When the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP) traveled to Baton Rouge and New Orleans late last month to view firsthand the plight of schools affected by Hurricane Katrina, team members found school and government officials more than ready to accept help and recommendations for how to rebuild their schools for the 21st century.

Many education companies sent representatives to help team leader Terry Smithson of Intel Corp. coordinate recovery plans. These organizations included the Tiger Woods Foundation, the George Lucas Foundation, Scholastic, The Princeton Review, McGraw-Hill Companies, SAS, the Pearson Foundation, Futurekids, Scantron Corp., the Center for Digital Government, the International Society for Technology in Eduation, LearnStar, SchoolNet, Apple Computer, Pitsco, Ignite! Learning, and SMART Technologies, and eSchool News.

The team held a three-hour meeting with Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and his staff, along with the Louisiana governor’s education policy advisor and superintendents of the East Baton Rouge Parish, Zachary Schools, Baker City Schools, and other districts.

Smithson also announced that Hudson La Force, the deputy assistant secretary for planning in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Planing, Evaluation, and Policy Development, will fill the fifth and final position on HELP’s Executive Oversight Committee.

The other four members of the committee are Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA); Cathilea Robinett, vice president of the Centers for Digital Government and Education; Mike Hall, Georgia’s deputy superintendent of instruction; and Smithson.

Before joining ED, La Force was a general manager with Dell, and in 2002, he founded the Project on Government Leadership, a nonprofit research organization focused on developing new models of government guidance.

Smithson and other team members met with NBC executives to discuss New Orleans’ education plan. During the meeting, participants also discussed creating a media academy for multiple schools.

In addition, the HELP team toured Plaquemines Parish, the first area hit by Hurricane Katrina, and visited several destroyed schools to see how much damage the schools sustained and how long the road to recovery will be.

Smithson met again with Plaquemines Parish staff to discuss the parish’s current technology plan and to identify possible technology usage models. James Hoyle, superintendent of Plaquemines Parish, emphasized the parish’s need for help.

With HELP’s assistance, the Plaquemines Parish is progressing toward the creation of a 21st century learning environment, wrote Smithson in an eMail message to HELP team members. The parish plans to open a school for 600 students using portable trailers until the original building can be rebuilt.

On Feb. 16, Smithson had another meeting with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Don Hutchinson, Nagin’s economic advisor, to further discuss the recovery plan for New Orleans schools. Smithson said Nagin was supportive of HELP’s input and the idea to rebuild the city’s schools to be 21st-century learning environments.

The HELP coalition isn’t the only ed-tech initiative helping to rebuild Gulf Coast schools.

Students from 15 hurricane-ravaged school districts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas soon will have access to educational content, thanks to a donation of mobile computer labs from Dell Inc., SETDA, and Cable in the Classroom.

“These mobile labs provide students with critical access to educational content, both in their classrooms and from the internet, that had been unavailable since the storms,” said Helen Soule, executive director of Cable in the Classroom. “They also demonstrate the powerful role that technology and online resources can play in restoring educational programs after disasters threaten to disrupt learning.”

The donation comes through a program called vSKOOL, a consortium providing education-related relief to K-12 students, educators, and families affected by the Gulf Coast storms. vSKOOL has established an online clearinghouse of donated educational products and services at www.vskool.org. Available items include online courses, test preparation services, software, and digital content, the group said.