Update on SCOE Fire Relief Efforts
Following is a message from County Superintendent Steve Herrington.
When the North Bay Firestorm swept through our county in October 2017, it took an unprecedented toll on our educational community. Nearly 1,500 students and 250 teachers were left without homes. Two public schools were burned. While we now know the extent of the physical damage, experts tell us that the emotional toll will take months and even years to fully reveal itself. The Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) is committed for the long-haul to assisting the county's 40 school districts in fire recovery, to make sure that our schools and students emerge from this disaster even stronger than before.
Already, SCOE has taken on a number of efforts assist schools, teachers, and students in fire recovery. This is an update on some of those efforts. Because of the large scale of these efforts and the number of people involved, I'm unable to list every effort or thank individuals within this article. However, I am very grateful to SCOE staff and the broader school community for their tireless efforts to ensure schools remain a safe and healing place for children.
SCOE Fire Relief Fund
SCOE created the School Fire Relief Fund to provide a one-stop location where individuals or organizations could provide support directly to school districts in Sonoma County. Donors were able to specify a specific district or use (textbooks, backpacks, etc.) or make an open donation. To date, this fund has received about $35,000. About $4,000 has been pre-allocated by the donors to specific school districts. SCOE plans to distribute the additional funds to school districts in an amount directly proportional to the number of students who lost homes. We have settled on this as the most equitable way of ensuring that the funds will assist impacted student populations. SCOE will disburse its first round of funds in early 2018. A second disbursement of any additional funds gathered will take place in April.
Grant Funding for Sustained Fire Relief Efforts
SCOE is honored to have received $500,000 in grants from multiple generous foundations to support sustained efforts to rebuild and heal our schools. SCOE is working closely with school districts to determine the best use for these funds. We already know that $100,000 will be allocated to the two school districts where facilities burned in the fire: Santa Rosa City Schools and Roseland School District. An additional $100,000 will be used to provide free training to teachers (and cover the cost of substitutes during the training) in Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS). CBITS is designed to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and behavioral problems in students while improving functioning, grades and attendance, and peer and parent support. We will post additional updates on the use of these grant funds as the year progresses.
SCOE has provided a variety of free trainings to schools to assist in the fire recovery process. These include:
- Supporting Students and Staff to Promote Recovery from Disasters: Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at USC and nationally renowned expert on helping schools recover from disasters, will present a workshop for Sonoma County school district superintendents and other school leaders on Wednesday, January 10. Schonfeld, a leading expert on school crisis, will present to and consult with local schools about how to support students and staff who have experienced this disaster.
- Train-the-Trainer Crisis Response: SCOE hosted general and site/district-specific Crisis Response Trainings for school counselors, school psychologists, site/district administrators and their designees. The trainings were designed to equip the counselors/psychologists to lead their respective staffs in a training of how to best care for themselves and their students.
Coordination of State Assistance
I worked closely with representatives at the California Department of Education and CalOES to ensure Sonoma County Schools received timely services. This included making sure schools did not lose state funding due to forced closures during the fire or a loss of students after the fire. It also included having Sonoma County schools recognized as independent agencies by the state so that they could receive services faster.
Coordination/Allocation of Resources
In the weeks immediately after the fire, SCOE organized the allocation of countywide requests from schools for social-emotional support. Examples of support include: training, individual or group counseling, the use of comfort dogs, etc.
Communication and Coordination Between Agencies
SCOE facilitated regular meetings between the 40 school district superintendents to share information, coordinate efforts, and connect superintendents with important personnel at the county, state, and federal levels. SCOE's Foster Youth and Homeless Services coordinator worked with her contacts at each school district to ensure newly homeless students received the services they needed.
SCOE’s IT department worked with the Volunteer Center and corporate donors to collect and distribute donated laptops for displaced teachers and students in Sonoma County. It has collected roughly 250 working computers, thanks in part to a donation of 160 laptops in excellent working condition from Salesforce.