UPDATE: Crestline students settle into new schools

Five schools take in kids after Sunday fire levels elementary

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter and Craig Brown, Columbian Metro Editor


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Click here to learn about various ways to help those affected by the Crestline fire.

Video from Noah Patraw of the three-alarm fire at Crestline Elementary School.

Click here to learn about various ways to help those affected by the Crestline fire.

After a week of catastrophic loss and overwhelming support, school resumed this morning for nearly 500 Crestline Elementary School students, their teachers and staff.

“I’m happy and a little scared,” said second-grader Ellie Rush, 8, who wore a Crestline Elementary sweatshirt. “I know the second-graders from Crestline, but I don’t know anyone else at the new school.”

But by the end of the day, there were bus loads of happy schoolchildren.

Crestline kids started their day at Mountain View High School, where they met their teachers and boarded another bus for their new schools.

Five nearby Evergreen district elementary schools will host Crestline for the rest of the school year, making do with converted computer labs, portable classrooms and other repurposed spaces. Their school was destroyed in a fire early Sunday.

More than a dozen school buses lined the Mountain View parking lot as parents, teachers, community members and well-wishers gathered at the high school to see the students off.

In one hand first-grade teacher Zoe Fromer held a sign reading “Fromer/Ellsworth.”

“I still feel sad about Crestline because that was my favorite classroom,” said Jennifer G., one of Fromer’s first-grade students. “All our worked burned up. I miss our old school.”

Second-grade teacher Katie Van Ness gathered her students around her like a mother hen. She’d seen some of her students on Sunday at the fire scene. Thursday morning, students greeted their friends and stood around their teacher, an 18-year Crestline veteran. Some embraced her.

After her students boarded a bus headed for Columbia Valley Elementary School, Van Ness said, “Columbia Valley is our home away from home for the next four-and-a-half months.”

Principal Bobbi Hite stood on the sidewalk waving to the students in the school buses. She said she plans to spend Thursday and today visiting all the relocated Crestline classrooms “to see all my kids,” Hite said.

“This week has been a range of emotion,” she said. “We’ve been taking it one day at a time with the goal of getting the kids back into school in three days.”

School officials were able to keep the students together by class and grade. All of the kindergartners, for example, will finish the year at Mill Plain Elementary; the fifth-graders are at Fircrest.

“We’re very happy with how quickly this came together. We want these kids to be in school,” said John Deeder, superintendent of Evergreen Public Schools. “The cooperation in this community has been overwhelming.”

The cause of Sunday’s fire, which rendered the 39-year-old Crestline a total loss, is still under investigation. A cause may be known in the next few days.

Since the fire was reported at 3:17 a.m. Sunday, the community support has been overwhelming, teachers say. They all lost belongings in the classrooms, including books, often amounting to thousands of dollars. But many people and businesses have responded with donations.

The school district carried fire insurance on the school.

It’s still too early to know what plans might be made for the 2013-14 school year, but Deeder said “our goal is to have these kids under one roof somewhere next year.”

District officials have said they want to rebuild the school, but that it will probably not be ready for students until the fall of 2014.

Deeder said the students will not have to make up the three days lost due to the fire. He stood on the sidewalk waving to the kids passing in the school buses. He planned to visit all of the Crestline classrooms Thursday.

Ready for newcomers

When the buses carrying Crestline kindergartners pulled up to Mill Plain Elementary, the host school was ready. Principal Karen Fox oversaw 10 Mill Plain classrooms moving to make space for all four classes of Crestline kindergartners to remain together in the school’s kindergarten wing.

“One of the beautiful things about kids is they’re so resilient,” Fox said, looking around Necia Gannon’s new kindergarten room, where the students sat cross-legged or even sprawled on the floor in groups, looking at their new books.

“I have Batman!” one kindergarten boy exclaimed, holding up a Batman book.

Brenden, 5, stood next to Gannon, and waved his new book, “The Beetle Alphabet Book,” so she could see.

“The Crestline kids are back together, they have full tummies and they have their reading boxes,” Fox said. “They’re happy.”

Margaret Varkados, principal at Fircrest Elementary, welcomed 165 Crestline students in 7 classes — more displaced students than any other school. She visited each classroom of Crestline kids on Thursday to welcome them to Fircrest. She explained to each class the importance of Crestline students and Fircrest students each keeping their own culture.

“But together, we create a new community,” Varkados said.

“I’m sitting here with a smile on my face because it worked,” she said at the end of the first blended school day. “We made it happen. I knew we could. Once the students arrived, it was all systems go.”

Thursday afternoon, after their first day at their new schools, the Crestline kids and teachers hopped off the buses, the sound of happy children’s voices filling the air.

Just four days earlier, Crestline fourth-grade teacher Mary Krzysiak had stood with her students and fellow teachers while they watched their school burn.

“It was great just to be with the kids again, to see their resilience and to know we’re still Crestline Lions,” Krzysiak said. “We’re so thankful for what everyone is doing for us. We’ll all heal together.”

Krzysiak turned toward a group of students, embraced one and said, “Hey, we did it! See you tomorrow!”

Much more information the fire and the aftermath is available on our special web page.

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