KUSD prepared for new school year

By Shannon Rapose
Kern Valley Sun

On Tuesday, August 14, the Kernville Union School District held their regular board meeting in anticipation of the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Robin Shive confirmed with Wallace and Kernville Elementary School Principal Brian Polston that there were 496 students currently enrolled at the Wallace campus for this school year, while there are 123 at the Kernville campus and 19 being in the Kern River Environmental Magnet (KREM) program.

Head of MOT Nikolle Evans updated the board on all the improvements that were completed over summer vacation, like resurfacing the parking lot, painting, repairs, and tree trimming, and she announced that their brand new bus had arrived that day as well. Evans was also very proud of the fact that all maintenance and repairs to the campuses, minus the parking lot work, and vehicles were all done in house. She also mentioned that the Wallace campus had three break-ins over the summer, and had to replace a few electronics and repair doors from those incidents as well, the worst being damage to the bus barn and a stolen welder. Both Shive and Evans acknowledged that it could’ve been much worse, and they have managed to get everything back into working order in time for the new school year.

“I could not do any of this without my team,” said Evans. “We have an amazing team.”

Director of Special Education Student Services Marie Sampson spoke at the podium next and updated the board on the installment of new teachers and staff in the Special Education Department.

“I’m super excited for my staff,” said Sampson. “They are eager to get to work with the kids and we have some new teachers that are excited to be working in Special Ed. So that’s really exciting.”

She also informed the board that they do not currently have an on campus psychologist and have been searching for someone to fill the position, but it has been difficult. The department is getting help from county services at this time in order to fulfill the needs of the students and the department until they can find a qualified candidate. Sampson also mentioned that they are also talking to Presence Learning that conducts online assessments, and other districts that have used them to see if they are an avenue to pursue.

“I’m trying not to jump into something too fast and not have it be the best option,” said Sampson. “I’m very thankful that the county office is willing to help us out in the meantime because I have been awake a few nights trying to figure that one out.”

Sampson also stated there are a few properties that they are looking at in order to move the preschool to a separate location in order to better accommodate more students and to expand services, such as offering an all-day option. Should have an update at the next board meeting.

Family Resource Center Director Sherry Lanza then spoke to the board about how they intend to push the “Attendance Matters” concept to the forefront as much as they can this year through advertisements and discussion with parents as well as students.

“All the great work that the staff are doing for education and achievement in academics and behavior isn’t going to do any good if the kids aren’t here,” said Lanza. “We just want to make sure that it’s in everyone’s mind, all the time, until the end of the year.”

Lanza then discussed the three-tiered attendance diagram that is based on a case management model with a goal to collect and maintain accurate data on student truancy and absenteeism, so that appropriate steps can be taken if students have trouble getting to school on time or at all. She also mentioned that they are looking into creating a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) rather than a School Attendance Review Team (SART) and, with the help of Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS), they may be able to impose a fine or involve Child Protection Services when dealing with severe truancy cases.

Wallace and Kernville Elementary Principal Brian Polston parised the staff for the amazing efforts in getting the campuses ready for the new school year and to inform the board that they had just over 300 people that signed in at Back to School Night on Aug. 13.

“We haven’t seen that since I’ve been here,” said Polston. “There were people everywhere. A lot of interaction and engagement. I believe it was a big success all the way around.”
The new Wallace Middle School Principal Richard Albay approached the podium to discuss the success of the middle school’s portion of Back to School night as well. He also expressed his excitement in anticipation of the coming school year and getting to know the students and the community. Albay also discussed implementing more of the Leader in Me program into the daily functions at the Middle School through activities and discussions.

For the Superintendent Report, Robin Shive stated that they are getting information and looking at the data from the California School Dashboard (Dashboard), which is an online tool to help districts and schools identify strengths and weaknesses and pinpoint student groups that may be struggling, but they aren’t ready to make that information public yet. She also mentioned that the number of district staff has grown to 160 and they now can log into a staff portal on the KUSD website to access important documents and forms.

Shive also announced that the Multi-Purpose Room, formally the old Wallace Gym, would be repurposed as an eating area for Wallace Middle School Students. Because both Elementary and Middle School students were utilizing the solo cafeteria on campus, the lower grades would be eating earlier in the day while the higher grades would end up eating late in the day. By adding an additional eating area, more students will be able to eat simultaneously on a more reasonable timeline.

Shive also announced the three candidates that will be running to fill the KUSD Board vacancies that are coming up in November: Diane Moss, Gene Parks, Jr., and Wendy Russ, who is an incumbent.

Next to address the board was Cindy Filkosky from the Family Resource Center (FRC) who presented on the Community Based Environmental Risk Reduction (CBERR) Coalition that has received a grant to collect data that will help identify risk factors that contribute to underage alcohol and drug abuse within the community.

“We want a representation of every community in our area at the table when we make our strategic plan,” said Filkosky. “This grant has brought a lot of opportunity and passion to our community.”

She stated that they not only want to remove the negative influences, but want to introduce some positive reinforcements and activities back into the community as well, such reestablishing a youth center or wellness center. The next Coalition meeting is Tuesday, August 28, at 5:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Lake Isabella.

Filkosky then discussed the success of the Walking Club and Smoothie Contest that took place last year due to the Wellness Grant that they received from Kern Family Healthcare. She also stated that she is working with Kern Public Health on a strategic plan to get more funding so that they can bring more youth programs to local schools.

“We are super excited about the response the kids had,” said Filkosky.

She also mentioned that they are creating a club that will be more connected to promoting overall health of the students as well as their community. One of the goals the students have already voiced is that they would like to fix the lower field track and field.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Filkosky. “They are the heart and what matters. That’s how we are going to make a difference in our community; one child at a time.”

The board then took a break from the regular agenda to recognize Board Members George Stahl and Wendy Russ. Russ has served on the board for more than 10 years and will be running again in November, while Stahl has served for 5 years and will not be seeking reelection. In an attempt to “embarrass” them, Davis spoke of his appreciation of Russ for all her dedication to the district through volunteerism and faithful years of service, often looking to her for guidance on board matters. He then expressed his appreciation of Stahl for always speaking up and his volunteerism, as well.

The board then discussed the creation and approval of funding for a Speech and Language Pathology (SLP) Assistant position. Davis stated that the staff would be very enthusiastic if they are able to fill the position because the district has such a great need for it.

“We hear from them about (SLP), specifically,” said Davis. “I’m glad that we are moving forward with this.”

Chief Business Official Lissa Robinson then presented to the board the revisions made to the budget that was proposed in May. There were two major changes that she discussed that caused the budget to go from an ending fund balance of $72,000 to a deficit spending of $7,300, which was expected due to one-time expenditures and other factors. Robinson assured the board that even though it puts the budget in the negative for the moment, the changes that were made will end up saving the district money in the long run and there are more negotiations that will take place, as well.

“We really need to start buttoning down and cutting our budget,” said Robinson.