Prepared remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Dedication and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Joplin High School and the Franklin Technology Center, Joplin, Missouri

Archived Information

Prepared remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Dedication and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Joplin High School and the Franklin Technology Center, Joplin, Missouri

[Note: Secretary Duncan deviated from his prepared remarks]

October 3, 2014

Thank you for that kind introduction.

I visited Joplin not long after the tornado struck. And the devastation of the storm was seared throughout the community. But what you have accomplished here, together, is nothing short of amazing.

Both Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center were destroyed. Makeshift classrooms, cafeterias, and recreational facilities had to be created within weeks.

It was no surprise that after the tornado, student and staff absences went up. The number of students with chronic attendance problems climbed. Students' grades slipped. The demand for mental health services soared.

So three years ago it wasn't clear that this day and this celebration of progress would happen. But the commitment of parents, teachers, the remarkable leadership of Superintendent Huff, and the hard work of school staff for Joplin's children has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Teachers, counselors, coaches, and principals worked countless extra hours to help kids, while dealing with their own grief and sense of loss.

Despite the fact that Joplin's students and teachers had to move schools a total of 18 times—18 times!—since the tornado, the on-time graduation rate has actually risen almost ten percentage points in Joplin since May 2011. The dropout rate has dropped more than 40 percent.

That is a staggering accomplishment—and it's all the more remarkable because it was done without sacrificing rigor. In fact, by the second semester of this school year, the number of students at Joplin High enrolled in AP classes and dual credit courses will have jumped by 40 percent since the fall of 2012, from about 450 students to almost 650 students.

That progress is a tribute to the hard work, skill, and commitment of teachers, principals, and, just as important, students themselves.

Collectively, the example you are setting is a powerful one—you are leading the nation where we need to go. You are demonstrating what is possible when a community pulls together to do the right thing for children, even in the face of the most anguishing adversity.

No school, no rebuilding effort, can ever entirely end the grief or completely compensate for the devastation of May 22, 2011. Nothing can bring back the seven students and the middle school staff member lost on that terrible day, or the many members of the community who died. But you have honored their legacy by not just rebuilding the school system but by rebuilding it in a transformational way.

There is so much in life that we can't control. But we can choose how we decide to respond, over time, to tragedy and loss—and the new Joplin High and Franklin Technology Center is a wonderful testament to your unwavering commitment to progress. You refused to let the tornado be the end of the story of Joplin.

Parents, teachers, and school staff chose to pursue a bigger dream of what education should look like in Joplin. And the new Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center establishes a great educational model for the rest of the world of a relevant and rigorous 21st century education.

Instead of just taking the insurance money to rebuild Joplin High as it was, you chose to reach higher. Under the leadership of C.J. Huff, an advisory group of staff, students, parents, community members, business leaders, and education experts convened "dream" sessions to design the new school.

You've created a visionary model that integrates, instead of separates, college and career preparation. The career and technology focus of Franklin Technology Center is now integrated into the core college-prep curriculum of Joplin High School—and Franklin Technology Center itself is now part of Joplin High School.

Today, you have 34 career pathways for students to explore. But you also offer a dozen honors classes, a dozen AP classes, and 43 dual credit classes in both the core curriculum and the career and technical side. What a great way to reduce the cost of college for Joplin's hard-working families! What a great way to help every student find their passion and develop their unique strengths and talents!

Think about the opportunities you have created—a Joplin High student will now be able to graduate with both their diploma and an associates' degree when they are only 18 years old. The partnerships you have created with Missouri Southern State University and Crowder College are the kind of partnerships we need to duplicate at many more high schools across the nation.

The personalized learning experiences cultivated at JHS are our future. JHS's creation of blended learning classes, the switch to eBooks and mobile devices is helping to both transform and modernize JHS. You are striving to cultivate the 21st century skills that our students need to be college and career-ready—to be lifelong learners and problem solvers.

I am a huge fan of Superintendent Huff and I love what he says: "We're not teaching kids to chase their dreams, we're teaching them to catch them."

I look forward to watching both Joplin High School's evolution in this beautiful new building and the revolution of learning opportunities you are leading.

I look forward to every student here catching their dreams. And I thank you for your collective courage, commitment, and creativity.

Thanks for believing in each other, caring about each other, and giving your community's children the combination of love, support, opportunity, and high expectations every child needs.

The example you set for all of us in how to live your values is powerful—and means more to me personally than you can ever know.