With most Bakersfield schools starting up in less than a month, districts are putting the finishing touches on construction and maintenance work and making last-minute hires.

The Californian spoke with officials from a few districts to see what changes have been happening behind the scenes this summer that students and parents will notice when they return for the new school year.

Bakersfield City School District

While most schools in the district are getting a few maintenance touch-ups, a couple of schools have experienced major changes ahead of the new school year.

At Stella Hills Elementary School in northeast Bakersfield, work is ongoing for a new pre-kindergarten area on campus that includes a portable classroom and playground.

“This will be the first time something like this is being offered by the district,” said Randy Rowles, director of maintenance and operations for the district.

To make room for the Pre-K area, Rowles said a track that ran vertically at the north end of the school was redone to be horizontal and take up less space.

Students will also notice some construction happening on campus during the early part of the school year. Rowles said the district started the process this summer in building a 3,800-square-foot wellness clinic on campus, where students can get immunizations and basic check-ups as well as dental and vision services.

“The goal is you want kids to be attending school, ready to learn on campus, so if they’re out because they’re sick or they don’t have their shots, we’re trying to get them back into school,” said Steve McClain, assistant superintendent of business services.

Rowles said the clinic, which will be the fourth in the district, is expected to finished around mid-September.

At Voorhies Elementary, the district is finishing up a modernization that includes new buildings, carpet, lighting and more. Rowles said the district has also expanded the school’s parking space from 30 spots to more than 100.

Rowles said the work is expected to be completed before students return to class next month.

Significant changes at other sites include the addition of “permanent modular constructed” classroom buildings to replace portable classrooms. BCSD Director of Facilities Marcos Rodriguez said these buildings are almost completely made off-site and then brought into the school for the final leg of construction.

Rodriguez said six school sites are receiving these buildings this year. The buildings come with what are known as Solatubes. Installed on the top of the buildings, these devices bring natural light into the building in a manner similar to a skylight.

Using a switch, the amount of light provided can be reduced or shut off completely.

“In many scenarios, teachers don’t even use regular lights. They just use the solar lights,” Rodriguez said.

McClain said there’s a lot of planning and care that goes into all of these projects, with the intent being to provide a better learning environment.

“Studies show that when you improve the physical environment, test scores are improved,” he said. “It’s construction with a purpose. No one works well when the air conditioning doesn’t work, when the paint looks bad. People want to take pride in where they are, so we try to emphasize that.”

Besides construction work, BCSD students will have some new leaders this year. There have been several principal changes for the new school year, according to district documents.

This includes new principals for Longfellow, Mt. Vernon and Nichols elementary schools as well as new principals for Sierra, Sequoia, Stiern and Chipman middle schools.

There were no major district administration hires, according to the district.

Kern High School District

The district is wrapping up work on maintenance projects at nearly every school site. In addition, Jenny Hannah, director of facilities for the district, said Bakersfield High School students will notice a renovated practice field west of the football stadium.

“It’s nice, new turf,” she said. “It’s fenced and everything. It looks really great.”

Hannah said the district is also putting in additional fencing at Arvin High School.

“Some of the doors opened outside of the fence allowing access to the classrooms, so we have fencing going in to create a more enclosed, safe environment there,” she said.

Portable classroom buildings have also been brought in this summer for school sites that have seen significant growth, such as Mira Monte and North high schools. Hannah said about 60 portables have been added across the district for the new year.

The district has also begun work on a few major projects that are expected to last through the year, if not longer. One of the biggest ones is a new two-story Career Technical Education center next to Independence High School.

Besides CTE classes, this center will include a presentation hall, a research center, distance learning labs and other features. An aquatics center will also be located near the CTE center.

“Some earth work and underground stuff is going on right now,” Hannah said. “We have been bidding out different parts of work over the summer.”

Work on the center is expected to last through November 2019, she said.

The district will also start a modernization of Foothill High School in September. The project will include new classroom space, infrastructure upgrades, expanded parking and student loading as well as stadium improvements.

While there’s still plenty of work to do, Hannah said she hopes everyone will appreciate the upgrades that have been made over the summer.

“We want students to feel like they’re coming back to a fresh campus,” she said.

Several attempts to get information from the district about major school and district administration hires were unsuccessful.

Other districts

The Panama-Buena Vista Union School District is opening a new school this year: Whitley Elementary in southeast Bakersfield. The school is set to serve approximately 750 kids when it opens in mid-August, according to the district.

The district has also created a new professional development program called Panama University, which starts this week. Under this program, teachers will learn from other teachers in the district rather than from outside consultants like most professional development programs, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Glenn Imke.

“This type of program is new to Kern County,” he said. “It saves money, but it’s also an opportunity for teachers to work together and learn from each other.”

The district is also finishing up a modernization of Thompson Jr. High School that includes new roofs and an upgraded student quad area that will include cement, benches and landscaping.

Imke said the district has completed about 30 maintenance projects across the district, including the replacement of all air conditioners at four sites.

As for new hires, the district has hired a director of professional development to oversee Panama University, Imke said. Other new hires include a director of assessments and a director of fiscal services.

There have also been several position changes at the school and district level due to moves and promotions.

At the Fruitvale School District, work has finished up on a modernization of Quailwood Elementary that featured an upgraded serving kitchen and restrooms, landscaping and other features, according to Superintendent Mary Westendorf.

The district has also begun a modernization of Discovery Elementary. Crews have already completed a re-roofing project and will start on upgrading school buildings this fall, she said. It is expected to be completed next year.

For the school year, the district has a new director of curriculum and instruction as well as a director of special education. A few schools are also getting new vice principals.

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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