Barrington Schools Superintendent Michael Messore visited all six public schools on Monday morning, hoping to see local teachers and principals starting their days in a normal fashion.
After making the rounds, Mr. Messore said he was pleased with what he saw.
“We told them to keep a smile on your face and follow your normal procedure” Mr. Messore said.
“Things are normal. I credit that to the administrators and teachers, and the parents.”
The first-year superintendent spent most of the weekend communicating with school principals, staff members and local law enforcement officials about a number of issues surrounding the tragic elementary school shooting that occurred in Newtown, Conn. on Friday morning.
Mr. Messore said part of the discussions with local officials centered on how best to proceed with the return of students on Monday morning.
“We sent out a pretty detailed e-mail to (school faculty and staff) over the weekend. The staff felt enough information had been presented to them, they were all basically ready to go,” he said.
Parents of school children received e-mails from building principals on Sunday, detailing what to expect on Monday morning, what was available for people who needed some help coping with the tragedy, and links to websites that can help parents discuss these difficult issues with their children.
At Sowams School, which has students from kindergarten through grade three, Principal Jim Callahan told parents that officials there would not be initiating a conversation with students about the shooting.
“As a school, we will not directly be bringing this tragedy up with our students. Teachers will not be initiating the conversation with our students to what happened in Newtown. However, this does not mean the topic will be avoided,” Mr. Callahan wrote.
“Students may be discussing it with each other on the bus, on the playground, in the cafeteria, or in the classroom. Teachers will answer questions students may have without giving details of the situation. Faculty and staff will reassure the students that our school is safe and we take precautions to make sure we are safe.”
Mr. Messore echoed that sentiment. He said the safety of students, teachers and other staff is paramount in Barrington schools. He said there are a number of policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of individuals, including locked doors during the school day and exterior cameras.
“Our main focus is … the transition of the students back to school,” he said. “We want to make them feel safe and secure and that things are normal. We are doing the best we can for the whole population.”
Mr. Messore said local students practice a series of drills that address various emergency scenarios. He said there’s a drill for a fire, another for an emergency evacuation (in the event of a chemical spill or something similar), a lockdown and a fourth drill “if there’s something going on in the community.”
“We take safety planning very seriously,” said Mr. Messore, who met with Barrington Police Chief John LaCross following news of the Friday incident. “We work very closely with our law enforcement. Drills are run and the staff meet to discuss issues of building safety.”
Mr. Callahan offered reassuring words to parents in his e-mailed message on Sunday regarding school safety.
“Our community is small and our police department is highly visible in the neighborhoods, especially around the schools,” he wrote.
“We will carry on with our normal school routine, as the children need and expect this on Monday. We will handle questions and issues, as they present, with sensitivity and reassurance.”
Barrington Middle School Principal Andrew Anderson offered a similar message to parents of students there.
“Although this is a topic we cannot control, faculty and staff will reassure the students that our schools are safe,” he wrote. “As a school district, we continue to reevaluate our safety procedures and protocols.”
At the high school, students and staff members started the day with a moment of silence before returning to the normal Monday routine.
Mr. Messore said counselors were available at all six public schools on Monday in case students or staff needed assistance. He added that he was not anticipating any drop-off in attendance and was pleased to see that was the case.
“I think most kids are still thinking about being out of school next week” for the holiday break. “They’re gearing up for the vacation and teachers are gearing up to keep them focused on the learning process,” Mr. Messore said.
The superintendent said building principals were scheduled to meet with Chief LaCross on Tuesday to discuss safety and security procedures at the schools.
“We’ll spend the next couple of days really reviewing these things,” he said.