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Newport News superintendent gives safety update in the wake of Richneck school shooting

Changes and additional resources are planned across the school division in the aftermath of a student shooting a teacher at Richneck Elementary School.
Credit: 13News Now
Richneck Elementary School, 1/9

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A school safety update provided by Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker III on Tuesday highlights changes and additional resources that will be made across the school division in the aftermath of a student shooting a teacher at Richneck Elementary School.

On January 6, 1st-grade teacher Abby Zwerner was teaching when a 6-year-old student pulled a handgun out and shot her.

Zwerner was taken to the hospital in critical condition but has since improved. The 6-year-old was taken into custody to a detention facility as police determine possible criminal charges. 

"When incidents such as this occur, I truly understand that our entire school community is impacted in some way," Parker wrote. 

"Therefore, while my immediate focus will remain with Ms. Zwerner, the staff, and the families of Richneck Elementary students, I want all staff to be well informed not only on our efforts to keep you safe but also how you can assist with safety efforts at your schools."

Parker then outlined the following updates: 

To help with student behavior, the superintendent has approved the hiring of six instructional behavior coaches, in addition to six that have already been hired.

"Behavior coaches assist teachers in the classroom to address unwanted student behaviors and develop classroom plans to improve student behavior," Parker said.

Parker noted that the school division has already implemented this year a Student Behavior Contract for the first incident of an act of physical aggression, along with a Behavior Improvement Contract to create a procedure that would allow a suspended student to be readmitted to school. Parker said in addition to these tools, a Behavior Monitoring Plan may be created that would allow a behavior coach to monitor the student.

The superintendent said other actions are being considered or taken in the wake of the Richneck shooting.

School officials previously outlined the expanded use of metal detectors at NNPS buildings. 

"We have secured the necessary support from our City Council to purchase the metal detection technology that will enable every visitor to be screened as they enter every school in our division," Parker said, adding that 90 individual door units have been ordered and will be distributed to each school. After training, they will be used daily.

A division-wide "school safety stand down" is planned in the coming weeks to allow teachers and school administrators to collaborate and discuss building safety at their specific schools. The information gathered from this will be used to audit school procedures and determine if any additional support is needed for the school.

Meetings will also be scheduled with staff at every school to allow staff members to voice any specific concerns and discuss reasonable solutions and supports.

Parker added additional opportunities are in the works to provide behavior training for staff "to ensure that your resources toolbox for addressing unwanted classroom behavior is equipped with research-based best practices from experts and veteran educators."

Parker said that anyone who wishes to share feedback or voice any urgent concerns to reach out to the division helpline at 757-788-0635 or email him at askthesupt@nn.k12.va.us.

The superintendent's full statement is available on the NNPS website.

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