The news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary reached Superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools Alex Apostle in the same way it did most Americans. On TV, he saw parents holding their children, watched circling aerial views of a quiet elementary school and heard newscasters report and re-report a death toll that eventually included 20 first-graders. "It was absolutely horrific," he says. "When you're looking at complete innocence- and 7- year-oldsit's completely devastating."
Terrified parents called Apostle that day. Some offered advice. Some demanded a plan. Apostle, in his fifth year as superintendent, needed a response. "I said to myself, 'This can't be a flash-in-the-pan type response.' That's when I decided to create an advisory committee." The following week, Apostle announced the formation of a safety task force.
The task force, which has yet to meet, will be co-chaired by St. Patrick Hospital CEO Jeff Fee and Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir, and will be divided into three committees: mental health, facilities safety and design, and emergency response.
Apostle doesn't believe teachers should be armed, and he doesn't think Missoulians want armed guards at every school. He feels any solution should be comprehensive and will begin and end with teachers and administrators talking to studentssomething, he says, "we all forget to do."
In high school in Tacoma, Wash., Apostle had a business teacher named Mr. Roberts who every day looked Apostle in the eye and asked how he was doing. "Sometimes that's all it takes. 'How you doing? Everything okay?'" he says. "Not just the councilor needs to be talking to kids when they have problems. Teachers and principals and...superintendents need to reach out to kids."
Apostle has no delusions about the complexities of the problems he hopes to address. He admits he is a novice when it comes to preventing America's next school shooting, and he knows the process will take time.
"I think life is moving very fast. And as life continues to move faster and faster, I think we lose people," he says. "We lose the human touch."