'Our families trust in our schools, they believe in our schools, and to have them still standing…that happens for a reason.'
Brent Barry, superintendent, Phoenix-Talent School District
I was born and raised in the Rogue Valley. I’m heading into my fourth year as superintendent and 17th year overall in this district. We were preparing to lead our students into comprehensive distance learning, but on Sept. 8 everything changed.
A maintenance worker delivering mail said there was a puff of smoke at the south part of the valley. I walked out and it was thick, dark, gray smoke billowing up. So I called some of our colleagues in Talent, and they walked out, and I could hear the anxiousness in their voices. It looked like it was really close.
At that time we activated a communication system to all of our staff to ensure that we were leaving the premises and getting home to our families. We still didn’t know what the destruction and devastation was going to be.
And as you now know, the fire swept through the heart of our district, and really affected our most vulnerable population, who were already having challenges compounded by the pandemic.
Afterwards, it was chaos. It was stressful. It was highly emotional. We had families and staff members who lost everything. As the days went on, we learned that 2,300-plus housing units were simply destroyed in a few short hours.
All around the valley we mobilized our staff to connect with our kids and families. We went from an education system to one that was really focused on basic needs: Are you safe? Do you have shelter? Do you have food? Do you have the things you need to survive?
We are fortunate that we have all of our structures in place and no fire damage to any of our schools, which is really going to be a beacon of hope for our future. We know that schools are hubs of their community. Our families trust in our schools, they believe in our schools, and to have them still standing…that happens for a reason.
We know we play a pivotal role in this rebuilding, this recovery. Our region passed a bond in 2017, and people were really concerned about our $40 million high school, which is nearly complete. As you listened to the scanner that evening you could hear the firefighters come together and fight that fire and save a building that our community supports and where I know we will gather for many years to come to heal and celebrate.
OSBA is telling personal stories of hope and perseverance from the state’s three hardest-hit districts: Phoenix-Talent, McKenzie and Santiam Canyon. These “Rising from the Ashes” stories, told in images and words, will show where support is needed most to help Oregon students and their families rebuild. OSBA has established a Wildfire Resources page that includes links to donate to the hardest-hit communities: Phoenix-Talent; McKenzie; and Santiam Canyon.