Reflections on the tragedy in Newtown

Some say that survival is the most powerful instinct of all, but as we are learning from the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., even more powerful is our instinct to protect our children. Six courageous teachers and administrators gave their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and countless others took action to protect the children in their care. As we as a nation and as a community reel with the shock at what happened, we also ask, "What are we all doing to protect our children?" As headmaster at Burr and Burton Academy, I want to share some thoughts:

1. Our community is our greatest strength and our best protection. As families, as a school, as neighbors and friends and mental health professionals and educators and citizens - individually and collectively as a community - we have a shared responsibility to look out for each other. Our message of care and commitment to each other, our expectation that each student be treated with respect, and our desire to protect the health and well-being of each student are all part of a broader commitment to our community. We must each do our part to make sure that nobody in our community is left so disenfranchised and disengaged that they could contemplate inflicting such harm on their community and on themselves, and we must use our community resources to help, proactively, those in need.

2. We will continue to work with the police department, the Town Manager, and each other to plan for the worst. Our systems of communication, coordination, and preparations must be in place, fully thought through, and ready to be implemented rapidly and seamlessly. We must collaborate with the local police, fire and rescue squad, who would be first responders in any scenario, and ensure that they have the knowledge, training and equipment to address a variety of needs. This is not new; we have systems already in place, and we will commit the necessary time and resources to continue to learn from each event.

3. We must recognize that these events, while exceedingly well publicized, are also exceedingly rare. There are 139,000 schools and colleges in the United States, and with 180 school days and one horrific event per year, the odds of it happening at any given school on any given day are about 1 in 25 million. This, of course, is no consolation to the families who have suffered horrific losses in Newtown, Conn., but it should be comforting for our students and families to know. We must plan for the worst, but we must still live our lives in a trusting and open way, recognizing, again, that our greatest strength is the strength of this community.

Our natural response might be to barricade the door and to practice lock-down procedures ad nauseum so we can respond forcefully if attacked, but if we are attacked, the game is already lost - then we are just trying to minimize the loss of life. We can neither turn a blind eye to the potential damage that a shooter could do, nor can we allow ourselves to be held hostage to fear.

The good news is that the best thing we can do - reinforce the strength of our community - is also the right thing to do for each other. I believe we can move forward, together, and work toward making our community even safer and stronger than it already is.

Mark H. Tashjian Headmaster Burr and Burton Academy


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