Wow, what an ending to a school year. But as my brother and mentor, Ben Gilpin always tells me, share your story and share it honestly. So here it is…
I just completed my second year as a Principal. It was amazing. By far the best year of my career. There were so many great memories, tears, laughter, and more. This year we truly became a family. We went through death together, we celebrated new life together, we danced, we played, we worked our tails off to give our students the best education and school year ever!
Then, something happened.
This past Thursday and Friday were our last days with students. Or they were supposed to be anyway.
Both days were scheduled to be half-days, meaning we release at noon.
Thursday went off without a hitch. We began wrapping things up, we had all plans set for Award Ceremonies and End of Year Parties on Friday. The kids left at noon on Thursday and the staff stayed on campus to complete our work day.
Then about 2:45pm we got alerts on our phones. Tornado warning. Flood warning. Severe Thunderstorm. The whole nine yards. Now you see, we don’t get too many tornadoes ever around our parts. And flooding? Well that happens a little more often but only maybe once a year.
So quickly our entire staff took shelter in the middle of the school. We were thankful the students weren’t there (as this would have also been dismissal time), but we all were worried about them at home, their families, and our own families.
We stayed in our positions for about 30 minutes or so. Then the warning was lifted. We began to hear reports about tornadoes touching down 15 miles north of us, then 1 mile south of us. Buildings ripped apart, semi-trucks flipped over on the highway, and more.
But the storm didn’t let up. It wouldn’t slow down.
At about 4:30pm the storm let up a little and some of us started to venture out. But we were hearing most roads out were closed due to tornado damage or extreme flooding (we found out later, that Brenham, where I live, in particular received about 13 inches of rain in less than 2 hours).
I tried to head home….I live 30 miles from Navasota.
I got 1 mile through town, and then every road was closed in town. Every city road was under water and it was deep. Just trying to get back to school my SUV almost stalled out.
When I got back to school there were still about 20-30 employees there. Waiting it out. Trying to figure out what to do because it seemed every road was closed. (several ended up having to stay the night at the school)
About an 2 hours later, rain had slowed considerably so I decided to try and head home again.
I found a road that leaded to my highway that wasn’t flooded. And I took it. My 30 mile trip, then took 5 and 1/2 hours for me to get home due to downed trees over the highway and flooded bridges. It was terrifying.
But then we got the news, school was cancelled for Friday. And it wouldn’t be rescheduled as it was our last day.
That meant no goodbyes, no parties, no awards, nothing.
Then the flood of phone calls from teachers in tears came in. You see, our student population is one that we give our all for. One where we become their school-parents. They become our children. And it was heartbreaking to know we wouldn’t get closure.
It also meant no end of year staff pot-luck like we had planned. No end of year awards. No goodbyes to staff that were leaving.
Why? The devastation was huge. Many of my team were still without power or not even able to reach their homes.
How do you end a school year when there’s no closure? How do you feel like it’s completed? My heart is so torn. I don’t feel like school is over. I never got to say goodbye. We never got to have that final celebration. It definitely isn’t the closing I was expecting to this year.
But my team is amazing. Within hours of knowing we wouldn’t have school, every team got together and planned a time this next week where we were going to invite families up by grade level to tell their teachers goodbye, to celebrate the end of the year, to celebrate our kiddos.
That’s family. That’s my team at Webb. Without one complaint, they chose to gave up their just beginning summer break, because they couldn’t go through summer without getting their goodbyes.
The end of the year didn’t happen as planned. It wasn’t ideal. But even in the midst of unplanned chaos, we can learn something.
So what do you do when something unexpected happens? When there’s no closure? Well, you just do the best you can. Life loves throwing curveballs, but it’s all in how we react to those curveballs.