More than 1,200 teachers, administrators and staff members are preparing for Eagles to land with the start of the school term on Wednesday in Joplin.
On Monday morning, a celebration to mark the impending first day of classes was staged at the Holiday Inn Convention Center for school district employees.
“The teachers are amazing; they’ve already proven to the rest of the world that their hearts are all about kids,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said in an interview after the event.
The theme was “Take Flight,” a play on the school district’s mascot and the path the district will need to take to reach its “destination” of higher achievement for students.
“You will know we have arrived at our destination when, as a community, we say with one voice, ‘We do not allow our children to fail in Joplin,’ and everyone knows what that means,” Huff told the teachers.
In his speech, Huff outlined the district’s plans for the coming year, including additional community service opportunities for students, the expansion of early childhood education services, a career pathway curriculum that focuses on making students career-ready, and increased partnerships with local businesses. Huff also mentioned the development of an “employability report card” to measure students’ preparedness to work for area employers.
In addition to a new curriculum, the district is undertaking what may be the largest public school construction project in Missouri’s history as it rebuilds the schools destroyed in the May 2011 tornado, Huff said.
“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long ways to go,” Huff said in an interview. “Our main focus needs to continue to be taking care of our children and our staff members over the next number of months in particular as we move into year two (after the tornado). ...
“Our intentions are to move forward in a big way and take a new step in terms of curriculum implementation, and get the new program in place so when we open the new Joplin High School in 2014, everything is on line to make great things happen inside the walls of that building.”
The keynote speaker for the event was Peter Herschend, president of the Missouri State Board of Education and owner of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., which owns Silver Dollar City and other parks.
“You have come through a world-class disaster, and you won,” Herschend said of the 2011 tornado. “That took leadership.”
Huff said Herschend worked with the district in the days after the tornado, including helping to provide cellphones for communication in the immediate aftermath.
The district also gave its first Eagle Legacy Award to Mike Woolston, a Joplin city councilman and former mayor. The award is meant to honor an individual or organization that has helped the district the most that year.
Video announcements were sent from Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wishing the teachers the best as they prepare for the new year and thanking them for their commitment.
“Schools are the heart and soul of Joplin,” Nixon said in the video.
Teacher of the Year
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S Teacher of the Year award went to Staci Saunders, who teaches first grade at Stapleton Elementary. Saunders is a fourth-generation Joplin schoolteacher.