ST. LOUIS – Longtime teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, and sophomore student Alexzandria Bell, 15, died in a shooting Monday at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis.
A gunman killed Kuczka and Bell on Monday morning in a shooting at the south city school. Police later shot and killed the gunman, who hurt several others in the incident.
Dr. Kacy Seals-Shahid, principal of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, remembered Bell and Kuczka fondly, shortly after she discussed the school’s response to the tragedy Tuesday.
Bell was a performing arts major at the school with goals to improve her dancing skills, grades and personality.
“She definitely would advocate for herself [and] was working on how to advocate in a most astute manner and diplomatic manner,” said Dr. Seals-Shahid. “She was a very well-rounded individual. Beautiful inside and out.”
Bell’s principal specifically recalled an obstacle she conquered in preparation for a recent performance.
“She was asthmatic, so dancing and being asthmatic has its challenges, but that she did not give up dancing,” said Dr. Seals-Shahid. “She was winded during practice, and we had to set her aside. She at one point wanted to join the dance. … We let her rest and drink water as she caught her breath.”
Dr. Seals-Shahid had interacted with Bell earlier in the morning before the tragedy. Her mother brought a pair of glasses she forgot at home that she later gave to Bell as she got off the bus.
“When Alex got off her bus, I asked her, ‘Aren’t you going to need these?’ We shared an exchange about ‘How did you get them?’ and I explained her mom her glasses.”
Dr. Seals-Shahid says Bell’s family was super supportive of her, and she had a good impression on many of her classmates.
“We just had our homecoming dance and I like claim most beautiful children,” said Dr. Seals-Shahid. “I said, ‘She looks just like me’ at the dance, and she looks very beautiful. Just a wonderful personality.”
Kuczka served as a physical education and health teacher for CVPA and also a student council representative. She had worked with Dr. Seals-Shahid for the last eight years.
“One of the most dedicated staff members,” said Dr. Seals-Shahid. “Very positive, very optimistic, very student-centered.”
She is remembered for trying to get the best out of students and teach life lessons, particularly respect, through her physical education curriculum.
“She made them wear P.E. uniforms, a CVPA shirt with matching shorts that she would order every year,” said Dr. Seals-Shahid. “Students had to pay a deposit, and she was serious that they had to wear them. … It was all about discipline, but at the same time, she definitely instilled respect.”
In a recent professional development meeting, Kuczka carried over a similar message to teachers on how to show respect to students.
“Her message was around respecting the young people, showing and giving respect, and she was able to [send the] message not just for our new teachers, but even for our [more-experienced] teachers. Those words around respect will resonate with me over the years.”
Kuczka was also remembered for being involved in cycling events to support her son and attending as many sporting events for her children as possible.
“All of her children and her grandchildren, she loved them dearly,” said Dr. Seals-Shahid. “She will be greatly missed by our school community and by the entire student body.”
CVPA High School will be closed for the next several weeks as district officials work to determine the next steps after Monday’s shooting.