The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

August 12, 2013

Moore schools reopening after devastating tornado

MOORE — Enthusiastic teachers were welcomed back to Moore Public Schools Monday as the central Oklahoma community kicked off a new school year following a devastating tornado that destroyed two schools, damaged many others and brought the previous school year to a premature end.

Wearing broad smiles and shouting cheers, more than 1,000 teachers gathered at Westmoore High School 84 days after the massive tornado destroyed Briarwood Elementary and Plaza Towers Elementary, where seven students died. A total of 25 people were killed by the May 20 tornado.

Superintendent Robert Romines told teachers he had his doubts about whether the district could begin the school year as scheduled in the days and weeks after the storm.

“Guess what? We’re still here,” Romines said to thunderous applause. “It’s the pushback. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re going to get there.”

Following the ceremony, teachers and school officials said they were eager for students to resume classes on Friday.

“We cannot wait to see their faces and get this show on the road,” said Kathy Knowles, principal at Highland East Junior High School, which was heavily damaged by the tornado. “It’s all about getting these kids back into school, back to the new normal.”

“It’s a celebration,” said Shelley McMillan, principal of Briarwood. “That’s always my favorite day, the first day of school.”

“The beginning of a school year is always hectic,” said Plaza Towers Principal Amy Simpson. “It has been across the entire district. Every teacher is trying to get their classroom ready.”

Briarwood and Plaza Towers students will be in different locations during the upcoming school year as those schools are rebuilt. Plaza Towers will occupy a portion of Central Junior High School and Briarwood students will attend classes at Emmaus Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Romines said.

“They’re not charging us a penny,” he said of church officials.

Moore Public Schools, the state’s third-largest school district with 23,000 students, sustained so much damage in the May 20 tornado that classes were suspended for the year three days early. Storms that stuck the area on May 20 and May 31 damaged 23 of 36 school sites in Moore.

While the school district’s focus is on rebuilding, Romines said the community needs to remember the lives that were lost.

“We lost seven little ones at Plaza Towers. But it could have been worse,” he said. “Buildings can be rebuilt. That’s easy. But lives can’t. Our No. 1 priority is student safety — always.”

Romines said the district has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from corporate and private donors, including through, a nonprofit website where teachers can request the materials they need most. The group raised $930,000 for the recovery efforts in Moore and has already delivered almost $700,000 in supplies.

Even some of Moore’s students got involved in fundraising. Katelyn White, an elementary school student, received a standing ovation when Romines introduced her to teachers and said she had raised $800 for school recovery efforts at a lemonade stand she operated over the summer.

“We’re going to come back stronger and better,” Romines said.


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