Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Power of Public Schools for Community

Joplin Senior High School
August 17, 2011
(New York Times Photograph)

Between June 4 and 7, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy and the U.S. Navy fought the Battle of Midway, a sea engagement leading to what one naval historian has called "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare."  The order of battle for the Japanese fleet included four aircraft carriers, two massive battleships and numerous other combatants.  It was commanded by Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. His intention was to strike a decisive blow against the U.S. fleet that would cause the United States to retreat from engagement with Japan in the Pacific, perhaps permanently.  The success of the U.S. Navy and its three aircraft carriers, in sinking all four of the Japanese carriers, did more than any other event to quickly turn the tide of the war in the Pacific in favor of the allies.  It might not go too far to say it may be why Japanese isn't the predominate language taught in Hawaiian schools today.

A major key to the success of Admiral Spruance at Midway was the fact that he had three rather than two aircraft carriers at his disposal for the battle.  The U.S.S. Yorktown had been so severely damaged at the Battle of  Coral Sea just a month earlier that Japanese naval  intelligence had it as "sunk."  The Yorktown limped into Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942, with the intention of proceeding on to Puget Sound, Washington, for extensive repairs.  The best estimate of the time to repair Yorktown upon her arrival at the Puget Sound naval shipyard was 90 days.  Because of the need to engage Yamamoto, Yorktown sailed out of Pearl Harbor three days later ready for battle.

John Toland, in his Pulitzer Prize winning history of the Pacific War, The Rising Sun, described the sortie:
The day after Nagumo's four carriers had left the Inland Sea,  Spruance sailed out of Pearl Harbor on the carrier Enterprise, with Hornet, six cruisers and eleven destroyers making up the rest of Task Force 16.  Two days later, Fletcher followed, with two cruisers and six destroyers, on Yorktown.  Thanks to the almost superhuman efforts of fourteen hundred workmen, the estimated three months' repair of the carrier had been accomplished in two days.
Yorktown sailed from Pearl to Midway with hundreds of shipyard workers embarked in order to finish the final necessary repairs.  The ability of the Yorktown to join the U.S. Fleet was described as miraculous.  Even if you don't believe in miracles, it was a history-changing accomplishment that remains a testament to the ability of people to accomplish great things in short order with focus and determination and material resources.

On May 25, 2011, Joplin, Missouri was struck by an EF-5 tornado that resulted in 160 deaths, 900 injuries and the destruction of thousands of  homes, commercial buildings, a regional hospital, and 6 of Joplin's 18 public school buildings.  Yesterday, school started in Joplin on time.  Today's New York Times reported on the opening of the Joplin schools:
When the schools here were reduced to red-brick rubble in the deadly tornado three months ago, abruptly ending classes just before final exams, district leaders made a promise that seemed like a long shot: the new school year would start on time.   . . .
Exchanging the usual first-day greetings — the boys slapping hands, the girls embracing — juniors and seniors shared their schedules and marveled at the modern touches of the new Joplin High School, built in just 55 days out of what was a vacant department store at the back of a shopping mall.  . . .
The most anticipated indication of progress, one that led residents of a nearby retirement home to line the street cheering for the arriving teenagers, has been the opening of the schools. It is a moment the city is celebrating not only because it delivered on a promise that seemed out of reach to many, but also because it indicated a return to a measure of normalcy. . . .
Six of the 18 schools were so badly damaged that they will be razed. Three others, and the administration building, require serious repairs. But less than two days after the tornado, C. J. Huff, the superintendent, announced that the schools would reopen on schedule on Aug. 17.
Mr. Huff held to the deadline even as it became clear the damage was worse than estimated, and despite doubts from other officials and contractors that it was even possible.
“It became a rallying point for the community,” said Ashley Micklethwaite, president of the local Board of Education.
With the help of state and federal financing, the district spent more than $30 million to reopen the buildings that survived, rent new space and bring in special modular classrooms. The high school’s freshmen and sophomores were moved to one building, and the juniors and seniors are taking classes at the former department store. Architects were encouraged to “Eagle it up,” adorning the new spaces with images of the school mascot.
We didn’t want to lose our community; we didn’t want to lose our families,” Mr. Huff said. “Schools are a big part of why people are in Joplin, and getting back to normal quickly was very important.” 
 Hopefully, we will all continue to be as committed to the nation's public schools as the citizens of Joplin have been to theirs.

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