AASA’s Rapid Response in Crisis Moments

By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, April 2019

CUMBERLAND COUNTY IN North Carolina is a suburban school district with high poverty near Fort Bragg, a military installation with more than 50,000 active duty personnel.

Last year, the area was devastated by Hurricanes Florence and Michael. The destructive storms left many students homeless with thousands of houses damaged or destroyed. In the aftermath, Superintendent Marvin Connelly wrote me to thank AASA for its financial support that helped students and their families. He described a family that had been homeless for several years due to Hurricane Matthew. Then Hurricane Florence flooded the temporary facility they were occupying, forcing the mother and two daughters to live out of a van. The mother used funds from AASA to repair her car, buy food and purchase clothing for her daughters.

Flexible Support
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, AASA has raised and contributed more than half a million dollars to assist families and students in communities affected by hurricanes, tornadoes and fires.

Last fall, the Patrick County Schools in southwestern Virginia were hit by two hurricanes, an ice storm and a snow storm. Two schools suffered power losses that resulted in spoiled food supplies. Because of flooding, new food deliveries could not be completed. AASA grant money was used to purchase food to be prepared and served at the two schools. When the system had to close for a week, AASA dollars provided free lunches for students and parents eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Florida’s Bay District Schools were severely impacted by Hurricane Michael. As students returned to school, they needed replacement clothing. AASA funds purchased shirts, pants, shoes, socks and underwear.  

The beauty of the grants given by AASA is their flexibility. Districts can use the money to address immediate needs. New Hanover County in North Carolina used its grant to provide clothes and transportation for 12 families who were living in shelters two months after Hurricane Florence.

AASA funds most recently assisted schools affected by the widespread wildfires in California.

Rapid Response
Unfortunately, it is not just natural disasters that devastate our school communities. Shootings, suicides and drug overdoses are claiming the lives of many students and staff. According to the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, 55 fatalities resulted from school shootings in 2018, making it the worst year on record. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide is the third leading cause of death for school-aged children over 10. And opioid addiction is reaching epidemic proportions among school-aged children. Consequently, hardly a week passes without us learning about a tragic incident involving a student or staff member.

In 2016, Joe Erardi, then superintendent for Newtown Public Schools in Connecticut, was serving on AASA’s Executive Committee. He had succeeded Janet Robinson, the Newtown superintendent during the Sandy Hook tragedy, and was keenly aware of the need that superintendents have for immediate support in those critical times.

Erardi suggested AASA develop a process for assisting superintendents in times of crisis. With the Executive Committee’s approval, AASA’s School Safety and Crisis Planning program was launched. Any superintendent can reach out at any time and get assistance from him at 571-480-0313.

Proactive Practices
AASA also has developed a School Safety and Crisis Planning toolkit. The toolkit provides proactive best practices before, during and after a crisis and links to education organizations providing materials and resources, including the American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists.

Two of AASA’s School Solutions partners also provide free resources. CrisisGo is a free application that gives every classroom an emergency-alert system. Citizenaid places life-saving equipment in every classroom along with training in how to use it.

Every week, AASA staff members scour the news in search of school districts that have experienced a fatality or other type of serious loss. We immediately contact the superintendent offering our help.

Last November, Girl Scouts and an adult chaperone in Chippewa Falls, Wis., were picking up roadside litter when a pickup truck veered off the road, striking and killing three girls and the adult. We immediately reached out to Superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos who wrote back in response: “Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out, Dan. It was a horrible, horrible tragedy. It meant a great deal to me to have you recognize our situation very quickly and extend such valuable resources from AASA. Thank you so much!”