(CNN) — Friday. For many people, it is a word that signals the end of the week.
But in Moore, Oklahoma, Friday, August 16, will mark a new beginning. It will be the first day of school since an EF5 tornado ravaged the town this spring, killing 24 people — including seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary school.
Plaza Towers and other schools in Moore have a special place in the heart of Robert Romines. He is a native of the city and, in July, became the superintendent of the public schools system. For Romines and others, the approaching school year is generating a mixture of feelings.
“There’s not any one emotion: excited, happy and there’s also some grief still there. We are about rebuilding, moving forward — not just for the school district, but also for the community,” says Romines, who is himself a product of the Moore school system.
A total of 26 schools were impacted by the combination of the May 20 tornado and another storm several days later. As a result, Romines estimates those properties suffered at least $55 million in damages. Plaza Towers and another school, Briarwood Elementary, were considered total losses after taking direct hits. Both schools will have temporary locations this year, with groundbreakings set to take place soon on new foundations. It’s a plan Romines says will put the two buildings on track to re-open in August of 2014.
And as Moore students prepare to hit the books this week, their teachers are stocking up on supplies and readying their classrooms, thanks to donations from corporations, charities and the public. To date, Romines says much of that assistance has come in the form of products. But he adds that, as rebuilding nears completion, the school district’s cash reserves will be stretched. And he stresses that money will be critical to the system’s daily operations going forward.
“We want to rebuild bigger and better and for student safety. Monetary donations in the form of cash for tornado relief to our general fund would be very helpful. We do ask donors to be specific about where they want the money to go. A lot of checks and money orders have said ‘tornado relief to Moore public schools.’ We’ve worked hard to keep that separate so we can track where that goes.”
One way you can assist is through the Rising from the Storm fund, which can be accessed through Moore Public Schools or directly at Fundly.com. For those who prefer to donate via phone, Romines encourages them to call (405)735-4223.
And the superintendent has a message for those who continue to keep the residents of Moore in their thoughts: “We are strong, we are resilient. We are moving forward, rebuilding and doing what’s best for the community with the understanding that we won’t forget that day or the families and lives affected by the storm. We’re here for the long haul.”
By Elaine Walker, CNN
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