In mid-January, I spent a day with Dean McGee, the deputy superintendent of educational services in Kern County, and got a glimpse of the impact he’s had on the Bakersfield, Calif., district. Over the course of several hours, we visited three separate campuses and observed dozens of the career-oriented programs the district has created for high school students.
Growing up, I attended public school in one of the largest districts in the country and never could have imagined the learning environment I witnessed in Bakersfield, where there’s an ambitious career trajectory for every single student. As we walked through dog grooming, veterinary sciences, cosmetology, culinary arts, welding, construction, computer repair, and countless other “pathways,” I was filled with such a sense of hope for the next generation.
At the heart of it, McGee has tirelessly pushed for more funding for the programs, while also dedicating tremendous effort to hiring experts from each field who have received CTE training. This provides students with a mentor who not only has the necessary industry skills, but also the tools to educate, creating an invaluable partnership for students.
I especially enjoyed getting to see the individualized education programs at the district’s Journey campus. During our visit, students were hard at work in retail sales/graphic design, embroidering T-shirts on top-of-the-line machines. As lunchtime came around, McGee and I sat down for a gourmet lunch prepared by the students in their professional grade kitchen. Before we sat down in their custom-designed restaurant, we watched the students cook hand-cut fries and clean the grill after making burgers. It reminded me of the many small details we all learn to succeed in our individual career fields. These students are going to be a thousand steps ahead because of the knowledge they gain over the course of these pathway programs.
There is such trust and respect for all students across all the different campuses and programs. The confidence they’re building at a young age will be invaluable for the rest of their lives. Seeing the donated fire truck outside the firefighting program, and watching students in the finance program dressed up for class, it was so apparent that every single decision in this system as a whole was intentional. McGee grew up in Bakersfield and knows better than anyone what these students need to succeed.
He told me from the very beginning of the day, “I was so used to being told no and then when I became superintendent, I could push for the yes.”
— Morgan Lieberman for Education Week