Hurricane Matthew – Letter from Dr. Joyner

Dear Parents, Staff and Community,

On behalf of the school district, I want to offer my prayers and heartfelt concern for all those impacted by Hurricane Matthew. This weather event has been like no other and has affected everyone in our community in some way.  As I drove the coastline checking on schools yesterday, I was astounded by the devastation to our community.

It is important to us and to all of you that we return to a measure of normalcy for our children, consequently we focused on opening schools as soon as possible. As I visited schools yesterday, I saw the smiling faces of children, happy to be back and anxious to tell me about their experiences. I cannot thank Governor Scott enough for prioritizing the restoration of power to our schools. Governor Scott and Commissioner Stewart were in constant contact with me and were able to provide rapid responses to all of our issues.

I also want to thank our district leadership team and support staff for their unselfish dedication to our shelters and school facilities while many of them faced their own personal challenges. Many of our staff lost their own homes yet remained to assist the neediest in our community.

The overall leadership of Tim Forson was exceptional. As many of you know, we opened eight shelters for evacuees and were responsible for their care during a four-day period. Included in these shelters were special needs for the medically fragile and two pet friendly shelters. Al Pantano and Logan Lowery coordinated transportation for evacuees and for their needs including transportation, cots, food, water, bedding and anything else that was needed. Over 70 of our buses and bus operators were actively involved throughout the event.

Paul Rose, our executive director of Facilities and New Construction, was a constant presence, providing leadership and support the entire time not only to our schools but to community members as well. To watch him making on-demand decisions to assist others was one of the purest examples of servant leadership I have ever seen. David Lee, director for Maintenance, responded to countless calls for assistance and support at our shelters prior to, during and following Hurricane Matthew.

Sean Prevatt, our director of Food and Nutrition Services, coordinated food to shelters and then made sure our schools had deliveries and were able to provide our children a nutritious meal when they returned to school on Tuesday.

Our principals stepped up to the plate unlike anything I have ever seen. The shelter captains, Jay Willets of Pacetti Bay Middle School, Clay Carmichael of Pedro Menendez High School, Traci Hemingway of Timberlin Creek Elementary, Randy Kelley of South Woods Elementary, Nigel Pillay of Otis Mason Elementary, Tina Waldrop of Osceola Elementary, Chris Phelps of Bartram Trail High School, and Amanda Riedl of Mill Creek Elementary, were assisted by every principal and assistant principal who were available to report to our shelters. The same can be said for our maintenance coordinators and food service managers.

All members of the Cabinet provided 24-7 monitoring at the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center, answering questions, making decisions and dispatching assistance during the entire event.

Our teachers have unselfishly, and in the face of personal tragedy, prioritized the return to school to provide nurturing care that our children so desperately need at this time. I will be forever grateful to our teachers and staff for the way everyone has stepped up.

Our School Board places an emphasis on constructing quality facilities and prioritizing the maintenance of our buildings. This commitment by our board allowed us to re-open after only three days out, and I am grateful.

We are currently working to help students, families and staff who are in need, so if you hear of any needed assistance, please contact Director of Student Services Kelly Battell at [email protected]. She is keeping a list of our employees and students upended by Hurricane Matthew.

Hurricane Matthew has changed us all. We will rebuild and ultimately be stronger because of it.  In my 14 years as superintendent, I have never seen such an outpouring of care and I will be eternally grateful.

St. Johns Strong!


Joe Joyner