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Montessori school inspired to boost security after Tech stabbing

Friday, April 19, 2024
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Six months ago, a violent stabbing attack on Louisiana Tech University campus came as a shock to a Ruston community with a reputation as a relatively quiet town.

For one Ruston private school, the incident became a sort of wake-up call to rethink and place a more immediate priority on campus security.

“For me it was a huge opportunity to bring that to light, to say, ‘Hey, this happened at a university campus with higher security than we have, and it still happened,” Gabrielle Woodard said.

Woodard and her husband Russell have two children at Montessori School of Ruston (MSR), a small private school for kids 18 months to 12 years old. Gabrielle is a member of the school’s board of directors.

As a New Orleans native, she said she’s more familiar with violence in one’s hometown area.

But the Tech campus stabbing brought things even closer to home as Russell’s mother, retired Judge Cynthia Woodard, was one of the victims.

Judge Woodard recovered, but local artist Annie Richardson died from her wounds the day after the attack. The events gave Gabrielle and others at MSR a heightened awareness of the need for additional security.

“It’s one of those things that will wake me up at 3 in the morning,” she said.

That’s why the school’s spring fundraiser on Saturday is entirely devoted to raising money for beefing up safety measures at the MSR campus.

Open to the general public from 6-8 p.m. Saturday at the school, the event will feature a silent auction of a wide array of goods and services from local businesses; a live auction of artwork from the school’s students; and food, beverages and desserts provided by local eateries.

“We really felt the community pull together (after the attack), and I hope that will continue to happen when we’re not in the middle of a dark time,” Woodard said.

Located on the I-20 north service road, the school currently has fencing, surveillance cameras, a one-way intercom system and staff access to the Rave Panic Button app to alert local authorities.

MSR is now raising funds to implement new measures such as crash bar doors, secure and controlled-access entry points and gates at the parking lot’s entrances to prevent unauthorized traffic.

The hardened entrances would serve a second purpose to improve the school’s viability as a tornado shelter. The doors alone would cost about $20,000, Woodard said.

The school had risk assessments performed to help prioritize the most needed safety projects, and now it’s applying for a grant from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security to hopefully help shoulder the financial burden.

“As a not-for-profit, board-run school, we don’t have that extra cash,” Woodard said.

Previously a crawfish boil, the school’s spring fundraiser is taking a “Ruston Saturday Night” theme this year as local vendors like Hot Rod Bar-B-Q, Ponchatoulas, Crumbs Catering and Common Goods will provide a “taste of Ruston” for attendees.

Tickets are $35 and include all the food and access to the auctions. 16 different area businesses have put up discounts, wares or services as silent auction items.

“We’ve gotten a really positive response from vendors in the community when we tell them what we’re raising money for” Woodard said.

MSR hopes to raise at least $10,000 from the event, but donations to help the school improve security are welcome anytime. There is a donate button on the school’s website,

Woodard said the event would also be a good way for families considering enrolling at MSR to mingle with the faculty and staff in a less formal setting.

Other potential upgrades include tinting the school’s windows so children can’t be seen from the outside, as well as implementing a two-way intercom system.

After being closely affected by a tragic event in the community, Woodard and MSR see an opportunity to begin being more proactive than reactive.

“Instead of just saying, ‘Oh how terrible,’ let’s put some things in action to change it,” she said.