Reflections on earthquake impact

Guest Editorial

Reflections on  earthquake impactBy DR. DAVID OSTASH, SSUSD Superintendent

Sometimes things happen in life that feel as though they happen “to us.” At first, that is exactly the way we felt in Sierra Sands Unified School District in the immediate aftermath of the July 4 and 5 earthquakes, magnitudes 6.4 and 7.1, in Ridgecrest and the surrounding area. With a resilient mindset, starting with our board of trustees, we determined to navigate our situation so that we could see the earthquakes as happening “for us.” Recognizing that no one in the school district suffered physical injuries, we quickly turned our attention to being sure our students’ and our employees’ emotional needs were supported. Next we partnered with our local civic leadership, county partners and state/federal agencies to be sure that all available resources for earthquake mitigation would be identified.

There were many challenges to overcome:

• Two of our elementary schools were significantly damaged, rendering them unusable.

• Thousands of aftershocks would roll in and out of the valley, causing nerves to fray further than what had been caused by the two big initial temblors.

• Some of our students and employees lost their homes, and their lives were shaken into disarray.

• District leadership found itself caught in a tenuous balance between focusing on the repair work at hand and pausing to take time to meaningfully include and communicate with stakeholders.

• News media from Los Angeles and Bakersfield descended on us, thrusting our leadership into an unfamiliar and distracting spotlight.

Much work was done between July 4 and Aug. 19 (the day on which we opened the two damaged elementary schools, one week after the other schools opened). Through the intentional efforts of hundreds of professionals in our district, city, county and state and federal agencies, we built a coalition of truly caring people who were totally committed to the full restoration of our schools and buildings.

Most importantly, our focus throughout the restoration process was, and continues to be, our people. Counselors and therapists were available in the summer to meet with students who felt rattled by the quakes; in the first few weeks of school we conducted safety drills and engendered a true sense of safety and well being; and we continue to support one another as we settle back to “normal.” Getting doors open and students in their seats was just the first step; we had to make sure our families and employees felt safe enough to learn once we got there.

What has resulted after intentional effort and support is — those earthquakes did not happen to us — they happened for us. The necessary repairs and emotional support reinvigorated spaces and confidence, which will allow students and staff to thrive for decades to come.

Story First Published: 2019-10-11