The Lauded Rebel Of St. Bernard Parish

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.,, left, and Caroline Kennedy, right, pose for photos with the JFK Profile in Courage Award recipients Doris Voitier, superintendent of Schools for St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, second from left, and Houston Mayor Bill White after the award presentations at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Monday, May 21, 2007. ( AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)
AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki
You wouldn't know it from Doris Voitier's conservative suit and quiet manner, but the superintendent of Saint Bernard Parish Schools is a force of nature.

"She has given her life to the children, to the parents, to St. Bernard Parish," TK Tiffanie said.

In the days after Hurricane Katrina hit, this administrator turned into a rescuer.

She showed CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella that water came right up to a school's overhang, which operated as a boat dock during the flooding.

Voitier helped pull hundreds of people into the second floor of the high school — the only high ground.

"They kept coming and coming and coming because this way was the only place where they felt they could be safe," Voitier said.

Floods damaged or destroyed every last home, business, and all 15 schools in the Parish. FEMA wouldn't fast enough for Voitier, so she launched her second rescue mission, ignoring the bureaucracy of FEMA, buying whatever she needed to rebuild with the district's reserves and loans, (and) sending FEMA the bill, and convincing teachers to come back and help her.

Pre-Katrina, would she have considered herself a rebel?

"Not really," she said. "I think pre-Katrina, as most teachers are, a rule-follower. But I quickly saw that in a crisis situation you had to throw all that out because nothing would get done."

Just eleven weeks after the storm, St. Bernard Parish had a school again, and 334 students. Today the numbers have swelled to 3,800 and growing.

"They do look like they are having fun anyway," Voitier said of the students. And it makes her happy.

"Oh it makes me tremendously happy. There were so many dark days in the beginning, where you cry every day — you wonder what's going to happen from day to day. Then all I have to do is walk into a school and see them smiling and talking with them, and then we know what it is all about," Voitier told Cobiella.

It still isn't easy. Voitier is still fighting to recoup $15 million from FEMA. But these days she relishes the role of rebel. It's the role of hero that makes her squirm.

"You know when people congratulate me on these awards, I feel a lot, very much embarrassed," she said. "Because I don't think personally [I] have done anything that is exceptional."

Teachers, parents, and hundred of kids would disagree.

Kids shout to her "we love you!"

"It is so great when they tell you they love you, huh?" Voitier admits.