Randolph and the Tornadoes

Posted by bhulsey - 04 May, 2011

What a difference a week makes! Today dawned clear and cool, a stark contrast to last Wednesday’s wave of storms that wreaked destruction all over the state and throughout the South. Hundreds in Alabama have lost their lives and thousands have suffered property loss and destruction as a result of these powerful storms. Yet again we are reminded that we have little ultimate control over events that can overwhelm us and change our lives forever.

Last Wednesday at Randolph was a significant challenge from start to stop. We delayed our opening by two hours, and, in the middle of 4th grade lunch, sheltered students, faculty, and even some parents on both campuses for about 45 minutes as powerful storms raked north Alabama. We plan and execute multiple tornado drills every year, and I was very gratified and extremely proud of how quickly and how completely we got everyone into their designated safe areas. We were sheltered for a long stretch of time, and our students, teachers, and parents were calm, patient, and understanding throughout. At Drake we benefited from new means of campus-wide communication to expedite the transition to safe shelters in our buildings. At Garth, the system worked very effectively, too.

Many parents, of course, came to pick up their children, so our numbers were pretty thin by the end of the day. One parent asked if my son, Ben, (who stayed until the end of the day) had to remain at school and “go down with the ship.” My wife, Jennifer, joked that she had never been so far up in the carpool line given how few students were left at dismissal. While many students went home early, we stayed until 5:30, when parents were able to come retrieve the last children from Aftercare.

When the storms finally moved out of the region Wednesday night a quick inventory at Randolph and in most neighborhoods in Huntsville and Madison showed how very, very fortunate we were. We sustained no damage on either campus. For most of us, the power loss was a mere inconvenience given the damage and destruction that so many have endured.

Director of Facilities Mark Salster swung into action to secure the campuses. He also moved food from Drake to Garth where we had a gas-powered generator to run the refrigerator and freezer. Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations Linda Bryant made sure that the faculty and staff were paid by direct deposit on Friday. In short, a core team here at Randolph acted quickly and effectively in response to the power outage.

At present, I know of no casualties in the Randolph community, and for that I am very grateful. A few families sustained significant damage to their primary residence. Middle School science teacher Brenda Vaughan lives out in Harvest, and her home took a direct hit as she and her son waited out the storm in an underground shelter. Thankfully, Brenda and her son are safe, and her home is livable and salvageable, albeit badly damaged. Just across the street in Harvest, Phil Sanders was not so lucky. Phil is a professional musician and is the father of McKenzie in the Middle School. Fortunately the family was in Huntsville when the tornado ripped through Harvest and destroyed his home.

On Saturday, Polly Robb and I went out to Harvest to volunteer in the community and support Brenda and Phil. The devastation out there is surreal, and mere words could never describe the fury that these storms have unleashed on families in our area. At Phil’s house we cleared a path to get in and out of his home and to move his car to the road. And Spence Johnson, Rob Robb, and several other neighbors worked feverishly with Phil to retrieve a special guitar buried in the rubble. The look on Phil’s face when he pulled out that guitar was unforgettable. For a moment, he had all he needed, and I was reminded how completely we re-order our priorities in the midst of such unforeseen devastation.

Once power returned to Huntsville it was important to get Randolph up and running as quickly as possible. Last week’s storms were so unexpected and struck so close to the end of the year that we have made the decision not to make up the days we have missed. But it is critical that we make the most of what time we have left.

Yesterday we hosted a day of in-service for faculty and staff to check and monitor our systems and prepare for the end of the year. Our primary goal is to finish the year with purpose and enthusiasm, and to retain as much possible in our regular schedule. We are strongly committed to the integrity of our programs in academics, the arts, and athletics, and it is fitting to provide as many opportunities to our students as we possibly can, while also understanding the need to be flexible and adaptable as students take AP exams and manage a challenging schedule which in many cases is even more compressed.

We have clearly lost time that cannot be easily re-captured this late in the year. But we also now have the opportunity, and some would say the responsibility, to come together as a school to support those in need in our wider community. In that spirit, we are organizing a community service day this coming Saturday morning with efforts continuing into next week. Please check the School’s website as these plans materialize. We are planning to have opportunities on the Drake Campus for Lower School students, at Manna House for Middle and Upper School students, and even in the devastated neighborhoods for our oldest students. We are eager for parents and alumni to pitch in, too, and I hope that we can all do our part to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most in the wake of last week’s devastating storms.

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