The Rim board of trustees met on Zoom on March 9.
Trustees extol superintendent’s efforts during storms
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
At the beginning of each meeting of the Rim of the World Unified School District’s board of trustees, each member of the school board has the opportunity to make a few comments.
At the March 9 meeting, held on Zoom, those comments lasted for an hour with the trustees reviewing what had taken place during the recent storms.
“We have had an exceptional representative communicating information,” said President Bill Mellinger. “I thought she was our superintendent. I guess she’s the disaster coordinator.”
Mellinger went on to say that Dr. Kimberly Fricker’s communication has been an asset to the community. “On behalf of the school board, thank you for the work you have done.”
He added that this series of storms should serve as a test for a major earthquake. “We will be isolated and can’t wait for services to come to us. We will have to take care of each other. Thank you to everyone who has looked out for their neighbors.”
What we have seen, said Trustee Dana Ridland, is “neighbors helping neighbors – a lot of home-grown solutions. I don’t know if people are aware of the solutions Dr. Fricker has devised. She created a hub and spoke solution, using the high school as a center to receive supplies. There was a problem – she continually figured it out. She coordinated with Burrtec for central trash locations.”
Ridland went on to say that “early on in her tenure, Dr. Fricker recognized the school district is the local municipality. She has worked tirelessly to care for the families in the Rim community. I am blown away by what has been accomplished.”
“My heart goes out to everyone,” said Trustee Cindy Gardner. “This was a scary event. My anxiety level was greater than evacuating during the fires. The amount of snow was terrifying – I couldn’t get out.”
Gardner added what bothered her was not being able to get out and go help other people.
“Dana is right – let’s take care of ourselves, our friends. I took time to have dinner with my neighbors and realized they are so important. They are my village. Without this village, we cannot survive things like this. We have to turn to each other for our own survival – be there for one another.
“Let’s look to the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to the future,” Gardner said.
“I agree with Cindy,” Trustee Scott Craft said. “I have been so encouraged by all the people stepping up. I have seen students and former students doing the work that needs to be done – shoveling, delivering food. I’m so proud of our former students. Some are battalion chiefs, fire captains, contractors driving skid steers. My heart goes out to everybody.”
Craft then addressed Dr. Fricker: “It seems like you have such a handle on what’s going on. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“It’s been a heck of a storm,” was the comment from Trustee Jordan Zarate. “I’m thankful we’ve had a leader in our district working to bring anything and everything needed to our communities, whether raising awareness or coordinating where a helicopter could land. I’ve received praise from neighbors for the district’s communications.”
Zarate wondered what we can do to better prepare ourselves. “What would better allow us to take care of each other? Do we need more Red Cross disaster trailers throughout the community? We know now that county resources might not be available when they are needed.
“It was nice to see the community come together when no one else was coming anytime soon. This was a much larger disaster than anyone realized. I think there’s a lot of work we can do as a board to raise awareness,” Zarate said.
Mellinger noted that the local churches were a big part of the help. “Mike Johnstone had a very painful loss. Yet he has demonstrated to the community what you do when you’re hurting and lose pretty much everything.”
“There are so many people I need to thank,” Dr. Fricker said in her remarks. “I thank the board for hiring me, for bringing me here. I grew up on the Canadian border and saw blizzard after blizzard. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have to lead a district through a blizzard.
“To see the 17 communities we represent hurt was extremely difficult,” the superintendent said. She thanked her team – Jenny Haberlin and Shannon Hansen. She thanked Bill Mellinger for being “such a support for me.” And she did not have enough words to thank Brian Willemse, the Rim High principal. “He is the best hire ever.” When the residents of Running Springs were cut off because of avalanches on Highway 18, when those citizens had to evacuate because of collapsing roofs, “Brian said, ‘I’ll go. We’ll figure it out.’
“Opening up a shelter is daunting. I don’t know what the community would have done without him. He is a hero in all aspects of that word.”
Dr. Fricker extended her thanks to Lt. Craig Harris of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station. “There are no words for that man. He is an amazing force on this mountain.” She said that Sgt. Whiteside pulled her out of a 10-foot snow bank. And Rim High Assistant Principal Brian Keaney helped out at the shelter the district opened at Charles Hoffman Elementary School.
Her thanks went on – to Jim Zimmer for talking her through getting the boiler started at Rim High; to Capt. Don Lupear who called and asked what she needed.
“I could not have done what I did without the administrative team we have in place. They allowed me the time to focus on this. These people love the mountain. This is the hardest thing I have ever done,” Dr. Fricker said.
As for reopening the schools, the superintendent said that “we want to do it safely.” All the sites, she said, have to be checked for structural integrity and gas leaks. “We want our students and staff to be safe when they come back on campus.”
The parking lots, pathways and play yards all have to be cleared of snow. The bus stops have to be cleared.
The reopening plan – announced following the March 9 meeting – called for staff to return on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 14 and 15, and students to return on March 16, pending final inspection of all sites. The principals, Dr. Fricker said, are developing welcome back plans. The food has to be restocked, she noted, as they used the supplies in the refrigerators and freezers at the shelters the district set up.
“The patience, kindness and generosity of people across this mountain are everything a community, a family should be,” Dr. Fricker said. “It was the best of humanity on display in the worst of circumstances.”
The five trustees unanimously approved the tentative agreement between the district and the Rim Teachers Association increasing the certificated salary schedule by 8 percent and an off-schedule salary increase of $3,500.
“We have done everything we can to show our appreciation for our staff,” Mellinger said. “We are trying to do what we can to take care of our teachers.”
The trustees also approved the job description for the Expanded Learning Opportunity Program (ELOP) coordinator and the program itself. This program will offer both before and after-school programming. “The students will need these extra learning opportunities after being out these past couple of weeks,” Ridland said.
And they approved the donation of $22,071.78 from the Rim of the World Educational Foundation for the CTE (Career Technical Education) program. “When Rim Ed took on the idea of supporting CTE,” Gardner said, “the donation was $5,000, then $10,000. It has more than doubled in a few short years. That speaks to their efforts to go after grants, their fundraising. It’s amazing.”