C.J. HEBERT, 1965-2016
In Cooperstown, School Board Responds
To Tragedy, Prepares To Face Challenges
By JIM KEVLIN • for www.AllOTSEGO.com
State police are investigating the death of CCS Supt. of Schools C.J. Hebert as an accident, according to a press release from Troop G, Latham, which covers Schoharie County, issued a few minutes ago.
According to the release, troopers were called to the Hebert home on Patrick Road, off the Warnerville Cutoff, Cobleskill, at 11:47 p.m. Sunday, “for a report of a subject who was overdue from an ATV outing.”
A search was organized that included troopers from the Cobleskill Barracks – the shift that was ending was held over, said Trooper Mark Cepiel, Troop G public information officer – state forest rangers, and the Schoharie County Search & Rescue Team.
Cepiel said a relative, presumably Hebert’s wife, Tammy, spoke to him as he left “for a pleasure drive,” and alerted authorities when he didn’t come home.
Hebert was found, less than a half-mile from home, at approximately 3 a.m., and a Schoharie County coroner pronounced him dead at the scene, said Trooper Mark J. Cepiel, Troop G public information officer. He had been wearing a helmet.
The trail Hebert had been riding on was muddy, and the accident occurred on an incline, said Cepiel.
Cobleskill Fire Chief Phil Slater, who organized the search, said he quickly realized his fire company alone lacked sufficient equipment for the search. Through mutual aid, he was able to assemble 14 units on ATVs and UTVs (utility task vehicles), plus three ground-search teams, from Carlisle, Central Bridge, Schoharie, Sharon Springs and Summit departments.
Deployed in the post-midnight darkness, the riding units systematically circled a network of trails in the vicinity of the Hebert home, and divided the territory into grids for the walking teams.
After a few hours of searching, one of the walking teams ran across some money on one of the trails, which caused them to intensify the focus on that vicinity, Slater said. Suddenly, one of the rear lights of Hebert’s four-wheeler – still lit – was spotted, and drew the search teams to the site, the fire chief said.
In Cooperstown, Theresa Russo, the CCS board chair, was alerted by phone at about 4 a.m. that the superintendent was missing. She called the school board members and Mike Cring, the middle-high school principal, and during that process was alerted to Hebert’s passing.
By 6 a.m., the decision had been made to cancel classes, and parents were alerted through “School Messenger,” an automatic e-mail and telephone system.
The district’s Crisis Response Team met at 6:45 a.m. to plan the district’s actions and response. The response team is usually administrators, counselors, social workers and representatives of each department.
The CCS board’s vice president, Mary Leonard, who with Russo was interviewed this afternoon after returning from paying their respects to the Herbert family on Patrick Road, said she couldn’t remember the team assembling in a crisis in her nine years on the board.
At the 8 a.m. Sterling Auditorium assembly for faculty and staff, Russo described the “great sadness and shock” the school board felt at the news. She said counseling was available for the audience members, and that counselors were preparing age-appropriate messages for them to read to their classes when school resumed Tuesday morning.
“We’ll miss him very much,” said Leonard.
Looking forward, Russo and Leonard said an interim superintendent will be named shortly.
With plans announced just last week to reassign Cring to another administrative position, both principal positions need to be filled.
The school board members said, since the search for an elementary principal is nearing completion, that process will move forward. Since the search for a new middle-high school principal is just beginning, its outcome will probably wait until a new superintendent is in place, they said.
Meanwhile, the board will be meeting regularly this week, and will announce decisions on the future as they are made, Russo and Leonard said.