The following letter is from Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael A. Grego to staff; it is also posted on the Pinellas County Schools website.
Dec. 17, 2012
Whenever something as tragic as Friday’s shooting in Newtown, Conn., occurs, especially when it affects innocent children and dedicated educators so similar to the ones in our own district, we can’t help but be affected. We naturally share a bond with members of our profession whose first priority is the students they serve, and our hearts ache when families and communities are in mourning.
These incidents also direct our attention and cause us to reflect on the value of our employees – not only teachers and administrators, but every member of our support staff including secretaries, bus drivers and plant operators. Each one plays a vital role in the safe management of our schools.
Even as we empathize with our counterparts in Newtown, we naturally wonder why things like this happen and how we would respond if a similar tragedy were to happen to us. Unable to answer such difficult questions, we inevitably turn to the practical: How do we explain to our students what happened? How can we let them know they’re safe?
First, keep in mind that parents very likely discussed the tragedy with their children over the weekend. Also know that our Student Services staff sent principals on Friday several excellent resources that they will be sharing with school staff. Additionally, our social workers and psychologists are standing by to assist any students or adults who need their help.
It’s also important to remember that despite what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, schools nationwide, including our own, have become increasingly safe in the past decade. We’ve taken multiple steps to enhance the safety of our facilities by securing building entrances, adding security cameras, and instituting a strict sign-in policy for all visitors. As a new superintendent, it is important to me that all of our employees feel a sense of security. I have been briefed on emergency management procedures and feel confident that we are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our students and employees.
However, it is critical that we continue to review all procedures. Toward that end, we will be reviewing district procedures for lockdowns and emergencies. Area Superintendents will be working with school leadership teams to ensure that every adult is thoroughly aware of his or her role.
As we prepare to send our students off for winter break, I know that one additional question hovers: What can we do to show support for the community of Newtown?
I would suggest that the best way we can show our solidarity and sympathy is to recommit ourselves to the safety of our own students by doing whatever is in our power to ensure that our schools are a welcoming place for them and their families. We can hold the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers. Last but not least, we can reflect on our priorities as we prepare to spend time with friends and loved ones, considering and reaffirming what truly matters to us.
-Michael A. Grego
Gulfport Public Schools