Berman: School community pulling together in wake of tragedy

This letter was emailed to parents and staff of Andover Public Schools on Sunday, Sept. 16 by Superindent Sheldon Berman.

This morning we sent a message to all parents and staff that all schools will be open and operating as usual on Monday. I wanted to follow up and let you know that our public safety agencies and Columbia Gas have inspected all the schools and deemed them safe. Although only Doherty and Shawsheen were in the most significantly impacted area, all of the gas lines to our schools and offices have been inspected and the schools have been officially cleared by the town, gas company, and public safety. We have had custodians in the schools today to prepare for tomorrow as well as personnel to ensure that our food service program will operate well.

All of our schools, with the exception of Shawsheen, are currently running fully with both gas and electricity. We have electricity at Shawsheen and the gas is turned off and will remain turned off while all the gas lines in that area are being inspected. Based on the clearance from the Andover Fire Department and other agencies, we feel confident that all of the schools in Andover are safe and ready to receive students and staff on Monday, September 17.

The events of last Thursday related to the gas line leaks have affected all of us in ways large and small. Several families who have students in our schools experienced fires in their own homes. The school department, principals and social workers have reached out to those families and offered support as they work to make their lives whole again.

I am pleased that we will be back in school tomorrow and operating on a normal time schedule. We appreciate the concerted efforts of multiple agencies and individuals that brought us to this point. Cafeterias, school buses and other services will be functioning as usual. A special word of thanks goes to our caring and dependable custodial staff who have been in the schools today, cleaning out refrigerators as needed and making other preparations for the students’ return.

We want to express our gratitude to Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, Fire Chief Mike Mansfield, Police Chief Patrick Keefe, Facilities Director Janet Nicosia and Community Services Director Joe Connelly for managing this situation in such a professional and thoughtful manner. These civic leaders and their staffs addressed the crisis with both immediacy and thoroughness. The first responders’ quick and decisive actions helped to prevent a dangerous event from escalating into widespread tragedy.

Just as we would have anticipated, the community of Andover pulled together to help their friends and neighbors cope with this totally unexpected chain of events. Without even being asked, local businesses and citizens rallied and stepped up in countless ways to address needs. For example, businesses donated food and supplies to the shelters at the Senior Center and Youth Center. Other individuals—including some of our own district/school administrators and School Committee members—volunteered to spend the night at the Youth Center and the Senior Center, offering care and comfort to sheltered families.

We deeply appreciate the outpouring of support that people have offered to our district over the past several days. Although this crisis interrupted the otherwise smooth beginning of our school year, our ability to respond proactively is a positive reflection of the community’s preparedness and collaborative spirit. We are grateful that parents will send their children off to school tomorrow, enabling students to return to their established routines and learning experiences. These familiar routines give students a sense of physical safety, emotional security, and predictability. For those students who have been displaced or significantly impacted and can’t make it to school tomorrow, student absences will be excused. Please inform your school principal if you are in that circumstance.

Recognizing that some students may still be feeling a bit of anxiety, teachers will be alert to indications that students need to talk about their experiences of the past few days before they can focus on the academic work at hand. If students voice serious concerns or fears, our school social workers, guidance counselors and psychologists will be available to assist them. Just the simple fact of returning to normalcy helps teach students that human beings are resilient and can summon the inner strength to overcome adversity. The key is to reach out to each other, whether to seek help or to give it.

As a community, we still have a way to go. The coming days and weeks will be very difficult for people who have no ready access to gas and hot water. Even simple routines such as preparing meals, doing laundry and taking showers will be challenging. Let’s all remember to be patient and understanding as people struggle to recover.

At Andover Public Schools, we take pride in being a caring community. Parents and staff alike, if you/your family is still displaced or if you need assistance of any kind, please let your principal or supervisor know and give us the opportunity to support you through this difficult time.

 

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