Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Far Removed by Distance, But Close to Our Hearts

That was a message that came across my twitter stream yesterday afternoon from a drama teacher in North Carolina. I thought it was a fitting title for this week's post. Although we are separated by over 1,000 miles, we share in the grief of the families at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. To say it is difficult for the community and families [to be living through this nightmare] seems like the most absurd statement of all time. My heart breaks like all of yours, and each night when I get home from work, I search for answers on the news. Have they learned anything? What was the motive? How can we prevent this from ever happening again? Answers so far have been slow coming. It has just been one sad and grief stricken story after another.

This event may in fact be one of those defining moments in our lives when years from now we will be able to recall with clarity where exactly we were when we heard that awful news.

On Friday morning I found myself attending our monthly conference superintendent meeting in Grundy Center. Our meetings are pretty jovial events where we spend time talking about issues that we all share in common, often times joking around with one another and dealing with business of the conference. It is a pretty informal atmosphere and a networking event that most of us very much look forward to each month. We were well into our discussion, of what I can't really remember right now. As always, there were many cross conversations going on as each superintendent tried to make their voice heard above the other, when a colleague sitting to my immediate right checked his email and Twitter.

In an almost whisper he said, "There has been a school shooting in Connecticut". The conversation around the table began to die down as he scrolled through the feed. A few moments later, it got even worse, "It looks like it was an elementary school....there are....26 or 27 people who have died...wait 20 of them are 5 or six years old". You could have heard a pin drop at this point. All conversation stopped immediately, and no one knew what to say. It was as if the entire world just came crashing down around us. After a few moments, someone asked that we turn on the television so we could see exactly what was going on, and the  breaking news on television confirmed the worst.

We all just sat there in complete disbelief and lack of understanding at what had just happened. I don't know what was going on inside the heads of my friends sitting around the table, but my head was spinning with thoughts of fear, anger, and intense grief. I immediately wanted to leave and head back to the district. That seemed to be the consensus around the table because it wasn't long afterward that we did in fact break up the meeting and head for home. There wasn't the usual lingering around that normally happens at the conclusion of the meeting.

The last several days have been spent reflecting on this tragedy and evaluating where improvements can and should be made to our own crisis plans. I have asked for a review of all of our procedures and information about possible upgrades to systems. At our board meeting last night I briefed the members on our plans and shared that I hoped to have recommendations for improvements ready in January. As we look for answers and preventative measures there have been numerous calls nationwide for legislation ranging from greater gun control to arming school officials. I don't know what the answer is. I am not interested in entering a political debate. But really, can you legislate against evil? I don' think so. From the looks of it, they did everything right at Sandy Hook Elementary. The teachers and administration acted with courage and valor, giving their lives so that others may be saved. A determined madman can defeat most security systems and wreak complete chaos on the best of systems.

So here we now are, just days away from what is supposed to be one of the most joyous days of the year. What do we do to make everyone feel better and understand what has happened? Sorry, but there isn't an answer to that question. We won't understand, and we can't make them feel better. But what can you do? Hug your children real tight. Tell them that you love them, and enjoy being with your family this holiday season.

We will continue to be vigilant and make improvements to our systems, of that I can assure you. On behalf of the entire school district, I would like to wish you a very peace filled holiday season.

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