Dawn Hochsprung, the principal killed Friday in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, was a dynamic administrator whose passion for children and community made her the “perfect principal,” said Region 14 Board of Education Chairman George Bauer.
Hochsprung, a 47-year-old Naugatuck native who was living in Woodbury, was an elementary school principal in Region 14 for six years before she was hired at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2010.
During the shooting someone thought to turn on the intercom to alert the school to imminent danger. It may never be known whether it was Hochsprung who flipped the intercom switch, but those who knew her said she would have done anything to safeguard her school.
“She was sweet, very protective of her family, and there’s no doubt in my mind that she was protecting her staff and students,” said Nicky Titley, who lived next door to Hochsprung in Naugatuck, before Hochsprung was named a principal in Region 14.
Hochsprung joined Region 14 as principal of Bethlehem Elementary School in 2004 and moved to Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury in 2007.
She was a frequent Twitter user, sending out exuberant tweets about happenings at her school, including a photo of a fire drill on Oct. 17 that she captioned, “Safety first at Sandy Hook.” Hochsprung had also announced a new security system at Sandy Hook in a letter to parents this school year, writing that doors to the school would be locked at 9:30 a.m. and that visitors would have to ring a bell, report to the main office immediately upon entering, and could be spot-checked for identification, CNN reported.
Parents who knew Hochsprung from her Bethlehem Elementary days said there was never any question Hochsprung was in charge. Hochsprung was known to walk the halls with a to-do list, checking off things as they were done. Students knew the rules and were expected to follow them.
“But she was loving and put the kids first — it was always all about them,” said Christine DeCicco, who served on the PTO when Hochsprung was principal.
Hochsprung would fight for things if she knew they would benefit students.
Even after she left the Region 14 district, she was fighting for students and staff, writing in a February 2011 letter to the Republican-American that residents should vote down a school reconfiguration plan because it had created a “climate of distrust and fear.”
But what was most memorable about Hochsprung, people who knew her said, was the special way she had with kids. “You can tell she loves children,” said Hochsprung’s Woodbury neighbor of four years, Todd Brighthaupt.
“Every time I’d be outside playing with my kids — I have a 6-year-old and a 2-1/2-year-old — she would always come over, get down on their level and ask how they were doing,” Brighthaupt said.
Many remembered how Hochsprung brought her black poodle, Bella, to Bethlehem Elementary School. Students who feared reading out loud could opt to read to Bella instead; Bella would visit classrooms and would help relax students who were nervous about school.
“They just love it. They love to spend time with her,” Hochsprung said at the time. “You get a little dog lovin’ and you feel a lot better.”
Maryanne Van Akin, a Board of Education member from Woodbury, said she had no doubt Hochsprung died defending her students.
“She was an advocate for children, so it does not surprise me she would be on the front line in something like this,” Van Akin said. “She’ll be sorely missed. It’s tragic.”
Michael Puffer and Rick Harrison contributed to this article.