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‘A sad day’ at local schools

Local educators are reflecting on the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and reviewing their own procedures.

Despite attempts to operate Monday as a routine school day, the news of a gunman killing 26 children and adults in a small elementary school Friday still weighs heavily on the minds of educators.

Dixon and Sterling superintendents reached out to staff over the weekend to remind them of the counseling in place in both districts and the crisis procedures there.

“It’s been somber at times, as you would expect. It’s a sad day,” Dixon Superintendent Michael Juenger said Monday. “I think as educators, we are reflecting and internalizing it more.”

“Our hearts go out to those people, that school, that community as school staff and as parents,” Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett said.

Both superintendents told their staffs to keep a close eye on the children and direct any distraught students to counselors, psychologists or other social staff at the schools.

Juenger told teachers to operate as normal, although conversation about the crisis might come up in the classroom.

“We don’t want to keep putting it in front of our students,” he said.

Everett advised teachers against talking about the incident with students, unless students broached the subject themselves.

“We decided to allow parents to have the first opportunity to have these discussions with their children,” he said.

Both superintendents pointed to their crisis plans – developed in conjunction with local law enforcement, emergency response personnel and other community stakeholders – as the primary response mechanism for safety and security issues at their schools. The plans are reviewed and updated every year.

“I feel we have staff here that would do what it takes to keep the children safe,” Juenger said. “We take all the procedures to heart when it comes to children’s safety.”

In Dixon and Sterling, visitors are funneled to one main entrance at each school building. Visitors must push a buzzer and state their name and intended business, while a staff member views them through a camera, to gain entrance to the buildings.

And in Sterling, the district is just wrapping up its first round of threat assessments at every school building. Police officers and district officials evaluate the buildings for any threats to safety and security, such as unlocked windows or unnecessary bushes, where people could hide.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant or flippant, but we aren’t really changing anything,” Everett said. “We’re very confident in what we do, but we want to be sensitive to what happened, too. This is what we do: We deal with our kids and we worry about how to keep them safe.

“Safety and security is our No. 1 priority every single day.”

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