“All Hands on Deck” 

Talking Mental Health, Hurricane Ida, and COVID-19 with Superintendent Lewis

After Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans, our students, parents, educators, and community members had questions about what would come next for our schools. 

Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. joined NSNO’s CEO, Patrick Dobard, and our Chief of Staff, Jené Liggins, on WBOK 1230 am to talk through it as part of our weekly show, “Talking NOLA Schools.”

We discussed moving forward after the storm, helping students cope and heal from ongoing trauma, and the critical behind-the-scenes work that kept our district running even amidst catastrophe. Below, we share quotes from some of Superintendent Lewis’ reflections. You can catch the full interview here

On being ready for disaster

After Hurricane Katrina, there was a nearly $2 billion dollar investment that was made to rebuild our school system. These buildings were built to withstand major hurricanes. And so I was pleasantly surprised and very pleased that our buildings for the most part only sustained minimal damage. We have a few who may have moderate damage. But it’s so important to know that we have some solid buildings. And so we won’t hopefully ever have to be in a situation that we were in nearly 16 years ago. 

We’re very fortunate at the district level that we have a disaster management contract. So immediately, when the storm hits, we execute that contract that we have in place, and we have people on the ground to really be able to access our buildings and begin to work. Because at the end of the day, after making sure that everyone is safe and secure, our job is to get our young people back into the school building. 

On the importance of mental health

One thing that remains on top of my mind is the overall behavioral and mental health of not only our young people, not only our educators, but also our family members…in addition to making sure that the education of our young people remains the top priority, we also recognize if we don’t address the mental and behavioral needs of our students, we can’t ever talk about really providing our students the best possible education. 

You have to make sure that your students are well. You can’t ignore that and think you’ve just got to teach them reading, math, science, and social studies, and it’s going to be okay. So I’m very thankful that we have a community of schools that understand the importance of that. 

Behind the scenes with schools 

From day one, we’ve had communication set up with not only school leaders, but their operations individuals. So everybody hears the same message at the same time. And then outside of that, we also schedule meetings specifically for school leaders to be able to spend some time with them directly. We want to make sure we hear their concerns and get all on the same page. 

It’s a very collective effort, it’s constant communication, whether we’re meeting or sending emails to just give additional guidance to make sure that we can move forward to get our young people back in school.

Through our partnership with our schools, we really have, if I had to pick a phrase in all these situations, a think tank. There are problems and issues that come up, and we’re able to bring it to the table and get feedback. And then I have an awesome team who is able to take the feedback from our schools and be able to process it, and then be able to come back and put proposals on the table to really guide us through each of these scenarios. 

…We have so many amazing leaders who are able to step up, bring their people together to be able to execute not just for their individual organization, but for the children, for the 46,000 students we serve as a district.

Gratitude for our community

I’d put my team and our school leaders up against anybody, because we have done an excellent job responding to all these challenges that we continue to be faced with. 

It has been a very challenging time over the last two plus years, where, for example, our parents, because of COVID, had to organize their own lives and their jobs around their children’s education…so I’m very grateful for that. 

I’m also grateful to our educators that show up every single day, to not only educate our students, but all the things that are thrown at us, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the hurricane – being able to get back in the classroom and take care of our young people, take care of our babies, to make sure that they know that they’re supported.

Our cafeteria technicians…are some of the first individuals our students see every single day, and they give them a nutritious meal that allows them to be able to thrive in the classroom.

I’m very proud of school leaders who have to do so much…they’re saying, “what’s the need?” and responding to that in the moment.

I’m very thankful for my team at the district level…as we work on behalf of our students and families every single day.

[I’m thankful for] the school board…our partners, whether it’s city officials and everyone that comes to the aid of the school system to make sure at the end of the day, we have all hands on deck for our children….that’s what it’s going to continue to take, so that every student we have in our school district is able to become whoever they want to be, and be able to thrive and have a future that they so rightfully deserve.

At 12:30 PM each Monday on WBOK 1230AM,
NSNO’s CEO, Patrick Dobard, and our Chief of Staff, Jené Liggins,
continue these conversations with our education community.
Tune in for more great conversations in the weeks to come.

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