Cassville school leaders speak at Disaster Mentoring Seminar
Administrators share lessons from disasters, communication tactics
Whether natural or man-made, no one wants to think about disasters occurring in the school setting, but it's crucial to be prepared, and the responsibility falls on school administrators.
The Cassville school district has had its share of disasters with severe flooding events, including when flood waters came into the basement of its intermediate building in December 2015, causing the concrete floors to buckle and break from extreme hydraulic pressure, leaving students and teachers displaced for nearly two years.
During that period, administrators gained first-hand knowledge of response and recovery efforts, mitigation and repairs, and lessons in practicing patience. The district pursued FEMA Disaster Declaration funding, but was denied during the initial review. Finally, after waiting two years and enduring a 14-month appeal process, the school district was able to secure funding from FEMA for qualifying mitigation.
The district is eligible to receive 75 percent of the $2.3 million that was approved for mitigation funding. This would total $1.6 million in allowable cost reimbursement. FEMA may also deduct portions insurance has already paid for, like some engineering costs.
Because of their face-to-face experience with disaster, Cassville Superintendent Richard Asbill, and Director of Operations Dusty Reid were invited to join other school administrators from across the country to serve as mentors and share their experiences in the Hurricane Harvey Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Seminar at the Education Service Center in Corpus Christy, Texas.
“The superintendents that came in had vast disaster experience that included a school shooting, fires, floods, suicide and tornados," said Candace Stoltz, director of the Emergency Management Texas Education Agency. "They shared their experiences and lessons learned that included great information on communications after the event."
During the seminar, mentors discussed communication tactics in the event of a disaster, shared lessons learned, ideas, and best practices concerning disasters.
“[The seminar] is a safe space for leaders to hear from other leaders on the important matters of disaster planning and recovery, whether it be natural (floods, fires, etc) or man-made (suicide, school shootings, etc),” said Kelly Kravitz, director of Highly Mobile and At-Risk Student Programs, Division of Special Populations at the Office of Academics Texas Education Agency. "The layout of the day and the practical nature of the discussion, panels, and interaction among participants, makes for a rich learning environment."
Asbill, who has served in education for 23 years, with 17 in central office administration, and 12 years as superintendent of the Cassville school district, called the seminar an "outstanding experience, both personally and professionally."
"Dusty and I were chosen because we had been going through our FEMA response and appeal issues," Asbill said. "That process allowed Cassville to reach out and network with the Joplin School District as they responded to their FEMA tornado issues. Dr. CJ Huff coordinated the effort and invited us to participate in the mentor program. Dr. Phil Cook from the Carl Junction School District has also participated in the Peer-to-Peer Mentor program.
"The panel of mentors we got to serve with truly brought some experiences and knowledge that were very valuable. We each were able to bring a perspective on dealing with a variety of school related crisis issues; for us the flood and damage to the school. In this case, we met with schools impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
The mentor group hosted conversations with Texas school leaders.
"We openly collaborated on challenges, areas of concern, needs, and how to plan for response or recovery efforts," Asbill said. "In retrospect, we actually learned and gained more than we hoped to provide. The collaboration and conversations were so valuable when you have a group of school leaders committed to students and community needs. Our hope is that we are better able to plan, respond, react, and recover from crisis through this process."
Asbill and Reid returned with information and resources to help the Cassville school district be more prepared for crisis or disaster needs.
"Dusty and I have already shared several discussions on learned topics and areas that, until experienced, we would have had little perspective on how to respond," Asbill said.
Prior to joining the Cassville school district, Reid spent 20 years with Missouri State Parks, experiencing over 30 flood events and several high wind events during that time. He has worked through six federally declared disasters that included FEMA-funded repairs and mitigation, including
repairs to the district's intermediate building.
"Unfortunately, I have had the opportunity to navigate several natural disasters while working for the school district and for Missouri State Parks," Reid said. "I was very excited to be a part of a team that was asked to help school officials affected by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. It turned out to be a wonderful experience, and I learned so much more than I ever could have expected.
"The other school officials had so many valuable lessons, you couldn't help but to hang onto their every word and think about what you would do if you were in their shoes. I feel blessed to have made their acquaintance, and would be comfortable calling them in the future and asking for advice. I hope we would never need to call them, but having resources like this to help our schools and communities is very valuable."
Asbill and Reid will continue to serve as resources and mentors for school leaders across the country involved in disaster recovery operations.