Thomas Fire Update & Thank You

12/6/17 10pm

Good evening,

I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude to our entire community, which not only entails the students, faculty and staff, but also our parents, alumni, trustees, and independent school colleagues from around the country offering assistance, a listening ear, prayers, and positive energy. It has been a whirlwind over the past 48 hours, and I am humbled by these responses and support.

So many stories over the past 48 hours vividly show how this has been such a display of how a community can come together in the best of ways. As our students evacuated campus, our Monday night duty team rose to the occasion, as did all on campus residents, to efficiently exit the property in an orderly and expeditious manner.

Upon arrival to Oak Grove’s campus, Head of School Jodi Grass, and her team, along with Bo Qalandar and others, were amazing and immediately jumped into action to not only give us a place to sleep, but also had snacks available, and fed us all breakfast and lunch the following day. We were privileged to be among an amazing group of educators who without hesitation, reached out to lend a hand to our entire community.

Students bunking in Oak Gove School’s Student Center  

First thing yesterday morning, our school awoke at Oak Grove to be served breakfast by former head of Happy Valley, Dennis Rice, and his wife and former head of Oak Grove School, Meredy Benson Rice. Dennis and Meredy awoke at 5am to serve our group of about 120 breakfast, and then quickly turned over the kitchen and gave us lunch before we left. It brought a tear to my eye to see this former and long-time head of Happy Valley School, along with Oak Grove’s former head, working so hard to make our kids feel well-fed, comfortable, and safe. A real class act.

Tuesday morning update to students; “Our campus has survived the fire.”  But due to fire and smoke, it was announced we would be evacuating to Santa Barbara. (it was later discovered that homes and facilities at lower campus had burned due to a re-ignition in a nearby creek bed)

Countless other stories over the course of this ordeal remain – Oliver Cornell, current Besant Hill staff and husband of wife Laurie – a current Oak Grove teacher, appearing at Oak Grove to direct traffic and help out late at night, the staff at the Ramada allowing our school to take over the hotel with our students, teachers, children, and pets, and Mike Beck, Head of School at the Dunn School, allowing us to park our bus and school vehicles on their campus.

While staying in contact with parents and students, Assistant Head of School Megan Walton made quick arrangements with Ramada Inn and other hotels in Santa Barbara to accommodate students, faculty, and pets

As of now, we have 14 students, 27 adults, 13 faculty children, and 18 pets with us at this hotel and in other hotels and homes in Santa Barbara. We expect that all students will depart by the end of the day tomorrow, and by then we should have plans into place for all adults and families who cannot return to campus, especially those who have lost their homes. Although our group is getting smaller, the out pouring of love and concern for our school and those affected by this disaster continues to grow into a groundswell of support for our community and campus.

Students and faculty arrived at the Ramada Inn in Santa Barbara Tuesday afternoon. Throughout the ordeal, students were incredibly helpful and worked together to create smooth transitions and

Thank you to all of our students, teachers, and parents for your help, understanding, and flexibility during this difficult time. I will be in touch shortly about our efforts to rebuild and move forward as a community. The coming days, weeks, and months will be a time of renewal as we are beginning the efforts to reconstruct faculty homes, our ceramics studio, alumni and archival storage areas, the barn, and maintenance facilities. I will be writing shortly about our strategies and how you can be a part of this effort as we move forward. If you would like to chat about this, please contact me at anytime.

Until then, I wish you all my very best and the happiest of holidays.

Warmest regards,

Randy R. Bertin, Ed.D.
Head of School