TOUCHED MANY HEARTS: Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, who was among those killed in last week's mass shooting. —Photos: AP

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Ambitious school principal who wanted children to excel

Dawn Hochsprung:

In the two years that she led the Sandy Hook Elementary, Hochsprung, 47, had emphasised its strong community role. Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School who was among the six adults killed in the Friday shooting, had led the almost 700-pupil school according to the values she had long espoused: inclusiveness, creativity, and academic ambition.

As confirmation that she was among the dead circulated in the small community of Newtown, where the school that she had led for the past two years is one of the central pillars, there was an outpouring of emotion from the parents of her charges and friends. "Dawn Hochsprung touched many of our hearts with her professionalism and love for her students," said the first selectman for nearby Bethlehem in Connecticut, Jeff Hamel.

Dawn Czaplicki, who had known the principal since their own high school days, remembered her as "a mature and very smart young lady full of life and always had a smile on her face that could only warm your heart."

When she sent memos to parents she would address them to the "Sandy Hook family".

One of the more recent memos was a circular about security in the school buildings. She told parents that as part of routine measures in the region, the doors of the school would be locked after 9.30 a.m. every morning, and everyone including parents entering after that would be asked for ID.

Hochsprung was ambitious for her students and for herself. On top of running the school, and being mother to her own two daughters and three stepdaughters, she had enrolled in a post-graduate programme at Esteves School of Education in New York — a prestigious course for an educator. She was actively introducing the latest teaching techniques into Sandy Hook classrooms — she recently brought together 30 teachers before the start of the school day for an "Appy Hour" in which they shared notes about the best iPad apps to use with students.

But she also believed in the power of imagination and fun. The New York Times recorded that she had introduced a tradition of Wacky Wednesdays, when pupils came to school wearing clothes that didn't match. She would often dress up herself, and bring her poodle into school.

Her Twitter feed, which now has her profile framed in black, gives a window into a sparky and interested mind with eclectic interests. She tweeted proudly about the winter concert coming up for her fourth-graders, and that the school's six-year-olds had been learning the three As of concert behaviour: attention, appreciation and applause.

Hochsprung took a close interest in education policy, and would often circulate speeches by the education secretary, Arne Duncan. She linked to a blog post on Twitter that speculated on what would happen were Duncan to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The post poked fun at Duncan's fondness for controversial charter schools, sponsored by business interests. Would he, as secretary of state, set up charter embassies, each with its own foreign policy, it asked.

Her most recent activity on Twitter was the day before she died, when she retweeted a nine-point programme on how to relieve stress. Point one was "Have self-compassion".

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