Nearly every structure in St. Bernard Parish was inundated with floodwater after Hurricane Katrina. But even as the community’s school district sat in the lingering waters, St. Bernard schools superintendent Doris Voitier was convinced that she would return public education to the parish as soon as possible. By November 2005, just 11 weeks after the storm, the first school reopened, using temporary trailers and bringing a ray of hope and inspiration to a devastated community.
In recognition of her accomplishments, Voitier has been named a recipient of the 2007 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which is presented annually by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. The Boston-based foundation says its award is presented to public servants who have made “courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences.”
“Despite insurmountable odds, Doris Voitier rebuilt the schools of St. Bernard Parish, making sure the children of her community had a place to learn and grow when they returned home,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the foundation and the daughter of the late president.
Another recipient this year is Houston Mayor Bill White, who was selected for his leadership as his city took in thousands of displaced residents from New Orleans and other communities in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
In St. Bernard Parish, the Kennedy Library Foundation said Voitier overcame “pervasive devastation and bureaucratic indifference” as she worked to rebuild her schools with virtually no assistance from state or federal agencies. Using a borrowed computer, she secured loans to hire disaster cleanup teams and acquire portable classrooms. She also rented trailers to house a scratch staff of teachers who agreed to work for reduced pay.
More schools are opening in St. Bernard Parish as the local recovery continues. By the start of the next school year, the school district expects to have 4,000 students attending five schools. St. Bernard Parish officials have said getting schools back open quickly has been a linchpin of the community’s recovery.
The prestigious Profile in Courage Award is named for President Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the award in 1989 and past recipients include former president Gerald Ford; Ukrainian former president Viktor Yushchenko; and U.S. Senators John McCain, and Russell Feingold.
Voitier will officially receive her award later this month in Boston at an event celebrating President Kennedy’s May 29 birthday. — I.M.