Shooting Darkens Sandy Hook Elementary School's Shining Reputation

The school's small classes and top staff draw families to the Newtown area.

December 14, 2012, 6:43 PM

Dec. 15, 2012— -- Sandy Hook Elementary is extraordinary for Friday's shooting that killed 27 people, 20 of them children. But before the shooting, it was simply an extraordinary school.

With its small class sizes and reputation as one of Connecticut's top schools, Sandy Hook Elementary School is the jewel of this picturesque New England town.

With almost all perfect scores from reviewers on school-rating website, the school is a magnet for young families who endure long drives to and from Hartford or New Haven so their kids can be educated here.

"Husbands will sacrifice the commute just to come to Newtown," said Barbara Frey, a local realtor.

Caitlin Tefft, 21, went to Sandy Hook for six years as a little girl.

"It's a small school, but it was just really important to me and really important to my development," she said.

While the town is idyllic and the school offers a warm embrace to its approximately 450 kindergarteners through fourth-graders, Tefft remembered how prepared they were for a tragedy like Friday's, holding drills in the very classrooms so terrorized during the emergency.

"The teacher would lock the door and shut off the lights," she said. "You had to be quiet and not talk, which is really hard for kids, especially when they think it's not real. But I think most of them knew that something was really serious this time."

CLICK HERE for more photos from the scene.

In 2009, a parent submitted a review of Sandy Hook on that said, "All of my 5 children have done well, overcome obstacles with the stellar teaching staff, and have always felt valued at Sandy Hook School. Every staff member holds the bar as high for themselves as they do for the students. There has always been a family like atmosphere, highly personable as well as professional. The school motto 'think you can, work hard, get smart, be kind' is integrated into all areas, and it shows!"

Another reviewer praised the harmonious way the school reflected the diversity in the Newtown area.

The pain this town feels is magnified by the irony that its pride and joy -- Sandy Hook Elementary -- bears a new legacy so different from the old.

"It's extremely painful," said Brad Tefft, a Newtown resident and the father of Caitlin Tefft. "I mean, we're all in shock. You see people coming up to the church just to walk in and pray, and they have these blank faces."

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