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Working 9 to 5

My World's on Fire
Working 9 to 5
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #110 • View online
Welcome to My World’s on Fire, a newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you’re seeing this newsletter for the first time, let’s make this a regular thing—subscribe to receive disaster deep-dives, Q&As, and context in your inbox on Thursday evenings. 

Throughout this year, I’ve been digging into the impacts of disasters on schools. There was this newsletter breaking down the Government Accountability Office report on the growing number of districts dealing with extreme weather events, my feature earlier this summer about the graduating class of Paradise High School, and a dispatch just a few weeks back on Kentucky teachers fundraising to help their colleagues in the wake of this summer’s devastating floods.
Experts, parents, teachers, and students have all expressed to me that schools are critical to the recovery of a community after a disaster. But it takes an enormous amount of effort to operate schools during a normal year, let alone in the midst of a pandemic and after a disaster—which is the situation Kristy Warren found herself in following the 2021 Dixie Fire in California.
Warren is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Plumas County, which was in the wildfire’s path last August. Much of the area was evacuated, and the historic town of Greenville was largely left in ruins. School staff and students alike were displaced for weeks, and some lost their homes entirely.
“After the fire, there was a big push of, ‘We are so resilient,’ you know, and there was just a lot of energy around that. Then, six months later, you add on all the recovery and the trauma and Covid, and everyone’s just tired,” Warren explained to me in February of this year. “It’s just a lot of energy going out, not a lot of it coming in.”
Warren and I stayed in touch, and in August, shortly after the anniversary of the Dixie Fire, I traveled to Plumas County to join her for the first week of the new school year. That included the reopening of Greenville’s two schools.
"Greenville Strong" written on the fence outside the town's schools
"Greenville Strong" written on the fence outside the town's schools
As we toured classrooms, teachers rushed over to her to express concerns about students who had fallen behind during remote learning and to discuss how to deal with the heat—temperatures that week were lingering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the schools we visited did not have air conditioning.
Principals told her about teachers who had already called out sick with Covid-19 and inquired about new hires, referencing the nationwide teacher shortage.
Warren acknowledged these issues; she acknowledged the mountain of work that was waiting for her as she drove through rows of burned trees back to the district office. But she also kept directing everyone’s attention up to the sky. It was a cloudless, bright blue day, something locals weren’t used to in August. For the past five years, Warren told me, their summers have ended under a blanket of smoke.
“Just to have a normal August,” she said, “is amazing.”
I profiled Warren for a new series in High Country News and The Guardian that is digging into how work is changing in the West, appropriately called “Western Work.” As the outlets describe it:
Western Work is a High Country News series produced in collaboration with The Guardian. The COVID-19 pandemic, technology, emerging industries and a changing climate have drastically morphed the labor force of the country —and particularly in the West. The Western Work series tells the story of workers whose jobs are emerging, adapting or fading and captures a mosaic of such a central quality to Western life: work.
It’s an important and fascinating series that I’m grateful to be a part of, and I hope you’ll check it out. You can check out my article below, and see the rest of the profiles in the series here (new ones are posted every Monday).
Disasters are changing the role of educators — High Country News
Newsletter news
Just a quick update that I’ll be in your inbox a bit more than usual next week, as I’m launching my first-ever membership drive campaign! Along with a personal note from me offering a bit more of an explanation behind the campaign, you’ll get a preview of the in-depth editions paid subscribers receive each week, with the kind of disaster deep dives you (hopefully) know and love from My World’s on Fire.
If you are a MWOF fan and would like to help me spread the world ahead of this campaign, I always really appreciate a shout-out on social media or for you to forward these emails to your friends. If you do send some signups my way during the campaign drive, send me an email letting me know, and I’ll send you a little MWOF swag to say thanks!
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