Kern County is a rapidly growing community, and its schools are feeling the strain.
That’s the case with Del Oro High School, the Kern High School District’s nineteenth high school, slated to open in fall of 2022. It will open at the intersection of Panama Lane and Cottonwood Road, just outside city limits in the southeast corner of Bakersfield. And its debut could potentially shift the boundaries surrounding many of KHSD’s other school sites and alter the plans of families in those communities.
The school was originally built to relieve overcrowding at neighboring schools, including Mira Monte, Golden Valley and Arvin high schools. But as the district began to sketch out boundaries for the new school, its administrators realized the overcrowding problem was much bigger.
“As we went through the process, we found out there are schools that don’t border Del Oro that are severely over capacity that need relief,” said Roger Sanchez, director of research and planning for the Kern High School District.
Ridgeview and Highland right now are over capacity, Sanchez said. There’s no bond money, and no plans in the works for a new school.
Sanchez said that school costs have been rapidly escalating. He said Del Oro cost double what Independence did.
A more economically-friendly fix? School boundary changes.
“We’re trying to give ourselves some breathing room,” Sanchez said. “If we can do this right, we can buy ourselves time.”
These boundary changes could ripple throughout the district impacting far more than just Del Oro and neighboring schools. Sanchez says it’s a kind of domino effect. Changing the west side of one boundary impacts the east side of another, which can cascade into the next school and the one after that. The boundary committee is looking at every quadrant of the city.
In the long run, he said, it’s better for taxpayers and better for students. Overcrowded schools tend to face more disciplinary issues among students, less time for lunch and less space for recess and physical education. It affects the quality of life and education. And he said having students go to school in their neighborhood, rather than getting bused in, helps knit a school culture together.
The district presented a plan to the board in December, which approved a committee to look at comprehensive boundary changes. It consists of school principals, school site council members, parents and volunteers who had previously served on boundary committees.
“Boundary committee is in the early process of working on plans across the city,” KHSD Superintendent Bryon Schaefer said.
If one looks at a map of the Kern High School District boundaries without any knowledge of the communities and history, some quirks would immediately stand out.
The northeast corner of the city resembles a checkerboard in the way that the borders of East Bakersfield and Highland high schools boundaries alternate. That means some students of La Cresta/Alta Vista pass through the “Highland Island,” a swath of Scots territory between Columbus Street and Highway 178, on their way to East Bakersfield High School.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to fix,” Sanchez said.
A longstanding quirk of Bakersfield High School boundaries is what is known as The Rudder. The school’s boundaries look a little like an L turned on its side. Driller territory crosses right through the heart of the city before dipping sharply south into Quailwood, Amberton, Stockdale Estates, Olde Stockdale and Laurelglen.
Some parts of The Rudder are closer to Stockdale High School and many of the students pass West High on their way to school. Maps leaked from the committee show these neighborhoods being redrawn for West High.
Sanchez said the proposals will emphasize students attending neighborhood schools and balancing enrollment. However, he emphasized that the maps are not proposals nor is the data on them correct.
“Those maps are so deceiving,” he said. “That created more confusion.”
Regardless, the specter of turning this crucial slice of Driller Nation has already mobilized parents, who are ready to protest anything that moves their boundary lines. Many of them are Drillers themselves — and some even go several generations deep.
Sarah Caid, a Quailwood resident, can trace her Driller lineage all the way back to a great-grandmother who worked at the school. She has early memories of attending football games and her grandparents bought commemorative bricks. It’s not so much she doesn’t want her children going to West High — it’s that she always counted on them being able to carry on Driller traditions.
“We don’t want it to end with us,” she said.
Laura Oesch, a Stockdale Estates resident, has a daughter who is a freshman at BHS now and two younger children who she would like to have the full Driller experience, which includes an extensive list of elective choices, such as four years of French, and being a competitive powerhouse in activities like Virtual Enterprise.
“We moved into these neighborhoods to go to BHS,” Oesch said.
The pair have teamed up to fight any plan that moves their neighborhoods out of the school boundaries, and they said many of their neighbors are worried about future plans, too.
Caid put in an order for 50 signs that read “Once a Driller, Stay a Driller.” But when she advertised that they were ready to pick up, she got flooded with more requests, so she put in an order for another 100. Oesch and Caid petitioned outside schools in their respective neighborhood to let parents know about the potential upcoming changes.
Many parents wrote in to the board, and Oesch’s letter was read into public comment last week as a representative letter.
Schaefer assured the public and board that the attendance boundary committee, which meets weekly, was nowhere near finished with its proposals.
Sanchez said the committee is currently in the process of refining its proposals, and it plans to host three public forums in late June or early July. Schaefer said there will be options for both in-person and live-streamed meetings.
The committee will then present its final plan in August, and residents will have a chance to voice their opinions then as well, Sanchez said. The goal is for the board to be able to vote on final boundaries in September, which gives families a full year’s notice.
Sanchez knows his task is close to impossible, and not everyone will be happy.
“We look at what makes sense,” he said. “We’re trying to look at it from at it from a logical point of view.”