Happy Camp Union Elementary School Students use confetti poppers to celebrate three of their teachers completing their college degrees. Teachers at the rural school could not make it to their graduation ceremonies, so students and staff surprised them with a ceremony at the school.
School celebrates teacher grads
Rural district gets creative with credentialing, staffing after tragic wildfire
June 27, 2022
When teachers at Happy Camp Union Elementary couldn’t make it to their graduation ceremonies, the students and staff brought one to them.
The school in rural Siskiyou County recently threw a surprise graduation ceremony for teachers who completed their degrees but could not attend their own graduations because of the pandemic, the great distance to travel and their strong commitment to their school and students.
Teachers Chris Bickford, Carl Bauder and Brittany Barnett each graduated from CalStateTEACH Fresno State, Simpson University and Southern Oregon, respectively.
Happy Camp Union is a one-school district of about 120 students located about an hour and a half from the nearest town of Yreka. The remote location can make hiring and retaining quality staff a challenge, said Superintendent/Principal Derek Cooper.
Happy Camp employs seven teachers, and five of them are without formal teaching credentials. Cooper has worked with the CalStateTEACH program to help teachers in the district earn their Multiple Subject Teaching Credentials.
CalStateTEACH is the CSU’s system-wide online Multiple Subject teacher preparation program. The curriculum is delivered online and candidates are placed in classrooms with site mentors in all three terms of the program.
The program has become quite popular in the district.
“Communication among staff about how they were getting their degrees and credentials is how CalStateTEACH came into the conversation, and spread to the whole school community,” Cooper said. “The program seems able to handle working with small, rural school districts in remote locations, like ours.”
Cooper works with a CalStateTEACH supervisor at Fresno State to supervise and evaluate teacher candidates once every three months. The teachers record and upload videos of their lessons to be part of the evaluation system.
In addition to finding credentialed teachers, filling non-credentialed positions is also difficult in the district. Outside job postings rarely receive a response. Cooper said word of mouth is the most effective recruiting tool in Happy Camp, as most new hires are recruited by current staff.
“Everyone in Happy Camp has some connection to the school, and is very invested in its success,” he said. “Once the community member or parent is involved, some stay on as a volunteer to be called on as needed and others may see a future career path.” The other selling point is the beauty — it’s what brought Cooper to the district in 2020.
“Once you arrive and see the river, and the beauty of the mountains and all the outdoor activities that Happy Camp has to offer, you may want to stay, too,” he said. The surprise graduation was even more meaningful for the teachers given the challenges their small community of 1,000 residents has faced.
In September 2020, the devastating Slater Fire claimed two lives and destroyed 197 structures. Ten of the 16 staff members at Happy Camp Elementary lost their homes and/or property.
Nearly two years later, the community is still in the process of rebuilding and many of the school’s staff and students are living out of trailers. Heavy rainfall has led to landslides and road closures, further isolating residents and those who are ready to come back and help this community rebuild.
Reconstruction has been slow, and few residents have a home to return to. The housing situation has only made it more difficult to staff the school district. Many staff members are doubling up their roles — the bus driver also does yard duty; paraeducators are moving into substitute positions. Cooper is in the process of building a trailer park behind the school so he can continue to staff the district, the third largest employer in the area.
“Every staff member has jumped in to support the best they can, but their challenges continue to mount,” Cooper said. “The community relies on the stability of the school to help them help their children make sense of the destruction, the pain, and the future.”
A majority of residents in Happy Camp are members of the Karuk Tribe. The tragedy has forged stronger partnerships between the school board and the tribe as this tight-knit community navigates forward together.
In the words of local Karuk members, “The school is the community and it has always been a reflection on all of us.”

Watch a video of the celebration.
Two of the graduates are part of the local Karuk Indian tribe, and they have symbolic stoles adorning their robes.
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