SANTA FE (AP) – Ray Griffin still recalls his reaction to the news that a colleague had been wounded during a shooting spree 30 years ago at a private school in Arizona.
“Some kid went in his office and shot him, but he lived,” said Griffin, principal of Turquoise Trail Charter School in Santa Fe. “But it was such an anomaly, an outlier conversation. Nobody could believe it happened.”
Since then, Griffin said, it seems that every week he reads or hears about another shooting – often in schools.
Last week, it was Aztec High School, where three students died after gunfire erupted. One of the fatalities was the suspected shooter, police said.
“It seems like it’s getting closer and closer to home,” Griffin said.
Educators like Griffin say they came to terms with the realities – and the dangers – of schools long ago. And while many say they’re determined to go on, they wonder what has happened to a worksite and profession in which children and their teachers were once cared for and protected.
Teachers say educators develop close ties with their students and cannot bring themselves to believe that what happened in Aztec could happen in their own facilities.
Santa Fe principals and teachers interviewed last Thursday about the shooting said such events will not in any way deter them from doing their jobs.
Nor would any of them for a moment reconsider the decision to become an educator.
“Honestly, it hasn’t occurred to me to be afraid at Capital or to rethink my profession,” said Capital High School teacher Laura Carthy. “Sadly, in our gun-loving culture, you could get shot anywhere at any time. So, no, I don’t feel more vulnerable at school than I do anywhere else.
“If anything, I feel like good teachers could possibly prevent a crisis here, just by keeping in touch with students and keeping their eyes and ears open at all times.”
Natasha Juarez, who works as a preschool teaching assistant at Turquoise Trail, agreed.
“I’m not afraid, not for me or for the kids,” said Juarez, who has worked in area schools for 12 years. “It’s my job to protect the children. I would definitely put myself in front of anyone who wanted to harm the children.
“I do this because I love those children. I would never think of doing anything else with my life.”
Neither would Janis Devoti, a 45-year education veteran and longtime principal of Pinon Elementary School.
“Do these kinds of incidents make me rethink what I do?” she said. “No. What it does is make me more committed to providing our children with ways to resolve conflict in peaceful ways and talk out their concerns.
“Our students don’t always come into school with ways to resolve conflict, Devoti continued. “As educators, we know we can do all the safety procedures – the lockdowns, the shelter-in-place drills – but we have to start practicing how to resolve conflict with our kids.”
The specter of potential violence has cast a shadow over Santa Fe in just the past month. In November, a letter that outlined a mass shooting was found on the Santa Fe High School campus, and even more recently, a young man who attends a nearby school threatened to shoot Principal Carl Marano during a visit to the Santa Fe High campus.
For his part, Marano said the Aztec shooting speaks to the ills of society today. And those ills can manifest themselves anywhere, he said.
“We are at a place where it can happen at church, it can happen in a mall, it can happen at a concert or it can happen at a school,” Marano said. “I just happen to work at a school.
“But I’m not going to stop going to church, I’m not going to stop shopping, I’m not going to stop going to concerts, and I’m not going to stop going to work. I enjoy my job. If I didn’t feel our school was safe, I wouldn’t show up on a daily basis.”
Griffin said one byproduct of the increase in school shootings is the pressure on administrators to commit more time to safety meetings and drills – including “active shooter” practices designed to help prepare school leaders and students for such an event.
“So the intrusion has been psychological as well as practical,” he said. “But it still doesn’t register with me that it would ever happen here.”
Santa Fe Public Schools long has had safety and security procedures in place to deal with such threats, and Superintendent Veronica García recently praised both students and staff members in appropriately responding to the recent incidents at Santa Fe High.
In an email she sent out to district personnel regarding the Aztec High School tragedy Thursday, García said: “As always, following our safety protocols is critical in ensuring the safety of our students and staff. Please remind our students that the, ‘See Something-Say Something’ motto works. It’s all of us working together that ensures our safety.”
She also encouraged staff members to ensure that students troubled by the Aztec shooting have access to counselors.
But still, there are worries. Regardless of how calm and committed educators might remain, such events happening so close to home have unsettled students like Santa Fe High senior Ashlyn Vigil.
The Aztec shooting, she said, “makes you realize that it’s even more real, when it’s in your state . and that it’s more than just a number on the news.
“It’s hard to put something so tragic into such a close perspective when it’s always seemed so far away in the past.”
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com