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Richard Gray’s Power Company Come To The Aid Of New Orleans’ Oldest Public School Print E-mail
Monday, 17 July 2006
After the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, Dick McCarthy and two Rotary Clubs lead efforts to rebuild Warren Easton.

The books, desks, and blackboards inhabited the same classrooms they always had, only now submerged under 10-feet of water. The high school consisting of 99% African American students and boasting a 90% college attendance and 70% college graduation record, by far the highest in the city, was in no condition to start classes. When the local school board decided that not enough students would return in time to enroll for the fall 2006 school year; Warren Easton Fundamental Senior High School, New Orleans’ oldest and most competitive public school, looked like another victim of Hurricane Katrina. While there have been reports of violence and misfortune to come out of Hurricane Katrina, there are many more accounts of resilient citizens starting over and inspired outsiders sacrificing vacations and money to help with rebuilding. Dick McCarthy, co-founder of Richard Gray’s Power Company (RGPC) is the son of a Warren Easton graduate and a native New Orleanian. As past president of the 12th oldest Rotary Club in the world, Mr. McCarthy was instrumental in gathering the support of other Rotary members to ensure the survival of one of the most important public schools in New Orleans. McCarthy, like many others, was hit head on by Katrina’s force – McCarthy’s company and home are located in New Orleans, and both were forced to relocate to many cities during and immediately after the storm.

Warren Easton’s reputation of academic excellence, high attendance, low dropout and high graduation rate were all factors that earned the school National Blue Ribbon designation by the United States Department of Education. Located amidst a very poor city, Warren Easton has been one of the few inner city institutions to escape the wrath of a failing public school system. Built to educate 800 students, the pre-Katrina class had a bulging enrollment of 1496 students but was still able to maintain one of the highest graduation rates for New Orleans’ public high schools.

Whereas overcrowding was the major pre-Katrina concern for Warren Easton, post-Katrina brought fears of not enough returning students to the point that the local school board had originally decided not to reopen the school in 2006. Working independently of each other, the Rotarians and the alumni group applied some pressure by arguing that if the city was going to be rebuilt, new schools were going to be needed. After some debate the school board and the state awarded a grant for the rebuild of Warren Easton, much of which will be paid by Katrina remediation funds from FEMA.

Anticipating the challenge of getting students to return to New Orleans and Warren Easton, the school administration started a blog (www.warren-easton.blogspot.com) along with email blasts and was able to communicate with the entire graduating class now scattered throughout the country. All seniors returned to receive their diplomas as well as to be inducted into the school’s prestigious Hall of Fame. Also attending the ceremony was Dick McCarthy, representing the Rotary clubs, as an honorary guest. The refurbished Warren Easton has over 500 students enrolled for this academic year, and anticipates being at full capacity by the time the school reopens on August 17th.

For several weeks, Dick worked side by side with Rotarians from New Orleans and all over the United States to scrape and repair the second floor of the historic building while contractors rebuilt the entire first floor which housed ten feet of water for three weeks following Katrina. The effort was truly remarkable and selfless as over half of the Rotary members lost their own homes and businesses to the hurricane, yet still donated their time and out of pocket expenses for this great project.

McCarthy said, “We have all been struck with such disaster but are so fortunate to be here to pick up the pieces. Warren Easton is a great school that needed help. For a school to be such a success in this neighborhood is amazing. Along with all of the historic background behind Warren Easton, this is also the school my father attended; it just had to be rebuilt. I would like to thank all of the people who gave up their time to help this great cause.” After the rebuild, McCarthy headed back to RGPC for business as usual.

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