Newtown, Conn., and the Sandy Hook school community are mourning Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who was killed Friday in a horrific school shooting in which 20 schoolchildren and six adults were also killed.
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung
Hochsprung became principal at Sandy Hook in 2010. In her two years at the school, and even before she became principal, she established a reputation as a caring, enthusiastic, and energetic educator. A neighbor told USA Today that Hochsprung seemed to be "on an upward trajectory" in the school system: Hochsprung was first a teacher, then an assistant principal at Roger Parks Middle School, then a principal at Woodbury Elementary.
News articles from the Newtown Bee, which followed school news closely, paint a portrait of a joyful principal who engaged students by organizing a running club and dressing up as a book fairy—but also of an advocate for continually improving instruction and for policies she thought would benefit students, like all-day kindergarten. The Newtown Patch reported on Hochsprung's hiring back in 2010, saying that she and her assistant principal had made themselves familiar faces at the school even before the school year began.
A recent story in the Newtown Bee conveys Hochsprung's concern for the safety of her students. For example, though it wasn't required by any law, school bus drivers who arrived at stops where no adult or older sibling was present brought younger children back to school at her request, instead of dropping them off alone.
Another piece in the newspaper described Sandy Hook's use of Responsive Classroom, a social and emotional learning approach. The school reminds students to invoke the CARES acronym—Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-control.
Ms. Hochsprung said the model also helps students feel more secure in areas of their day that may have less structure and adult oversight.
"When we can have our entire school founded on one philosophy that helps kids understand what the expectations are across the board, and every other person holds each other accountable to it, children and adults, it really takes the edge off that lack of security kids could feel when things are less structured," said Ms. Hochsprung.
As part of the CARES practice, Ms. Hochsprung and Ms. Hammond explained all students are greeted by name by both their teacher and each of their fellow students.
"That helps kids walk into school and know that they are a cherished member of the community," said Ms. Hochsprung
The Hartford Courant reports that Hochsprung had begun a doctoral program at the Sage Colleges in Troy, N.Y. That college's dean, Lori Quigley, told a local radio station that Hochsprung was "vibrant, full of life and loved her school community."
Her husband, George Hochsprung, is also a long-time educator who ran for school board in 2007 and still works as a middle school teacher. Ms. Hochsprung is also survived by three step-children and two daughters.
USA Today and the New York Times ran touching profiles of Ms. Hochsprung earlier today. USA Today quotes teacher Bernardo De Castro, Hochsprung's neighbor, echoing the sentiments of many community members: "She was working tirelessly and was extremely dedicated to her work. She was driven and very accomplished in her profession. We lost someone incredible for the educational community in Connecticut."
We posted in this blog earlier about ways you can help the grieving community. You can continue to follow us here, and stay tuned to this blog and @Rulz4Engagement @district_doss on Twitter for updates on this tragic situation.