President's Perspective: Reflections on a Principal Hero

By Mark Terry
Communicator
December 2012, Volume 36, Issue 4

Principal Dawn Hochsprung is a hero. She was a leader who was willing to lay down her life for children, the most precious treasures of Newtown, Connecticut. 

In the days since the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have struggled to write a fitting tribute to Dawn and to the brave educators at Sandy Hook. Then it finally hit me—there are no words that come close to giving these true American heroes the honor they deserve. Principals throughout the nation and around the world have heavy hearts for the children of Newtown; for the teachers and educators who were ready and willing to pay the ultimate price in protecting those children; for the affected families, including parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents; and for the entire Newtown community.

Principals around the nation are experiencing sleepless nights. While our hearts cried for the Sandy Hook school community, our “principal souls” began to take stock of our own schools’ preparedness to protect our students. We asked ourselves:

  • Are our procedures of entry the most effective possible?
  • Does everyone on our staff know instantly what to do in an emergency?
  • Was our last drill free of problems?
  • Do parents know what their role is when it comes to the protection of their children?
  • What can we do to strengthen our schools against the madness?

We didn’t need to be directed to review our safety procedures. For many principals, that mental review began before the tragedy in Newtown had even ended. 

This week, a reporter asked me if I knew other principals and teachers who would do what Dawn Hochsprung and her teachers did, placing themselves in mortal danger. I was greatly offended. My answer was emphatic: “I don’t know one who wouldn't lay down their life for our kids!” 

Think about that statement. Do you know a principal who wouldn’t stand between a gunman and his or her kids? I know my colleagues and my teachers would have.  

Tomorrow, and every school day, principals will continue to lead schools in communities across the country: educating, nurturing, and protecting our kids. I say our “kids,” and not our “students,” because we love them, we care for their safety, and we stand ready to put ourselves between them and danger. 

From Texas to Alaska to Michigan to New York to Connecticut, principals—my friends and colleagues—are honoring Dawn Hochsprung and her staff. They paid a price no one should be required to pay. But, if their children were in danger, they would assuredly do it again.

Thank you, Principal Dawn Hochsprung. 

Mark Terry is president of NAESP and principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in Southlake, Texas.

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