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Newtown High School Teacher Dies From Cancer Treatment Complications

Former student calls Norm McConnell ‘the best teacher I ever had’

Newtown High School biology teacher Norman McConnell died of pneumonia caused by his treatments for pancreatic cancer on Saturday, March 10, Principal Chip Dumais confirmed Thursday.

McConnell was 62.

“Norm was barely out of school for a month. It was pretty short,” Dumais said. “Very scary.”

He said that while McConnell was out, students asked what they could do, and he suggested writing to him. They didn’t expect that McConnell would never return.

After McConnell’s death was announced Monday, the Newtown High School crisis team made sure students could talk about it.

“We’ve had counselors visit all of Norm’s classes, and we’ve had counselors visit all of Susan’s classes, his wife,” said Dumais. “I believe that because of the strong support system we have, there’s a sense of loss, but also a sense of hope because people see how much they care about each other.”

McConnell, who had taught in Newtown since 1998, started as a K-12 instructional technology coordinator for the district, then after four years moved back into the science classroom, where he had begun his career at his own alma mater, Springfield High School in Delaware County, Pa. In between, he worked for the Jostens class ring company and Apple. He graduated from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and earned a master’s degree in Integration of Instructional Technology in the Classroom from Walden University.

At Newtown High School, McConnell worked in a classroom adjoining that of his wife, Susan McConnell, also a biology teacher.

“She’s who I feel the worst for in the situation,” said Kayla Rustici, a 2008 graduate of Newtown High School. “They had classrooms right next to each other.”

Rustici, a friend of Susan McConnell’s daughter, Courtney Henderson ’08, was in Norm McConnell’s biology class.

“He was honestly the best teacher I’ve ever had,” she said, “and I’m not just saying that. Science wasn’t my best subject, but he made it really fun. He was just such a likeable guy. He was always joking around and told funny stories and stuff.”

In addition to his wife and stepdaughter Courtney, McConnell is survived by two daughters, Tina Mader of Watertown and Raina McConnell-Grant of Hamden, a son, Nevin McConnell of San Francisco, and another step-daughter, Jessica Henderson of Shelton.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, March 17, at 11:30 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Shelton.

“I know a lot of students are upset‘” said Rustici. “They’re expecting a lot of people at the service on Saturday.”

Dumais notified the CIAC, which was scheduling the girls’ basketball state championship playoff games, and the Newtown team was scheduled to play Friday at the Mohegan Sun instead of Saturday.

“We didn’t want students to have to choose whether to go to the game or the memorial service,” Dumais said.

At the request of Susan McConnell, Dumais is setting up a scholarship fund in Norman McConnell’s name. Although all the details are not yet decided, he said it most likely will be for students planning to study biology in college. Contributions to the scholarship fund may be sent to: Chip Dumais, Newtown High School, 12 Berkshire Road, Sandy Hook, CT 06482.

Your Healthy Pet March 16, 2012 at 04:17 PM
I didn't know Mr. McConnell, but my sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Sam Mihailoff March 16, 2012 at 06:05 PM
very sad...condolences to his family
Christine Sekelsky Hermes March 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM
I send my condolences to his family and those that knew him. On another note to the Patch: this is NOT new news.
Mary Thomas March 17, 2012 at 01:04 PM
I have been out of the high school for some years now, and this was sudden and shocking news to me. Norm was an energetic and optimistic teacher who possessed a great depth and breadth of knowledge about many subjects, but still showed humor and humility. I can only begin to imagine how hard this loss is for the whole school, his students especially, and his large family. They all need our support as they adjust to this sad situation.
Anna Wiedemann March 17, 2012 at 01:55 PM
I had the priviledge of working with Norm when I began working for the school system. He was the tech coordinator and was the most patient and kind person I had the good fortune of knowing. RIP Norm. Prayers and condolences to the family and all whose lives he touched.
Sandy Jossick Anderson March 17, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Mu condolence to the students, teachers and family. It is truly sad to loose such a mentor.

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