Friday, November 15, 2013

No Child Left Alive 99-cent e-book sale begins Saturday morning

By Randy Turner
The controversy over my novel No Child Left Alive (often referred to as the book that got me fired) has died down considerably since my May 23 hearing, but what it has to say, no matter how much Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff denied it at the hearing, offers a revealing look at the problems public education has locally and across the nation.

The book will be available, in e-book format, for 99 cents, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and continuing for the next three days.

No Child Left Alive is the story of one year in a dysfunctional public high school where the teachers are caught in the middle between out-of-control students and clueless upper level administrators.

The lead characters in the book include Assistant Superintendent Abigail Saucier, who fosters a culture of meetings, meetings, and more meetings, whether they accomplish anything or not, and creates one new program after another, even some that conflict with each other, but look impressive on the resume.

After the death of the school's superintendent, Abigail expects to be promoted to the job and already has her action plan ready when she learns that Carlton Dunn, a younger man with plans to increase the school district's graduation rate has been hired for the position. Dunn puts public relations ahead of everything, including having his picture taken with kindergarten students at the beginning of the school year so they will grow up to be just like him.

When the teacher of the year is arrested for having a relationship with a student, he is replaced by English teacher Walter Tollivar, whose ideas directly conflict with Abigail's and set them on a collision course.

Meanwhile, as the new administration cuts down on discipline and hamstrings the teachers, second-year teacher Kayla Newman becomes so afraid of her students that she begins to carry a gun to class.

With bullying at an all-time high at the high school, one student plans a bloody revenge that will make the world forget about Columbine.

Among the things some area residents might find familiar that you will find in the book:

-Students can come and go as they please and are not counted tardy or absent
-If students are failing, the blame is placed on the teachers, rather than the students
-Teachers are pulled out of classes time after time during the year for "professional development" meetings
-Education plays second fiddle to public relations and boosting administrators' careers
-Teacher meetings include "team builders" in which the teachers are treated like children
-Administrators lie to board members and tell them the teachers are supporting their initiatives when, in fact, they do not.
-Much, much more.

No Child Left Alive will be available for 99 cents as an e-book, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and continuing until 10 a.m. Tuesday.

For those who prefer the paperback version, it is available at this link.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

From Spirit of Hope: The 2012 Joplin High School graduation

(In this sample chapter from Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado, I write about the 2012 Joplin High School Graduation ceremony with the emphasis on Sarah Kessler, a graduate and one of my former students, who lost her home during the May 22, 2011, tornado. Spirit of Hope is available in e-book format for 99 cents now through 10 a.m. Monday.)


The smile never vanished from Sarah Kessler’s face as she listened to the names of one student after another being called onstage to receive their diplomas.

It takes a while to go through 431 names. Fortunately for Sarah, her name was closer to the beginning of the alphabet so she would have to stand in line for much less time than some of her classmates.

It had been an exciting evening for the tall, slender (“I’m a beanpole,” she says) senior. About an hour and a half earlier she had been in a room with the President of the United States. It was not her voice that said, “Oh, my God, the leader of the free world,”-that was a classmate- but she could understand the awe.

The Joplin High School Class of 2012 listened to seemingly endless speeches- from High School Principal Kerry Sachetta, Superintendent C. J. Huff, Gov. Jay Nixon, and yes, from President Barack Obama “the leader of the free world,” in a ceremony that started a few minutes late.

All of the speakers had praised Sarah and her classmates. “You are an inspiration,” the president had said, but somehow Sarah did not feel like an inspiration. As she waited, she thought back over the past year, the path that led her from the most horrifying moments of her life, some spent in this same building, the Leggett & Platt Center on the Missouri Southern State University campus, to where she was today, a few moments from receiving her diploma- her ticket into adulthood.

It still brought a shudder to her every time she thought about the events of May 22, 2011.

That weekend had been a big one for the Kessler family. A day earlier, the wedding of Sarah’s older sister, Kate, had taken place. Sarah and her brother, Will, had provided music for the occasion- Sarah on her beloved violin, Will on guitar.

“My entire family was in town,” Sarah recalled. The family stayed for another big event the next day, Will Kessler’s graduation with the Joplin High School Class of 2011.

The family watched with pride as Will received his diploma, had pictures taken afterward, and then Will left. “He had a party he was going to, so he left before the rest of us,” Sarah said. It was shortly after Will left that the tornado siren sounded.

As the rest of the Kessler family was about to leave, a security guard stopped them. “He told us we had to go to the basement. We didn’t have a choice. We were all wanting to leave.”

The guard escorted the family to the locker room area with five or six other families to wait out the storm. “We were down there for a quite a while,” Sarah said. It was there that they received word that Home Depot had been hit. “That’s when we started to get nervous about my brother because we live a block from the high school. One of the easiest ways to get from the college to my house was down 20th.”

Scaring the Kesslers even more was their inability to contact Will. There was no phone coverage in the locker room. “That was the scariest 30 minutes in my life, not knowing where my brother was, or even if he was still alive.”

Finally, they were able to contact Will. He had been driving through the heart of the storm. “He said he prayed the whole time he was in the car. He just got a new car and he is a good driver. Thank God for both of those things. He said was dodging flying cars, flying trees,” Sarah lowered her voice, “flying people.”

Will Kessler ended up at a church at 26th and Connecticut.

Now that they knew Will was all right, the family piled into two cars to head toward their home, which they now knew had been in the path of the tornado.

“We went down Rangeline, but that wasn’t going to happen. It was mass chaos everywhere, so we drove down side streets. It was terrifying; the closer we got to home, the worse the destruction. We wondered if home was going to be there.”

As what would normally be a 15-minute trip had already taken more than a half hour, Sarah’s dad received a call from Will.

“Where are you?” her father asked.

“Home.”

“Do we have a home left?”

“Sort of.”

Still seven blocks from home, Sarah’s dad stopped the car, jumped out and began walking. Sarah’s cousin took the wheel. After what seemed an eternity, Sarah was close enough to see her house.

“I will never be able to forget that. We were on Indiana and I can remember driving up to 20th Street. I could see clear to the hospital. There was nothing there. I saw the school, then I looked slightly to the left. Our house was built a little better than the ones around us. It was the least damaged. The lower level was still standing. You could see a part of the upper story where my brother’s room was.”

The first words she said when she saw what was left of her home will be forever burned into her memory. “I remember looking at it, crying, and saying to my cousin, ‘That’s my house. That’s my house.’ All I could think was it was gone.”

At that point, Sarah got out of the car, stepping over downed power lines, walking between cars. “I walked the path between the school and my house, the same as I had done every day since my freshman year.”

She spotted Will and ran to him, hugging him. The two stood crying. They checked on neighbors to make sure they were all right and then went into their house to see what had survived.

Much of the family’s irreplaceable sentimental items, including photo albums and papers, were unharmed since they were under their parents’ bed in the lower level. “We were able to salvage quite a bit,” Sarah said. “We were fortunate.”

And the one possession that Sarah cherished above all others- her violin- was also undamaged, as was her brother’s guitar. “We had played my sister down the aisle at the wedding and when we got home, we left the instruments downstairs in the hallway.”  Had they taken the instruments upstairs where they were normally kept, they would have been swept away.

“That was about the only happy thing that happened that night. I love playing the violin. It has always been special to me.”

For the next few weeks after the tornado, Sarah and her family stayed with Matt Proctor, president of Ozark Christian College, his wife, Katie, and their six children. Some of the time Sarah stayed with Rebecca McMillin, her best friend since kindergarten.

The Kessler family lost some of its animals, but “we found two of our rabbits and two of our cats.” The family also had two dogs, Hank, a yellow lab, and Rusty, a golden retriever.

After a few days, Rebecca McMillin talked Sarah into going to the Humane Society to see if her dogs were there. “I didn’t want to go. I was afraid I wouldn’t find them.” When they walked into the building with the dogs, “I saw Rusty right off the bat. I went up to the cage and he started barking.” When he was released, he ran into Sarah. “Basically, he almost knocked me over. It was so good to see him.”

Sarah was never able to find Hank.

A new home had to be found for Rusty after the Kesslers moved into an apartment, where they would have to stay for quite a while before their house could be rebuilt.

In the days following the tornado, many friends helped the Kessler family through its ordeal, including some they had never met before. “The people from our church (Central City Christian Church) were there for us. They helped us with our house and helped us move into our apartment.”

The summer was a blur for Sarah. After a couple of weeks dealing with the aftermath of the worst night of her life, Sarah had an opportunity to get away from it all for a short time, as she traveled with Ozark Christian College’s Highest Praise Choir, playing her violin. “It was nice to get away,” she said. “It was such an encouraging environment.”

When she returned, it was not to the home she had known for her whole life, but to a place she had never seen before. “I didn’t quite have a room. My room was full of boxes, so I stayed on the couch in the living room for a while, but that was okay. It took us quite a while to get everything put in its place. It was mass chaos.”

It was also not the home she knew. “We had just remodeled our house, spent the last two or three months before the tornado just totally redoing it. We had a beautiful new deck. I told everyone that next year, we would have to have all of our study parties at my house.

“Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Sarah threw herself into volunteer work, helping Forest Park Baptist Church’s Mission Joplin. Sarah’s plans to spend her summer looking for colleges were tossed aside. That would have to wait.

Before she knew it, it was time for her senior year of high school to begin, not at the historic building she could walk to every morning, but in a box store at Northpark Mall. “I thought it would be poorly put together. When school actually started, it was so much better than I could have possibly imagined. It’s not the best, obviously, because it is not a permanent facility, but it worked.”

Sarah will never forget the first day of school at Northpark Mall. “It was all hugs and laughter and smiles. Even with people you barely knew, it was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. I know you. You’re alive.’ “

That spirit continued throughout the school year. “The student body seemed to be closer. There is something that links us all together.”

As the school year passed, there were many positive moments such as using another tornado survivor, her violin, to earn a I rating at state and being a part of the Prom Court. “That was something totally unexpected.” Her fourth year as a member of Key Club, a service organization, was also a highlight. Sarah was lieutenant governor on the Missouri/Arkansas Board.

And while she didn’t have a deck for study parties, she had something even better. “We have a roof at our apartment,” she said. “The other night my dad and I had a candlelight dinner of beans and weenies on our roof.”

Even though the Kessler family will soon move back into a house, Sarah confided, “I kind of like our little apartment. We all secretly kind of like it.”

The experience of living through the tornado has helped strengthen Sarah Kessler’s faith. “I’m a Christian. I’m very proud of that. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to trust in Him no matter what. No matter what the situation is, He will take care of you.”

God helped provide for her family, Sarah said, with everything from saving her brother Will the day of the tornado to helping them to cope with the aftermath of the storm.

“I went through, maybe not quite depression, but I wasn’t my normal, bouncy self for a while,” Sarah said. “When that happened, I needed to reconnect with Him. I learned that the more I make an effort in my relationship with God, the more joyful and hopeful I was, the more content I was.”

By this time, Sarah had moved to near the front of the line. In a few moments, her name would be called and she would leave Joplin High School forever. The next stop for Sarah will be Missouri State University in Springfield where she will study music education.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was little. I like helping other people learn and I have a lot of patience. Teaching comes naturally to me.”

“Sarah Kessler.”

A smile spread across her face and there was a spring in her walk as she stepped forward to receive her diploma. She turned to her family in the audience and smiled, then she took a brief moment to give thanks.

The path to graduation had not been an easy one for Sarah Kessler, but the moment had arrived and she knew this was never something she could have done alone.

“One big lesson I have learned this year is that even when you can’t feel God’s presence, that doesn’t mean He’s not there. God has promised us he will never leave us.”

This time, Sarah felt His presence.

Friday, November 08, 2013

99 cents for 3 days: A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Spirit of Hope

For the next three days, Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado, is available for 99 cents as a Kindle download, down from its usual $5 price.

A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book is featured below:

Preface- Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles offers the introduction to the book.

1. Spirit of Hope- Randy Turner's introductory story and thoughts about how the people of Joplin have provided an example for the nation.

2. Historic Storm, History Reoovery- John Hacker relives the moment he arrived at the tornado site moments after it occurred.

3. One Year, One Community, One Direction- John Hacker's coverage of the Day of Unity

4. I'm Proud of Joplin- The transcript of City Manager Mark Rohr's speech from the Day of Unity

5. God Was With Me- Randy Turner's story on the Joplin High School Graduation, featuring senior Sarah Kessler, who lost her home during the tornado

6. St. John's Has Been Hit That's All We Know For Sure- Rebecca Williams of Joplin Tornado Info tells the story of how that innovative and essential web page began.

7. A Lazy Afternoon- One of the most searing memories of the days after the tornado was the viral video of people inside Fastrip when the tornado hit. One of those people, Carthage Press Sports Editor Brennan Stebbins, tells the story.

8. Love Led Me Through- Former East Middle School teacher Andrea Thomas told her tornado story in 5:41. In this stirring story of faith, Andrea tells the story of what has happened to her and her husband Joe since May 22, 201, and what she has seen while helping others.

9. Pancakes, Prayers, and Progress- Former reporter Rick Nichols relives the tornado as it hit the International House of Pancakes.

10. The House of Bricks- Randy Turner's journey to the apartment complex behind the 15th Street Wal-Mart after the tornado and his conversation with a father whose son died at Pizza Hut.

11. A Tale of Survival- Andrea Queen writes about how she and her family survived the tornado.

12. Ground Zero- Former Joplin Tri-State Business Editor Jeff Wells describes the helplessness of being in Texas while his mother and grandmother are fighting for their lives in Joplin.

13. Will There be a Christmas Tree?- Marty Oetting's moving essay on the items left behind after the tornado.

14. We Were All Affected- Joplin Tornado Information's Rebecca Williams shares stories from her website.

15. This Town is My Home- Joplin High School junior Laela Zaidi's story was told in 5:41.  This time, she writes the story of how she wanted nothing more than to remain in Joplin.

16-17- The Peace in the Midst of the Storm/Miracles at Walmart- A two-part story with two friends offering their versions of what happened at the 15th Street Walmart.

18. My Tornado Story: A Story About the Heart of America- An eighth grader at the time she wrote this, former East Middle School student Jennifer Nguyen tells a harrowing story of a birthday party that turned into a nightmare.

19. Big Builds- John Hacker's coverage of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Ten for Joplin, two building projects that brought the nation's attention to Joplin.

20. Pushed to the Breaking Point- John's story on Joplin Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer and what happened May 22 and in the days afterward.

21. Local Radio's Finest Hour- In this speech to the Missouri Broadcasters Association, Gov. Jay Nixon praises the work done by the Zimmer radio stations during and after the tornado.

22. Miracle of the Human Spirit- The transcript of City Manager Mark Rohr's speech at Cunningham Park one week after the tornado

23. Sometimes, Love Is All You Have- Amy Gilbert's family lost its home in the tornado, but her survival story has a twist when the band Sugarland invites her daughters to appear with them at the Country Music Association Awards.

24. I'll Never Forget- Pittsburg State University student Amy Herron's touching essay about the tornado.

25. Coming Together- John Hacker's story about how the tornado has affected three hospitals, Mercy (St. John's), Freeman, and McCune-Brooks

26. Autistic Children Benefit from Ozark Center- John Hacker tells another story of how the local health industry was affected by the tornado.

27. Mercy Joplin Opens Component Hospital- A few months after the tornado, Mercy offers a new temporary structure for its patients in this story written by John Hacker

28. An End and a Beginning- John Hacker's portrait of the day the wrecking ball hit St. John's

29. We Will Have School- Randy Turner's story of the Joplin Schools family gathering at the site of the destroyed high school where Superintendent C. J. Huff promised that school would begin on time.

30. Will Norton is With Us In Spirit- This is an article that Turner wrote for the magazine at Chapman University about the effect Will Norton's death had on the campus though he never had a chance to go to school there. It includes Turner's interview with Will's father, Mark Norton.

31. I Will Keep The Spotlight on Joplin, Missouri- The transcript of Rush Limbaugh's July 4 speech in Cunningham Park

32. Blessing in Disguise- John Hacker's story of the incredible job Samaritan's Purse has done in Joplin

33. We Will Not Be Kept Down- Mary Jean Miller, who was president of Joplin High School's Key Club, tells her own tornado story and then writes about how Key Club did everything it could to help the recovery effort.

34. These Are My Students: This Is My School- Randy Turner's essay on the difficulty he had getting ready to teach school in a converted warehouse

35. School Begins Today in Joplin- Randy Turner's story on the day teachers returned to duty and found themselves greeted by a hundreds of community members

36. The Toughest Town on God's Green Earth- The transcript of Gov. Jay Nixon's speech to returning Joplin Schools staff members

37. An Opportunity to Move Forward Together- The transcript of Superintendent C. J. Huff's speech as staff returned to duty

38. A Day of Miracles, Joplin Schools Start on Time- Randy Turner writes about the first day of classes.

39. Back to the Country- In 5:41, Gary Harrall wrote the shortest story, telling about how he wanted to leave the city after the tornado. Continuing the tradition, Gary has the shortest story in this book, too, with a much happier ending.

40. Nothing Stops Us- Denton Williams, another contributor to 5:41, offers an update and a tribute to those who have helped Joplin recover.

41. Tornado-Battered Joplin Honors Victims of Terrorists Attacks- John Hacker writes about the moving ceremony held in Joplin on Sept. 11.

42. Anti-Muslim Sentiment Clouds Gift to Joplin Schools- In every success story, there are a few discordant notes and they were offered here by some people who were not happy about the gift of laptops to Joplin High School students. Randy Turner takes on that sentiment in this story.

43. I'm Proud to be a Rising Joplin Eagle- Joplin High School student Micaela Tennis writes about the first day of school.

44. The Six-Month Anniversary: Nov. 22, 2011, in Cunningham Park- John Hacker's coverage of the activities on that eventful day, including the texts of speeches by Mayor Mike Woolston, Billy Long, Jay Nixon, and Chris Cotton

45. Come Home to Joplin- The text of Mark Rohr's speech at the six-month anniversary observance in Cunningham Park

46. Cunningham Park: Joplin's First Park- John Hacker writes the history of the park.

47. God Bless the People of Joplin, Missouri- In 5:41, Rose Fogarty wrote about how the story of Will Norton brought her to Joplin. Since then, she has continued her volunteer work and she offers a moving story about that volunteer work.

48. Remembering the Forgotten School- Not much attention was paid to the desruction of the old South Middle School, where Randy Turner taught. In this essay, he offers a tribute to it.

49. A Day in the Life of a Joplin Student- Karissa Dowell offers a different look at going to the mall high school- the feeling of a being on display in a glass house with different visitors every day.

50-51. Student to Student: Sharing Stories/College Students Forego the Beach to Help with Recovery- John Hacker writes about college students giving up their spring breaks to volunteer in Joplin.

52. A New Hope High School for Joplin- Randy Turner writes about the passage of the bond issue for new schools in Joplin.

53. A Seventh Grader's Gift That Keeps On Giving- Randy Turner's story about how a seventh grader from New York contributed to my students.

54. Avenue of Hope- John Hacker's story about Peace Lutheran Church, which had its building destroyed, beginning with outdoor services a week later and ending with outdoor services one year later

55. God Remains With Us in Joplin- Peace Lutheran Church's interim pastor Bill Pape writes about those first outdoor services.

56. Thanks Be To This Ever-Present God- A transcript of Pastor Kathy Redpath's sermon at the outdoor service at Peace Lutheran Church one year later.

57. Rejoicing, Remembering, and Rebuilding- Laela Zaidi's thoughts after the Joplin High School commencement program about how far this city has come.

58. Tornado Teaches the True Meaning of School- Randy Turner's story about the last day of the 2011-2012 school  year in our East Middle School warehouse

59. Joplin High School Prom Photos- taken by John Hacker

The following items are featured in the back of the book:

Death Doesn't Get the Last Word: Life Wins- The text of Rev. Aaron Brown's sermon at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

The Long Journey- The text of Gov. Jay Nixon's speech at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

Joplin Taught the World- The text of President Barack Obama's speech at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

The World Will Never Forget What You Achieved- Gov. Jay Nixon's speech at the Joplin High School Graduation

Because You Are From Joplin- President Barack Obama's speech at the Joplin High School Graduation

Center for Disease Control Report on Fungal Infections from Joplin Tornado

National Weather Service Central Region Assessment- The Joplin Tornado


The book is also available in paperback at this link.

Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado on sale for 99 cents for next three days

I never planned to have three books about the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado.

My original idea was to do 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado with Carthage Press Managing Editor John Hacker and then use the proceeds from that book to publish the story of what happened to my students during the tornado- the book that later became Scars from the Tornado: One Year at Joplin East Middle School.

Two things changed my plan.

1. John Hacker kept telling me that while he was making his rounds, people would tell him we really needed to write a book about the recovery and the remarkable things that had happened since the tornado.

2. I still did not have enough money to go through with my plan of publishing a book with my students and giving each of them a copy.

So we began working on the book that we eventually titled Spirit of Hope.

The book was intended to combine with 5:41 to provide readers with the most comprehensive record of the Joplin Tornado available.

-John was involved in the coverage of nearly every major event from the high school graduation to the six-month anniversary to the Extreme Makeover and Habitat for Humanity construction.

-I collected transcripts and documents of every major speech and event, including Presidnet Obama's speeches at the graduation and the memorial service, Mark Rohr's six-month anniversarry speech, C. J. Huff's press conference when he announced school would start on time and Rush Limbaugh's Fourth of July speech.

-We had first person stories that had arrived too late for inclusion in 5:41 and updates from some of those whose stories were featured in the first book.

-I added some original reporting, including a feature on a Joplin High School graduate and the magazine article I did on the late Will Norton for the Chapman University Magazine.

By the time the book was completed, I thought it was as good and possibly better than 5:41.

Naturally, it was greeted by the reading public with a resounding thud. Because of unsuccesful efforts to push it through advertising, I ended up accidentally paying $4,000 to Google, something from which I have yet to recover and it delayed the publication of Scars from the Tornado, which finally saw the light of day when I realized I could keep my promise by providing all students with an e-book and limit the paperbacks to those who had contributed chapters.

Despite al of that, I still have faith in Spirit of Hope and would like for more people to see for themselves how good the book is.

For the next three days, from approximately 10 a.m. today to 10 a.m. Monday, the e-book version of Spirit of Hope will be available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents (the regular price is $5). Give it a try and if you like it, please spread the word about this book.




Monday, November 04, 2013

First signing for Scars from the Tornado set for December 7 at Vintage Stock on the Mall

It certainly has taken long enough, but the first signing for Scars from the Tornado: One Year at Joplin East Middle School has been set for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, December 7, at Vintage Stock on the Mall.

Scars features stories that I wrote about my experiences during our first year in the warehouse school, as well as stories and poems written by my students.

I will be contacting people who contributed to the book, so that they can have the experience of being involved in a book signing.

Copies of 5:41: Stories from the Joplin TornadoSpirit of Hope, and No Child Left Alivewill also be available.

More information about the book will be provided in coming posts.