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Retiring From Tragedy: Paradise Unified Superintendent Turns In Her Keys

PARADISE (CBS13) — Friday marks one year since the deadly Camp Fire broke out in Paradise. The flames may be long gone, but the pain still haunts many survivors.

For one woman, the worst pain came after the fire. We met Paradise Superintendent Michelle John and her 13-month-old puppy Ready in her Paradise Unified School District Office.

"My husband has been the "Ready Raccoon" and started the Paradise Fire Safe Council," John said.

Her husband, Phil John, volunteered on the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council for roughly a decade, working to prevent a tragedy like the Camp Fire.

Paradise was home for Phil and Michelle, and last November, their home was in danger. Michelle was away at a conference when the fire broke out, but she remembers being on the phone with her husband as he drove through the flames to escape.

READ: Paradise Rebuilds, But Is It Any Safer A Year After The Camp Fire?

"He was driving next to Ridgeview Continuation High School as it was burning down," John said.

The Johns' dog and house were okay, but the Paradise district lost five of its nine schools in the fire. This District leader had to put on a happy face for the community who was "looking for somebody to say 'we're going to stick together.'"

She says she never thought about shutting down.

"Why would I make all of these kids lose their home and lose their school? No, we'll find a way and so that's what we did — rebuild," John said.

As she put on a brave front for her students, John experienced more loss. Her dog drowned in a neighbor's pool and her husband Phil was in a biking accident and died in June.

While she mourned the death of her husband, Michelle John suffered another loss. This time, her best friend. But she still worked every day. She says she was motivated by this community who shows up to support her.

ALSO: Residents Surviving In Paradise, One Year Later

"It's hard to keep going but I don't see what the alternative is," John said.

In September schools reopened like normal, keeping kids together with each other and their teachers.

Now John says she's retiring in December. Without Phil, she and Ready are moving closer to family. But still, for her, this district comes first.

"I want to leave it better than I found it. Even in these trying times," John said.

Last week, she signed escrow papers on the sale of the "forever house" she shared with her husband for 13 years. She wants to live closer to her grandchildren, somewhere outside of Paradise.

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