When she fled the rising floodwater in a neighbor's Dodge Ram truck, Hilda Thomas left behind the double-shotgun home where she grew up and the junior high school she had led for more than four years.
Now the New Orleans principal has become an English teacher coordinator at Oxon Hill High School in Prince George's County. She is living with her son in Upper Marlboro and planning to stay in the area indefinitely.
"There's nothing to go back to," Thomas said. "I have to go to work." Her house -- its style named for a long, narrow layout -- was severely damaged by the flood. She said she thinks most of her former faculty and staff members have found work. But she wondered what happened to the 250 or so students who were under her charge before Hurricane Katrina blew ashore Aug. 29. "I did see a couple of my kids on the ramp of the Superdome" on television one day, she said. "The parents of one of my children were being interviewed."
Thomas, 63, is one of a small band of educators and other school employees from Louisiana and Mississippi who have restarted their careers in the Washington area.
The Prince George's system has hired seven teachers from the disaster area and is eyeing at least two bus drivers. Fairfax County schools have hired six displaced teachers and one bus driver and are pursuing more teacher candidates. Montgomery County schools have hired at least two displaced teachers.
The plight of the teachers and staff dispersed in Katrina's wake differs from what the far more numerous student evacuees face in one crucial respect. The government is required to offer children, homeless or not, a free public education. But it's not obligated to give every out-of-work educator a job.
Many former Louisiana teachers -- especially those cut off the payroll by the shut-down New Orleans public school system -- have found jobs in Texas or other nearby states. Many Mississippi teachers, however, are still getting paid and plan to stay until schools reopen.
"Our teachers, by and large, are staying put," said Beverly Brahan, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "They're working to rebuild their schools now as we speak."
The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's two largest teacher unions, are raising funds for Katrina victims. The AFT represents many New Orleans teachers.
Finding the evacuees, though, is proving difficult for union officials, especially with the further evacuations and school closures along the Gulf Coast caused this week by Hurricane Rita. "It's a huge problem," said AFT spokeswoman Janet Bass. "Most don't have permanent residences now. We're trying to track them down."
Washington area school systems want to find them as well -- and hire them to help remedy their shortages of highly qualified teachers. The Prince George's system put a phone number on the home page of its Web site to recruit displaced teachers and school nurses.
That's how Alison Rose, 47, got her new job, teaching trigonometry, geometry and algebra at Laurel High School. The math teacher evacuated from New Orleans just before Katrina hit and wound up with her parents in Silver Spring. She learned later, in an e-mail from former neighbors, that her home was destroyed. She drew her last New Orleans paycheck some days ago via a Western Union wire from a company that is operating what is left of that school system. She had taught there for 10 years.
"It's just sort of slowly sinking in that I'm not going home," Rose said. "I really did love my house, and I will miss my neighbors and neighborhood and all that. . . . Sometimes it bothers me, but I'm so busy right now." Rose said her new colleagues have been "very welcoming," and some have even offered a place to stay.
At Oxon Hill High, Thomas has found some southern company. On her first day, she ran into a teacher who had once worked for her in New Orleans. He and his wife, also a teacher at Oxon Hill, moved to the Washington area just before Katrina. Thomas also works with LaSonia Dedeaux, 24, a health teacher whose family home in Pass Christian, Miss., was battered by the storm.
Dedeaux had taught health recently at the University of Southern Mississippi and was staying with her parents in Pass Christian when Katrina hit. Much of the coastal town was obliterated, including the church where Dedeaux had planned to have her wedding next March. So she moved to Northern Virginia, joining her fiance and landing a job with the Prince George's schools.
Dedeaux said she spent the Friday before the storm in New Orleans in the audience at the taping of a television show. It was "Wheel of Fortune."
Hilda Thomas was principal of a junior high school in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina.LaSonia Dedeaux, who taught health at the University of Southern Mississippi, talks about sexual harassment to her Oxon Hill class.