For Danvers High, a new beginning
Dedication put on hold after killing
DANVERS — With the promise of spring in the air and the school band playing “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” as a tribute to slain teacher Colleen Ritzer, Danvers officially dedicated its new $70 million high school on Saturday.
Hundreds of people, from young parents to senior citizens, turned out to celebrate the completion of an educational dream 15 years in the making.
“It was a long road,” School Committee Chairman Eric Crane said in formal remarks. “But the town and its people never lost sight of its commitment to education.”
Pride in the achievement stood in striking contrast to the horror of October, when Danvers High School became the scene of one of the worst acts of school violence in state history.
Ritzer, 24, a popular math teacher, was raped and then stabbed to death Oct. 22 in a bathroom at the school, allegedly by Philip D. Chism, then 14, a freshman in her algebra class.
Chism, a star soccer player, is accused of putting her body into a recycling bin and wheeling it into woods behind the school. He pleaded not guilty to charges of rape, murder, and armed robbery and is now jailed awaiting trial.
The slaying forced the town to postpone the original dedication ceremony, planned to take place four days later.
School Superintendent Lisa Dana said a new ceremony was scheduled, in part to allow the 1,000-student school to heal.
“It’s a long process,” she said quietly. “But our school is resilient.”
Nothing was said about Ritzer, a second-year teacher from Andover, during the dedication ceremony, however.
“I thought about mentioning her,” Crane said. “But then, I thought this should be a day where we focus on the school, and keep it a day full of energy.”
At least one local resident wondered why the slain teacher wasn’t remembered during the ceremony.
“I wondered if there would be a moment of silence,” said Barbara Bevan, a 1979 graduate of the high school who attended the ceremony with her daughter and new grandson.
But Nicole Brooks, 30, said it made sense for the focus to be on the new school.
“I can see where they would want to keep it positive,” said Brooks, who graduated from Danvers High in 2001. “This is a beautiful new school.”
The project, paid for with 57 percent funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, included renovation of the athletic facilities, and construction of academic and science wings, technology and engineering labs, a performing arts center, and a glass-front atrium.
“We wanted a warm and welcoming entrance,” Dana said. “It was really designed to bring us well into the 21st century.”
Saturday’s ceremony included remarks from state and local officials, and a surprise autograph session by Olympic silver medalist Meghan Duggan, the captain of the US women’s hockey team, who grew up in Danvers.
Despite the lack of mention of Ritzer on Saturday, her memory was a quiet presence at the school.
Notices of fund-raisers to aid a scholarship fund for her were posted on bulletin boards. The boys basketball team dedicated its season to her.
Inspirational writings she posted to her Twitter account grace the school. “The Good in Every Day” hangs on a wall outside her former second-floor classroom.
In the atrium, an easel displays a blue-and-pink placard reading, “Falcon Strong,” a motto adopted by students after her death. It accompanies another quote attributed to Ritzer: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
The school band, which first played “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” a year ago while marching in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, started to perform the song as a quiet tribute to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Now they also play as a tribute to their beloved “Miss Ritzer.”
“It goes along with the idea of Falcon Strong, “ said Ron Parsons, the band director, who also teaches at the school.