When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Belle Chasse, La., on Aug. 29, the Plaquemines Parish school system was devastated. After losing six of nine school buildings to punishing winds and widespread flooding, Supt. James Hoyle decided to take a stand.
Rather than let the tragic condition of this once-thriving school system threaten the culture of improvement and innovation he and his staff worked so hard to create, Hoyle, ever the optimist, turned his sights to the future. Using technology as a catalyst, he joined with teachers and administrators to create a plan for rebuilding the district, envisioning a time within the next five years when every school in Plaquemines Parish would be equipped with the kinds of technologies essential for preparing today’s students for success in the 21st century, no matter what.
Now, little more than five months later, Plaquemines Parish staff already are making strides to improve the school system and create more opportunities for students. Future plans include the addition of wireless mobile computer labs and high-speed WAN connectivity, state-of-the-art media centers in school libraries, improved science labs with electron microscopes and portable projectors, digital video cameras and editing software, interactive whiteboards, assistive technologies for special-needs learners, an advanced phone and messaging system for employees, GPS technologies, ongoing professional development programs, and more.
Though he claims the devastation is virtually indescribable to anyone who hasn’t yet seen the piles of trash and debris, taken shelter from the giant mosquitoes coming in off the Gulf, or smelled the stench of festering rubbish left by the storm, Hoyle believes there is plenty of room for rebirth in Plaquemines Parish.
That’s why, instead of letting staff members go, Hoyle decided to give every employee in the parish–all 820 of them–the chance to continue working in an effort to rebuild. This, despite the fact that the school system currently enrolls only about 2,700 students–fewer than half of the 5,500 students it served before the storm. The parish even went as far as to provide temporary housing for employees who lost their homes, setting mobile homes on school property to help those in need get back on their feet. So far, some 600 employees have taken advantage of the chance to return.
“Although Hurricane Katrina has destroyed two-thirds of our schools and millions of dollars worth of … technology, it has not taken our vision and our resolve,” said Hoyle. “Technology will be an integral component in the rebuilding of our schools.”
Hoyle’s outstanding vision, leadership, and dedication to using technology to improve the lives of his students–even amid trying circumstances–place him among an elite group: the winners of our 6th annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards. For more information about Hoyle and the other nine winners of this year’s awards, see the Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards PDF.