“Are We Prepared?”

Posted January 1, 2012 at 12:00 am

The nation watched horrified, as the details of another school shooting unfolded Friday, December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Many were left stunned and saddened by the loss of so many innocent lives as a result of one gunman’s vicious rampage. Violent, senseless crimes are difficult enough to understand, but when they take place in our children’s classrooms, it becomes much more challenging to make sense of them. Community members, educators, parents and students face questions about the safety of their own neighborhoods and schools. Wolsey-Wessington School District’s Superintendent, James Cutshaw graciously agreed to an interview the day after the shooting in Connecticut. His responses to inquiries about his thoughts, feelings and reactions to the situation provide insight into the perception of an individual responsible for creating a safe and secure environment for the district’s students and staff.

When asked about his reaction to the catastrophic event, Cutshaw expressed his deep sadness about the painful loss the families have endured, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims.” He also commented on his dismay that these situations continue to happen in our communities and schools. As a father of young children, Cutshaw was frustrated by this senseless tragedy. He remarked how he felt fortunate that he was able to hug his young son Friday afternoon, a true blessing, especially in light of the recent unfortunate news.

As a school administrator, Cutshaw examined the security measures currently in place at Wolsey-Wessington Schools. “Are we prepared?” Cutshaw asked himself, the district’s teachers and administrators during a staff meeting Friday.

This year, the district has implemented the policy of keeping the campus entrances locked to minimize access to unauthorized persons. Cutshaw explained that this procedure may cause some frustration to visiting parents and volunteers, but the safety of the students and staff is worth any inconvenience. Cutshaw pointed out that the comfort that comes with living and working in a small, tight-knit community can be a dangerously false sense of security, as demonstrated by the event in Newtown, Friday.

Cutshaw and the district’s staff are evaluating the situation and seeking answers to the question, “Is there more we can do to keep our schools safe?” Cutshaw, obviously concerned for his school’s security, commented “What are the answers? Do we go as far as metal detectors? And, what can we do to stop those determined, ill-intended individuals?”

Superintendent, Cutshaw pointed out a few steps the district will be taking to improve security such as increasing the frequency of lock-down drills, ensuring entrances stay locked while students are on campus, and maintaining a vigilant awareness of visitor traffic and campus activity in an effort to identify any areas of concern as they arise.

Wolsey-Wessington Schools do not generally have students in attendance on Fridays due to the current four-day weekly schedule. Teachers and staff plan to address the situation with the students Monday morning as classes resume. A written statement has been prepared as a guide for those facing the challenging task of explaining the Connecticut tragedy to the students. Staff members, including the district’s counselor, are prepared to support the students and encourage positive steps toward healing for anyone struggling with the effects of such a devastating event.

The loss of a loved one is a painful experience, but during the holiday season, the loss may feel more difficult to bear. The loss of innocent young children and educators in yet another episode of seemingly random violence in one of the country’s schools is a loss of epic proportions. The empathetic nature of humans causes us to feel a sense sorrow and grief even when the loss does not affect us directly. Some may feel a desire to reach out to the families, classmates, and teachers of the victims to offer comfort as the community of Newtown, Connecticut mourns the loss of their loved ones.

When asked about possible plans to offer Wolsey-Wessington’s students an opportunity to engage in an activity to reach out to the survivors of the Newtown shooting, Cutshaw stated, “Our students have been working on projects, like putting together gift bags for children in the hospital and a coin war collection to raise money for a local family battling a difficult childhood illness.

I’m going to leave it up to the teachers to determine a need to involve the kids in an activity for this and possibly channel some energy into a new project.”

Cutshaw went on to explain the healing qualities of getting involved in activities that benefit the greater community, “It’s a cathartic experience, helps people feel good and feel connected.”

Wolsey-Wessington’s superintendent responds to recent school shooting in Connecticut