MTA VP Tim Sullivan's remarks on Workers Memorial Day 2014

MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan delivered the following remarks at a Workers Memorial Day Commemoration at the State House on April 28, 2014.

On behalf of educators everywhere, I want to thank MassCOSH for holding today’s Workers Memorial Day Commemoration, and for paying tribute to our colleague Colleen Ritzer.

The grief brought on by the loss of Colleen last October spread far and wide from Danvers High School – where she was fulfilling her dream of being a teacher. It went across the state and across the nation, as it should have.

It still seems unbelievable that Colleen died doing the only job she ever wanted to do: helping students succeed.

Colleen had a natural gift for teaching. She brought warmth and humor to the world of math, and her co-workers have noted Colleen’s willingness to put in whatever effort was necessary to help young people be their best.

And though she was in just her second year at Danvers High, Colleen was considered a valued colleague, bringing a sparkling personality and fresh ideas to her math team.

We don’t expect tragedies of the sort that claimed Colleen Ritzer to happen in our schools, because they are fundamentally safe places.

And yet sometimes they do.

And as a result, our profession has taken a hard look at enhancing safety.

“If we truly want to honor those who have lost their lives on the job, it’s not enough to ask if we are making things better. Rather, we must commit ourselves to doing all that we can every single day to create safe schools and job sites of all types.”

- MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan

Schools today are more vigilant about visitors. There is better coordination and communication with public safety offices. And there are alternative programs to handle students with disciplinary concerns.

But we can always do more – and one place to start is by advocating for more mental health services for young people.

Even when we can identify a student in need of counseling, it is tremendously difficult to provide that child with adequate care. The national average for school psychologists is one per every 1,200 students.

Schools also need to communicate with each other when students transfer so that a realistic picture of any issues can be conveyed. And there are other ways we can help.

I know it is impossible to do away with all of the potential harms in the world.

But if we truly want to honor those who have lost their lives on the job, it’s not enough to ask if we are making things better. Rather, we must commit ourselves to doing all that we can every single day to create safe schools and job sites of all types.

We owe that to Colleen Ritzer and to all others whom we remember and mourn as we gather today.