ANDOVER — Tia Pittounicos was "an absolute ray of sunshine'' — a teacher whose students looked forward to being with her each day.
That happiness was dashed when school officials announced to the Bancroft Elementary School community Thursday that the popular third-grade teacher died unexpectedly Wednesday night.
Bancroft Principal Michelle Costa sent an email to students' families and other members of the school community announcing the death, which sent a shock wave through the community and left children, parents and school staff members mourning. Pittounicos' death came after a short illness, Costa said in the email.
"Tia Pittounicos was a third-grade teacher at Bancroft Elementary School and an absolute ray of sunshine," Superintendent Claudia Bach wrote in a statement about the woman known as Miss P. to students and co-workers.
"She loved working as a teacher and her dedication, enthusiasm and positivity radiated throughout the building," Bach said. "Although Ms. Pittounicos taught in Andover for a short period of time, she quickly developed a wonderful rapport with staff and families. This is a significant loss to our students, school staff and the greater community.''
After the death was announced, Pittounicos' students were invited to the school to speak with social workers who provided counseling, Costa said. The school is also offering grief counseling to the rest of the school community.
"The Crisis Response Team at Bancroft has made plans to support the emotional needs of all students, families, faculty and staff," Costa wrote. "Social workers are available to provide support. As this news is sudden, further resources will be provided as soon as possible."
In a followup email Costa added, "The loss of a teacher affects an entire community and Miss Pittounicos, or as we affectionately called her, Miss P, has worked in different grade levels, positively affecting the lives of students and staff across our building."
In addition to teaching third-graders, Pittounicos worked in Bancroft School's kindergarten as an assistant. She formerly lived in Merrimac and was a graduate of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine.
Costa encouraged parents to discuss the death with their children. She asked families needing emotional support to reach out to school officials.
"We do ask that you share this news with your child if they have a connection to Miss P.," Costa said, "and (we) ask if you need help in doing so.''