Even as the ashes of the devastated village continue to smoulder, Wytaliba Public School seems destined to be a beacon of hope for the future.
The school attracted headlines last week when it was discovered that a catastrophic firestorm had razed all but one of its buildings along with more than 50 of the 80 homes in the alternative lifestyle community, 50 kilometres east of Glen Innes.
As soon as it was safe, Department of Education Assets Officer Scott Strijland, substantive principal, Debbie Hunter and relieving principal Kelly Murphy joined Northern Tablelands Director of Education Leadership Matt Hobbs to go beyond the roadblocks and talk with the community.
Like a rock that will form the foundation to rebuild again, plans began for students to attend school at Red Range Public School as early as this week.
It will become a welcoming haven for Wytaliba Public’s nine students until the end of the year.
Mr Hobbs said the community is still shrouded in shock and uncertainty.
“Many within the community are still uncertain of their next step,” he said.
“To know that their young people can spend the day at school, as students, is very reassuring.
“Having the Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell, pledge to Parliament that she will work with the community to redevelop their educational facility has been very comforting.”
Mrs Mitchell said it was important to support communities to continue to battle fires and later take stock of the damage done to their towns and property.
“We will work with the school communities to rebuild their schools and support the wider community as they recover from these destructive fires,” she said.
Mrs Hunter, who has been the Wytaliba Public School principal for the past 18 years, has been overwhelmed by the spontaneous support that has poured in as soon as news of the devastation spread.
As a result, the education leaders travelled with towels, blankets and care packages gathered by Flamingos Hockey Club in Armidale and shared news that the Armidale District Fine Arts Society had pledged $5000 for new musical instruments or arts supplies.
Local schools around Glen Innes and local organisations have already promised ‘whatever is needed’ as soon as Wytaliba can determine the path ahead.
When Mr Hobbs, Mrs Hunter and Mr Strijland called at the local Glen Innes Coles supermarket to pick up bottled water and fruit for the first days of school they were waved through the checkout with management making a generous donation to help the school start afresh.
The wider public education family is also rallying. Christina Chun from Strategic Partnerships and Engagement has offered support from School and Business Systems. Local schools such as Nemingha, Glen Innes and Red Range public schools, Glen Innes High School and Glen Innes West Infants School have also reached out and offered their support along with staff from the Armidale and Tamworth education offices.
Justin Dawson, principal at Lake Wyangan Public School in the Riverina, spoke with the principal at Glen Innes Public School and said his school would like to donate funds raised through the proceeds of a BBQ and mufti day to the students of Wytaliba.