When I called Principal Randy Fulton and asked for an interview he was as busy as any Principal might be on any given school day; particularly if they were in the process of planning the new high school to be built to LEED platinum standards and the President was scheduled to visit in just a few short days to give the commencement address at graduation not so long after the entire town had been swept away by a huge tornado.
But he closed the door and sat down for a few moments to give me his insights into the process of rebuilding Greensburg High School, the effect it's had on his students, and the simple truth about how he copes with the enormous task of rebuilding not only his own life but that of the school as well.
TreeHugger: Where did the desire to rebuild Greensburg High School in a green fashion come from?
Randy Fulton: Well, once the disaster happened one of the things the governor of Kansas has really stressed is building back in an environmentally sustainable manner, and I think that's where that came from. And the leaders and commissioners and administrators, all of us got together and said "Let's do this right. Let's build back a town that is green and takes care of the environment."
TH: What role have you played in the rebuilding effort?
RF: I've been meeting with architects, the superintendent, other principals, and just trying to throw together a vision and put together a package and a school that can maybe be LEED platinum, which is our goal.
TH: What can you tell us about the student's involvement in the process?
RF: Well I think all of us are getting educated, and our students are just a part of that. Before this happened we all read about a little bit of green and it's become real for us, the students and the teachers and everybody in this town. So we're learning about green roofs and solar and wind energy and conservation, and about all the materials you use when rebuilding and whether or not they're good or bad for environment. Everyone's being educated. People like me, I've learned a lot. Until you're thrown into something you can talk or read about it but it doesn't hit home like it does now. We try to keep the kids educated on what we're doing. In fact, USC brought some kids down that made some model designs and showed all the students how their house would be energy efficient, facing it the right way, sustainability issues, wind generation, or solar, or both. So they're getting people from all over the country come to talk with them about green building, which is really neat.
TH: What do you think will be the impact of the President's visit this weekend on the graduating students as he gives their commencement address?
RF: I think it just shows them that people care. It's been a tough year. They've been in a temporary facility with no home court for sports and nothing that was theirs before. So their senior year is going to be remembered for the tornado that wiped out the town, that they lost some of their school identity, and watched as some friends moved away. But it's still terrific for the President to come and speak at the graduation of 18 kids; it's something they're going to remember forever that someone that important cares and also showing Greensburg that he cares because it's the second time he's been here.
TH: Has any one particular student stood out among the group of them?
RF: I don't think there's one that stands out; I think they all stand out. I think we've tried to make everything as normal as possible with the circumstances they've been dealt. We've been telling them stay involved, come to school, be a kid; so I think we've all tried to do that and obviously we've had reporters all over and people who come to help want our kids to meet them and do stuff with them. And I think when these people come and plant trees together we all grow, seeing volunteers right alongside us working their tails off for us, the community, and the town. Hopefully when something happens elsewhere and our kids are in the position to have the opportunity they're going to be first in line to help. And I really do think that. They've been exposed to that now and understand what volunteering is and supporting folks that need help. Hopefully they'll become young adults who will go out and lead the charge in helping people.
TH: Any one particular green feature of the school you most enjoy?
RF: We're still in the planning stages; but for us I think I want it to be built and be an educational school as far as green goes. I want a person to be able to see how it's impacted the environment; something that says "Today we've saved". I'd like a mechanical room where all the benefits from green could be seen, which would be awesome. So when people come to take a tour they see these buildings facing this way and that we hardly use any light but green light and that we saved 'X' by doing that.
This way they can see how it works and then say "We've got to go head home and do that."
TH: What helps you deal with the stress of rebuilding both your own life and the school itself?
RF: Being surrounded by good people. We have an awesome staff. From K-12 we only lost one staff member that moved away which was amazing. And I'm surrounded by a good board of education, superintendent, and the kids are awesome. Folks who are here could have moved. They had their insurance check in hand and could have left to start over but people who are here wanted to see Greensburg be built back. I think everyone fighting for the same cause to build back and even better has helped tremendously. I told my school counselor today, "Time really goes fast every day; I'm certainly not bored." And I've got a good family, and they support me.
TH: Anything else you'd like to tell the folks out there in America who will be watching this summer?
RF: I just want to thank all the people who have supported Greensburg and Greensburg Schools and are helping us to build back and get Greensburg back to where it was.
**The rebuilding of Greensburg, Kansas is the subject of an original program airing this summer on Planet Green**
See also: The TH Interview: Taylor Schmitt, Student at Greensburg High School , Introducing Daniel Wallach, Executive Director of Greensburg GreenTown , and don't miss Greensburg on Planet Green
Image Credit: Planet Green