Editor's Focus
Editor's Focus: Joplin's Operation Rising Eagle (with related video)

Editor's Focus: Joplin's Operation Rising Eagle (with related video)

This time of year is hectic for administrators: getting an accurate count of how many students will show up when classes resume; ensuring that there are enough classrooms and instructors; and carrying out necessary upgrades of buildings in the all-too-brief summer recess.

But few education institutions have to overcome the obstacles that face the Joplin (Mo.) school system. Just days before the end of the 2010-11 school year, a fierce tornado killed more than 150 and destroyed much of the city, including several school buildings. Soon after the devastating May 22 storm, district leaders promised that classes would resume on time, on Aug. 17.

Less than three weeks after the tornado, the district, dubbing its effort "Operation Rising Eagle," had identified sites with space to accommodate all its students until campuses are rebuilt. The high school campus is considered a total loss, so the 2,200 students will be divided between two temporary locations. Ninth- and 10th- graders will be housed in the district’s Memorial Campus, an 1896 structure that once housed the high school and most recently housed the early-childhood program. Juniors and seniors will be housed in an 84,000-square-foot former store at a local mall.

The buildings that housed the Franklin Technology Center, the district’s vocational school, and Irving Elementary School also were destroyed. Franklin is being relocated in an empty warehouse; Irving’s students will be moved to a vacant campus that will be supplemented with portable classrooms. East Middle School sustained heavy damage, and students will begin the year in a former warehouse in an industrial park. Other student populations and district programs are being shifted to make the facilities plan work.

At the same time, administrators are trying to figure out how many students will return to Joplin schools. The district estimates that 54 percent of its 7,700 students lived in the path of the tornado, and it is uncertain how many will come back and how many will enroll where they now are living. To get accurate numbers, the district is urging families to fill out an online enrollment survey.

The Joplin Schools Tornado Relief fund has been established for donations to help the district get its classrooms up and running. For information, go to http://rebuildjoplin.org/donate/money/361.

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