Health teacher killed in south St. Louis school shooting ‘loved her students’

Health teacher killed in south St. Louis school shooting ‘loved her students’

Health teacher killed in south St. Louis school shooting ‘loved her students’

ST. LOUIS — The woman shot to death at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Monday has been identified as Jean Kuczka, a physical education teacher at the south St. Louis school.

Jean Kuczka

Jean Kuczka

Kuczka, 61, of Jefferson County, had taught at the school since 2008, according to her school biography.

A gunman came into Kuczka’s classroom, Room 323, and Kuczka went in front of him to protect the students, her daughter was told. It wasn’t immediately clear why the gunman went to her room or if he targeted a certain teacher.

Alexandria Bell, 16, was also slain in the rampage before police stormed the school at 3125 South Kingshighway and killed the gunman, who police identified late Monday as Orlando Harris, 19, a graduate last year of the school.

“My mom loved kids,” her daughter Abigail Kuczka said. “She loved her students. I know her students looked at her like she was their mom.”

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Former students and coworkers remembered Kuczka as a dedicated teacher.

Glenn Barnes, an employee at St. Louis Public Schools, in a tweet called Kuczka “an amazing educator” who made a difference in her community.

“This is a huge loss,” Barnes said.

Jean Kuczka graduated from Lindbergh High School in 1979. She attended Southwest Missouri State University, now Missouri State, on a field hockey scholarship and was a member of the 1979 national championship team.

Jean Kirk Kuczka

Jean Kuczka, in a photo from her Facebook page.

She taught physical education at Seven Holy Founders in south St. Louis County for 16 years. She later taught PE at Carr Lane middle school in the St. Louis Public Schools system, then transferred to Central Visual and Performing Arts in 2008. The school website says she has taught health, personal finance and PE.

Kuczka recently began coaching cross country at Collegiate, an SLPS magnet school that shares a campus with CVPA.

“This was her first year of empty-nesting, and she was looking for something extra to do,” Abigail Kuczka said. “She was definitely looking forward to retirement though. She was close.”

Kuczka was the mother of two sons and three daughters. One of her sons is a Eureka police officer. She also had six grandchildren. Her husband, Stephen Kuczka, choked up when reached by phone Monday afternoon but said he didn’t want to comment yet.

Family of Jean Kuczka

Steve, Joe, Megan, Isabelle, Abbey, Steve Jr. and Jean Kuczka, in a 2019 family photo at a river home in Eureka. Photo courtesy Kuczka family

Abigail Kuczka said her mother talked about security concerns at the high school once last semester, telling relatives that a student from another school brought a gun into the building.

“She mentioned that, but other than that, she didn’t really think anything” about safety concerns, her daughter said. “I mean, I think people think it will never happen to them.”

Kuczka loved bike riding and every year would participate in an event to raise money to help fight juvenile diabetes. One of Kuczka’s sons was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 10 years old, her daughter said.

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