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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- After Katrina, School Superintendent Kim Stasny quickly set about assessing the damage to the system she had worked hard to build up. She quickly realized it was extreme.

All six public schools in the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District were hit hard. In the best cases, all contents were ruined -- electrical systems, sheetrock, computers, lockers and books, study materials. In the worst cases, buildings were reduced to piles of rubble.

And yet, 10 weeks after the storm, schools will reopen on Monday. It has been a monumental task and restoring pre-storm conditions is perhaps still months or years away, but Monday will nonetheless bring many students, and most of the teachers, back to the classroom so they can begin again.

“The day that’s going to be really, really great for us is the day those kids come back to the school … because that’s what we’re working for,” says Stasny, walking among workers feverishly decontaminating the middle school. “We’ve got signs up (that say) ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’ And we are reopening school, A-S-A-P.”

Monumental effort went into getting the schools to this point. Five schools will reopen, most with temporary classroom modules to accommodate at least some of the classes. The alternative school, which was completely destroyed, will be housed entirely in modular classrooms behind the middle school.

Click 'Play' to hear School Superintendent Kim Stasny talk about the uncertainty, both in the return enrollments of student and the financial situation in her school district.

Stasny is constantly fielding calls on her cell phone to work out the wrinkles, and there are many. As we speak to her one of the things she’s grappling with is route the buses will follow since many of the kids are living in FEMA trailers or with friends. Also, there’s a delay in the shipment of air-conditioning units from Florida because of Hurricane Wilma.

Meantime, a parent approaches, asking whether his son will get credit for the studies he has completed at a school in another town, where he has attended while Bay St. Louis has been trying to recover.

'We'll take care of him'

“You just bring him in,” Stasny tells him. “We will take care of him.”

The situation has obviously improved dramatically since the days right after the storm when she was still trying to round up a team of administrators, sort through priorities and get contractors on the sites. It was a challenge she likens to directing an orchestra, all of it done in unimaginable conditions.

“I had no office, so everything I was doing was out of my car,” she says. “I would stop my car and people would start lining up to ask me questions.”

The buildings that remained useable have been gutted, cleaned and decontaminated. Classrooms are largely empty since wood shelving, chalkboards, lockers and most of the furniture was ripped out, due to corrosion, rust and mold. Furniture that was useable for the short term has been decontaminated until it can be replaced. And under EPA guidance, contractors are taking moisture samples to monitor health conditions.

Teachers – who continued to be paid throughout the crisis -- came back to work a week ahead of students, and student counselors will be rotated through the school system from around the state of Mississippi, to help with ongoing trauma and stress.

But will they return?
But even as new desks arrive, there are still dozens of unanswered questions. Top of the list is how many students will actually come back. The district is planning for 60 percent of its 2,300 students to return, but Stasny is concerned that it may be less than half to begin with. She expects the number will creep up after the holidays, when people have achieved more stability.

It’s a difficult decision for families as they weigh their kids’ loyalties against other factors.

Just a few days before the reopening of schools here, Mary Gooding, a Bay St. Louis resident, was still unsure whether her 13-year-old daughter Rosemary would return to her old school on Monday. Rosemary has been attending school where she was first evacuated, in Florence, Miss. The family’s home a few blocks from the beach has been destroyed.

Now that Rosemary is back with her parents in a FEMA trailer in Pass Christian, Miss. she has to decide: Will she return to her old school in Bay St. Louis, which is about half an hour’s drive, or attend a school in Pass Christian.

Mary Gooding is letting her daughter decide, but she is worried that the school district may be cutting corners in order to reopen. And she has concerns about the environment in Bay St. Louis in the wake of all the flooding.

“Her best friend is going back to the Bay school,” says Gooding. “But I’m beginning to think it’s not as healthy in Bay St. Louis as (in Pass Christian).

Community, but not normalcy
For Stasny, one of the biggest concerns is that parents will expect normalcy where it is a long way off.

After school starts, classes will be shifted in turn to the mobile units as each wing is further refurbished. The 10,000 books and dozens of computers in the library have not been replaced. Many of the extracurricular programs are suspended while the school focuses its energies on the basics. A strong push to expand computer literacy in the district has to start from scratch.

How long will that take, and how long before new buildings make the temporary classrooms unnecessary?

“It all depends on what our insurance is going to do for us, how much FEMA will help us out, how much we can get from donations, and what is going to happen with our tax base,” says Stasny.

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6 COMMENTS

I ssend all my love and deepest regards to all suvivorss in New Orleans,Miss. and Ala. effected by the Hurricans.

I Love the World.

I send all my love to the students in Hancock County, MS. I am from there and went to Bay High. I know the destruction there. God Bless everyone!!

Thank you so much for focusing some attention on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. So much of the World has no idea how hard Mississippi was hit.

Dear Jesus!! another vital comments section not being mezmorized!! What is up with the world..Pound the pavement outsiders!! Once again!!! Our Childern of the world are being deprived here..this issoooooo wrong!! This is not about jackasses & Eleafontees".
PS Lori and Anerson.. i sure wish i could be there. The $. I hope i am doing some kind of help? Good Luck, and let The Higher Power Be with You and All.
Thanks..Tee..Keeping up :)

Im still looking for ralph westbrook who went missing in the hurricane. he is a canadian living in bsl please email me any info at jeannot.poulin@hotmail.com

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