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Heroic School Leadership

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*Written by Angie VanGorder

For rural North Carolina towns already struggling with population declines and challenging economic conditions, the recent damage caused by Hurricane Matthew has been devastating. After Matthew made landfall on the East Coast on October 8, record flooding swept through the eastern part of the state. This level of flooding and the need for large scale evacuation has not been seen in North Carolina since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Towns like Kinston, Lumberton and Princeville were inundated by rising flood waters. Roadways continue to be impassable in some areas, homes are still without power in parts of the state, and thousands of residents were evacuated from their homes and remain displaced.

Princeville, recorded as the oldest town in the United States to be chartered by freed African American slaves, is in Edgecombe County and was hit very hard by Hurricane Matthew. Most students in Edgecombe County did not return to school until October 20. Unfortunately, 220 pre-K through fifth grade elementary students are without a school building and materials.

Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) Superintendent John Farrelly said that most Princeville Elementary students will be relocated to the Bridgers Community Building in Tarboro. Preschool students will attend Stocks Elementary, while the exceptional children’s program will be relocated to Martin Millennium Academy.

Rural leaders are coming together in ways large and small to help some of the hurricane’s most vulnerable victims: children. These leaders include graduates of the Northeast Leadership Academy, the nation’s top principal preparation program, which is a joint partnership between the College of Education and the Friday Institute.

Martin Millennium Academy in Tarboro served as a shelter for approximately 100 people, including students in ECPS. Although it has been a difficult few weeks for many families, school leaders in Edgecombe County have helped to organize relief efforts.

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Principal Keith Parker, a NELA Cohort IV graduate, said “We are working to provide a wrap-around support package that can handle physical needs as well as emotional. We are organizing relief in the form of clothes, toiletries, school supplies, and recreational equipment.”

Parker noted that there has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community in both donations and service. His leadership team, which includes AP and NELA Cohort IV graduate Sylvia Anthony-McGeachy, already started planning longer-term student and family support.

“It will be a long road to recovery,” Parker said. “A simple dosing (of support) will not suffice for many of our families.”

Ms. Lauren Lampron, principal at W.A. Pattillo Middle School in Tarboro and a NELA Cohort III graduate, kept her faculty and staff updated during the school closing in daily emails about the storm damage. Lampron asked teachers to reach out to their students and families and check on how they are doing. She and her husband, NC State Ed.D. student Phillip Lampron, volunteered at the shelter at Tarboro High School and encouraged others to do the same.

“Our students are in good spirits,” she wrote. “Today we played with puzzles and read short stories. Tomorrow, they are determined to open school at the shelter. They want the older kids (6th grade) to teach the little ones (the kindergarteners).”

Lampron discussed with her teachers the importance of finding ways to empower students as they return to school.

“Our students really are relentless. When we return, I know they will be full of stories that they’ll need assistance in processing,” she said. “It will be important that we do not simply pick up where we left off. I ask that you start to brainstorm ways in which you can acknowledge what students have been through and provide space for them to process their experiences through the work in the classroom.”

Students at Pattillo returned to school on October 20. Assistant Principal Rashard Curmon, also a NELA Cohort V Fellow, shared a moving image of a teacher facilitating a circle meeting with her students. All teachers spent time discussing the impact of recent flooding and how the school and community should move forward.

Although we can celebrate the fact that our children have a familiar structure to which to return,” said Curmon, “the reality is that many of them will not be able to return to their homes.”

Leaders like these NELA graduates not only help close achievement gaps in North Carolina, they also advocate for children impacted by forces far beyond their own control. In events like Hurricane Matthew, they stand strong in the face of daunting obstacles, and we need more leaders like them.

There is also a need for continued assistance to communities devastated by Hurricane Matthew. To find out how you can become a part of relief efforts, visit http://bit.ly/2eAX3D5 or http://bit.ly/2elTSxR.

To see the extent of Hurricane Matthew’s impact, visit: