Robert J. Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), was having lunch with a friend when he heard the news about Newtown.
“You feel it emotionally. You feel it physically,” Rader said Saturday at NSBA’s Leadership Conference’s Second General Session on serving your members in times of crisis. “That changed everything.”
Except, of course, the duty of CABE to do everything it could to support Newtown’s schools and its member districts across the state. School board members usually think that student achievement is their highest calling, Rader said. But crises like the one in Newtown remind us that securing the well-being of students is a prerequisite, the number one job.
The shootings happened on a Friday; by Saturday night, Rader and his staff had posted information for school board members on how to try to prevent such as tragedy, and how to deal with shootings and the aftermath.
Rader was joined in the Saturday session by Michael Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association, and Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still very much in Waldrop’s mind. While New Orleans got the most attention, little Bay Saint Louis, on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, was “ground zero” for the storm, which pushed 12-foot tide surges as far as 12 miles inland.
“And when it went out to the Gulf of Mexico, it carried everything with it,” Waldrop said.
Throughout the region, homes and many schools were reduced to mere slabs. “How do we start school when we don’t even have buildings?” – that was the refrain of some superintendents.
The association responded by contacting makers of modular units, as well as tent venders, and distributed the information to all affected school districts so overwhelmed officials wouldn’t have to do that research themselves. The association opened a trust fund to buy relief supplies. A modest $150,000 was collected, but that money went far.
“We’re trying to set our office up. We need 20 computers,” one superintendent told Waldrop, and he said. ”The next day they had 20 computers.”
New Jersey sustained $37 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy last fall. Even the school boards association had to close for five days because it was without power, Feinsod said. When it was up and running, he added, “we knew we had to do something, and we had to do it quickly.”
Over the course of 72 hours, Feinsod and his staff contacted all 586 school districts in the state, a mammoth undertaking that got results.
“One group reached out to us in this very complex state,” one school official told Feinsod. “And it was the school boards association.”