Colorado School Districts Show Resilience
Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy battered the nation’s eastern shoreline, communities throughout Colorado continue to clean up from the damages left by September’s heavy rains and widespread flooding.
According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, as of September 30, eight deaths occurred as a result of the floods. Thousands of homes were destroyed and damage estimates surpassed $1 billion.
Boulder County was one of the worst hit areas. “As we work through this, knowing there are a lot of people under strain and stress, everybody has been incredibly cooperative,” said Bruce Messinger, superintendent of the Boulder Valley School District. “Every (school) building was damaged by the flood—some more than others. But we have a very talented, committed and dedicated staff and we’re getting through it.
“After we closed schools on September 12, the first priority was to get all BVSD students home from school trips and outdoor education camps,” wrote Messinger in a blog he posted on the school district’s website. “The BVSD crisis management team worked with emergency responders to assure the safe return of all students on school activities.”
Not long after the flooding occurred, Messinger said plenty of “lessons and learning” were going on throughout the school system. “Members of our community love their public schools. Many are dealing with personal crises so we’re taking care of our neighbors.”
Relief efforts continue at BVSD. One group spearheading such efforts is the Impact on Education Foundation for Boulder Valley Schools, through its iCare Flood Recovery program. Examples of support include providing school supplies, academic support for students unable to get to their home schools and audio visual equipment lost in the floods that will be used for classroom instruction.
The community spirit prevails in nearby Fort Collins, the home of the Poudre School District. Officials continue to identify students and staff impacted by the flood in an effort to assess the needs of residents while recognizing neighbor districts were hit much harder. In addition to cleaning up after the flood, families in a small part of the district had fires to contend with.
Smyser notes calls and emails are pouring into the district’s office from residents asking what others may need. At the same time, callers are offering to help to get things back on track. “It’s amazing to hear our neighbors reaching out like that.”
Smyser became superintendent of Poudre Schools on July 1. “I learned quickly how amazing my staff is.”
Weld County School District 6 serves Greely and Evans, Colo., where at one point, there were nearly 800 homeless students and 3,000 students in a “no-flush” zone, with no access to showers or laundry facilities
“My biggest concern,” said Superintendent Ranelle Lang, “is that the weather is changing. Some kids have no coats, boots or mittens.”
Working in partnership with the Weld Food Bank, the school district is providing free meals during evening hours to students and families displaced by the disaster. This offering began on September 30 and will continue for the time being. The meals are being served at several of the district’s schools. “This is America,” said Lang. “Children should not go around hungry.”
“For me, this has been a humbling experience,” she added. “I commend the entire community for being part of the recovery process. I have the best team in the world.”
Superintendents Messinger, Smyser and Lang are members of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
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