by Mark Johnson
Raleigh, NC – Hurricane Florence devasted much of eastern North Carolina. Many families lost everything, and our students and educators were no exception. I have seen firsthand the needs of our communities. Floodwaters destroyed school supplies and classrooms across North Carolina. After the storm, education leaders joined together and launched a unique effort to raise funds for teachers, students, and schools affected by Hurricane Florence.
Florence Aid to Students and Teachers (FAST NC) is a bipartisan initiative that is gaining support from private citizens, organizations, and the business community. Now, we are excited to share that Google.org is making a very generous $500,000 contribution to FAST NC, meaning we have raised almost $1 million for students and educators in eastern North Carolina. Thank you, Google.org!
Local, state, and federal governments are doing their part in addressing the restoration of school facilities. At the Department of Public Instruction, we have distributed state emergency funds in addition to insurance and federal disaster relief to affected school districts. So far, we have distributed $60 million in additional funds and recently secured another $20 million from the General Assembly to be disbursed.
FAST NC helps address needs that state and federal funds won’t. In partnership with Communities In Schools of North Carolina, it will specifically address the recovery needs of teachers and educators in their classrooms such as books, supplies, technology, and other resources that were destroyed by water and mold. For example, kindergarten teachers even lost their classroom rugs used for reading time. The list goes on.
While the storm was devastating, we cannot be satisfied with merely restoring these schools to where they were. Some challenges facing schools in eastern North Carolina were present long before the storm. So, as we recover, let’s think creatively about turning adversity into opportunity.
For example, Google.org has pioneered equipping school buses with WiFi to enable rural students with long bus rides to use those commutes to study, do homework, and learn. (Don’t worry, only approved websites can be accessed via the WiFi in these rolling classrooms.)
Based on what I have seen in my travels in the East since the storm, the dedication, resilience, and drive by teachers, administrators, and others has been truly inspiring. I saw cafeteria staff working to get meals to students even though these workers were not sure they would be paid for their time (we made sure they were through an act of the legislature). I saw teachers keeping students on track by sending them online lessons. I saw central office administrators working long hours to make sure students could return to welcoming, safe schools.
We should all be grateful to our hardworking faculty who care so much.
I thank Google.org and the many companies and organizations that have risen to the occasion to help our schools recover. I pledge to continue working with federal, state, and local leaders on the long road to recovery in eastern North Carolina.
(To find out more about FAST NC, visit www.ncpublicschools.org/fastnc .)
Mark Johnson is the elected superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools. After teaching school in Charlotte and serving on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, he now lives in Raleigh with his wife and their daughter, who started kindergarten in August.