St. John reaped the teacher benefits from Katrina

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – It has been over two years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through Southeastern Louisiana, leaving not only destroyed homes and businesses in their wake, but the disrupted lives of residents of the affected areas.

Those disrupted lives caused an influx in the student population in the St. John school district in 2006. In turn, that influx in population allowed for jobs for some of the teachers who had been recently displaced.

Now, whereas the population has leveled out once again, some of those teachers have decided to stay in St. John rather than going back to their old school districts.

Carol Jane Myers, a holder of two master’s degrees and a Board Certified art teacher at East St. John High School and East St. John Elementary, was a teacher in Orleans Parish for over 16 years before the hurricanes forced her out.

Myers remembers the storm throughout its phases.

“I was putting my room in order and it wasn’t going to hit us,” said Myers.

Then she said the forecast changed and she decided to evacuate because it sounded like it was going to be a bad storm.

“We usually didn’t evacuate,” said Myers. When she and her husband wisely decided to leave, she did not expect to not have a job to come back to.

“We were advised to seek employment elsewhere,” said Myers. “That was a scary moment for me.”

The next year of her life took her through the unemployment system to a temporary stop in the St. Charles school system, where she had to take off days from work to clean out her old classroom.

The instability finally ended when Myers was hired by St. John.

“I am happy here,” said Myers. “I am staying here until I retire.”

At 60, retirement is just around the corner for Myers, although she said that is where the only negative aspect of the transition is.

She lost her seniority in the health insurance plan of her former school, meaning she started at the bottom two years ago at St. John.

“I am hoping the parish will make an exception,” said Myers. “I’m not planning on staying here for 20 more years.”

Overall, Myers said the move to St. John has been positive in that the salary is higher, her commute takes less time and the facilities are better.

She is not alone.

Felicia Kinzy, a counselor at West St. John Elementary, said her move from the Orleans Parish School District, where she was a long time employee, to St. John, was “a blessing in disguise.”

Kinzy was lucky enough to evacuate before the storm hit. She and her family spent over a week in a shelter close to Monroe.

She said the most negative aspect of the situation was being notified she had been released from her job.

“They didn’t even pay us,” she said. “They were forced to do that later.”

After leaving the shelter, her family moved in with a friend in LaPlace.

“This is a parish that helped anyone out who was affected,” said Kinzy. “I am so grateful to this parish.”

Kinzy first took a position as a teacher at LaPlace Elementary, but was shortly thereafter reassigned as a counselor for displaced students on the West Bank of the parish.

“Some of the students would cry because they saw some of their loved ones drown and die in front of them,” said Kinzy.

Ultimately, Kinzy said, the experience helped her as much as the children because she was able to empathize with the children.

“Do not think we are still not affected,” she said of herself and her displaced students. “Some things you will never get away from, but you have to accept and deal with it.”

Kinzy said despite everything, she believes God put her in the place she needs to be.

“When I come in the kids hug me, they know their counselor cares.”