Reverberations of the shots fired at Sandy Hook Elementary are being felt across the nation and around the world, as citizens struggle to come to grips with the tragedy.
The nation’s collective sympathies have quickly turned to fears as parents question the safety of their own kids’ schools.
In an email sent to parents on Sunday – two days after the Newtown tragedy- Superintendent Don Martin sought to allay some of those fears.
[pullquote]“Here in WS/FCS (Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools), the safety and security of your children is of utmost importance to us. Each school practices its lockdown procedures twice a year,”[/pullquote]“Here in WS/FCS (Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools), the safety and security of your children is of utmost importance to us. Each school practices its lockdown procedures twice a year,” Martin wrote. “We maintain close relationships with the Winston-Salem Police Department, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Kernersville Police Department. In fact, earlier this year we began revising our safety manual with their help. We will review our safety procedures in light of what happened in Newtown to see how they can be improved.”
Many local parents reported seeing law enforcement officers at their children’s schools Monday, a precautionary measure taken on the first full day of school since the tragedy.
Sean Gaillard, a veteran educator and principal of Wiley Middle School, said preparing for what is known as a “critical incident” goes with the territory of entering the education field these days.
“We want teachers to be trained in the event that something should happen,” said the city native. “That is a part of the job.”
Though Gaillard said he tries to always prepare for the worst, as a lifelong educator and father of three, he can’t help but be touched by the senseless killings in Newtown.
“I completely empathize from the standpoint of a parent. I have children who are elementary school age, and my heart just goes out to the parents of those kids,” Gaillard remarked. “It’s just hard. You’re at a loss for words. My prayers go out to the people of that community.”
Gaillard said he has worked hard to maintain a certain level of normalcy at Wiley in the days since the massacre.
“My mantra through all this has been to stay and remain positive for our kids and respond to any need that may arise,” he said. “…We’re here to maintain a positive atmosphere and to protect all of our children.”
Jefferson Elementary School Principal Nora Baker, who has spent nearly three decades in education, said she was deeply touched by the heartbreak in Sandy Hook.
“I am going into classrooms every day. Every week, you see those kids in the hallway and they greet you and they hug you,” related Baker, the reigning Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Principal of the Year. “It’s much tougher on me because I know what those parents are going through. I know what those teachers and those administrators are going through because I live it every day.”
Baker said she sent an email to Jefferson parents Sunday evening, ensuring them that the school was putting safety first and is keeping all classroom doors locked this week as an added precaution.
[pullquote]“I’m hoping people won’t be discouraged about going into education because of something like this because we need good educators. We need people who are passionate about teaching children.”[/pullquote]“I think we just always have to be on alert now to anything that’s out of place, anything that’s different in our school to help keep our children safe,” said the grandmother of one. “…I’m saddened that we are no longer able to be as trusting of a society now.”
Though Baker said both parents and school staff and administrators are on heightened alert because of the recent attacks, she pointed out that such incidents, though horrendous, are few and far between.
“Most educators, when they come into the field, they are passionate about teaching children, they’re not thinking, ‘I’m going to get killed in my classroom,’” she stated. “I’m hoping people won’t be discouraged about going into education because of something like this because we need good educators. We need people who are passionate about teaching children.”
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) said the growing number of school shootings in recent years is concerning.
“It’s troublesome. It’s bothersome that individuals are using our public schools as a grounds of expressing their frustrations, for lack of a better term,” said Ellis, a former Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy teacher. “Schools oftentimes are considered the one safe haven for students. It’s so mind boggling that those kids had to suffer for an individual’s frustration.”
Ellis said the Sandy Hook tragedy should be a wakeup call for all those in the education field.
“The clear message here is we have to do a better job of listening to our kids and letting them explain what the issues are,” he said. “…Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims. We just have to figure out a way to address the needs of young people who are going through challenging times.”