Fire-ravaged Sonoma County schools remain closed

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Amy Jones-Kerr gathered the fragments of a Roseland Collegiate Prep mascot sign, all that was left of the school gym after the Tubbs fire destroyed the building Sunday.

Jones-Kerr, the Roseland School District superintendent, visited for the first time Friday the seventh-through-12th grade charter school, the former Ursuline High School campus, where she also found among the rubble a letter “E” that once hung on the side of the now-incinerated high school building.

The main school building that houses the office and middle-school classrooms remained unscathed, but trees that surrounded it smoldered. The fire also scorched the Ursuline Sisters’ Angela Center, a retreat and learning center behind the 430-student school.

“I’m trying to see what I can salvage,” Jones-Kerr said.

Ten Sonoma County schools were affected either directly by the fire or soot, according to state education officials, and on Friday school administrators began to try and get a handle on how to get the system back up and running.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson met with Jones-Kerr and other leaders of Sonoma County’s school districts before touring the damaged school sites, including the Roseland charter school. Torlakson reassured local school officials that they’d continue to receive state Average Daily Attendance funding during the emergency closures.

His department sent food for the county as well as reaching out to federal government and the state legislature and governor for further assistance, he said after the meeting, organized by Santa Rosa City Schools and county schools Superintendent Steve Herrington to discuss recovery efforts.

“There’s everything needed for getting students transported from one area to the next. There’s counseling services. Think of the trauma,” Torlakson added. “Thousands of students will end up in new school districts. We don’t know where. We’re looking at how logistically to help those families settle in and begin life again.”

He said he’s also looking for ways to help teachers and staff who lost their homes in an area that had already been struggling with a housing and teacher shortage. Some teachers may not have the means to rebuild their homes, he said.

“Some of the schools may have a third or fourth of their faculty not able to go back to their own homes because their homes have been burned down,” Torlakson said.

Santa Rosa City Schools superintendent Diann Kitamura said at least 70 of her faculty and staff members and 150 students’ families lost their homes in the blaze. She said the numbers likely will increase.

“We’re going to be there to support and help them work through the trauma,” Kitamura said, crying. “We’ll reopen schools, but our staff and students are going to need so much.”

Kitamura joined Torlakson, Herrington and other education and fire officials on the tour of the campus. They first stopped at the Hidden Valley Satellite campus before moving on to Roseland Collegiate Prep and Schaefer Charter School, which remained untouched even as the Coffey Lane neighborhood to the west was completely devastated.

Not much remained at Hidden Valley Satellite on Parker Hill Road except a multicolored U.S. map painted on the quad.

“It looks totally different,” Kitamura said about the 82-student campus.

“We can replace all the material objects,” Kitamura reiterated. “First and foremost on our mind is our staff and our students. We want to ensure that they have a safe place to come back to and that we’re taking care of all of their needs as we reopen.”

Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest school district with 16,400 students, canceled all classes next week. It’s unclear when they’ll reopen as fires continue to ravage the region.

Almost all of the 40 school districts in Sonoma County have been closed this week, with the exception of a few on the coast. The county expects to announce which districts will resume classes next week by 4 p.m. Saturday.

That decision will be influenced by several factors, including the threat of fires, poor air quality, smoke and fire damage to school facilities, transportation challenges, staffing shortages, power outages, and use of schools as emergency shelters for fire victims. “Many may choose to remain closed next week, depending on circumstances at the time,” Herrington said.

Piner-Olivet Union School District officials announced on the district website that their schools will remain closed next week. Analy High School will reopen Tuesday.

Jones-Kerr said the Roseland School District also will remain closed next week. Her staff will be meeting then to discuss cleanup efforts, as well as temporarily relocating Roseland Collegiate Prep students to other campuses.

Her district was in the middle of purchasing the school campus from the nuns, who closed the 130-year-old all-girls parochial school in 2011 after declining enrollment. Jones-Kerr said the district still plans to go ahead with the purchase.

“We made a commitment to the Ursuline sisters. We made a commitment to students and their families,” she said. “We’re going to figure this out.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or On Twitter @eloisanews.

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