Principal Lisa Miller on school staff dedication in the Fort McMurray wildfire

Photo credit: Lisa Miller.

“May 3 was not a typical day but it looked like one.”

That’s how Lisa Miller, Principal at St. Martha Elementary School in Fort McMurray, Alberta, described it after the school was evacuated following the wildfire that swept up the community in May 2016.

During a time of fear and panic among many, Miller opened up about the courage and dedication among the staff at St. Martha. “We had been discussing a plan all morning and set about keeping the children and staff safe and calm.  As the day progressed, we started to evacuate the building. Our staff were brave and full of grace.”

Miller captured a look of the fire from the school's front doors. Photo credit: Lisa Miller.

Miller captured a look of the fire from the school’s front doors. Photo credit: Lisa Miller.

She explained that staff called a ‘shelter-in-place’ procedure, which means they sought immediate shelter, completing hand-to-hand exchanges of students with parents, while providing comfort through story, song and prayer. “This procedure was to ensure we were accountable for all children. We manned the front doors as often as possible, wishing our families a safe trip.”

Most children had been reunited with their families by 3pm. “We needed to make a few difficult decisions and take students with us, but we were fortunate to meet with their families shortly after leaving the school,” she said. “After checking and locking the building, l sat down at my desk and prayed for all of our community and to keep everyone safe. I can never thank them enough for being so brave. I can never repay them for their sheer dedication to our kids.”

In mid-August, staff were able to regain access to the school. “This return for retrieval of items was a difficult task for our staff and our students,” Miller said. “We had left our building abruptly that day. Our teachers and assistants lost almost all of their personal and professional property.  It was a reminder that we need to practice a school year of gratitude and grace.”

The full impact of the wildfire remains to be determined. “While we continue to heal, we do have some hurdles. But, one thing is for certain: we are happy to be back home.”

Lisa MillerLisa Miller, Principal at St. Martha Elementary School, is one of Canada’s 2013 Outstanding Principals award recipients. She opened up about her experiences  for National Principals’ Month.

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