Sandy Hook Principal: Charismatic And Passionate

Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, was killed in the shootings in Connecticut Friday. In her two years at the school, Hochsprung had become a favorite of students and parents for her charismatic leadership and warm personality. She died trying to overpower the gunman.

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Forty-seven-year-old Dawn Hochsprung was one of the adult victims of the shootings. She was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, and is said to have died while trying to overpower the gunman. Over the weekend, Hochsprung was remembered as a charismatic leader who worked to make the school a welcoming place for both parents and students. NPR's Jim Zarolli reports.

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JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Like a lot of places in Connecticut, the small town of Bethlehem held a prayer vigil last night, to remember the Sandy Hook victims. But in Bethlehem, the connection was a bit more personal. Before leaving for Sandy Hook in 2010, Dawn Hochsprung served as principal at Bethlehem Elementary. Parents such as Edward Roden remembered her as a charismatic and popular educator.

EDWARD RODEN: She was the person you wanted leading your kids into the future; the person you wanted, helping to mold them. You know, you dropped them off every day with a smile on your face, knowing that - you know, your kid was going to be a little better when you picked them up at the end of the day.

ZARROLI: Like virtually everyone who knew her, Roden said Hochsprung had a 200-watt smile that put you at ease right away, no matter who you were.

RODEN: She would always, you know, open that smile up - and that was Dawn Hochsprung. And you know, she was excited to see you; and excited to tell you about how great her kids were doing, you know, at the school - which are our kids, and the community's kids, and my kids, personally - how great they were doing.

ZARROLI: Hochsprung had a playful side aimed at making her young students feel comfortable. On certain days, for instance, students were told to come in wearing wildly clashing clothes. Erica Breighton(ph) is a Bethlehem parent. She recalled how much charm Hochsprung had.

ERICA BREIGHTON: Just her very sparkling enthusiasm. She was a lot of fun. It made a very happy place of Bethlehem Elementary.

ZARROLI: Breighton says Hochsprung had a mantra she made the kids recite. It went: I am safe, responsible, respectful and prepared. And Breighton says all of her students remembered it long after they left the school. In her private life, Hochsprung had two daughters and three stepdaughters, and she was helping one of them plan a wedding. She had also just started a doctoral program at the Esteves School, at Russell Sage College in New York state. Janice White is an adjunct professor at the school.

JANICE WHITE: She was always positive despite the stress - as you can imagine - of doctoral work, a full-time job and a family - that she would talk about, and state how much she cared for them.

ZARROLI: White says the class she taught was all about leadership, and in one assignment, Hochsprung wrote about the importance of facing your fears. In the end, she would do just that. On Friday morning at Sandy Hook, Hochsprung was at a meeting when she heard shots ring out. She went immediately to see what was wrong. School officials say she died lunging at the gunman, trying to stop him from going any further.

WHITE: She is an example of a leader facing one fear in the ultimate circumstance. She literally put her life on the line, to save her children.

ZARROLI: Hochsprung was, by no means, blind to the dangers that schools like hers faced. In October, she had implemented a new security system at Sandy Hook. All visitors - even parents - had to show IDs before they could be buzzed in. But it ultimately, wasn't enough to keep out a young man with guns, who was determined to do her school harm.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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