It’s 8:10 a.m. and the entire student body at Ojai Valley School, as well as all the staff and faculty, are crammed into the cafeteria, their raincoats and umbrellas rustling as they shuffle in.
It’s the first day of the second semester and 34 days since the Thomas Fire devastated the Upper Campus. Headmaster Craig Floyd stands in front of the group, solemn, wholly uncharacteristic of the usually jovial man.
With the rain beating down behind them, the student body looked on intently as their headmaster cleared his throat and began to speak.
“You are returning to a school that is not skipping a beat,” he told the gathering. “We are committed to providing the same programs, activities, and everything we have done prior to December 4. We have made that commitment and now it’s your turn to step up and live up to your commitment to the school.”
As he continued, Mr. Floyd started to tear up, his voice catching every so often. But his speech wasn’t one of loss. Instead, he spoke of recovery, the strength of the school and resilience of its students and teachers.
When Mr. Floyd ascended into his current position at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, he expected change.
Change from the 28 years under the previous headmaster. Change from the humble office he had as assistant head of school to the coveted headmaster’s office, complete with a conference table, a mini fridge stocked with Pepsi, and the gorgeous view of the hill surrounding campus.
But no amount of training could prepare him for the many trials he would face in his first year.
Within the first months of the semester, he had already presided over a flurry of disciplinary actions involving students and he was juggling the demands of accommodating 42 new students, some of whom were being housed at the Lower Campus as renovation of the Hermes Dorm was being completed. On top of that, he was in the midst of planning construction of the new Student Commons, a project expected to include a new cafeteria, dining hall, upstairs library, and student lounge.
However, Mr. Floyd’s biggest test came on December 4, when the Thomas Fire engulfed the Grace Hobson girls’ dormitory and the Science and Technology building.
The fire destroyed those signature buildings and caused extensive damage to several others and surrounding facilities. However, Mr. Floyd refused to let the fire destroy his passion for this school.
“Being a student here and having [this school] be a part of [my] life for so long, it was very emotional,” Mr. Floyd recalled about his initial reaction right after the fire. “I came up here on my own on Wednesday and cried. Those first few times we had Milk and Crackers I partially teared up because it is so important [to me].”
Mr. Floyd’s relationship with the school has been a long time love affair.
He first came to the Upper Campus in the fall of 1979 as a wide-eyed freshman. As the years progressed, his ginormous afro grew smaller, but his signature mustache, which he has never completely shaved off, made its first appearance.
He was in love with all things outdoors and took every opportunity to camp and play sports. He has many stories about his trips, which he would gladly tell anyone who asked, including a helicopter ride his sophomore year to locate then Headmaster Carl Cooper who had broken his ankle while hiking.
He also found his passion for sports on the hill, playing on many different teams.
“I absolutely love sports, always have, and I was always playing outside,” he recounted. “The basketball hoop next to Mrs. Steven’s classroom, me and my roommate put that in because we got tired of walking down the hill.”
By the time he had graduated in the summer of 1983, he had memories that would last a lifetime. But his graduation didn’t end his OVS story. After studying at various colleges, he travelled to New Zealand to play professional fastpitch softball for two and a half years before returning to OVS.
He returned to OVS again in the spring semester of 1992 as a dorm parent and coach, his first time as a member of the faculty during the school year.
That summer, he returned to work summer camp. That was when Mr. Floyd saw the then-Michele Whipple for the first time in years. He had only previously seen her as the daughter of Mrs. Whipple, the woman who admitted him to school, but when he saw her sitting talking to a friend at the front office, his view of her completely changed.
“Over the course of the next seven days we spent a lot of time together and got to know each other and started dating,” Mr. Floyd said. “Three weeks later, we got engaged and eight months later we got married. We’ve been married for 25 years.”
A year after he and Mrs. Floyd got married, he moved to Northern California to help his father run a bed and breakfast. After a string of business ventures, he returned once again to OVS summer camp in 2006 and the next year he was appointed assistant head of school, in charge of supervising the resident program and athletics.
By that time, he knew he wanted to eventually take over for Mr. Cooper, the previous headmaster, in due time.
“He made it very clear when he came back to OVS that he brought a lot of talent from the business world,” said Michael Hall-Mounsey, the school’s president and CEO. “He wanted to be a leader and he worked hard to become Mr. Cooper’s second hand.”
With an approachable demeanor and an infectious chuckle, he was perfectly equipped for the job. While focused on residential life, Mr. Floyd got a range of experience over the next several years that included being a dorm parent, athletic director, director of summer programs, head of maintenance, and interim director of alumni development.
“By that point in my life, I’d done enough different things to know that this is ultimately [what I] wanted to do: be here at OVS,” Mr. Floyd said. “Having known Coop for so long and in different roles, he is like my second father. I could see myself being at OVS for the rest of my life. I wanted to make sure that some of the traditions and history of OVS would continue on.”
After the fire, his job wasn’t simply that of headmaster, but of rebuilder of the campus. That job has included countless late nights planning for the return of the resident students on January 7.
“I worked like crazy and I barely slept,” Mr. Floyd said. “That Sunday night, after you guys came back to school, I finally slept all night. It was the first time I actually slept in a month.”
For the month of December he was constantly on the phone, in meetings with the administrative team, contacting architect Fred Fischer, who was previously working with the school, seeking construction approvals from the county, and solely focusing on rebuilding the school as fast as possible.
On December 8, he was in Riverside getting the mobile units that would become home to the girl dormers, having his oldest son, Connor, act as his “administrative assistant,” writing emails and responding to text messages on the way home.
Closer to the reopening of school, he was buying dozens of pizzas for the contractors who were working late at night to get power and water to all the rooms in the newly assembled girls’ village.
On top of his extremely busy schedule, he needed to move out of the Headmaster’s home, the building he had moved into just months before, as it had been deemed unsafe due to smoke and fire. However, to stay connected to the campus and the students, he eventually moved into an RV at the Upper Campus, where he sleeps at at least three nights a week.
“By him doing that, it really shows that he’s present and here for you, that he’s willing and wants to help in any way that they can,” said Dana Quinn, his assistant. “I really think he goes above and beyond all the time and he’s constantly thinking about you guys.”
Since the restart of school, he’s traveled to Asia to visit families in Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. When he asked parents why they sent their children back after the fire, they almost all responded that their kids didn’t want to leave OVS.
“To see that commitment from all the kids, you can’t ask for anything more,” he said, proudly. “To bust my ass for the month of December, it was for that, it was for the kids.”
From now on, he’s geared towards the future, whether that be meetings with architects or asking students for their input on how to improve the brand-new girls dorm.
It is truly an era of change. With all that has happened since the fire, whether it be the possible threats of flooding or disciplinary issues, Mr. Floyd takes it all in stride.
“He has had more challenges in six months than most people get in a decade, if not a lifetime,” Mr. Hall-Mounsey said. “He’ll be [headmaster] during an era of massive improvements.”
When Mr. Floyd concluded his speech on that rainy morning of Jan. 8, one thing was clear. He was thankful for the combined efforts of the students, faculty, and all the unseen and unnamed players — including hundreds of parents, alums and friends of OVS — who helped get the school back on its feet.
Through tears, he comforted the students with his heart-felt, dedicated words. His speech was the much needed beacon of hope that the student body needed to have their school feel like home once again.
“It would have been easy to walk away a month ago,” he told those at the early January meeting. “But no, we made that commitment to be here today. For that, I say thank you.”Share