DANVERS — The School Committee held a moment of silence to honor the memory of math teacher Colleen Ritzer at its first meeting since the Oct. 22 tragedy.
“The world, for better or worse, is sometimes a violent and unfair place,” said School Committee Chairman Eric Crane at the start of last night’s meeting. “As wonderful a community as Danvers is, we are not immune from the horror that sometimes inserts itself into our world.”
Crane thanked the school administration for its response.
“I also want to thank our students for the remarkable grace that they showed and the support they gave to one another. You have proven yourselves a remarkable group of young people,” Crane said.
Crane’s brief statement coincided with one issued on behalf of the committee and unanimously approved last night.
“When each of us ran for School Committee, it never crossed our minds that we would ever have to react to the alleged murder of one of our teachers in one of our schools. It was as unthinkable then as it is now,” reads part of a statement sent by School Committee member David Thomson.
“As we try to move on from this horrific event,” the statement continues, “what will remain with us is how our schools, the town of Danvers, surrounding communities and the nation came together with one goal — comforting and supporting those most directly affected. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Ritzer family, Colleen’s friends, colleagues and students. By all accounts, she was an amazing teacher who inspired those in and out of her class with a love of learning, positive attitude and infectious smile.”
Prosecutors have charged one of her freshman students, Philip Chism, 14, of Danvers with the murder of the 24-year-old math teacher from Andover. Chism has pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.
Ritzer’s murder triggered an outpouring of shock and grief in Danvers, Andover, throughout the North Shore and beyond. A wall in the newly renovated high school’s expansive lobby is decorated with banners from area high schools, signed by students of those schools showing support for Danvers High.
During his remarks, Crane made reference to a statement from selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask, who spoke on the town’s behalf on Nov. 5.
Trask’s statement, reads, in part: “It has been said, when something tragic occurs, you have three choices: You can let it define you, you can let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you. Danvers has, and will, persevere. Danvers is resilient. Danvers is strong.”
Crane thanked the administration for their efforts, including Superintendent Lisa Dana, High School Principal/Assistant Superintendent Sue Ambrozavitch, assistant principals Mark Strout and Mark DeCiccio and other high school and district staff.
“I do want to say, ‘Thank you,’” Crane said. “There is no way to prepare to deal with something like this. You can have policies and resources, but, in the end, how well an organization deals with events such as this largely depends on its leaders in all of this, to bring people together, arrange for the supports needed and to help others. By that measure, all of you were extraordinary leaders during this awful time.”
“We would also like to say, ‘Thank you’ to the School Committee, members of my administration and the community,” Dana said briefly.
Crane asked that students not harden their hearts to the world around them.
“To our students, especially, please continue to care for yourselves, for those you love,” Crane said.
The student representative to the School Committee, Mark Cockfield, brought a message of appreciation from the students.
“Finally, DHS would like to thank everyone in the community and all surrounding schools for their support during the recent tragedy,” Cockfield said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.