$49M in Community School Grants Awarded to Kern School Districts

Friday May 10, 2024

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced Wednesday that the California State Board of Education approved $1.3 billion in Community Schools implementation grants. Just over $49 million of the pot will make its way to 11 Kern County school districts, including Arvin Union, Delano Union Elementary School District, Di Giorgio Elementary School District, El Tejon Unified, Fairfax Elementary School District, Grow Academy Arvin, Kern High School District, Maricopa Unified, Southfork Union School District, Vineland Elementary School District, and Wasco Union Elementary.

Educators came out for the Community Schools Learning Exchange hosted by KCSOS on May 10.

Over the past two years, Kern County school districts have been awarded an additional $86 million to plan for and implement the community school model on their campuses. Kern County Superintendent of Schools is helping several local districts make the transition. Director of Community Schools Anita Cruz calls it a whole-child strategy because the community is focused on the overall well-being of all students. 

The announcement marks the continued expansion of the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP), which has become the largest single investment in community schools anywhere in the nation. The third cohort announced this week builds on successful efforts to accelerate student learning by integrating academics, health and social services, and family and community engagement to improve student outcomes. 

On Friday, KCSOS hosted a Community Schools Learning Exchange where educators from school districts across the county came to learn from one another. The Kernville Union School District Community Schools team presented during the event’s morning session. 

“We shared our journey so far with the Community Schools grant” said District Superintendent Steve Martinez. 

He added that the’re focused on building on the work they have started, adding resources based on community needs so that kids are as successful as possible. A district wellness center is planned to open next school year, which will enhance physical and mental health through telemedicine, dental services, and vision services, he said.

While Kernville’s team was there to teach, they were also there to learn. Martinez says he and his team have leaned on neighboring districts to glean what successful strategies have been deployed elsewhere.

“Kern is a fantastic county to be in because of the support that they provide from the county office and the support that districts share,” Martinez said. “The biggest takeaway is that we’re all in this together and learning from one another.”

Vineland School District Superintendent Cindy Castro and Anthony Beckman, director of support services, were among the afternoon presenters. They talked to those in attendance about strategies to build a community. Vineland nestled in rural Weedpatch just south of Lamont, has become a hub of the community. Residents have come to count on the school district for help with whatever is needed, including health resources, food, internet, transportation and more.

Cindy Castro and Anthony Beckman at the Vineland Food Pantry.

A team of seven educators from the Southern Kern Unified School District made the drive from Rosamond to take part in the professional development opportunity.  A recipient of the first round of state funding, Superintendent Barbara Gaines says the district is well on its way to implementing its community school model. But a lot is involved, she acknowledged, and there is much more to be done.  

“We’re a rural community, and we don’t have a lot of partners to come in,” she said. “So there’s sort of a quagmire that presents problems for us.” 

In response to the area’s unique needs, SKUSD recently unveiled a parent and community center where a wide range of resources and services designed to support families and enhance community well-being are offered. From academic assistance to mental health resources, the center aims to serve as a comprehensive hub for information and support.

“It’s wonderful to be here and just to hear what everybody else is doing,” Gaines said. “We are not the only ones still on the road in this journey.”

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.