Eastern Kentucky Needs More Than Our Thoughts and Prayers

My husband and I drove through Eastern Kentucky today to check in on some of the schools that were impacted by the flooding and those serving as collection or volunteer sites. I wanted to offer the support of Save Our Schools Kentucky and start getting a sense of what those schools may need longer term. 

We stopped at Letcher County Central High School to drop off supplies and I had a chance to talk to their principal, a teacher, and a school board member. I learned that one of their staff members, Jewel Sturgill, and her husband Clarence, lost their lives when they were swept away in the flood. Their service was this morning. Our deepest condolences to the LCC family and all who have lost so much. 

These school communities need time to grieve and process the events before they can even begin to plan the recovery, much less comprehend the extent of the impacts long term. I promised those I spoke to that we won’t forget about them. We will advocate to lawmakers, collect school supplies, toys, books, internet… whatever schools, students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators tell us they need to try to help them get back to some semblance of “normal” as soon as possible. It’s just what neighbors do. 

But Save Our Schools KY was fighting for Kentucky’s schools before the floods in Eastern Kentucky. Before the tornadoes in Western Kentucky. As a community, we need to do more than make these school communities how they were BEFORE these tragedies. We have to continue the fight to make them and all of Kentucky’s schools whole. This means ensuring they receive adequate funding and support from lawmakers and leaders so every child, rural, suburban and urban, rich and poor, from every household, background and zip code, has access to a high-quality education. This could be anything from internet infrastructure, updated facilities, and adequate staffing, to supports and interventions, as well as scientifically and historically accurate textbooks. 

In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy damaged homes up and down the East Coast. My oldest son was a senior in high school there, and I remember how long it took to get everyone back in their houses and back in school. I also remember how the aid and media coverage waned after the novelty wore off. Even though our family was back in our home within six weeks, many of our neighbors were not as lucky. Schools were still being used for shelter and supplies. Others didn’t have heat or lunches. Other classmates went to live with family in different districts and never came back. 

Every effort was made to get kids back in school, but wishes don’t always equate to what’s possible, and special legislation had to be passed to forgive the missed days in some districts. As we learn more about the extent of the damage and displacement of our Kentucky neighbors, it will become more clear about the needs of the impacted communities, not just Letcher County but all across Kentucky. 

And not just the most recent flood victims, but previous floods and tornadoes too. Kentucky is rich with resources but those who profit the most from those resources often don’t invest in the people whose backs they built their empires on. Leaving our land honeycombed with excavated land and mountain tops decimated and unable to resist flood waters. From mining, to redlining, to toxic drinking water from a whitewashed environmental disaster, and everything in between, Kentuckians have been exploited for generations, and it’s time to say enough is enough. 

Invest in her people by investing in her communities. That begins with fully funded, fully supported public schools. Listen to those who have been telling us for years what it will take to reverse course in our public schools: Educators, parents and students. 

The urgency of addressing America’s public education crisis has never been greater. Kentucky’s children need us now. 

Let’s get to work!

My team will be hosting a book and school supply drive for classrooms and school libraries in Eastern Kentucky that have lost their books and resources in the flooding. Please keep an eye out on my Facebook and Twitter accounts for information.

First Picture: Gay Adelmann, Save Our Schools KY Co-founder; Will Smith, Letcher County School Board Member; and Scottie Billiter, LCC Principal 

Second Picture: Jewel and Clarence Sturgill, died in Eastern Kentucky flooding on July 28,  2022. 

Third Picture: Supplies Collection and Distribution Underway at Lester County Central 

Fourth Picture: Inspirational quote on window ledge in school’s front office.