Are Unsung HeroesBy Jill Levy
days out and the fires still burned. Steel and concrete smoldered,
leaving a layer of smoke over our heads in spite of the heavy
downpour and the chill of the wet wind. The skies it seemed, were
crying for NYC as Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA)
First Vice President Peter McNally and I trudged through the heavy
rain, making our way to as many of the schools in lower Manhattan
as possible. Our mission was to lend support to the public school
supervisors and administrators re-opening their schools after
the World Trade Center disaster.
In stunned silence, we went from school to school. Many of them
seemed lifeless, with flags at half-mast and the wonderful sounds
of children muted. Principals had instituted emergency plans–not
only for that day, but also for the long haul. I was struck by
the aura of calm and the well-planned activities that belied the
underlying stress of the principals, assistant principals and
staff. Space in each school had been set aside for counseling
services for students as well as faculty. Personally, I was concerned
that when things calmed down, the principals and other administrators
might begin to feel the stress and the grief as well. So I reminded
them that their union was there for them, offering personal and/or
At several schools we encountered Ninfa Segarra, President of
the Board of Education as she too visited schools. Together, we
privately talked with the administrators and supervisors about
the long hours they spent in their schools offering shelter and
solace to their community. We talked about some of the hardships
they faced when telephone service or the power went out. They
told us how so many students bore witness to the events through
windows directly facing the Twin Towers. They expressed the horror
of the scene but, with deliberate calm, they told stories of how
every child was safely evacuated.
One Principal told us that she was in her school everyday and
well into the night since the tragedy with only a cell phone to
keep her in contact with the world. Another, a new principal,
had so carefully orchestrated the events of the day, with the
help of his assistant principals, that one could not tell that
there had been any sort of emergency outside. One principal expressed
concern for his roughly 100 Yemenite school children. His worry
was not about what might happen in the school, where everyone
had been trained in conflict resolution, but outside in the community.
In one school, a Parent Association member broke down crying while
speaking to us as she escorted a student whose parent was missing.
At another, a Red Cross social worker, having not slept for days,
was still anxious to help set up a crisis center. A security officer,
whose arms were bandaged from wrist to elbow as a result of rescue
activities, greeted us calmly at a different school. Everywhere
we saw how the lives of our students, faculties and communities
had been affected by this tragic event and how they had risen
to the occasion.
The world has heard about the brave firefighters and police. They
have heard about the rescued and the rescuers. But let’s not forget
the invisible heroes and heroines–our public school educators,
who put themselves in danger to make certain that every single
student got home safely. A teacher we met stated it best, “We
were waiting for someone to tell us what to do. And Anna [the
principal] told us what to do. Then it was all right.”
Levy is the President of the Council of Supervisors & Administrators.
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