Toni McShane, Interim-Principal, Lafayette Elementary School


Toni McShane has devoted her life to education. She spent 26 years in the Lafayette School District, and retired two years ago.  She was enticed out of retirement by the offer to serve as Interim Principal at Lafayette Elementary School.  This came at a time when one family and the entire school community faced the impending loss of a beloved student, because of a health crisis.  Reaching out to the experts seemed the wisest choice, so when the question was raised as to who might help, the school psychologist recommended the Contra Costa Crisis Center.


Toni said, “Their response was immediate and helpful.  What surprised me was the depth of caring and compassion we received from the very beginning. We started with the adults, the teachers, counselors, and administrative staff, so we’d be better prepared to help the children.  We learned first, how to support ourselves and each other.  We were, after all, dealing with our own feelings of impending loss.  Then the Crisis Center staff provided us with tools – helpful scripts – that would give the children the opportunity to talk about their feelings.  After that session, they backed-off to give us the time to process things, but they told us they would be available any time we needed them.”


When that time came, the Crisis Center was there, the very morning our student passed. Toni continued, “Our teachers had more courage and the skills they needed to help the children cope.  I wish more people realized that when you are going through a deep loss, people who truly understand or have been through tragedy can help.  They may be strangers, but they are so compassionate, an intimacy develops very quickly.  And they don’t tell you what to do or how to feel.  They listen and provide tools to help you get through it.”


Toni added, “I feel fortunate we have a resource like the Contra Costa Crisis Center. If I knew of a similar situation at another school, I’d say – ‘Don’t hesitate to call them to get the tools you need’ – It’s is like the preparation we devote to fire drills. You want to be prepared: you learn to take care of yourself and others.  I’ve spent a total of 42 years in education so I know how to connect – but what I saw with the Crisis Center team moved me to tears – how they worked with the children and connected with them so effortlessly.  That ream became the wind beneath our wings, to get us through.”