The Mayfield Independent School District plans to welcome students back to class on January 10 – exactly one month after deadly storms swept through western Kentucky and destroyed much of that city.
Mayfield Independent is a small neighborhood of about 1,800 students. It has an elementary school, middle school, high school, and vocational school, which it shares with Schools in Graves County, the surrounding county school system.
Public school buildings in the district escaped extensive damage, but Mayfield Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Henderson said there were still many hurdles to overcome.
He spoke to WPFL News on Wednesday about his concerns for the district. Questions and answers have been edited slightly for clarity.
Q: The students have experienced serious trauma. How do you plan to meet their mental health needs? I understand that you had counselors in the field, even after leaving school.
HENDERSON: Right. We have offered support to students who needed it over the past few weeks. And of course, we will continue to do so in the future. One of the things we will do next week before we come back on the 10th is that we will educate our staff at the classroom level: how to deal with tragedy and how to help students cope. to many stresses they will have when they return to school.
Our staff are obviously traumatized to a certain extent also in certain situations, so we will have additional psychological support on site which is offered through the Western Kentucky Educational Cooperative. They have a team of people who will be coming next week for the staff, and then those people will continue to stay in the district to provide that additional support in the buildings to our students as needed.
Q: I understand that none of your buses are working and some have been completely destroyed. It looks like transportation is going to be a major challenge.
HENDERSON: Absolutely. In many aspects. We were able to reach the surrounding districts, and even the districts outside of this particular region, which were so generous in donating buses to us until we could fix our entire fleet.
And on top of that, we have children who have been displaced outside the community. Kenlake State Park is one area where we have families who have been moved to the shelter, then the others were transferred to hotels in Paducah. Right now I’m working with these counties so that I can put together a plan on how, if these students want to stay here – we would like them to stay in our school district – you know, how do we work the transportation side to get back here. at school people who no longer live in the district?
Q: One thing that districts often struggle with after a disaster like this is that students don’t always come back. And since funding is tied to registration, it can hurt districts financially. Is this something that worries you?
HENDERSON: Absolutely. I was in a meeting Tuesday with Christian County Schools and Dawson Springs Independent with the Education Commissioner and some of his staff to discuss what that impact might be, and some of the things the Department of Education or lawmakers can help us move forward. So yes, this is at the forefront of our concerns, because obviously it will be a problem for the future, not just now, but for years to come until we are able to rebuild the homes. here.
Q: What are the solutions you discussed?
HENDERSON: One of the things we spoke to at the Kentucky Department of Education yesterday was this: Could it be possible for lawmakers to allow us to freeze average daily attendance? This is the # 1 factor to indicate the funding we receive from the state level. So my request yesterday was to see if it was possible for lawmakers to freeze the average daily attendance for the next five years, because we believe that in our community it will take at least that time to rebuild and have the opportunity for our families to return to that community if they choose to do so. And that would kind of provide a level of financial protection for the school district going forward.