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My Visit to Sandy Hook, Connecticut

June 20, 2016

On Monday, June 13, 2016, I was driving from Massachusetts to New Jersey along I-84, which took me through Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

Only days prior, on Saturday, June 11, 2016, I realized I was near Sandy Hook when I decided upon an alternate route from New Jersey to Massachusetts. I was initially on I-95, but the stop-and-go traffic along the Connecticut coast soon wore me out and had me looking for an alternative route. I traveled directly north along Connecticut’s Highway 25 and realized I would pick up I-84 near Sandy Hook.

I remember that terrible December day in 2012. Just as our Louisiana high school was taking in for the day, news of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy had teachers leaving their televisions on during the day in shock, sadness and sympathy. School is supposed to be a safe, happy learning community. Such a terrible day.

I did not stop in Sandy Hook on my way to Massachusetts, but on my way back to New Jersey, I thought, “When is the next time I will be driving through Sandy Hook, Connecticut?” Maybe never.

I had already passed the exit. I turned around at the next one.

Sandy Hook is a beautiful small town, and the weather that day complemented the geography of rolling roads, leafy foliage, inviting sidewalks, and homey businesses. It turned out that I had stopped on the last day of school for the 2015-16 year, and school was dismissing students right as I was driving through town, shortly after lunch. Kids were walking home, and school buses traveled the roads of Sandy Hook/Newtown bringing students home for the last time in 2015-16.

Sandy Hook bus  Sandy Hook, CT, school bus

I stopped at a construction site and asked the workers if they would direct me to Sandy Hook Elementary School. One man asked, “The old school or the new school?” I asked if the old school were still standing; he said, no, but that a new school was being built on the same site. In retrospect, I think his question was his way of asking if I were looking for the original school site or the temporary site where school was currently being held. I asked for directions to the original school site.

He pointed the way. (“When you see the firehouse, take the right immediately before it.”)

So, I did. The new school was still under construction, and in front of the construction site was a manned post. I drove up to the woman on duty and told her I was a Louisiana teacher on vacation, and I had stopped to see the school. She asked for my school ID (which I did not have on me); I offered my driver’s license, but then she asked for my Newtown Board of Ed ID. I clarified that I was not moving to Newtown to teach, that I was a current teacher in Louisiana.

She said that the only people allowed on site were Newtown Board of Education employees.

Sandy Hook

Construction of the new Sandy Hook Elementary School

I asked the woman on duty if I might ask her some questions. She allowed it but was cautious. (I believe her caution was intensified because Sandy Hook was once again fresh news since the Orlando Pulse night club tragedy had happened the day before, on June 12, 2016.)

I asked her if the elementary students were currently enrolled in school. She said yes. I asked when the new school would open; she said in the fall. I asked for her name and title; she responded that she would rather not say.

I thanked her for her time; turned my car around, and drove away.

I stopped at the hardware store in hopes to interview someone who felt comfortable talking to me. At the register I met Katie Reilly, who was a sophomore at Newtown High School in 2012. I told Katie who I was and asked if she minded discussing her experience on the day of the Sandy Hook tragedy. She said she did not mind.

Katie Reilly  Katie Reilly, Newtown High Class of 2015

Between customers, Katie told me that on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, the high school was put on lockdown. I asked if the schools were close to one another; she said yes. I did not want to keep her from her work; so, I asked if she would mind writing her story for me to post on my blog; she said it wasn’t much of a story to tell but would consider it. We exchanged information. I have not yet heard from Katie, but if I do, I will post her story.

Newtown hardware  Newtown Hardware

As I drove toward the interstate, I kept thinking what a beautiful town.

________________________________________________________________

Coming July 08, 2016, from TC Press (revised release date):

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

11 Comments
  1. Mary Burnham and John Bestor permalink

    We live in Sandy Hook and have been actively fighting the education reforms. You should have stopped by….we would have enjoyed your company.

    • Mary and John, it was a very quick stop– about 30 minutes. I had to get to NYC that night after NJ.

  2. stiegem permalink

    Lots of controversy on Sandy Hook, isn’t there Mercedes? I have often thought of driving there myself.

    I would wish that Katie Reilly would write her perspective of that day. She was there.

    You were there also (but not on THAT day).

    The search for the truth is an important search.

    Keep on.

    • sallyo57 permalink

      I’m curious what you are referring to regarding “lots of controversy on Sandy Hook” and being interested in the perspective of a Newtown high school student as part of the “search for the truth”. Is there some mystery about what happened in Sandy Hook?

  3. speakstrong32@gmail.com permalink

    I live near there. There is more than meets the eye. Lots to unravel about that day.

    Out of that, comes the recommendations of SHAC, Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. Their recommendations are being considered by legislation. They violate civil & parental rights and seek to pull homeschoolers into the public school data system (SLDS, state agencies etc…) mandates psych assesments, state rep to families etc…

    Gov Malloy (NGO) is bed fellows with the “Big 6” charter/reformers/investors. They’re hell-bent on dismantling public schools via legislation, funding.

    CCER (charter/lobbying front group) literally traded student data for services last year.

    There was finally pushback from CEA, CT Ed Assoc. However, our (lockstep Dem, associated with charters, leveraged by lobbyists) Education Committee of the general assembly can’t compute that SVAC is invalid, expensive garbage.

    However, legislation did move to form a “task force” to explore testing. Completely stacked group of committee members!

    Former rep with a long history in CT pitied has turned blogger. Jonathon Pelto does a good job in his blog, wait, what?”

    Those of us working against the forces at be, would really appreciate your help exposing CT shenanigans, starting with Gov Malloy!

    Thanks for all you do! C

    >

    • If your community gets lucky, speakstrong, Malloy could end up indicted or at least, un-electable.

      Mercedes, thanks for this wistful slice of life…and it is particularly important today when our lousy Congressional members, the sloths in the Repub party, voted down gun control legislation yet again. These whores in DC are sellouts to the gun lobby and the NRA, and quoting Madelyn Albright (on a different topic) there surely is a “special place in HELL for them ” They know that assault rifles are designed and sold to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible…and that is obviously what they want to have happen to their fellow Americans, they collude in the murder of tiny children, to youth in the gay community, from county workers, to just about anyone

      This country of ours is hurtling toward oblivion. There is no honor among the thieves who run our government.

  4. i enjoyed reading this post. I’ll never forget that day; as a first grade teacher in Alabama I was both horrified and heart broken.

  5. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    The last line of your post made me weep. I know the beauty available in New England. Reading about the exploitation of this tragedy from speakstrong, and with Congressional in action in mind I am as angry and sickened as Ellen is, also ashamed that there is insufficient public will and energy and courage for large scale demonstrations to stop the madness.

  6. Jack permalink

    Shortly before the tragedy, Connecticut’s Governor Malloy made a blanket smear on veteran teachers, claiming that they were “just showing up” at their jobs.

    Ravitch referenced that quote when discussing the teachers who risked and/or lost their lives while protecting the children at Sandy Hook.

    DIANE RAVITCH: “Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

    “Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that ‘reformers’ (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores. Governor Malloy said, memorably, to his shame, that teachers get tenure just for showing up. No one at Sandy Hook was just /showing up.’ ”

    https://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/17/the-hero-teachers-of-newtown/

  7. Jack permalink

    Oh, and let’s not forget that whole mess o’ stupid that spewed forth in Michelle Rhee’s official statement after Sandy Hook: (saved BELOW, as, in response to an outcry, someone at STUDENTS FIRST pulled her statement from the internet)

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/10021999097
    ——————————————-
    MICHELLE RHEE: “Following today’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the entire StudentsFirst family is mourning with the victims, their families, and the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut. We have offered our colleagues in the state any assistance they may need.

    “There are no adequate words to express the horror and senseless nature of violence in our schools. It happens far too often in our country. As a mother myself, I understand the hesitation every parent will feel in the coming days when they kiss their children and send them off to school — to a place of learning and growth that ought to be a safe haven from violence.

    “Our children are our most valuable assets, and we lost too many of them today. Today’s event forces us to ask ourselves:

    ” ‘How are we expected to foster an environment in which students can learn, grow, thrive, and set off on positive life-paths when we cannot guarantee basic needs such as their safety?’

    “But events like these also strengthen our resolve to do exactly that — improve schools for children and thereby improve entire communities. The entire StudentsFirst organization — including the members of our team in Connecticut — recommit ourselves to that mission today, as we pause to send our thoughts and prayers to those affected in Newtown.”
    ———————-

    Edushyster devoted a whole article about Rhee’s comments:

    http://edushyster.com/michelle-rhees-hero-problem/

    EDUSHYSTER:

    “In the annals of tin-eared condolence statements, the one released by Michelle Rhee in the wake of the Newtown school shooting stands out. Her very word choices felt stilted and wrong, evoking a strange world in which children are ‘assets,’ stunned and reeling teachers are ‘colleagues,’ and family are the members of Rhee’s own ‘team.’

    “But if the statement began on an off note, worse was still to come. The lesson of the hours-old tragedy, Rhee seemed to conclude, was that she’d been right along.

    “ ‘Improve schools for children,’ (read, eliminate tenure and other workplace protections for teachers) and thereby ‘improve entire communities’ (read, prevent senseless slaughter).

    “As for her parting, there was nothing left for Rhee to do but double down, announcing that she and the entire StudentsFirst organization— ‘including the members of our team in Connecticut’ —were recommitting to their mission today. Not two days from now, when the first of the unending series of memorials would begin, not a week from now when the funerals would at last be over, but today.

    “Save for a skirmish over whether the tragedy proves that we need more or fewer guns in our schools, Rhee has had nothing further to say on the subject of Newtown. Nor will she, I predict.

    “What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School presents Rhee with a difficult challenge. The heroism displayed by the teachers and staff who died in order to protect their young students, and the collective utterance by teachers everywhere that they would have done exactly the same reveals something hard and cold at the very center of Rhee’s reform project. There is an intense emotional bond in teaching, a love, that cannot be reduced to a mere statistical measurement.

    “It matters too that the Sandy Hook educators were union members, and that some of them had been working in the profession for a very, very long time. This is not to somehow imply that nonunion teachers, or less experienced teachers, or teachers in charter schools would not have responded as heroically. Who these teachers were is important because in recent years Michelle Rhee has done more than any single individual to create a narrative in which, not just union membership, but experience itself diminishes teachers and makes them suspect.

    “That’s because in Rhee’s world there is but a single, meaningful measure of a teacher’s worth: the statistical lift he or she gives to a student’s score on a standardized test in the course of a single year. Anything else is meaningless, and in the case of experience, worse— a bureaucratic barrier to replacing teachers who have, as Rhee would put it, ‘jobs for life’ with fresh, new teachers who measure up to Rhee’s single measure. Nor does Rhee’s rubric allow for the calculation of non-test value, like that added by the educators at Sandy Hook who gave everything to try to protect their young students, or would have.

    “The day after the shooting, the New York Times ran a story about the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, Dawn Hochsprung, remarking on how seriously she took education policy issues. The Times implied that Hochsprung’s interest in such issues, not to mention the fact that she had a Twitter account, was unusual.

    “But there are tens of thousands of educators just like Hochsprung; my sister is one. During my last visit to the rural Illinois town where my sister teaches, she asked me to show her how to use Twitter so that she, like Dawn, could follow Diane Ravitch in order to share information with the other teachers at her small school. ‘We have to get educated so that we can understand what’s happening to public education in this country,’ is how my sister put it.

    “That the ranks of teachers-turned-policy-critics are swelling so quickly is due in no small part to Michelle Rhee herself. From California to Connecticut teachers feel utterly besieged by the likes of Rhee and the education reform movement of which she is the nominal head. The interchangeable organizations, bankrolled by deep-pocketed backers, proclaim themselves to be for students, children, excellence and achievement. Connecticut, already home to no fewer than five of these groups, including Rhee’s own StudentsFirst, welcomed yet another just this week: Educators4Excellence.

    “Michelle Rhee isn’t going anywhere. There is too much money behind her and her movement now, and too much money still to be made. But next to the heroism of the Newtown teachers, Rhee and her ilk seem smaller, diminished. By week’s end Rhee had been forced to release another statement, this one about StudentsFirst’s position on handguns in Michigan schools. Rhee had tried to remain neutral on the issue, but the vast majority of legislators endorsed by StudentsFirst in November voted in favor of allowing concealed weapons into schools. The legislators Rhee backed were also overwhelmingly in favor of Michigan’s new right to work law intended to weaken the power of the state’s unionized workers, including teachers.

    “Not all workers will be affected, by the way. The new law contains a hero provision that exempts police and firefighters.”

    • Jack permalink

      One more thing.

      In the Rhee statement on Sandy Hook, you notice about Rhee only talks about the children (“assets”, in Rhee’s inane terminology) who were killed, with no mention of the teachers’ heroism — both the teachers who chose to sacrifice their lives, placing their bodies between the shooter and their students, as well as the others who, under unimaginable stress and pressure, quickly led the kids into closets where they could hide until it was safe. Almost all the non-corporate-reform coverage of this event showcased these heroic efforts of the Sandy Hook teachers,

      The reason for Rhee’s astonishing omission of this is simple.

      These were unionized, veteran teachers — those greedy, lazy career slackers, as Rhee would otherwise characterize them — who sacrificed their own lives, and showed such bravery and grace under pressure. As such, for Rhee or any other corporate reform ally to say anything positive about them would be verboten, according the corporate ed. reform, privatizing party line. Had charter school teachers or TFA Corps Members engaged in the same behavior, however, you can be damn sure that Rhee would have made that a prominent part of her statement.

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