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274. That’s how many Paradise area teachers have come to the Chico office to fill out CTA Disaster Grants since the November 8 wildfire. These grants are for those who lost their homes, whose homes were damaged, are temporarily displaced, and the like. And this number does not include those who applied for grants on line.

We’ve heard a lot about Paradise.  I’ve talked to a dozen teachers from that group of 274 and they live in and around Paradise, but don’t all work for the Paradise Unified School District. Don’t forget about the educators in Palermo, Yuba City, Butte and Glenn counties Office of Education, Thermalito, Chico, Corning Elementary, Durham, Gridley, Hamilton, Home Tech Charter School, Manzanita, Marysville Unified, Oroville Elementary, Oroville Secondary, Orland, Red Bluff Elementary and Children’s Community Charter School.

They, too, have terrifying stories of fire, raining ash, smoke and staying calm and focused while making sure the 3,000 plus students escape the fire safely.  And they, too, have lost their homes and schools.

“The craziest thing about my story, is that it is not crazy. Thousands of others have similar tales, and there are many much more harrowing than mine,” said Shannamar Dewey, Butte Community College faculty member. “There are far too many that will never be told.”

Teachers and faculty shared stories of not getting evacuation orders, of looking above their houses or schools and seeing huge gray black plumes or flames heading in their direction, hearing explosions, waiting in line for hours in the smoky dark, abandoning their cars and running for safety. They told stories of grabbing kids, pets, emergency supplies and stopping, for just a second, to look around their house before dashing for their vehicles.

Even while the fire was burning teachers were reaching out to students to check on their families, all the while wondering if their own homes survived.  They said they were more worried about their students than themselves.

“Thank God students were in our schools, because we were able to help save them and get them all out alive. And all of you were a part of that,” David Smith told his colleagues at their first meeting together. “I am so proud to call myself the president, and a representative of the Teachers Association of Paradise.”

“I don’t know about you, but the fire drills we did in school never touched  on anything near that catastrophic,” he added.  “It proves how resilient we are and how brave you were to get your families and students out of that.  Thanks to you, 3,000 students made it to safety, and we did that while saving each other, and our families.”

During the meeting teachers asked questions around not having a place to live by the time school starts,  how to donate to leave time, student resources, status of probationary teachers, class size, what if they’re not ready to return to work and will they have a job — and TAP leaders gave them straight answers.

They reiterated what Superintendent Michelle John told them: Everyone’s job is safe this year. “Let’s get through this year,” she said.  “If you want to leave though, we’ll release your credential.  Parents told us loud and clear – students want to stay with you. We are trying to keep as many kids as possible.”

A new normal

sher eichar

Sheri Eichar teaching one of her students via FaceTime.

At a November 19 meeting of Butte and Glenn County local teacher union leaders, the discussion was also all about the students.  Colleagues, too, of course. CTA’s Disaster Grants and other union resources and supports are appreciated.  As are the messages of support and massive donations.  The donations of “stuff” are problematic because many teachers don’t have a place to store things. The best way to help, still, is monetary donations.  A teacher “wish list” will be promoted once educators have a better idea of what they need, besides housing.

Their November 19 discussion centered on how each of the unions can work collaboratively with their respective school districts to meet the needs of students and teachers, to provide education opportunities for students and create positive teaching and learning environments – in person and online. The districts were working hard to find locations for classrooms.  Teachers were getting their curriculum together.  A curriculum that included a lot of loving, hugging and listening.

Teachers say they are ready to go back to work.  The new normal means getting back to school with their students.  That’s why they’re teachers. Their first days back on the job last week involved getting counseling and resources so they could help themselves and their colleagues, and to learn how to deal with student trauma and available students supports and resources. Teachers checked out the new-to-them facilities in Durham and Chico schools, at the Chico mall and at the Boys and Girls Club, and how to teach classes online.

The first day of school is Monday, December 3.  Some educators, like Annie Finney, Brittany Bentz and Sheri Eichar from Children’s Community Charter School, have already been teaching their students in their homes, at the local library, and even via FaceTime. Teachers are connecting with students and preparing themselves, emotionally and mentally, for Monday.

And, teachers are fretting about students not returning to Paradise Unified School District.  “I’m doing the best I can to keep our students and keep us together. Have faith.  I’m in this for the long haul and I hope you are, too,” David Smith told TAP members. “If we build it, they will come,” he said, echoing the sentiment from the “Field of Dreams” movie.

In this case, their plan is to build a School for Dreams.


Photos below include Shannamar Dewey’s house and trek to safey taken by her husband Darin McQuoid.  Below that TAP officers answer questions from their members.