Shelby County school leaders share stories from last week's winter storm

Superintendent Randy Fuller sent a letter to all staff members on Monday commending them for a job well done following the events of last week's unexpected snow and ice storm.{} Fuller said he was overwhelmed by the many stories he has heard of teachers, support staff, and principals going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure students, staff, and parents who were forced to spend the night in schools were provided a safe and caring environment.

"As I met with our senior leadership this morning, we shared stories of what went on in all of our schools in Shelby County.{} As I listened to those stories, along with the ones I had previously heard, my chest filled with pride," Fuller wrote. "There were 'heroes' in every one of our schools.{} Teachers, administrators, staff, parents, fireman, law enforcement and other local agencies went above and beyond to ensure the safety and well being of our students, staff and parents."

Fuller also gave credit to local county and city agencies who helped provide food, blankets, and sleeping bags to some of the schools.{} He also praised the efforts of local law enforcement and rescue personnel for helping to provide transportation for students the day of the storm, as well as the following day.

"There were heroes everywhere," Fuller said of the combined efforts of school officials and local agencies to coordinate those efforts.

Calera Elementary School Principal Celita Deem and Calera Middle School Principal Brent Tolbert reported that all of their students were able to get home by Tuesday night thanks to the assistance of the Calera Police and Fire Departments.{} Mt Laurel Elementary Principal Angela Walker praised the Cahaba Valley Fire Department for helping to transport over 110 students and faculty members to selected meeting points along Highway 41 to be reunited with families.{} Similar stories of first responders helping to transport students home safely were share by principals from Helena, Vincent, Pelham and many other areas of Shelby County.

The Chelsea Fire Department's Facebook page had a couple of posts from parents and fire officials praising Chelsea Middle School Principal Bill Harper, who along with several teachers, loaded up a four wheel drive pickup full of sand from the school's baseball field storage shed and used it to sand the intersection of County Road 39 and County Road 47.{} Their actions helped to unclog a bottleneck at that intersection and allowed many parents to make it to the school to pick up their stranded children.

"As night fell on Tuesday and the snow ended, I realized that few if any cars were coming past the school on County Road 39 from Chelsea.{} That is the main route for many of our parents hoping to pick up students," Harper said. "When I realized that the backup was probably at the intersection, a group of teachers volunteered to load up the one four wheel drive truck we had with sand from the athletic storage area.{} Together, we drove to the intersection, which has a steep incline as you turn up County Road 39 from the light, and we spread a truck-load of sand across the iced road."

Mt Laurel Elementary Principal Angela Walker said she was reminded of her favorite quote from Dr. Martin Luther King when she recounted the actions of her school staff and others throughout Shelby County - "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"These teachers and staff members really measured up," she said. "The teachers planned movie times, dance parties, story times, game times, and reading and writing activities.{} Classroom and Special Education teachers and paraprofessionals sang songs, told bed time stories, and rubbed backs until every child in the building was asleep by 9:30."

"Our cafeteria staff stayed through the whole thing and we had biscuits, grits, chili, roasted turkey and pizza," Walker continued.{} "All but one of our faculty stayed until the shuttles started running and we realized we were going to be able to get the kids home.{} Leaving this school never crossed their minds until they knew their students could get home safely."

Nearby, at Forest Oaks Elementary School, Principal Resia Brooks and her staff turned the school into Camp Forest Oaks.{} Activities there included movies and popcorn, play time in the gym, a disco dance party, and a birthday party for two of the teachers.{} Dr. Brooks chronicled the Camp Forest Oaks Memories in a slideshow that she sent to all parents and also posted on the school's website.

Principal Joan Doyle said all her staff at Oak Mountain High School did a fantastic job, but she especially praised the efforts of her special education teachers and aides for taking care of students with profound special needs that stayed overnight.

"I will never be able to thank our special education teachers," Doyle wrote in an email to her staff. "Every single one of them and some of their aides stayed the night.{} You know that we talk about the belief that teaching is a calling.{} Teaching special education is without a doubt the highest of callings.{} Our special education department took care of and nurtured these sweet children.{} No one, and I do mean no one, could have done better.{} I love each and every one of you for what you did for your students."

At Helena Middle School, once the students had been taken care of Tuesday night it was time to help Coach Chris Self reunite with his pregnant wife who was having contractions.{} Self and his wife, Emily, who teaches in Vestavia Hills, were both stranded at their respective schools Tuesday night.{} By Wednesday morning it was clear that they needed to get to the hospital, but roads were still impassible.

Teachers at Helena Middle helped Self get his car unstuck and he headed out to meet his wife, only to land in a ditch again half a mile from the school.{} He then hitchhiked to his wife's location and the couple borrowed an ATV to get the rest of the way to St. Vincent's Hospital.{} Judah Alexander Self was born Thursday morning at midnight.

Principal Bill Harper summed up the thoughts of many principals and district leaders when he praised his teachers for working together to create a calm, organized, and safe school response to the winter storm event.

"But isn't that what we all do every day all across Shelby County?" Harper asked.