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Posted November 27, 2017

M&O Chief Helps Open Schools in Puerto Rico

John Dufay, the APS Executive Director of Maintenance and Operations, journeyed to the hurricane-stricken island where he worked with a team from the Council of the Great City Schools on reopening schools.

John Dufay traveled to Puerto Rico nearly two months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the American territory, but he said it looked like the storm had just hit the island.

Despite what he'd seen and read in the news, Dufay said he was taken aback by the poor living conditions. On the other hand, he was inspired by the resiliency and spirit of the Puerto Ricans. 

He described a landscape littered with dormant powerlines, fallen trees, debris and sinkholes. Most of the island was still without power. Many of its buildings -- including its school buildings -- had no roofs or walls or running water.

The citizens of Puerto Rico know that education is a way out of poverty, a way to a better life, Dufay said. And so they were willing to do whatever it took to get their kids back in school.

That's where Dufay and company came in. 

Dufay spent more than a week in the territory, working with his counterparts from other large urban school districts to figure out what it would take to get kids back in classrooms that were safe and conducive to learning. Other districts that sent representatives included Fresno, Greensboro, Houston, Baltimore, Miami and Cleveland. Also joining them on the trip was Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools which organized the trip, and Julia Keleher, Secretary of Education of Puerto Rico. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also visited some of the schools with the council crew.

The Council paid for Dufay's travels, and the non-profit APS Education Foundation chipped in to help cover incidentals. 

The team evaluated dozens of schools, and while some were beyond repair, others were able to open thanks to the hard work of their communities and the guidance of the council members. 

Dufay described one village in Cañaboncito in which an all-female team of teachers, parents and students worked for weeks to repair their school. The men in their community had taken jobs to help clean up other parts of the island, leaving the school repairs to the women of the small town, Dufay explained.

School staff and volunteers cleaned floors and walls that were covered with debris and mold. They painted classrooms with donated paints in lots of colors. They even taught themselves to repair the roof.

Dufay and team inspected the building, helped make a few repairs and then -- to cheers and smiles -- gave the community the OK to open the school.

It was one of the many rewarding moments of the trip, Dufay said. And while there's so much more to do to get all of Puerto Rico's children back in school, he has faith that the citizens of the territory will find a way to do it. 

Dufay shared pictures and a video he took while in Puerto Rico.

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