Tara Bullard and three men plan post-flood logistics for schools

Tara Bullard on left. Courtesy: The Robesonian

It’s been four months since Hurricane Matthew swamped parts of eastern North Carolina with record flooding. And for Tara Bullard, the time since Oct. 9 has been a blur.

Bullard is principal of West Lumberton Elementary School. The school’s building was so heavily damaged by floodwater last October that Bullard and her 129 students had to move to Lumberton Junior High. And this Thursday, Feb. 16, the national TV show Good Morning America will be in Lumberton to showcase how the two schools have doubled-up on space.

Bullard earned a specialist degree from Wingate University and is now enrolled in Wingate’s Doctor of Education in K-12 Leadership program. “It has been an adjustment,” Bullard says of sharing space with the junior high. “We have nine classrooms, pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.” She says she had to combine some classes to fit into the available space, but they’re making it work. “Day by day, as things come up, we just attend to it,” she says.

Bullard says she is “blessed” to be paired with a junior high principal who is accommodating and willing to “help work out the kinks.”

West Lumberton Elementary was the only public school in Robeson County to be damaged beyond repair. Bullard says it already had a small enrollment and, at first, she was concerned that her students would be disbursed to other elementary schools. But the local school board decided to keep the little school together – and move all students to a building on the junior high campus.

“We were most interested in the human piece,” Bullard says, noting that nearly all of her students and many of her staff had lost homes, cars or belongings in the storm. “We needed to come back together to heal together. We knew it would not be a good idea to split everybody up and have the children go to teachers they did not know.”

The school board is still deciding whether to rebuild West Lumberton Elementary. Many families had to leave Lumberton or even Robeson County to find a place to live. Bullard says it’s uncertain how many of those families will come back.

Wingate provided her with real-life skills

Bullard earned her Ed.S., or educational specialist degree, from Wingate University last December and is now taking classes to get her doctorate in education. She admits that, with the many demands on her time, it’s hard to find time to write her doctoral thesis. But she hopes to receive her Ed.D. in December of this year.

She praises Wingate for its focus on practical application of skills, not just philosophy. She says what she learned in Wingate’s Ed.S. and Ed.D. classes was essential during the initial crisis and the months of adjustment that followed. “I had a good cohort to draw from, as well as my professors,” she says. “They could provide real-life, applicable answers to my questions.”

Bullard adds that her coursework at Wingate helped her focus on what’s most important. “We talked over and over in various classes and with various professors that you have to educate the whole child,” she says. That includes proactively addressing behavior issues in stressed-out kids and finding ways to be positive in what often feels like a negative situation.

Now, Bullard is excited that national TV cameras are coming back in Lumberton. “I see it as a good thing,” she says. “We have folks still living in hotels or without transportation. We don’t want folks around the country to forget about what happened. We want people to know there’s not a quick fix. It’s very much a long-term effort.”

Bullard says the Good Morning America story will focus on how West Lumberton Elementary and Lumberton Junior High are successfully sharing space. “I want people to know how these two schools came together,” she says. “That’s such a positive message. We made it through all of this. And that’s what the important story is.”

See WTVD’s story about Good Morning America’s visit, which includes an interview with Tara Bullard.

Wingate University offers undergraduate and master’s degrees in education, as well as doctoral degrees in education in two focus areas.

Feb. 13, 2017, updated Feb. 17, 2017