[StBernard] The Reluctant Hero Of St. Bernard Parish

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon May 21 23:28:00 EDT 2007

The Reluctant Hero Of St. Bernard Parish

ST. BERNARD PARISH, La., May 21, 2007
(CBS) You wouldn't know it from Doris Voitier's conservative suit and quiet
manner, but the superintendent of Saint Bernard Parish Schools is a force of

"She has given her life to the children, to the parents, to St. Bernard
Parish," teacher Tiffanie Glapion says.

In the days after Hurricane Katrina hit, this administrator turned into a

Voitier showed CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella that water came right
up to a school's overhang, which operated as a boat dock during the
flooding. She helped pull hundreds of people onto the second floor of the
high school - the only high ground.

"They just kept coming and coming and coming because this way was the only
place where they felt they could be somewhat safe," Voitier says.

Floods damaged or destroyed every last home, business, and all 15 schools in
the parish. FEMA wouldn't move fast enough for Voitier, so she launched her
second rescue mission, ignoring the bureaucracy of FEMA, buying whatever she
needed to rebuild with the district's reserves and loans - and sending FEMA
the bill - and convincing teachers to come back and help her.

Pre-Katrina, would she have considered herself a rebel?

"Not really," she says. "I think pre-Katrina, I was basically, as most
teachers and most educators are, a rule-follower. But I quickly saw that in
a crisis situation, you had to throw all that out because nothing would get

Just 11 weeks after the storm, St. Bernard Parish had a school again, and
334 students. Today the numbers have swelled to 3,800 - and growing.

"They do look like they are having fun anyway," Voitier says of the
students. "It makes me tremendously happy. There were so many dark days in
the beginning, where you cry every day - you wonder what's going to happen
from day to day. Then all I have to do is walk into a school and see them
smiling and talking, and then we know what it is all about."

It still isn't easy. Voitier is still fighting to recoup $15 million from
FEMA. But these days she relishes the role of rebel. It's the role of hero
that makes her squirm. On Monday, Voitier became one of two 2007 recipients
of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award.

"When people congratulate me on these awards, I feel a lot, very much
embarrassed," she says, "because I don't think personally [I] have done
anything that is exceptional."

Teachers, parents and hundred of kids would disagree.

"It is so great when they tell you they love you, huh?" Voitier admits.

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