December 27, 2012WOLFEBORO — The teachers and students of the Governor Wentworth Regional School District (GWRSD) felt a unifying bond of sadness in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14, said GWRSD School Superintendent Jack Robertson.
"We started sending communications to teachers as we became aware of the event," he recalls. He said he asked teachers to monitor their students and observe how they were coping with the news, and make themselves available to talk at an age appropriate level with those might be expressing fear and anxiety.
The important message to convey, said Robertson, is that schools are safe places. It was a very rare event. Also, children should be reassured that it wasn't the students' fault. They didn't do anything wrong.
The school district has emergency plans in place at every school developed over the years with the New Hampshire Office of Emergency Response Planning and its Incident Command System. He pointed out that the school personnel at Sandy Hook Elementary School reacted quickly, averting an even greater disaster.
Robertson regards the shooting as an act of terrorism. Unlike the Columbine School shooting, the incident in Connecticut, he notes, did not involve a student at the school. It was a family issue, and closer in similarity to the mall shooting in Oregon or the movie theater assault in Aurora, Colo.
Staff have been taught the lessons learned from Columbine as to what signs to watch for to prevent school shootings, and students also can play a role in deterring violence by reporting threats they hear or come across on social media.
As for the larger question though of why the event occurred and how violence of that magnitude can be prevented, "the answers are broad and not easy," said Robertson. "Society has got to come together and find ways to mitigate the danger."
Robertson added, "I'm very proud of my staff. They've done very well." Looking ahead, he said. "We will review all of our plans and consider how we would have reacted [under those conditions]."
Superintendent's Letter to Parents
Editor's Note: The following letter was sent last week to all parents in the Governor Wentworth Regional School District from Superintendent Jack Robertson:
This past week has been a difficult one for most Americans because of another act of mass violence in our country, this time in a school building. In Governor Wentworth, our thoughts and prayers are with the families whose lives will never be the same as a result of the horrific act.
While schools are one of the safest places for children and the particular event that occurred is extremely rare, like any act of terror, the incident cannot help but leave everyone with an uneasy feeling. Consequently, our duty is not only to make sure that children are safe, but also to help them feel safe in living a normal life.
During the past few days, our staff has done an incredible job helping pupils as well as each other in coping with the sadness and fear that this type of tragedy can cause. While trying to keep a normal school routine, the staff is very alert in watching for students who may be having difficulty coping with the situation and providing them with additional support. In particular, some children may have experienced something in their lives that can cause a more intense reaction to a tragedy. The staff recognizes that some students may want to talk about the tragedy and they are sensitive that such discussions are conducted in an age appropriate manner. Our hope is to alleviate any fears pupils may harbor that could cause abnormal anxiety and inhibit their ability to function in a normal fashion.
For several years, all Governor Wentworth Schools have had Emergency Response Plans that were developed with the assistance of Mr. Gregg Champlin, a specialist with the New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Division. Each school has its own plan prepared in accordance with the standards of the Incident Command System for Schools developed by FEMA. All of our plans are reviewed annually and modified when necessary.
We are going to ask our PTO Organizations to sponsor some safety presentations at various schools later this winter. The purpose of the sessions will be to talk about school safety as well as the role that parents and the community must play to keep our children safe. When the dates are set, a notice will be sent home.
On behalf of the Governor Wentworth Regional School District, I hope you and your family find joy and peace during this holiday season.
John B. Robertson
Superintendent of Schools