School boards in action: Paradise USD president talks board, Camp Fire recovery, pandemic

This is the first portion of a two part update from Paradise Unified School District’s board president addressing the state of the board and its service area, the district’s response to the pandemic and the ongoing recovery from the Camp Fire. 

Melissa Crick, president, Paradise Unified School District

Let me start by just saying that we have a fabulous board. We are very fortunate in that regard. We could not be more different individually and rarely agree 100 percent on things, but we work as one and always support the majority. I feel exceptionally blessed to share the table with my peers. They are laser focused on the success of our students, academically, social-emotionally and overall. I could not be prouder to work alongside these folks or impressed with their dedication and selfless commitment to our community.

We also have an incredible superintendent, as well as a stellar assistant superintendent and admin team. While there is a ton of very conscious work that goes into these relationships, we also just have truly wonderful people in Paradise Unified.

We are a very young board in terms of experience. I am currently the senior most board member with just over four years of experience. Next is Rich Gingery with three years followed by Bill Sharrett with just over two years and then Emily Vail with just over a year and Susan Davis with about 10 months. While this may not seem all that extraordinary you must keep in mind that our district experienced the Camp Fire in November 2018 that devastated much of the district and destroyed the town of Paradise. We were only just beginning the process of recovery when we entered the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world.

We lost more than half of our total student body after the fire, from 3,500 students to 1,400 and nearly a third of our facilities as well. Two days before the fire, Nov. 6, 2018, we passed a $67 million facilities bond to improve our very old buildings. With these bond funds and insurance proceeds from the fire, we put forth a $120 million facilities master plan last year to completely reshape and update our district. We currently have 23 plus active projects. We like to think of this as one of the few silver linings in the last few years. Another significant concern for our district is staffing, while we lost more than half of our students, we retained much or our pre-fire employee numbers. We are now faced with record reductions, a truly heartbreaking task. These are the same employees that rallied around our families in the days, weeks and months following the fire. They are friends and neighbors and are in recovery along with the rest of the community. Many still live in trailers and temporary housing just like our students.

We are also very fortunate to have strong relationships with our bargaining teams but, nonetheless, all these things take a very real toll on our district.

Crick’s responses to our 5 questions series will be posted April 13. Answers primarily spotlight social-emotional concerns brought on by recent events though it is just one of the district’s areas of focus.