The times, they are a-changin’. Unfortunately, here in Joplin, we didn’t ask for all the changes we are currently faced with. People didn’t ask to have their lives ripped out from under them in the blink of an eye. The community didn’t ask to be left in shambles for heaven knows how long. Kids didn’t ask for their schools to be decimated.
But they were.
While it is difficult to put into words the overwhelming sense of loss that permeates our community, it is important to also note that, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, Hope prevails. No place was this more evident than on the damaged Joplin High School sign shortly after the tornado barreled down 20th Street, devouring everything in its path – homes, cars, businesses, schools.
In the aftermath of that horrific storm, Dr. Huff and his staff scrambled to find temporary facilities that could house students until better, more permanent structures could be constructed. Warehouses were rented and re-purposed, trailers were brought in, new life was infused into an old building, a school was built inside a mall.
School started on time, as promised. Maybe not perfect, but kids had a place to go to learn. To talk. To be with friends. To return to normalcy.
However, these fixes – while wonderful and innovative – are not permanent. Nor should they be. Teachers are faced with the impossible task of instructing students in cramped, less-than-ideal surroundings. Students are housed in facilities originally intended to warehouse inanimate objects – not human beings. High school students, once so full of excitement and pride for their school, are finding it difficult to rally behind a facility that is physically disconnected from large factions of its population.
It’s time to move forward - to begin rebuilding our schools.
In Joplin, we are in a unique situation. Rarely do communities have an opportunity to completely rebuild a school – much less four. Typically, communities vote to make renovations, additions, and upgrades. We don’t have that luxury. We must rebuild the schools that were destroyed by the tornado. While insurance monies will provide funding to replace the destroyed schools exactly the way they were, the fact remains that these structures were inadequate for our community’s present and future needs.
Joplin is a growing community – in spite of the tornado. According to the 2010 Census Report, over the past 10 years Joplin has experienced an increase in population of 10% - making the city the fastest growing metro area in southwest Missouri. Given the imminent construction of the new Mercy Hospital, this expansion is unlikely to slow down. This increase in population is most pronounced in our schools. Overcrowding issues – particularly at the high school – have been a concern for school officials for several years. In fact, in early 2011 - following a year-long study - the School Board Facilities Committee issued a report making recommendations regarding the projected growth of the high school and the inability of the current facility to house the projected increase of future students.
It is time to make some changes. The natural disaster that struck our city last May has forced us to consider the community’s needs for the next 50-100 years. The bond issue proposed by school officials is not a quick fix. For an average of only $5.54 per household per month (or roughly the cost of a McDonald's Value Meal), we have an opportunity to create schools which will move education in Joplin well into the 21st century and help prepare our children, indeed our community, for the challenges they will face in future years. Bigger, better schools will help enhance our economy by providing students with skills they need to be successful in their adult lives. The schools will help prepare our future community leaders, work force, and educators, improving our overall quality of life. New, attractive physical plants with well-orchestrated learning areas will keep students engaged in their academic surroundings, helping decrease the dropout rate (which has been a key concern for both local and state educators and lawmakers).
In the aftermath of the tornado, Joplin has earned a national reputation as a community of resilience and pride. It is now time to show Mother Nature our determination to rebuild stronger and better than we were before.
Vote “yes” for the upcoming school bond proposal on April 3.