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Former SF superintendent leads Houston schools during Hurricane Harvey

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Richard Carranza, pictured at San Francisco’s Martin Luther King Middle School in August 2016, is now superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

A familiar name for San Francisco has a completely foreign natural disaster on his hands in Texas.

The former superintendent of schools in San Francisco was about to begin his second year as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District when the biggest rainstorm in the history of the U.S. mainland struck.

“It’s been a new experience,” said Richard Carranza, who spent four years preparing for the next big earthquake as superintendent for the San Francisco Unified School District until he left in August 2016. “I’ve sure gotten my use out of my umbrella.”

Carranza said his training on earthquake preparedness in Bay Area has helped him understand planning for the wet weather.

Tropical Storm Harvey has dumped buckets of rain since it hit the Gulf Coast last Friday, prompting thousands of rescues and tens of thousands of evacuations from Texas and Louisiana, according to authorities. The death toll has reached more than 20, including four children who drowned in a van with their great-grandparents.

“We’re very concerned about the safety of our students,” Carranza said. “Although it stopped raining today, people are still waiting to be rescued on the roofs of their homes.”

On Sunday, the National Weather Service tweeted the hurricane was “unprecedented and all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”

The rainfall caused flooding and roof damage across the 45 schools that Houston officials have been able to check until the flood waters recede, Carranza said. The district still has to check some 250 other schools.

“We’re going to assume that those are going to be in pretty bad condition,” Carranza said.

There are 216,000 students and 31,000 employees in the district who were scheduled to start school Monday. Carranza said school was canceled for the entire week and will likely not resume until next Tuesday at the earliest.

“If it’s so bad that we don’t have the facilities, we just might delay for a certain number of weeks,” Carranza said. He said the school district is also considering a rolling start for schools in better repair.

On Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement on the hurricane encouraging San Franciscans, corporations and philanthropists to donate to the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the school district’s nonprofit wing, the HISD Foundation.

“As the heartbreaking destruction from Hurricane Harvey continues to unfold, the people of San Francisco are ready to act and support our fellow Americans in their time of need,” the mayor said. “San Francisco is a city painfully familiar with natural disasters, so when we witness these events take place, we feel a special obligation to help.”

The funds will be used for clothing and supplies for students and staff.

Though he encouraged people to donate money, Carranza said San Franciscans can also send items since many families lost the back-to-school gear they just purchased for the beginning of the year.

“For many of our students that’s all lost, it’s gone in the flood,” he said.

As for his home and family, Carranza said they are OK.

“We live right in the middle of the city,” he said. “The flood waters have come pretty close to us but by the grace of God we’ve been spared from flooding at this point.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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