In Katrina's Wake

Subject: Social Studies
Grade Level: N/A
Source: Cable in the Classroom

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we were faced with following the rules or going off in our own direction. By taking charge of the situation, we could do what really needed to be done: serve the best interest of our students and community."

Educators throughout the country encounter obstacles every day, but when Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana and destroyed St. Bernard Parish, Superintendent Doris Voitier was faced with the impossible task of re-starting an entire school system and community from scratch. 

Amazingly, just 11 weeks after Katrina made landfall, Voitier reopened St. Bernard Unified School, operating out of tents, trailers, and the second floor of the flooded Chalmette High School.  Today this monument to dedication serves as a single campus for 2,345 students in preschool through high school and provides an oasis of calm in the shattered lives of the students.

Before Katrina, Voitier oversaw 14 schools and 8,800 students.  In the days after the storm, the system's staff of 1,200 employees was reduced to Voitier and her top assistant, Bev Lawrason.  With little funding and many displaced employees, Voitier worked with Lawrason to locate staff and begin restoring order to the schools. 

Voitier took out a federal disaster loan for the parish, hired an environmental restoration company to clean every school campus, bought 22 trailers to house a new school, and bought 60 residential trailers to house her administration and staff – almost all of whom had lost their homes. 

On November 14, 2005 St. Bernard Parish Schools opened its first public school to 334 students, many arriving from temporary homes more than an hour away, hugging and elated to see one another. In January of 2006, more than 1,500 students were back at St. Bernard Parish Public Schools.

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