AP photo: Dawn Hochsprung
One dressed up in goofy costumes to make her students smile.
was a psychologist who saw generations of students through their
parents' divorces, personal troubles and difficult days.
Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist, were among the six adult victims of the mass shooting on Friday, educators gunned down alongside the children they cared for as if they were their own.
Authorities did not release an official list of the victims' names, but the other four were believed to include school staff members.
The unimaginable loss of 20 children consumed much of the nation on Friday. But in Newtown, Connecticut, a tight-knit community of about 25,000 bonded by its schools, a profound, personal ache was felt also for the school staff members killed.
Sherlach, 56, was remembered for her many years of helping students cope with problems that they were unprepared to handle.
And Hochsprung, 47, was mourned as a creative and dedicated educator who had quickly won over children and adults alike.
"I'm not surprised she gave her life in this fashion, trying to protect her students," said Gerald Stomski, first selectman of Woodbury, Connecticut, who knew Hochsprung.
Grief-stricken Sandy Hook parents spoke of the elementary school as if it were part of their own home, a haven of support for children and their families.
That environment was fostered by Hochsprung, who began her job there in 2010 but had used that time to tamp down any nervousness children felt approaching the proverbial "principal's office." Before taking the job at Sandy Hook, she had worked at other schools in Connecticut.
"She was not the kind of principal I remembered as a kid," said Diane Licata, the mother of a first-grader and a second-grader at the school. "She really reached out to the students and made them feel comfortable with her. She definitely took that extra step."
Hochsprung organized festive days she called Wacky Wednesdays, when students were encouraged to wear goofy clothes that did not match. She had students dress up as their favourite storybook characters, and she was known for dressing up herself.
She was no distant authority figure. Licata said her young children, who often skimped on details of their day, regularly came home with stories of what Hochsprung had done that day.
But for all the levity, Hochsprung also took education very seriously. She was the one distributing long articles to colleagues about policy debates in Washington and highlighting news from the latest speech by Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.
She was also unusually tech-savvy. She kept an active Twitter feed documenting the school - "In a fourth grade classroom right now," she wrote in a recent message. She said she was impressed "by the calibre of instruction and by students' deep thinking!"
Hochsprung believed that many students today engaged better with electronic screens than with blackboards, and she made sure her teachers had iPads in the classroom. Then, she organized "Appy Hour" sessions to discuss the most useful teaching apps.
If Hochsprung was a relative new face in the school, Sherlach was a fixture, a reliable ally for generations of children in need of counsel.
"When somebody had a personal tragedy in their lives that affected their children, then Mary would be a part of trying to help them come up with a solution for that child," said Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education whose three children graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary.
As night fell on Friday, mourners streamed in and out of Sherlach's home in Trumbull.
"They're in shock," said a neighbour, who declined to give his name. "I don't think their true feelings have come out yet."
© 2012, The New York Times News Service