Panama-Buena Vista Union School District Superintendent Kip Hearron's tenure is winding down as he prepares to retire at the end of this month.
Hearron, 61, joined what is now Kern County's third largest school district in 1989 as assistant principal of Thompson Junior High School. By 2007 he had worked his way up to superintendent, a post he's held ever since.
The administrator's timing was unfortunate. Hearron took over just in time for the bursting of the real estate bubble. After years of steady growth, the district saw its 2008-09 enrollment decline -- along with average daily attendance funding -- as large numbers of families that had bought homes in the area lost them to foreclosure.
That the district came through that period largely intact is a testament to Hearron's leadership, said Assistant Superintendent Gerrie Kincaid.
"Not just anybody could have done that," she said. "He's been great to work with, and he's been an incredible leader through some really difficult times."
With less than two weeks left before Kevin Silberberg steps in to lead the district through its next phase, The Californian sat down with Hearron and asked him to reflect on his career and legacy.
Q: As you look back on the last six years as superintendent, what are you most proud of?
A: What I'm most proud of is my relationships with the people in the district. In my career I've consistently tried to carry out that it's about kids, first. What we do every day is all about them. I think I've worked with people who agree with that, and the relationships I've formed with them will stand the test of time beyond my service here.
Q: What was the hardest challenge of your tenure?
A: In 2008-09, we had to find ways to continue to operate even though the economy had gone bust and we were essentially caught in the crossfire. We made cuts like everybody else, but we tried to keep them away from students.
Q: Obviously growth is back up again. The school board just shot down the proposal to redraw attendance boundaries to relieve some of the pressure on schools growing the fastest. Now what?
A: We took boundary modifications to the board and they decided not to do it this time, but it will have to be done at some point. We have schools that are still growing and smaller schools that are not. Until then, the bigger schools are having to be overflowed (students transferred out of their neighborhoods to less populated schools). That can't continue, obviously.
Q: What was your relationship with the PBVUSD school board like? Did you have good boards?
A: Yes, absolutely. I've had excellent boards. I've been a very fortunate superintendent, and we've always worked together as a team focused on students and their families.
Q: How has the district evolved since you came to work there?
A: Our demographics have changed. We have so many different kinds of students, and I don't mean just two or three cultures, I mean immigrants from all over and all income levels. We've always had a very diverse district, but it's become even more diverse. We're 52 percent Hispanic, for instance, and I believe that figure will continue to rise.
Q: You mentioned economic diversity. How many of your students are on free or reduced lunch?
A: About 49 percent are free and 13 percent are reduced, so about 62 percent all together.
Q: How did you manage a student body that ranged all the way from gated communities like Seven Oaks to low-rent apartments?
A: We provide the same education to a child who is in a Title 1 school on free or reduced lunch as we do for the kids on the other side of the district. We train our teachers on the east side the same way we train teachers on the west side. And we have teachers who move back and forth from east to west and vice versa.
Q: What is your successor's biggest challenge going to be?
A: Managing that growth that we talked about. There's still tremendous capacity for growth, especially as the West Ming Specific Plan is built out, and there's also going to be development along the Panama corridor and up to Stine and Taft Highway. We have the new elementary school at McKee and Lima that we're expecting to open in 2015-16, but we're going to need several more schools, both elementary and junior high. That brings about new challenges, different challenges. You have to buy land and build new sites and move kids.
Also there's the implementation of the new Common Core standards (in English-language arts and math) and the technology issues that come with the new computerized assessments.
Q: What's your advice to your successor?
A: Completely emerge yourself in the district. Get to know the people and the culture, and make sure to stay visible as the district grows.