As Newtown grieved the loss of 26 people killed in cold blood at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, Monroe school officials offered use of its Chalk Hill School building and quickly laid the groundwork to prepare it for Sandy Hook's children and teachers. On Tuesday night, four members of the Newtown Board of Education came before their counterparts in Monroe to thank all who made it possible for them to use the building and to stay together.
Newtown Board of Education Chairwoman Debbie Leidlein was accompanied by Vice Chairwoman Laura Roche and board members Keith Alexander and John Vouros at the Monroe Board of Education meeting at Masuk High School.
Leidlein fought back tears when she recalled meeting Monroe Supt. of Schools James Agostine, his staff members, school board members and town officials at Chalk Hill on the Saturday morning after the shooting.
"You met us there with open arms and you received us into your community," Leidlein said. "And you said, 'Whatever you need, we'll make happen for you.' And to us, that answered so many prayers. And that meant so much to us ... to our broken Sandy Hook community."
Leidlein also spoke of all of the workers, volunteers and teachers who moved furniture, set up classrooms and made other preparations inside the building.
"The teachers who came in and with love and care decorated that school to make it beautiful, so that when our children and our families came they had a beautiful school to come home to ..." she said. "Words just can't express what that meant to our community to have neighbors who would reach out in this time of need. And I just thank you from the bottom of my heart and I know my community does.
"It was very important to us that we come here tonight and let you know what that meant to us. So I thank you very much."
Roche said, "No community should ever go through what we've been through. And we are able to move forward because of what you've done for us."
She came with a list of people she wanted to thank. It included First Selectman Steve Vavrek, Supt. of Schools James Agostine, Assistant Supt. of Schools John Battista, Police Chief John Salvatore, Capt. Michael Flick, Lt. Keith White, police officers Mike Panza and Todd Keeping, all Monroe Board of Education members — Chairman Darrell Trump, Vice Chairwoman Donna Lane, Secretary Mark Hughes, Jeff Guttman, Mark Antinozzi, Alan Vaglivelo, Kelly Plunkett, George King and Lee Crouch — Monroe Public Works Deputy Dir. Chris Nowacki and Bruce Lazar, who served as liaison for Sandy Hook School's administrators.
Roche also thanked the Monroe faculty as a whole.
She apologized for anyone she missed and said, "There are too many people to thank and there's too many people to recognize, but all of them came and supported us."
"And they still come," Leidlein added.
Alexander echoed Leidlein and Roche's sentiments and gave special thanks to Monroe's police officers for the security they are providing.
"The police department has been fantastic in their support," Alexander said. "It makes everybody at the school feel much more comfortable about being down there."
'It's Filled with Love'
Vouros became choked up when recalling the "beautiful signs that were out for the children" as educators drove along Fan Hill Road on the way to Chalk Hill.
"I can't even tell you how fabulous it was for me, having been an educator in Newtown, to go back to the community," he said. "And when people would approach me and say, 'What is it like down there?' And all I could say to them was, 'It's filled with love. The building is filled with love. And it's been filled with love from the first day that everyone entered into it. It was an experience, the likes of which, I don't think I'll ever experience again."
Vouros was impressed with Chalk Hill's transformation to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"It was the ideal 'Extreme Makeover,'" he said, alluding to the popular TV show. "It was the love that went into it that's still there. We can't thank you enough. We can't thank your community enough. There isn't enough thank yous for what you have done for Newtown, because the transition was seamless."
Once the school opened, Vouros said there were no complaints from parents about late busses or anything else.
"There was nothing but accolades, because that is what it was," he said. "It was a triumph for all of you. And you should be as proud as you possibly can of yourselves and the community that you live in, because it is a tribute to all of the students for them to see what adults have done for other adults and for children."
"So we're here in this very small way to thank you and also to tell you that we might be there longer than you think," Vouros said, causing the room to erupt into laughter.
Monroe Board of Education Chairman Darrell Trump said, "We appreciate your kind words. We really feel for what you've gone through. No one should ever have to go through what you did, so we welcome you into our community, we really do."
Trump called the Monroe and Newtown communities coming together a "feel good" story.
"I think it's a real feel good for the members of Monroe and, of course, pretty much the entire world," Trump said. "We certainly welcome you and you're welcome to stay as long as you want."