Day after fire, classes resume in Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences' new home; ATF arrives to aid in probe
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, September 07, 2012
9/07/12 at 7:27 AM
Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences has an immediate need for supplies and materials to continue with classes since nearly every item it owned was lost in Wednesday’s fire. Monetary donations are being accepted by the school’s nonprofit foundation, and teachers have begun compiling a list of supplies and books they need. Donate money or get a list of needed supplies and books: tulsaworld.com/artsandsciences
Related story: ATF team arrives to assist in fire probe.
Restoring a sense of normalcy was the first order of business on the second first day of the school year at the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences.
Just more than 24 hours after their school building was destroyed in a three-alarm fire, shell-shocked teachers and emotional students trickled into the former Sequoyah Elementary School building to begin anew.
"It's sad when you think about it. It's like your house burning down - because that's what it feels like," said Quinlan Loudenslager, a 16-year-old junior, "but our school has really come together and shown how much of a family we are and how much everyone really loves each other here."
Investigators have not yet determined the cause of Wednesday's pre-dawn fire that gutted the former Barnard Elementary School building, 2324 E. 17th St. Arts and Sciences, a charter high school, had leased the building this summer from its sponsor, Tulsa Public Schools, and classes began there Aug. 16.
What students didn't know but every Arts and Sciences teacher was keenly aware of was whom they had to thank for the state of the building they entered Thursday morning.
Even as firefighters struggled to control the fire at Barnard, a small army of Tulsa Public Schools laborers, maintenance workers, custodians and their managers were mobilized to ready a vacant facility at 3441 E. Archer St. that was formerly home to Sequoyah Elementary School.
All day Wednesday, they polished hardwood floors in the hallways, installed computers in the office, stocked restrooms with supplies, cleared debris from the grounds and delivered furniture to classrooms.
Chemistry teacher Ernest Jones spotted Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard in the school's entryway Thursday, greeting students as they arrived, and made a beeline to shake his hand and thank him.
Afterward, Jones got choked up as he recalled the moment that Arts and Sciences teachers and students learned that they would be able to return to classes right away.
"Dr. Ballard pulled up in front of Barnard yesterday morning and told Mr. Doss, 'Get in the car.' Mr. Doss thought he needed to be there, but Dr. Ballard told him the fire would still be burning when they got back. He brought him here, and there was already a crew mopping and polishing the floors," Jones said.
Wiping his wet eyes, he continued, "We were all gathered at the Unitarian Church, and we didn't know how we would go on when we heard about this place.
"The kids just went crazy, and teachers love the first day of school. We are lucky enough to have the first day of school all over again."
Ballard said helping Arts and Sciences get back to the business of education as quickly as possible was simply "the right thing to do."
"It grieves me greatly to think we lost a historic landmark, but I also care about what happens to TSAS. One day they go to school, and the next day it's gone. I've seen that before because of tornado and fire. I know the kind of trauma it can bring on for students, so we needed to get them back to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible," he said.
He also tried to deflect praise by saying the move was really made possible by taxpayer support of school bond issues, as well as school board and community support for a TPS efficiency initiative known as Project Schoolhouse.
Arts and Sciences' faculty and the school's 300 students know it will be months - if not longer - before their school community feels "normal" again.
But teachers and students alike say they know it can be done because as a charter school, it was built from scratch once before - and there is no school where they would rather be.
"Of all the schools I've ever worked at, this is the best educational experience," Jones said. "Kids want to be here. Some come thinking it's going to be easier, but there is such an established culture of achievement, the other kids pass on the expectations."
Students echoed that praise back on their teachers.
"I went to Dove (Science Academy) and Bixby schools before this, and the teachers would just give you busy work," said sophomore Micaiah Scott. "Here, the teachers know a lot about what they're talking about, and it's not like I did 100 things to ingrain one thing in my brain."
His friend, Carter Ruyle, also a sophomore, chimed in, "It feels like more of a community and not a school."
Original Print Headline: Classes resume at school's new home
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Bailey Vandenberg (left), Quinlan Loudenslager and Kelsey McElroy look at photos of the fire that destroyed their school building Wednesday. The students and their schoolmates at the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences are now calling the former Sequoyah Elementary School building home. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Jaime Perez (right), a student at the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, hauls a load of drinks into the school's new building as Eleesa Nobles carries chips in on Thursday. Almost all of the school's property was destroyed in a fire Wednesday morning. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Liesa Smith, principal of the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, finds her way through the former Sequoyah Elementary School on Thursday. The school moved into the Sequoyah building after flames swept through its former home in the Barnard Elementary School building on Wednesday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World