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WIU Ed Leadership Students Jump In to Help After Washington, IL, Nov. 17 Tornado

November 26, 2013

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – For Western Illinois University Educational Leadership (EDL) Professor Lloyd Kilmer and seven of his educational leadership students, Sunday, Nov. 17 started at 8 a.m. and was to be the homestretch of their weekend academy course at the Central School District 51 in Washington, IL. But a few hours into the class and shortly after Jay Greening, an attorney who was to serve as the guest speaker for the EDL 617 course covering school law, arrived at 10:45 a.m., the professor, the students and the attorney found themselves in a windowless room in the community's Central Intermediate School building riding out a tornado. According to an Associated Press report on the Peoria Journal Star's website, the twister "cut a half-mile swath through the central Illinois community of Washington" and was one of two dozen tornadoes that hit Illinois that day.

The class—comprised of individuals who are school principals (or formerly were)—was being held at the middle school via the invitation of Brian Hoelscher, the principal of Washington's Central Intermediate School and an EDL doctoral candidate. Through their daily jobs, the administrators had all practiced tornado and other emergency drills. But by the end of that Sunday, the students had yet another leadership experience upon which to draw for their future superintendent careers. They had all been instrumental in helping individuals in this part of the Washington community get the shelter and help they needed right after the storm.

Leaders in Action

"We were all keeping an eye on our computers and tracking the weather information," Kilmer explained. "We knew storms were on the way, but obviously, we had no idea they were going to be that severe. So, we went ahead and started with Jay's presentation. A few minutes later, right before 11 a.m., everyone's phones started going off with weather alerts. We quickly moved from the classroom to a faculty workroom that didn't have any windows. Then, only a moment later, we heard the crack and the peel of the roof coming off. I've been in four different tornadoes, so I had a good idea of what I was hearing," he added.

The individuals with Kilmer in the Central Intermediate School, as well as a teacher who had been working in her school classroom that morning, all made it through the twister's strike without injury. The school building did not fare so well, but was still in much better shape than many of the structures in the area.

"After it was over, we went outside to take a walk around the building. We saw it had torn the roof off right outside of the classroom we were in, and some of the masonry and stuff had fallen down through the roof, as well. There are two gyms at this building, one on the north side and one on the south side. It peeled the north gym's roof off—it was all open to the sky. There were also a bunch of windows blown out from the pressure differences and some debris that had come through them was visible. The surrounding neighborhood, though, was devastated. Maybe 150 yards to the north was the track of the main storm, which just leveled everything," Kilmer noted.

After surveying the damage to the school building and the surrounding neighborhood, Kilmer, Greening and the EDL students—which included Hoelscher, LaToy Kennedy, Ursula Brown, Nick Sutton, Wes Wolven, Jason Holmes and Carl Johnson—knew to get to work so they could help those who were climbing out of the rubble from the buildings that used to stand in the area near the school.

"We decided to use the south gym, which didn't sustain any damage and had working emergency lights, to provide shelter for people who had no place to go. There was no cell phone service, although some people were able to get text messages through," Kilmer explained. "And then we all went in different directions. Some of us started gathering stuff from the school, such as bottled water, bandages out of the nurse's station, etc. Two of the guys, Jay and Nick, went down the street and helped pull some people out from under rubble. I did traffic control in front of the school, because, within about five minutes, people were trying to drive in and either find somebody or were looking for a way to get around the damage. The whole street was covered with debris. There was no way anyone was going to get through, so I asked if they were looking for somebody and if they were, I directed them to park in a designated area and get out and walk and search. If they were trying to get through, I asked them to turn around and go back out, because there was nowhere to get through."

Kilmer said some of the storm victims they encountered had injuries, but none that were severe. They assisted injured victims by administering first aid in some of the school's locker-room facilities. Kennedy, the chief curriculum and instructional officer at Peoria Public Schools, said that although her friends and loved ones were concerned for her safety, she is glad she was in that place at that time.

"I am just glad we were there with the building open so that people had a place to go and that we were able to offer some help," she said.

Kilmer said it was about 3 p.m. when the National Guard showed up and began taking over the emergency management scene. He added Hoelscher continued helping out throughout the night, as the undamaged part of the school building served as a shelter for the community members who had no place else to go.

"This was very unique situation, in that nobody was really there to help but us. If we hadn't been there, there may not have been anyone there to do anything for those who lost their homes," Kilmer said. "We jumped into emergency triage, and we set up the gym for the victims and their pets. We provided crowd and traffic control and performed first aid. I am so proud of the students and their response to the disaster. All of them were just outstanding. You couldn't ask for people who are more compassionate, more capable, than that group. It was pretty remarkable."

WIU-QC Vice President for Quad Cities and Planning Joe Rives added that recognizing the EDL students is another proud moment for Western.

"Dr. Kilmer and the students really shined during these horrible events," he said. "Their actions not only reflect the University's values, but also are a testament to the capable and competent educational leaders we have in our educational leadership program."

For more information, contact Kilmer at (309)762-9481, ext. 62317, or via email at Learn more about Western's educational leadership program at

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Office of University Communications & Marketing