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Mayfield Independent Schools superintendent sees challenges for years to come after devastating storms

Priscilla Derebage of Mayfield looks for gifts for her infant son. She said she's grateful to be able to have a Christmas for her son despite losing their home in the storm.
Priscilla Derebage of Mayfield looks for gifts for her infant son. She said she's grateful to be able to have a Christmas for her son despite losing their home in the storm.

Mayfield Independent School district has plans to welcome students back to the classroom on January 10 — exactly one month after deadly storms swept through western Kentucky and destroyed much of that city.

Mayfield Independent is a small district of about 1,800 students. It has an elementary school, a middle school, a high school and a vocational school, which it shares with Graves County Schools, the surrounding county school system.

The district's public school buildings escaped major damage, but Mayfield Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Henderson said there are still many hurdles ahead. 

89.3 WFPL News Louisville · An interview with Mayfield Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Henderson


He spoke with WPFL News on Wednesday about his concerns for the district. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: Students have experienced some serious trauma. How do you plan to support their needs when it comes to mental health? I understand you've had counselors on the ground, even while school has been out.

HENDERSON: Right. We've offered support for those students that needed it during the last few weeks. And obviously, we'll continue to do so going forward. One of the things we'll do next week prior to coming back on the 10th is we're going to educate our staff members from a classroom level: ways to deal with the tragedy and how to help the students cope with many of the stresses that they will have when they return to school. 

Our staff is obviously traumatized to a certain extent, too, in some situations, so we will have additional counseling support on site that's offered through the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative. They have a team of folks who will be coming in next week for staff, and then those folks will continue to remain in the district to offer that extra support within the buildings for our students as needed.

Q: I understand that none of your buses are operable, and some were completely destroyed. It sounds like transportation is going to be a major challenge.

HENDERSON: Absolutely. In many aspects. We've been able to reach out in the surrounding districts, and even districts outside of this particular region, that have been so generous in donating buses to us until we can get all our fleet repaired. 

And then on top of that, we have kids that have been relocated to outside of the community. Kenlake State Park is one area that we have families that were moved to for shelter, and then the others were moved to hotels in Paducah. Right now, I'm working with those counties to be able to come up with a plan of how, if those students want to remain here — we would like for them to remain in our school district — you know, how how do we work the transportation side of getting those people who are no longer living within the district back to school here?

Q: Something that districts often struggle with after a disaster like this is that students don't always return. And since funding is tied to enrollment, that can hurt districts financially. Is that something you're worried about? 

HENDERSON: Absolutely. I was in a meeting Tuesday with Christian County Schools and Dawson Springs Independent with the commissioner of education and some of his staff having those very discussions about what that impact might be, and what are some of the things that the Department of Education or the legislators can help us with moving forward. So yes, that's at the forefront of our mind, because obviously, that's going to be an issue moving forward, not just currently, but for years to come until we're able to build back the housing here. 

Q: What are some solutions you discussed? 

HENDERSON: One of the things that we talked to the Kentucky Department of Education about yesterday is, would it be possible that legislators allow us to freeze the average daily attendance? That’s the No. 1 factor in indicating the funding that we receive from the state level. So my request yesterday was to see if it was possible to have legislators freeze the average daily attendance for the next five years, because we feel that in our community, it will take at least that amount of time in order to rebuild and have the opportunity for our families to return to this community if they choose to do so. And that would somewhat offer a level of protection financially for the school district moving forward. 

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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