The sign outside the remains of Joplin High School (AP)

Default Lines column, July/August 2011 edition of eSchool News—In Joplin, Mo., officials are hard at work this summer trying to recover from the devastating effects of the tornado that leveled much of the town in May.

According to a June 22 story from The Associated Press (AP), the tornado hit the school system especially hard: It killed seven students and one teacher and destroyed three school buildings, including the town’s only public high school. Seven other schools were badly damaged.

Now, district leaders are trying to recover in time for the start of school Aug. 17. Many classes will have to meet in vacant buildings, and officials are scrambling to ensure there are enough supplies. But the district’s rebirth has become a rallying point for the entire community, AP reports—and the tragedy has given the town a unique opportunity to reinvent how it provides education moving forward.

With the loss of Joplin High, which served 2,200 students, district leaders say they want to do more than just rebuild: They envision a state-of-the-art building that could establish Joplin as a hub of innovation.

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District officials recently invited a panel of education thought leaders to a wide-ranging discussion of how the new Joplin High School can emerge better than ever, AP reports. Among the goals that surfaced: more personalized learning and collaboration with the Franklin Technology Center, a vocational training site that also was destroyed.

“We need to let ourselves be free to dream,” Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer told AP.

While Joplin officials struggle to rethink education in their own community, a related discussion is going on halfway across the country. In the nation’s capital, lawmakers are grappling with how to re-envision the nine-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, the nation’s chief education law.

Although its effects aren’t even remotely as tragic as the terrible aftermath of the twister that tore through Joplin, killing more than 150 people, NCLB has unleashed a metaphorical storm of its own on the nation’s schools, its critics say.