Education Matters: Protecting the community in the midst of the Creek Fire

Education

FRESNO, Calfornia (KSEE) – At least three school districts were impacted by the Creek Fire: two received some damage and educators say 80% of staff and students in those districts have been displaced.

As the Creek Fire began its assault on the mountain community, it did not take long for the old-timers to know just how bad this was going to be.

“As it started to break on Saturday you began to get calls and hear this is the fire we feared because it’s heading into Big Creek and it’s probably heading to Shaver,” said Superintendent of Sierra Unified School District Dr. Alan Harris.

Dr. Harris used Facebook to keep the community informed, making sure their neighbors were safe and then finding out if the schools were still standing.

“We don’t have a city council, we don’t have a city proper. The schools are the community.”

Sierra Unified is the largest of the districts located in this mountain community. Pine Ridge Elementary School District and Big Creek Elementary School District are much smaller districts made up of one school – but they are all connected.

“All the students go through Sierra High School and so the connections between families and the connections from generations and how they know and care for each other. We’re just one big district.”

Sierra Unified was not damaged by the fire, but Pine Ridge and Big Creek schools suffered some loss – which was felt by the entire mountain community.

“80% of our staff are displaced right now in one form or another, and we know 80% of the students and their families in our district are out of their home.”

The districts are currently operating from a space at Clovis Hills Community Church. With so many displaced, virtual learning was suspended, and getting students back to learning will be a process

“I want our superintendents to focus on their parents, focus on the students, focus on the staff, make sure that they are safe and their social and emotional well being is being taken care of,” said Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino.

The Fresno County Superintendent of Schools says his office has assembled a team of experts that will take care of paperwork and documents needed for state and insurance purposes.

“You don’t need to worry about that, let us take that burden on and support you.”

The focus is on the well-being of the community. Community advocate Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian put on an event in Prather: a combination fundraiser and gathering for families to get food, clothing, resources – and something more personal

“It was born out of a need to connect,” said Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian. “I think it was born out of a need to gather and see each other and lock eyes and say ‘we got this.’ It was born out of that Mountain Strong Ideology and idea that we can do this together.”

It could be two weeks before virtual classes resume, but Superintendent Harris says their goal is to have students back to learning face to face sometime in October.

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