When a two-mile-wide killer tornado roared through tiny Greensburg, Kan., in May 2007, 10 people were killed and 95 percent of the town's structures were flattened. None of the schools survived the destruction.
Surveying the damage, Darin Headrick, the schools superintendent, knew he had a choice – rebuild, or watch as the town's youth drifted away like the twister's winds.
"Everyone was displaced," Headrick, 48, told Beliefnet. "People needed to have ties to the community in order to come back, and we figured one of the most important ones to have were the schools."
But it wasn't enough to just rebuild. Headrick – in concert with many other town leaders – decided they would rebuild in a way that would make Greensburg the literal embodiment of its name – a truly green community. Headrick is nominated as one of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring People of the Year for his can-do spirit and environmental focus at a time when many people would have settled for less.
After the storm, Headrick lined up temporary modular classrooms and offices on the old school grounds – thereby ensuring at least some continuity for the 263 students, grades K through 12. Another structure that would serve as a practice sports facility, cafeteria, and auditorium was built. On Aug. 15, 2007, school resumed with 74 percent of the student body returning.
"That first day of school was almost like a family reunion," Headrick said. "It was a chance to see people that you missed and didn't realize how much you missed. A lot of the joy was just seeing the kids and the staff back together again."
On Oct. 29 of this year, Headrick oversaw a groundbreaking ceremony for a new school campus, just south of the old one. It will feature geothermal pumps, a water collecting system to use and reuse rainwater, wind generators for power, and as much reclaimed building materials as possible.
Headrick estimates the green design of the new campus will save the district as much as 45 percent in utility costs. "It’s not going to be fancy, but it is going to be economic and have along life span," he said.
The school has a new "green club," where kids learn about recycling and other things they can do to reduce waste. And for the last year, the students, along with other townspeople, have regularly faced television cameras as a Hollywood production company films the town's progress for a documentary series called "Greensburg." But Headrick says the lessons of the town's reconstruction go beyond environmental stewardship.