The Kern High School District chose a popular, veteran administrator as its 21st superintendent Monday, a decision lauded by many but decried by others who had wanted a wider search.
The district board tapped Bryon Schaefer, assistant superintendent for personnel, for the top job, effective Aug. 1. The 50-year-old former math teacher and principal will replace Superintendent Don Carter, who is retiring after 38 years with the district, the last 10 as its head.
The KHSD board announced its unanimous decision at a special board meeting Monday morning.
Several hours later, at the board’s regularly scheduled evening meeting, dozens of critics got their first opportunity after Schaefer’s naming to express dismay the search process was limited to internal candidates. Several carried signs inside the packed meeting room at the Kern High School District offices about the lack of minority candidates for the position.
Inside the same room, teachers and other staff carried their own signs demanding pay raises.
Before announcing Schaefer’s selection Monday morning, board President Chad Vegas addressed critics of the process.
Spending tens of thousands of dollars on consultants and headhunters is money that could be better spent on a teacher or educational programs, Vegas said.
“I understand the desire to bring in new blood if the district is inherently problematic, but if you think the culture is strong and good and needs to be improved on,” an outside search is not an appropriate expenditure, Vegas said.
After the announcement, Schaefer said he was honored to be chosen and would work hard for students of all backgrounds.
“We’ve got to get all of the stakeholders together and plot a plan where we can take care of all kids,” he said.
Activist Dolores Huerta’s foundation had gathered 700 signatures on a petition urging the board to look nationally for a successor to Carter. Huerta said she was deeply disappointed.
“It wasn’t just our organization that wanted to do a more broad search,” she said. “There were lots of people at the meetings who were expressing that concern. Obviously, they ignored our petition and those speakers.”
Huerta pointed out that nearly three-quarters of the district is Latino, African-American or some other racial or ethnic minority, and it would have been nice to see someone with more “cultural competency.”
She also expressed concern that KHSD seems to suspend or expel minority students at higher rates than their white counterparts, and said an outsider with fresh ideas might have been able to turn that around.
Patrick Jackson, president of the Bakersfield NAACP, also lamented the narrow search, but said he’s looking forward.
“We still have to build a relationship with the new superintendent and work together to be sure that every child has an opportunity for a well-deserved education within the district,” he said. “We just hope the new superintendent is open to that.”
The incoming superintendent said he would open lines of communication with all of the people interested in quality education and do his best to affirm that his selection was the right one.
With the district for 26 years, Schaefer was named assistant superintendent for personnel in 2011.
He joined KHSD in 1987 as a math teacher and taught at East Bakersfield High School for four years and Stockdale High School for a year before moving into administration.
After appointment as dean of students at North High School, he worked his way up to assistant principal of administration (1993), assistant principal of instruction (1995) and principal (1998).
Schaefer became the district’s assistant superintendent for business in 2010.
He earned his doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of Laverne in 2009, a master’s degree in educational administration from Cal State Bakersfield in 1989 and a 1985 bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of South Dakota.
Schaefer also is an adjunct instructor for the Point Loma Nazarene University campus in Bakersfield.