The superintendents of the four Jefferson County school districts reacted strongly to the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that reportedly left 20 children and seven adults dead.
Each of them also assured area parents that their districts are doing everything possible to ensure their children’s safety.
Pine Bluff School District interim Superintendent Linda Watson said that while the scale of the Connecticut shooting is hard to comprehend, her district is committed to ensuring student safety on campus.
“What happened in Connecticut is unconscionable,” Watson said. “No district is ready for someone who comes onto a campus like that. If something does happen here in Pine Bluff we do go into lockdown mode and lock students into their classrooms to keep them as safe as possible.”
Watson said that the presence of school resource officers on campuses is a significant aspect of the district’s safety plan.
“We try hard and do our best to protect our children in school, yet you never think of something like this happening,” Watson said. “All we can do is try to protect kids as best we can and call the local authorities as fast as we can.”
White Hall School District Superintendent Larry Smith said that while his district tries to be proactive on the topic of student safety, there is only so much that can be done in the face of a person determined to inflict mass casualties.
“Schools are designed for sane people, not insane people,” Smith said. “I don’t know how you could build a completely safe school other than one that is basically a prison. We try to do everything that we can to stay advised of possible threats.”
“We are fortunate to have school resource officers in the district,” Smith said. “My heart goes out to those families in Connecticut.”
Watson Chapel School District Superintendent Danny Hazelwood also voiced his concern over how any school district could have prevented the type of mass killing that occurred in Connecticut Friday morning.
“Every school has a plan for emergency situations,” Hazelwood said. “We have surveillance cameras at every entrance and we can at least see if an intruder is on campus without being seen. But, you never imagine something like what happened in Connecticut. How do you prepare for something like that?”
Hazelwood said that his school district has regular drills in a partnership with the Pine Bluff Police Department to keep students and staff familiar with how to react to an active shooter on campus situation.
“We make sure that they are familiar with the situations in the rooms and the hallways,” Hazelwood said. “Our staff are always reminded of how important it is to secure their kids from an intruder, a fire or a storm. What happened today is just something that you can’t fathom.”
Dollarway School District Superintendent Frank Anthony said that the district has a crisis intervention team made up of counselors, faculty members and administrators ready to respond in the event of a shooting incident on campus.
“My first thought is that my thoughts and prayers go out to the families involved in the shooting incident in Connecticut,” Anthony said. “As far as the Dollarway School District, I hope that we are never there. If you have a public school or any kind of school you have the potential to be in a situation like that.”
“In the event of a shooting incident in the district, we automatically go into lockdown to keep people from going out or coming in,” Anthony said. “My grandfather told me 50 years ago that the most important thing is to use good common sense. If you have common sense mixed with some advance preparation you have done all that you can. You really can’t predict how you will respond in a situation like that.”