Westport schools strive for normalcy in shootings' wake


Parent discussion set for Thursday; Later, security updates, perhaps involving capital expenditures, may be discussed.

Quiet, subdued, were words that Westport Superintendent of Schools Carol Colley used to describe what he encountered as he toured Westport schools Monday morning in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings.

"And I hope quiet is how it stays," he said.

Dr. Colley said he found little out of the ordinary — not many more parents dropping off students than usual, and absenteeism not far from usual in this season— "nothing that can't be accounted for by colds and flu at this time of year."

But he did encounter parents who were clearly emotional as they left their small children for the day.

"I know that it can't be easy," he said.

His visit, accompanied by the school psychologist, was meant to "coordinate our responses and touch base with each of the principals and counseling staff.  It was very quiet with only a few of the students wanting to talk about the incident."

The aim is both to set up a support system for those who need it and also to create as much of a sense of normalcy as possible

To that end, staff at Macomber Primary and Westport Elementary schools were alerted not to bring up the incident but to use and stick to "talking points" if the subject did come up. Those points were set up to match students' level of maturity and included several key points:

• We have staff that care about you.

• We are constantly working with the police looking for any way possible to protect you.

• Pay attention to drills, work badges/ID cards, and doors that need to stay locked.

• If you are feeling really sad, concerned or scared and need someone to talk to, we have counselors and administrators available.

•  The whole school community is here to make you safe.

Police were present around schools but not conspicuous — the focus being to provide protection without causing alarm.

And Thursday evening, Dr. Colley will host a Superintendent's Coffee at 6 p.m. in the Middle School auditorium to give parents the opportunity to ask questions regarding their children. School counselors will be present.

"We would like to create a support system, both at school and home so the students have adults available to help them process their feelings and thoughts," Dr Colley said.

In a "weird" coincidence, an emergency drill had been scheduled with town police just a few weeks ago for "soon" (date won't be disclosed). Dr. Colley said such drills happen twice a year.

Dr. Colley also met with police to discuss school security protocols now in place and whether changes are needed.

"Long term, there may be some recommendations to the school committee/town that may have some capital implications, but for now we are just looking for what else we can do with what we have," he said.

Westport, like schools everywhere, he said, will be awaiting the result of the probe into the Connecticut shootings and whether it is determined that schools everywhere need to adapt their safety systems and procedures."

And his own reaction to the tragedy?

"Heartbreaking. I really can't even talk about it," Dr. Colley said. "I spend my days with children and I cannot begin to imagine how someone looking into a child's eyes and doing that."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.