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On this we agree: Helping the students and educators who were impacted by Florence

In recent days, we’ve witnessed the devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence, and we’ve collectively grieved the plight of North Carolinians in the path of the storm and the rising waters. We’ve been especially saddened by the impact of the storm on our students and our educators.

Last week, I had a far-fetched notion. I called State Superintendent Mark Johnson and former State Superintendent June Atkinson and proposed that they work together to help meet the school-related needs of students and educators. Now you might think that would be a hard sell, but they said YES! So did current state board chair, Eric Davis. Phil Kirk, former state board chair, secretary of human resources, and past president of the state chamber, said he’d help. And Henry Johnson, former North Carolina associate state superintendent, former Mississippi state superintendent at the time Hurricane Katrina struck, and former assistant US secretary of education during the years of Katrina recovery, also stepped up.

Our intent is two-fold. First and foremost, we want to help the students and educators who were impacted by the storm. That’s Job 1.

But secondarily, we want to send a message. At a time when there’s so much that divides us, these leaders have agreed to reach across party lines, across issues of division, and do something important for kids and teachers. Friends, supporters, and partners are here with us. Some of us, you wouldn’t see together at the same political event, or at the same table for a policy discussion, or aligned on any number of education issues.

But on this we agree: we will work together to help students and educators who have been hit so hard by this storm.

So we’re here to announce the creation of FAST NC. Florence Aid to Students and Teachers. It’s actually intended to provide aid to students and educators, but that turned the acronym into FASE; not the note we were hoping to strike.

At the end of my second term as state superintendent, we moved to Mississippi, where my wife, Hope, had been appointed to serve as the United Methodist bishop. We arrived a year before Hurricane Katrina, and the next seven years of our time there revolved around response and reconstruction. I was on the faculty of The University of Southern Mississippi, and RAND provided a grant that enabled my colleagues and me to study to impact of the storm on displaced students. The story of those students is what you’d expect — they struggled with achievement and behavior problems. And the problems persisted, even worsened over time.

That same potential looms before us now. Hope and I were in New Bern on Sunday and we heard about one school in which 90 percent of students may be displaced. We who are gathered here want to do our part to help change their story as we respond to Hurricane Florence.

I want to thank Henry Johnson, June Atkinson, Mark Johnson, Eric Davis, and Phil Kirk for their leadership. I want to reiterate our appreciation for the friends, supporters and partners who are here with us.

Mike Ward

Mike Ward served as the superintendent of public instruction in North Carolina from 1997-2004.