Thomas Fire Anniversary

The Thomas Fire began December 4, 2017 in the late afternoon/early evening outside Santa Paula, CA, a short distance away from my home/work. I was in my third month as Head of School at the Ojai Valley School - Upper Campus and I lived on campus. In a few short hours, my life changed. A second fire started closer to campus and the decision was quickly made that the campus needed to be evacuated. The evacuation went smoothly getting 80 students, 6 faculty families, and 30 horses off the campus. Throughout the night I watched the progress of the fire until I left early the next morning as flames crested the ridge above campus. Six hours later, half of the campus was destroyed.

Student's belongings, faculty homes, several classrooms were lost that day. Students were sent home for the last two weeks of the first semester as the school developed a plan to reopen in January. With the support of the Board of Trustees, the school President/CEO, faculty and staff, school families, and local community members, I was entrenched preparing the school to reopen in January on time with no loss of program.

After countless days and many nights of little sleep, our goal was achieved. Students returned to campus with a temporary trailer village for the girls's dormitory, some temporary classroom buildings, and all available spaces were converted to classrooms, and no school program was lost. Everything you just read is the short version of the story.

The Thomas Fire is why Restore Education After Disasters (READ) has taken life. Through my experiences over the course of that month, the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices, I felt compelled to do something to share all I learned. It wasn't until August 2018 that the idea for READ began to take shape. Finally, in December 2019 the decision was made to form READ. It took most of 2020 to get to this point.

READ's formation is to help schools and students return to sense of normalcy as soon as possible after a disaster. READ will assist schools in their planning for long term temporary operations, while giving students a classroom environment to maintain their educational goals, thus giving parents time to handle their family needs during disaster recovery. There is so much to say about READ, much like so much more to tell about the recovery process of the Ojai Valley School, and also my own journey to this point. All of that is for another time and place.