After prolonged debate over how to use Chalk Hill, Monroe has found a use for the former school building. On Sunday, Supt. of Schools James Agostine informed teachers and parents that Sandy Hook Elementary School will hold classes there, beginning this week.
Since the tragic shooting on Friday, Newtown school officials have been working with the Monroe Board of Education, Monroe Public Schools and surrounding towns to try to find a place to teach their students.
"We have been working with our First Selectman Steve Vavrek and representatives from Newtown. Newtown will be using Chalk Hill School beginning this week," Agostine wrote in an email to parents and teachers. "It is important that the Sandy Hook students get back to school quickly in an environment that is familiar and safe."
In a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon, Agostine said the date for the first day of school at Chalk Hill has yet to be determined.
"They want to get their kids back to school as early as possible," he said. "There is a mountain of work."
Monroe extended the offer allowing Newtown to use its former school building as early as Friday.
"With First Selectman Steve Vavrek, we extended the offer on Friday, knowing full well that they would be so overwhelmed, they probably wouldn't be able to respond right way," Agostine said.
Teams representing Monroe, Newtown and the State of Connecticut met Saturday afternoon to assess the Chalk Hill building to determine whether it met Sandy Hook Elementary School's needs, according to Agostine. Monroe Fire Marhsal Bill Davin, the state fire marshal and a representative of the State Building Facilities Unit participated.
Agostine said several of Newtown's elected officials attended the meeting, including its Board of Education chairman Debbie Leidlein and its head of maintenance.
"They had a big team that needed to ascertain if the building was capable of what they need to do," Agostine said. "They figured out pretty quick it was the right thing."
On Sunday morning, First Selectman Steve Vavrek signed a memorandum of understanding to move forward, and Newtown and Monroe custodial crews are now working to get the building ready, Agostine said.
"They’re packing up their media center and classrooms — everything they can get to today considering their building is now a crime scene," he said. "That's how quickly this is moving. Newtown marshaled vast resources with the state of Connecticut to turn Chalk Hill into a school, and it's amazing the progress they have made already."
Town officials are encouraging well-meaning residents to allow the professionals to prepare the building and the Sandy Hook Elementary School staff to get settled in.
"We don't want volunteers showing up at the school, because there's a master plan in effect and we can't handle the public being involved at this point, even though we greatly appreciate it," Agostine said. "Once we know what we can do, we will mobilize decorations and things of that nature if they want it. Their teachers want to get in and decorate their classrooms too. It's really a wait and see right now."
On Sunday, Vavrek also asked for volunteers to be patient.
"The Board of Education of Newtown and their first selectman are requesting that any and all volunteer efforts wait until they know what will or will not be brought from the Sandy Hook School," he said. "We need to respect their wishes.
"If you have any ideas, please feel free to send them, but please do not go to the school and ask to help as there is a very well orchestrated professional effort between federal, state and local custodians making true miracles happen."
A Return to Normalcy
Agostine said Newtown educators want to get their elementary school students back into a normal routine as soon as possible.
"The order of the day is normalcy for these young students," he said. "They need to get back to school. It needs to be normal and familiar for them. Even though people want to help and do something, doing anything extraordinary will break the cycle of normalcy for these kids."
Once it's determined what things the school will need, Agostine said the district will coordinate any volunteer efforts for assistance.
"Now we want to keep things low key," he said.
Monroe residents have had heated debate over what to do with Chalk Hill, ever since closing it as a school. Now Agostine feels fortunate that the building was still available at Newtown's time of need.
"What a great opportunity for us to be of assistance like this," he said.
When asked if it felt good to be able to help a fellow school district like this, Agostine said, "It sure does."