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Kelly Richers is the new superintendent of the Wasco Union Elementary School District.

The Wasco Union Elementary School District has promoted director of categorical programs Kelly Richers to superintendent.

Richers, 61, was selected at the Nov. 14 Board of Trustees meeting. He starts Jan. 1.

Richers is a 21-year employee of the district, which he joined after accepting a job as vice principal of Thomas Jefferson Middle School in 1993.

"I know the district well, and I'm really grateful that the board has put this much trust in me," he said.

Wasco Union Elementary has about 3,600 students in grades K-8. The district is about 89 percent free and reduced lunch and 47 percent English language learners. It has four elementary schools and one junior high school.

School board President Richard Reding said Richers is a popular administrator who will do a good job.

"When his name was announced at the board meeting, the teachers stood up and applauded," he said. "Everyone knows him: teachers, classified employees, even outside the school system because he's one of those people who gets involved in the community."

Richers began his career teaching physical education in State College, Penn. He taught eighth-grade science at Norris Middle School in Bakersfield for seven years before becoming vice principal at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Wasco and working his way up through district administration.

The Association of School Administrators named Richers Administrator of the Year for the Kern, Tulare, Kings, Inyo and Mono counties region four times, and in 2009 he was selected as the California Middle Grades Principal of the Year.

In addition to his career at the elementary school district, Richers has served as the Wasco Festival of Roses parade president since 2008. He also is active as a lepidopterist, with two moths named after him that he discovered.

Kelly conceived the idea of making a master list of moths by county for California about 15 years ago and with UC Berkeley's Jerry Powell created a format for cataloging them on a computer database, which now has some 37,000 entries.

Richers is married with one grown daughter.

His appointment caps a tumultuous period for the district.

Voters rejected an effort to merge the Wasco Union Elementary School District and the Wasco Union High School District earlier this year.

Supporters said merging the districts would eliminate duplication and smooth students' transition from middle to high school. Opponents worried the move would decrease local control of schools.

Elizabeth McCray had served as superintendent of both districts until the election in June, but resigned shortly after the vote. She had taken over after the elementary school district board opted not to renew the contract of previous superintendent Paul Chounet.

Carol Olson, a former Fruitvale School District administrator who lives in Wasco, came out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent until a successor to McCray could be found.