looking forward to a scheduled meeting with parents to introduce Ms Pagé. Some parents will remember her, but some with younger children may not.

Dr Robinson said, with Sandy Hook School’s leadership lost, the meeting with parents will help show there will be leadership in place that is “compassionate and devoted to their kids.”

Over the course of her 14 years at the school Ms Pagé became involved in community programs such as the Strategic Plan construction for Newtown Public Schools. In addition, Sandy Hook School was recognized as one of the first Vanguard Schools in Connecticut in 2005. Ms Pagé retired at the end of the 2009-10 academic year, after 14 years at Sandy Hook School.

Ms Pagé also implemented activities like One School One Read during her time as principal. In 2008, she was named the Connecticut Federation of School Administrators 2008-09

Administrator of the Year

In an April 2010 interview with The Bee, Ms Pagé said, “To the children I would say, thank you for allowing me to have the most wonderful career in the world.”

Cathy Mazzariello left the school district after a 25-year career in the Newtown School System at the end of the 2006-07 school year. During her 25 years at Sandy Hook School, Ms Mazzariello held the positions of grade four teacher, grade five teacher, lead teacher, math specialist, and for the last seven years, Ms Mazzariello served as assistant principal.

Ms Mazzariello‘s Sandy Hook School career accomplishments included founding the school’s newspaper, The Footprint Post.

During her tenure Ms Mazzariello was awarded with the Weller Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award, The State of Connecticut Celebration of Excellence Award, and Recognition by Western Connecticut Superintendents Association for Outstanding Achievement.

“Coming to school each day was never my job; it was always my passion,” she told The Newtown Bee in June 2007.

Help There When Needed

During one of the days this week, Dr Robinson said roughly 80 people, mostly volunteers, were working to make Chalk Hill School a new home for the Sandy Hook School community.

Not only is the Town of Monroe giving Newtown the building, Dr Robinson said, but the Monroe school district will also provide some of its teachers for the first day of school, hiring substitutes for their own schools.

SMART Boards will be moved, green paint is being applied, and, the superintendent said, teachers will find their familiar classroom items waiting for them. To some of the concerns that have been voiced that the school will be a replica of Sandy Hook School, Dr Robinson said that will not be the case.

Monroe has also promised to allow the Sandy Hook School community the chance to rename Chalk Hill School, and Dr Robinson said she will leave that decision up to the Sandy Hook School staff.

Security support will also be provided by Monroe, Dr Robinson said.

“They have been wonderful,” said Dr Robinson, about Monroe.

All-Star Transportation, Dr Robinson said, has also been helpful. The transportation company, Dr Robinson said, has been “so responsive and immediate. They have donated buses for some of the Sandy Hook School staff to go to some of the wakes and funerals as a group.”

Over the school district’s winter break, Dr Robinson said, All-Star Transportation will work out busing details, and the exact times for routes and school hours will be announced.

The school district is already looking into applying for federal grants to help emergency costs, said Dr Robinson.

Chartwells, the school district’s dining services, have also been given access to Chalk Hill School’s cafeteria space, and kitchen supplies have been donated by other districts.

The number of donations overall has provided a logistical question of where to put everything, Dr Robinson said, adding the best way for people to help is to donate through the Newtown Savings Bank and United Way Sandy Hook School Support Fund. For more information about the fund visit newtown. uwwesternct.org.

Dr Robinson said she suspects a talk about what will happen to Sandy Hook School will come up soon, but she also said, “That will be a town decision.”

Remembering December 14

Word of the shooting at Sandy Hook School first came through from bus drivers, Dr Robinson said. The superintendent was between meetings when she got the call. Immediately she started trying to confirm what was happening at the elementary school.

She called the school, but there was no answer. She called the Newtown Police Department, but, there too, there was no answer. Finally, a police officer answered and shared news that there had been a shooting at the school.

“My heart stopped,” said Dr Robinson.

Dr Robinson approached the scene a short time later; she drove her vehicle up an embankment to park and ran the rest of the way to the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company main station, to which children and Sandy Hook School staff had already been moved.

“It was just unimaginable,” Dr Robinson said.

Newtown Chief of Police Michael Kehoe eventually asked her to go outside with him. With helicopters whirring overhead, he shared the horrible news of the tragedy with her.

“There were a lot of heroes,” said Dr Robinson.

The first responders were “phenomenal,” said the superintendent, and clergy members were “right there” offering to sit with family members.

Then there were the staff members of Sandy Hook School who made the word “heroism” real, Dr Robinson said.

“They were doing what teachers would do in this situation,” said Dr Robinson. “They did these kinds of things to protect the kids,” she added.

A number of teachers reportedly hid with their students and protected them that morning.

Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, and Sandy Hook School lead teacher Natalie Hammond were leaving a meeting when they, Dr Robinson said, “ran toward the gunman.”

Ms Hochsprung and Ms Sherlach both lost their lives defending their school, and Ms Hammond was wounded.

Since that day, Dr Robinson said she has seen many people coming together, a lot of support, and, she said, the district should take advantage of that.

“This is Newtown,” said Dr Robinson. “We are strong.”

The most awful thing that could happen in a community has happened, said Dr Robinson, and the town is going to pull together.

Seek Assistance If Needed

Dr Robinson also urged parents to seek assistance for their children and themselves if needed. During the winter break, Dr Robinson said Newtown Youth & Family Services (NYFS) was open with Kids in Crisis offering emergency counseling to families, community members, or staff involved in the Sandy Hook School tragedy.

Dr Robinson said children can be amazingly resilient, maybe even more than adults, but she said they may need to express thoughts that may linger.

The superintendent is optimistic that when the children return with the teachers to school, they will feel comfortable, be engaged in the many creative ways teachers provide, and, “that they will overcome this unbelievable event.”

After 14 years at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Principal Donna Pagé announced her retirement at a March 16, 2010, Board of Education meeting. She has offered to return from retirement to help see her former school though its transition period to Monroe's Chalk Hill Middle School.
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