"I am concerned about the health of the building, that everything has been cleaned and taken care of," Amato said. "This place is like a family to (O'Connell) and I know he will do it right."
On a typical day now, O'Connell wakes up in his hotel room, then travels to his students' temporary schools. Then, he comes back to Scholars' Academy and pushes crews to get the place running.
The city allocated $200 million to make repairs to schools like Scholars' Academy. A week after the storm, it swarmed with construction crews and heavy equipment, but there's a lot to do, and more to buy.
The shiny gym floor had buckled and floor padding, recently purchased by parents, was ruined. The cheerleaders' uniforms were drenched in scum, and the auditorium's seats and sound system sat in a pool of water. Band and orchestra instruments bobbed in the water, with mold forming in their cases. Anything that wasn't 4 feet off the ground floor was destroyed, including scores of books, music, uniforms, teachers' belongings and workbooks. Every chair, table and desk on the first floor sat in water for days, rusting the feet.
"I worry that anything we don't tear up will rot or mold or buckle," O'Connell said. "I quantify the loss in terms of what it's actually gonna cost me if I have to replace those items new. ... It really adds up because some of these items are quite expensive, quite dear."
Meanwhile, his students are packed into classes at W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School and P.S. 13, schools in East New York, worlds away from the beach. P.S. 13 found space for about 700 Scholars' Academy students in closets, halls, offices, the cafeteria, "every single place we can imagine," P.S. 13 principal Sabrina Fleming said.
"A lot of them, they didn't have food, they didn't have clothing, they didn't have a place to stay. For a lot of them, they just wanted a place to come together," Fleming said. "That's why I said, 'You know, how can we not give them this opportunity, where they can come together and at least be with their friends?'"
It's tough on the teachers, too, Fleming said. When Scholars' Academy teachers walked in, many had lost their homes. The P.S. 13 faculty hugged them. For kids, staff members distributed outline drawings of a child and asked the kids to fill in their emotions.
"They lost everything," said Fleming, who now shares her main office with a second set of staff members. "The emotions are definitely high here. So, the first week, it was a lot of counseling for their staff ... we are definitely able to relate to their loss."
There are tests looming, ceremonies already missed. They recently held parent-teacher day in a big auditorium at a replacement school. The fall sports season is flying by, with no plan yet for how to replace the Scholars' Academy Seawolves equipment or musical instruments.
"When you go to the beach as a kid, you build a sandcastle. And as a kid, you learn early on that, sometimes, that tide comes in and it wipes out your sandcastle. What you do, when you can, you don't necessarily move your location," O'Connell said, speaking like a kid from Rockaway Beach. "You rebuild."
CNN's Poppy Harlow contributed to this report.