New London fourth-graders, staff try to cope with teacher's sudden death

New London — A beloved fourth-grade teacher at Jennings School collapsed in his classroom Tuesday morning and died on the way to the hospital.

Brian Smith, 53, was alone when he collapsed just before noon at the bilingual magnet school on Mercer Street. His students were attending art class in another room. When Smith did not show up to take his fourth-graders to lunch, a staff member discovered him on the floor, according to Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer.

"He was regarded as a terrific teacher who loved kids and was committed to doing great things for New London Public Schools,'' Fischer said. "He was very well-regarded and very well-liked."

On Wednesday, crisis teams were in place for students and staff, according to Principal Laurelle Texidor, and several students went for counseling. Classes continued as normal, she said.

"It's going to be challenging times,'' Texidor said Wednesday. "It's been very low-key today. But it's important we maintain a regular routine."

Smith, who had been with the district for more than 30 years, also taught at Winthrop and Edgerton schools. It was his first year at Jennings, where many staff members knew him.

"The staff welcomed him back,'' Texidor said.

She said she spoke with Smith's wife Wednesday, who wanted the students to know that he adored his class and was proud of his students.

"She said at home he talked glowingly about his students' accomplishments,'' Texidor said. "And she meant that from her heart."

Students Tuesday knew that Smith had been taken to the hospital, Texidor said. Parents of children in his class were notified of his death before the end of the school day.

She said staff members performed CPR while waiting for the ambulance, and paramedics continued CPR on the way to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.

"This is an unexpected tragedy,'' Texidor said. "We had some very brave people in our staff dealing with the situation and ensuring our students were safe.

"We try to teach our youngsters that this is an element of life we all must go through, and we've given them opportunities to express their feelings."

Teachers are available to answer any questions, Texidor said. Students also will be writing sympathy cards to Smith's family.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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