“As we wrap up a busy summer at Sandy Hook School, we have a great deal of news to share. As you know, uncertainties surrounding our school resulted in the late notification of classroom teaching assignments. In order to ensure the best possible start to the school year for all of our students, your children’s previous teachers meticulously prepared multiple class lists to meet any of several contingencies. I am extremely grateful to them for their many extra efforts and double-checking!”
So begins the first paragraph on the first page of “The Sandy Hook School Connection, August 28, 2012,” written by Dawn Hochsprung, principal of Sandy Hook Elementary school from September 2010 through December 2012.
Uncertainties? Contingencies? Multiple class lists? Previous teachers? Late notification of classroom teaching assignments? We wonder what all of this means.
The words used in this paragraph signal big change – change that has already occurred and change that is surely to come. We know, of course, about one of those unfortunate changes, but on the premise that the past is prologue, we need to review what came before with our usual patient attention.
So let’s go back to Spring 2012.
March 2012: The Chung conundrum. In March 2012 this became part of the Sandy Hook building renovation saga. Dated March 6, 2012, it’s an ad hoc facilities sub-committee’s recommendation for shuttering a school in Newtown, based on 2009 declining enrollment projections by a “Dr. Chung.” (His/her identity remains a mystery.)
Long story short, Sandy Hook was rejected for shutdown, because it wasn’t ADA-compliant. The logic: ADA-compliant schools are more easily reopened if enrollments go up again. Reed Intermediate (still open) was the chosen one for shuttering because it would save $3 million per year.
The committee recommended that the Board begin the process of a shutdown once elementary enrollments drop to 1,500.
March 29, 2012: One Reed, indeed. In the same month, this appeared: “One School, One Read” in the The Sandy Hook School Connection, March 29, 2012, announcing that a Sandy Hook event (a sock hop) was to be held at Reed Intermediate. Why Reed? Why not the sparkling gymnasium floor of the Sandy Hook Elementary school?
July 12, 2012: An approved school budget. After much tension over the Board of Education’s proposed school budget in May, it was finally approved in July. Elementary education overall got skinned a bit: by a 0.34% cut. Sandy Hook Elementary lost $4,517 from the previous year’s budget, a 0.15% dip in funding. It isn’t nice, but it isn’t something to cause a great stir, either. The biggest cut was the elimination of a vice-principal position and the installation of a lead teacher. Music educators got clobbered, too, losing $16, 649. To view it for yourself, go here, page 10. Note, on page 40, that the previous year’s decision (which Cinderella has made much of before) held: the expenditure on building and site maintenance remained a stark $0. But everyone already knew that. It was a done deal.
July 19, 2012: The “Mum” emails. On July 19, 2012, a peculiar email exchange occurred between Mrs. Hochsprung and Kevin Anzolotti, the school janitor. Reproduced below in larger type:
- On the morning of July 19, Mrs. Hochsprung emailed Anzollotti: “How does this look? [Apparently referring to an attached pdf excluded from the document disclosure.] NOT set in stone! I have to notify teachers after we meet next Thursday, then we can get moving. Of course, they will need to come in and pack… This is going to be really hard!”
- That afternoon Anzollotti responded: “I got it and it is what it is it’s bad [sic] for us but I would not what to [sic] be in your shoes as your [sic] telling them but all still have jobs I guess that’s a good thing mums the word [sic]
Was Mrs. Hochsprung’s email referring to the “uncertainties” she mentions a month later in “The Sandy Hook Connection August 28, 2012,”? Let’s review the foregoing:
- Possible school closings
- Sandy Hook is spared from closing; Reed is targeted
- Reed is used for a Sandy Hook sock hop
- A busy summer
- An approved budget
- Last-minute packing and moving
- Multiple class lists
- Contingency plans
- Meticulous preparation
- Late notification of class lists
- Job retention
To put it in perspective: Mrs. Hochsprung already knew about the approved budget a few days before the email exchange with Anzollotti. Yes, she was losing a vice-principal and gaining a lead teacher. Yes, the music department was taking a hit. But, for the most part, things were much as they had been. So what’s this new kerfuffle about in the email exchange? And why does it continue in the items outlined below?
July 26, 2012: “Placement.” In The Sandy Hook School Connection, July 26, 2012 came this from Mrs. Hochsprung: “We are in the final stages of determining the impact of the reductions reflected in the passed budget. We will send placement letters with class assignments early in August. Please be assured that your child’s placement will be handled with the same level of personal care and attention to which you are accustomed. Before teachers left at the end of the school year, we worked together to develop class lists that would accommodate any scenario that could result from the final decisions of the Board of Education.” (my bf)
Placement where? In new classrooms? In other schools? In other towns? Why? The budget that passed didn’t require the termination of any general teaching positions.
Ms. Epple exits. On August 22, 2012, a week before “The Sandy Hook Connection August 28, 2012,” there appeared this patch.com article, reporting that Sharon Epple, Reed Intermediate’s principal, (and principal of STARR) was leaving for greener pastures in East Hartford. Why? Was she convinced that Reed would be closing? She would have known: she sat on the ad hoc committee described above with Mrs. Hochsprung.
And that’s about all we could find on the subject of big Sandy Hook changes before September 2012: A strange, confusing concatenation of seemingly related events in which fluster and change abound and most jobs are mercifully retained.
Decisions and revisions. Did budgetary changes lead up to Mrs. Hochsprung’s uncertainties, contingencies, multiple class lists by previous teachers and late notification of classroom teaching assignments? Or did something else? Whatever it was, it also led to the following:
Staffing changes. Let’s return to Mrs. Hochsprung’s article of August 28, 2012, which continues below:
The eight bulleted items above are detailed staffing changes Mrs. Hochsprung announced. In a few instances, teachers are described as leaving. But in most instances, they’re “returning.” (You’ll recognize many of their names.) But returning from where? Don’t teachers always return – from summer vacation? Why devote nearly a page to such returns?
Unless … teachers were coming back from a longer absence, say a sabbatical or boot camp down South. Remember, this communication was dated August 28, more than a month after the “Mum” emails and the secret move in July. Where did the teachers go, and to what did they return? Or was a return unexpected because the Sandy Hook School became the target for a shutdown – despite decisions made earlier in the year?
And … what is this about preschool classes? Mrs. Hochsprung’s last bulleted item above concerns a preschool: “We welcome two preschool classes to Sandy Hook this year. Teachers will be Janet Walker and Eileen Cullen. Speech language pathologist Judy Silverlight will also join that team.”
Strange. I had thought Sandy Hook Elementary School was a K-4 school. I don’t recall seeing anything about preschoolers in the news reports about the massacre. (If you remember, please comment.) What became of these little ones on 12-14-12? Was the preschool closed that morning?
The bulleted item mentions a “speech language pathologist.” Were these special-needs preschoolers? In the 2012-13 budget, page 5, there is a footnote about a “Speech Therapist for St. Rose.” Hm. What is St. Rose (of Lima?) doing in a Newtown public school budget? Or perhaps I’m misinterpreting something. Speech pathologist Judy Silverlight recently retired. Perhaps she knows.
In any case, there is no mention of a preschool at Sandy Hook Elementary in the 2012-13 budget. (See for yourself. Go here and do a search for “preschool.”) Like Dr. Chung and STARR, a special-ed school housed in Reed Intermediate, the Sandy Hook preschool remains an unsolved mystery for now.
Scolding. Cinderella wondered if such attention to teacher comings and goings was paid by Mrs. Hochsprung in the previous year. We found The Sandy Hook Connection, August 30, 2011. And there’s not a word in it about teacher returns or departures. In this issue, the focus appears to be on obeying rules: “It is imperative to both the learning of your child and his or her classmates that we minimize late arrivals and early pick-ups.” This appeared in boldface as shown.
(“Imperative”? Honestly. Why the sternness over an occasional trip to the dentist?)
Housekeeping was a matter of note in this issue, too. We found this reference: “The halls and classrooms of Sandy Hook School are sparkling and ready for another exciting year!”
More housekeeping. Just to be thorough, we checked The Sandy Hook Connection, Sept. 8, 2011 for references to teacher returns. Once again, nothing.
But we did find another enthusiastic reference to housekeeping: “As always, the amazing and dedicated staff of Sandy Hook School has everything ready for your children. Our custodians worked tirelessly to ensure that our school is sparkling in every corner, even without power.”*
As a ballroom dancer, Cinderella can attest: There is absolutely no substitute for a sparkling clean, shiny floor.
- The Sandy Hook Elementary School forensic photos in this post are available here.
- *Reference to “without power” in the above excerpt — due to Hurricane Irene.