By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
Kernville Union School District (KUSD) Superintendent Robin Shive held a second Coffee with the Superintendent meeting at the district office on Tuesday, March 6.
The group spent time discussing the security of the attached campuses at Wallace, the need for more qualified teachers, the quality of cafeteria food, and the need for more stimulation for higher achieving students.
One of the paramount concerns for parents was the security of the campuses, particularly Wallace Middle and Elementary Schools, which share a campus with one another and Kern Valley High School (KVHS).
Parents expressed that they would like to know what plans the schools have in place to communicate with parents in an emergency and what safeguards are in place overall when a threat is made on one of the campuses.
Shive acknowledged that this year has recorded more threats to schools than normal, and that the district had to reevaluate the security measures they had in place.
“We have a plan, but we haven’t been practicing our plan,” she said.
Shive stated that while the students would follow adults’ instructions, the adults needed to be educated on protocol. She said that plans would be discussed at the beginning of each school year, and that these plans would be practiced every trimester thereafter.
She discussed some of the changes to the district’s emergency plans, which are no longer posted online due to security concerns.
Parents brought up an incident at Wallace Middle School last year in which a student had been in possession of a fake grenade that prompted a lockdown. While the middle school was on complete lockdown, students on the elementary side were still at recess. Some parents were worried, as they were unsure why one school was taking such strict measures while the other was not acting.
“To me, there was nothing going right in that whole scenario,” said a parent.
Shive explained that once law enforcement is involved in a lockdown situation, they take charge of the situation and give instructions to administration. One instruction is to minimize panic among both students and parents, as panic can cause more danger.
However, parents pointed out that the lack of information a parent has may cause parents to panic even more. Some suggested that all schools on the linked campus should communicate when one had a concern and observe at least an elevated level of security. For example, if a threat at the middle school caused a lockdown, the elementary school may observe a “rainy day schedule” in which students move their activities indoors.
“The more communication, the better prepared we can all be,” said a parent.
Shive was receptive to looking into how the schools might address these concerns.
“We’ve got some work to do,” she concurred. “We can never assure safety, but we sure do what we can.”
Another concern from parents was the lack of permanence for quality teachers within the district. Parents voiced that some were only at the school for a year or two, and some were not the best or most qualified. They also noted that the Kern River Valley receives a lot of new teachers, and while they bring fresh ideas, some parents would like to know why they moved and whether they were unable to obtain employment at other schools for some reason.
Shive said that the valley’s local pool of teachers was already employed within KUSD and South Fork Union School District (SFUSD), and that the nation as a whole is beginning to struggle with a decreasing pool of candidates. Because teaching is a demanding job with relatively low pay, many people are choosing other career paths.
“There’s a teacher shortage, and we have a lot of interns,” confirmed Shive.
A parent suggested that the district make it clear in their search for candidates that at low income schools, student loans for teachers are deferred for 10 years. Another possible approach was to offer bonuses to move to the valley to ensure that candidates would not be turned away by the long, difficult commute.
Parents also came to Shive with other concerns regarding a follow-up to last month’s discussion about the quality of cafeteria food and the need for more stimulation for higher achieving students.
A clarification was made that the nutritional value of the food was less in question than the timing; one parent noted that she had overheard several children note that their green eggs and ham served during Dr. Seuss Week was too cold to eat. A suggestion was made that the schools focus on timing so that food did not sit for long before being eaten.
Other parents discussed that when their students finished tests or classwork early, they were often instructed to read a book to pass the time, and that they may benefit from more engaging activities. Parents suggested the possibility of students being able to do learning activities and tests on the class’s tablets, which may keep them more stimulated.
Shive promised to address and follow-up on these concerns and said that another coffee meeting would be scheduled next month.
“If you have any more ideas, please send them my way,” offered Shive.