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New school, open house greets Sandy Hook students

2:52 PM, Jan 2, 2013   |    comments
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MONROE, Conn. (USA TODAY) - With a warm embrace from a neighboring town, parents and students of Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School arrived here Wednesday for an open house at a repurposed elementary school.

A Sandy Hook Elementary School banner stretched across Chalk Hill School, which was closed in 2010 but renovated to accommodate the students whose studies were tragically halted on Dec. 14 when a gunman killed 20 classmates and six adults at the Sandy Hook school. 

The school will open with a new principal, Donna Page, who served as Sandy Hook's principal for more than a decade before retiring in 2010. Page replaces Dawn Hochsprung, who was among the first victims of Adam Lanza's killing spree.

"I want parents and families enduring the loss of their precious children to know their loved ones are foremost in our hearts and minds as we move forward," Page said in a note on Sandy Hook website. "We recognize your needs are paramount in our preparations and planning. Your strength and compassion has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me and countless others as we work to honor the memory of your precious children and our beloved staff."

School administrators invited parents of students "to stay as long as they wish" at the open house. Parents could accompany their children to their own classrooms, and school staff and counselors were made available in a lecture room.

"Please limit your involvement to only those rooms to maintain a safe environment throughout the building," the school's web site says.

Chalk Hill sits in the woods on a quiet road dominated by private homes. Homeowners on roads in the area displayed welcome signs on snow-covered front lawns. Green ribbons adorned mailboxes and fence posts. The ribbons are the color symbolic of Sandy Hook school.

One homeowner leaned a wooden plank against a tree that says "Welcome Sandy Hook Friends Forever In Our Prayers."

When classes start Thursday, schools Superintendent Janet Robinson said teachers will try to make it as normal a school day as possible for the children.

"We want to get back to teaching and learning," she said. "We will obviously take time out from the academics for any conversations that need to take place, and there will be a lot of support there. All in all, we want the kids to reconnect with their friends and classroom teachers, and I think that's going to be the healthiest thing."

Chalk Hill, a former middle school, is about seven miles, or a 15-minute drive, from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Teams of workers prepared the former middle school with fresh paint and new furniture and even raised bathroom floors so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students' desks, backpacks and other belongings, left behind when the kids fled the shooting scene, were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.

On Wednesday, Chalk Hill School was heavily guarded by police at the front entrance and on nearby roads.

In Newtown, a town trying to move forward after the shooting rampage, schools are guarded by local police. The road to Sandy Hook Elementary School remains blocked by police as it has been since the morning of the shooting.

Officers from nearby Bethel and Brookfield are assisting with routine police matters, directing traffic past routine utility work.

Most makeshift memorials for the shooting victims have been removed from Newtown streets, including large displays that once stood in downtown Sandy Hook. A memorial still stands at the corner of Main and Sugar streets outside the Newtown Police Department headquarters.

USA TODAY

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