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Wednesday, Mar 05 2014 11:00 PM

TERRI RICHMOND: With its leadership search over, the real work begins for KHSD

The topic of whether the Kern High School District Board should have expanded its search for a new superintendent was discussed at length in these pages ("KHSD names its new superintendent," March 4).

I have been an employee of the KHSD for 23 years, and am now in my 21st year of full-time classroom teaching. From my perspective, the issue was not whether the candidates were from "inside" or from "outside" the district, but whether they were willing to truly examine and act on issues that have consistently faced the district. References by current board members and members of the community to the "culture" of the KHSD seem veiled code for maintaining the status quo. In my opinion, that was the real concern. An "inside" candidate -- like Bryon Schaefer, whom the board eventually picked -- can address the issues just as well, and possibly better, than someone from the "outside" if they are willing to acknowledge them. Here are some of the issues facing the KHSD, which I hope will be addressed by our new superintendent:

* Encourage innovation: The KHSD is the largest 9-12 district in the state. We should be the district that others visit. Instead, we spend a great deal of money and teacher time visiting other schools, as we are often on the trailing edge of any educational change. Schools who have tried innovative ideas are often discouraged or not supported in their efforts. The culture of stay-the-course and go-along-to-get-along has held us back from leading the way.

* Stop the brain drain: We have two great institutions of higher learning right in our own backyard. Some very successful efforts at articulation, such as Reading Institutes for Academic Preparation and the California Student Opportunity and Access Program, have been undertaken. Much more needs to be done on this issue. A trickle of KHSD students actually enroll at Cal State Bakersfield and there is no formal articulation in place.

* Re-think course offerings: The course offerings in place are essentially the same as the ones we used when I started in 1993. The new superintendent and the teachers association must be open to a course structure which reflects a changing society and the needs of our community. Two suggestions would be to add an information literacy course and to build a second campus for a regional occupation program, offering more vocational training.

* Mentor every child: Some campuses have mentoring programs for selected groups; all campuses have a counselor-to-student ratio approaching 500 to 1. All students in the KHSD deserve to have a faculty member who follows them for their full four years.

* Communicate with feeder schools: KHSD has the unique -- and sometimes difficult -- challenge of working with many feeder districts. Establishing consistency across K-12 classrooms, particularly with Common Core standards implementation, should be a priority.

* Teacher/district rapport: There is a consistent "us vs. them" theme in relations between the district and the teachers association. To be fair, this has been perpetrated, and sometimes exploited, by both sides. It needs to stop, as it does not serve the interests of the students or the community and is often counterproductive.

None of these suggestion have a great dollar cost, but they will take a great shift in thinking across this very large district. They also require a strong leader with the ability to articulate a vision and inspire staff, parents and the community to carry this out.

Terri Richmond teaches social studies at Golden Valley High School. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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