Atwater, District React to School Shooting

Shaylon Cochran

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     School districts across the nation are taking up some challenging questions following the events at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school that left 26 people dead Friday. Kenai Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater offered his thoughts over the weekend on the school’s blog.

     “It’s obviously very troubling what took place and that really causes us to reflect on what we’re doing as a society,” Dr. Atwater said Monday about the mass killing that happened in Connecticut Friday.

     Writing a day after learning that a 20-year-old man had entered an elementary school and killed more than two dozen people, Atwater entered in his blog, “As I learned the specifics of the horror, I found my emotions shifting from despair to anger. While each of us processes grief in different ways, I am struggling to find a way to reach an emotional equilibrium with what took place.”

     “It’s just very frustrating that this took place.  And the fact that I’m responsible for 9,000 students…it made me angry that that school district back in Newtown was faced with that sort of adversity,” Atwater said.

      Most students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District began the day Monday with a few moments set aside to reflect on the shootings, the first response to an event that Atwater said has again left educators wondering how to ensure the safety of students and teachers at school.

     “We’ve had a lot of people express concern that we need to have a more rigorous expectation for who comes and goes inside of our buildings and so there are just a lot of people who are reacting and thinking we need to have a much … tighter and secure situation,” he said.

     “We’re reviewing everything this week. On Wednesday, we’re going to start reviewing safety procedures that we have.”

     Atwater said what was different about this particular act of violence at a school compared to others of recent memory was the age of the victims, many of whom were 1st graders around six years old.  But he said the shootings also stand out as an example of the difficulty some schools have connecting with students.

     “Unfortunately not all of us fit neatly into a box and there are children in our school system who do require extra help and care.  For people to generalize and say we should eliminate some of our alternative schools or just narrow things because that’s the way it was when they were kids 30 years ago I think is a mistake,” Atwater said.  

     "I hope we can continue to think in terms of doing the best we can for every student who comes through our doors."

     Mass public shootings such as this the past few years have elevated the topic of mental health and mental health care in the national discourse, and Dr. Atwater said it’s no different here on the Kenai.

     “There’s so much that’s understood now with regard to emotional and neurological development and where kids are, I think we need to do everything we can to stay current and continue to learn from each other and not just rely on older, past practices … because some of our kids don’t fit into those boxes neatly and we need to do everything we can to make sure the feel secure and safe,” Atwater said.

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