Kelly Cobiella is a CBS News correspondent based in Dallas.
Over a cafeteria lunch of lasagna, broccoli and brownies, St. Bernard Parish superintendent Doris Voitier told me and my crew a story she's probably recounted thousands of times by now. Voitier remembered back to that Sunday in August of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina was making a beeline for St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans. She, along with a few staff members and about a hundred people with medical needs were hunkered down at Chalmette High School, a shelter of last resort, eating dinner in that same cafeteria and listening to the wind and rain batter their parish.
When the storm finally passed, they thought they'd weathered it quite well. The building held together. Then came the water. As it rushed in, Voitier, the school principal and other staff members carried people in their wheel chairs, amputees, and others up two flights of stairs to high ground.
It's as if the sensible superintendent is still carrying that load today, nearly two years later. Of the districts 15 schools wiped out by the floodwaters, five will be open by the fall, a remarkable achievement.
At the same time, teachers are still living in trailers on school parking lots. The tax base isn't back because entire neighborhoods look just as they did after the water receded. Voitier is still trying to recoup $15 million from FEMA, and the district is suing its insurance company for even more. Voitier told me, "every day is a struggle, still" and a person can't understand it unless they live it.
But touring the schools as I did with Voitier for a day, you don't see her struggle. You see her hugging children, patting teachers on the back, chatting with school principals. You see her inspiring people to battle through the bureaucracy to rebuild. And I found myself cheering her on. Bravo, Doris Voitier. The world could use more leaders like you.
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