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Kern High School Superintendent Don Carter plans to retire at the end of the school year.

Kern High School District Superintendent Don Carter has announced he will retire at the end of the school year, capping a career that included guiding the district through a major state budget crisis and demographic shifts.

Carter, 59, has been with the district for 38 years, serving as superintendent for the last 10.

He surprised staff and the board of trustees with the announcement in open session at Monday night’s school board meeting.

In an interview Tuesday, Carter said he would be retiring from the district, but not public service. While hoping to do some consulting and lobbying, he’s looking forward to traveling and spending more time with his family. Carter has two adult sons and two grandchildren.

Asked what he hoped he would be remembered for, Carter said, “I would hope that my leadership has instilled a set of core values and a culture of fiscal, legal and ethical integrity,” he said. “I have tried to create a culture of doing the right thing.”

A graduate of West High School who later earned a master’s from Cal State Bakersfield and a Ph.D. from the University of La Verne, Carter joined the district in 1976 as a math and science teacher at Bakersfield High School. He worked his way up through administration, serving as assistant principal of Bakersfield High, district director of business administration, principal of Bakersfield High and district associate superintendent for instruction.

He was named superintendent in 2004.

“Don Carter has done an outstanding job over the last almost 10 years leading the high school district,” said Board of Trustees President Bryan Batey.

“We hate to see him go, but we also appreciate that he has done such a good job of assembling a leadership team that the district is in a strong position to carry on the initiatives that he has put in place.”

Batey said the board will announce a process for hiring a successor within 30 days.

As superintendent, Carter oversees the state’s largest high school district, with 18 traditional high schools and six alternative education campuses, as well as 3,700 employees and nine collective bargaining units.

Carter has stressed academic achievement during his years at the helm.

KHSD’s score in the state’s annual Academic Performance Index has improved in every year of Carter’s tenure, most recently rising from 733 in 2012 to 741 in 2013. The state considers scores of 800 or higher to meet basic standards.

At the same time, the demographics of the district have shifted. The district is bigger, with four new schools opening in the past decade, and consists now of more poor and minority students.

Slightly more than a quarter of KHSD students were white in the 2012-13 school year, according to the California Department of Education. In 2004-05, 37.8 percent of the district’s students were white.

Also during that time period, students in the free or reduced lunch program have risen from 45.5 percent to 58.8 percent.

“We have 26 different feeder districts whose students come to us with very diverse backgrounds and varying levels of preparation for high school,” Carter said. “We’ve tried to approach every student individually and drill down to what they need to become more proficient learners.”

Among other things, Carter instituted the addition of a pathways component to district graduation requirements designed to integrate with career and technical education programs.

He also boosted the number of KHSD graduates meeting entrance requirements for the state’s University of California and California State University systems, which are divided into course components labeled A to G. The district’s so-called A to G rate doubled from 17 percent to 34 percent of KHSD graduates under Carter’s leadership.

Carter also helped convert the district into a Professional Learning Community in which educators meet regularly to share best practices.

He’s widely credited with steering KHSD through the recession relatively unscathed at a time when many other districts were forced to slash salaries and academic programs.

“He was a very good leader, very concerned about educational practices, the quality of education and getting quality educators,” said Vickie Shoenhair, a Shafter High School physical education teacher and president of the Kern High School Teachers Association.

“He was also really committed to the stability of teachers during the economic downturn. He insulated us from that, to the best of his ability within the limits of what he could control.”

The superintendent’s last day will be Aug. 1.