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Joplin, Missouri, One Year Later
Hard work, a resilient attitude, and two ambitious technology initiatives have helped this community rebuild its schools after a devastating tornado.
The tornadoes that ripped across the country in recent weeks undoubtedly brought back terrifying memories for residents of Joplin, Missouri, where a devastating tornado struck nearly a year ago. The EF5 tornado, which touched down just a few hours after Joplin’s 2011 high school graduation ceremony, killed 160 people and caused enormous damage to homes, churches, businesses and schools.
Joplin Schools superintendent Dr. C.J. Huff was determined that the young people in this resilient community would have fully-equipped classrooms to return to in the fall. He was also committed to starting the 2011-12 school year on time: August 17. That left less than three months for the district to relocate the 3500+ students whose classrooms had been destroyed. It also meant that the district’s technology director, Traci House, would need to oversee a mammoth effort to rebuild the schools’ technology infrastructure and to fast-track two technology programs that had been in the planning stages before the tornado: an online learning program and a one-to-one initiative.
As House told K-12 Blueprint’s editors in a recent email, “When you are desperately rushing to open school in 86 days, you definitely think about how incredible it would have been to have had an extensive number of online classes already set up. But, believe me, we got a few more going for the fall; blended learning is now playing a very key role in our educational process as our high school suddenly had to be divided into two facilities – 9th & 10th grade at one facility, 11th & 12th grade at another, which happens to be a vacant store at our local mall – and we don't have the space or resources to hire advanced Spanish and French teachers for both facilities.”
In addition to online/blended learning, the other technology initiative that offered great promise as the district rebuilt was a one-to-one initiative supported by a $1 million grant from the United Arab Emirates. It took a massive effort, with help from numerous volunteers, but House’s team pulled it off – rebuilding the wireless infrastructure; purchasing, unpacking and imaging 2,200 laptop computers for the district’s high school students; and offering professional development for the teachers – in time for the start of the school year.
Joplin is recovering. The new high school and other buildings should be ready by August 2014. As House puts it, "Would we have preferred more time? You bet. Have there been challenges? Absolutely. If we had it to do all over again we'd do the same exact thing. It's been a heck of a ride, but I would want this for any other district. It's the right thing for kids."
On Notice, SchoolCIO
Joplin Takes Digital Approach to Rebuilding Education, Education Week’s Digital Directions
Learning on Laptops, Reporting and video from KOAM TV
How Laptops Helped Save Joplin High School, Enterprise Efficiency