Dr. Ben Burnett served as a school administrator through two powerful tornadoes and Hurricane Katrina.
Most school administrators are fortunate enough to make it their entire career without witnessing their campus destroyed by a natural disaster. Some administrators may have experienced it once, maybe even twice. But probably only a handful can say they’ve faced a natural disaster striking their school on three separate occasions.
Dr. Ben Burnett is one of the few.
“I try not to talk about it,” he jokes.
Burnett worries that if word gets out no one will want to hire him in the future. After all, it’s a record that no one really wants. But it’s also a job experience that no one really has.
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein
Over his 30+ year career in education, Burnett has helped clean up and rebuild schools after three major storms.
- Hurricane Katrina (2005) – Principal of Oak Grove Middle School
- Hattiesburg EF4 Tornado (February 10, 2013) – Superintendent of Lamar County School District
- Hattiesburg EF3 Tornado (January 21, 2017) – Dean, School of Education at William Carey University
Historic Weather Events
There are no simulations for dealing with events of this magnitude. Katrina needs no introduction and the tornado that struck Burnett’s Oak Grove High School in 2013 was featured on the Weather Channel’s “Tornado Alley”.
“One of my first thoughts as Superintendent when I rounded the corner and saw Oak Grove High School had a big path taken out of one of the sections was nobody prepared me for this.”
On Episode 138 of Class Dismissed, Burnett will walk us through his lessons learned.
- How did they get the campus ready after Hurricane Katrina?
- How did students get back on track after missing three weeks of school?
- How do you react to the unknown?
In 2005, Katrina exposed all sorts of problems that arise when you don’t have power for weeks on end. Burnett reflects on how the district struggled to distribute paychecks. “The school district had to find a generator and cut checks plugged up to a printer,” Burnett recalls. “There were at least a thousand employees who were depending on those checks.
He also reflects on how he was nearly brought to tears when the students returned to school.
This is part one of a two-part interview. Tune in to Episode 139 to hear Burnett talk about the 2013 and 2017 tornadoes.
You can listen to the latest episode of Class Dismissed on iTunes here.