Kern High School District officials drew fire during a public forum Monday at Centennial High School from frustrated residents who were angry about new proposed boundary changes that would shift where their kids go to school.

Current boundaries dictate that students living west of Highway 99 go to Centennial High School, but all three proposals the district has submitted shift many of those students to North High School in Oildale.

It’s all part of a plan to manage enrollment in the northwest as rapid housing development continues and pushes some schools to capacity, while others remain underenrolled.

But that doesn’t mean parents were understanding.

They got up out of their seats, shouted and questioned the safety of North High, how their property values might be impacted and accused the district of not caring about their kids.

“If we wanted to go to school on the other side of the 99, we would have bought a house out there,” said Don Swartz, a grandparent who lives in a gated community near Fruitvale and Hageman. “We didn’t.”

Roger Sanchez, KHSD’s director of research and planning who oversees boundary changes, attempted to quell tensions among the 50 or so people who attended, but was met with frustration.

He tried explaining that neighborhoods west of Highway 99 have historically gone to North High School, and it was only until recently that it changed.

“We had a change just like this in 2011,” Sanchez told them.

“But you didn’t send our kids to Oildale,” one woman shouted.

Others accused the district of sacrificing their kids’ educations to accommodate people in the Gossamer Grove neighborhood whose homes are still being developed.

Many parents who attended the public forum said they purchased their homes based on which school their kids would attend. Now they feel cheated, they said.

Miguel Hernandez was among them. He moved from the southwest to a cozy neighborhood on Hageman east of Mohawk to send his kids to Centennial High. His son graduated from Centennial High, and he had planned on sending his 7-year-old daughter there, too. Now he’s not too sure.

“My son had cerebral palsy, so when he came to this school, we were scared,” Hernandez said, explaining that he wasn’t worried after the teachers, staff and students embraced his son. Centennial is more than just a high school to Hernandez — it was a supportive second home for his son.

“It’s just numbers to them,” Hernandez said, gesturing toward administrators after the meeting. “But to us, it’s the feeling. It’s not just a school. It’s more than that. It was more to my son.”

So adamant to have his daughter attend Centennial, he said he would consider selling his home to move into the district, but even then, there’s no guarantee that by the time she was ready to go into high school that the boundaries wouldn’t change again.

Mike Williams, a KHSD trustee who attended the meeting, acknowledged that the changes are difficult and that he empathizes with families, but it’s a necessary step.

“In the end, we do have to move some neighborhoods. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. We need to keep the school even,” Williams said, adding that although parents might have negative perceptions of North High because of its location, it's one of the district's most impressive campuses. 

In the meantime, he said, parents could help the process by attending the public forums and emailing district trustees about concerns.

“When people speak up, it has a bigger effect than they might give it credit for,” Williams said.

Another public forum will be hosted at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Frontier High School’s auditorium. Comments can also be emailed to boundaryquestions@kernhigh.org

The district will make its final determination and vote on a plan Aug. 7.

Harold Pierce covers health and education for The Californian. Reach him at 661-395-7404 and follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce. 

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