BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The two candidates running for Kern County Board of Education for Area 3, which covers five school districts from Bakersfield to Kernville, have a lot in common, including supporting parents rights in the education system.
Incumbent Mary Little and challenger Dena Murphy are both women, both grandmothers, both worked for the Department of Human Services, and both say they are invested in serving children.
Mary Little, the current Board of Education representative for Area 3, has been serving on the board for the past 28 years. As a board member, she has used her power to implement things like flag salutes. She also approved the first ever local charter school, Valley Oaks, although she knows oversight is needed.
“Not saying all charter schools are beneficial, because they do require oversight,” said Little. “You can have some charter schools that veer off course, and the Kern County Board does provide some great foundation and oversight for the charger school to operate efficiently.”
Little does see problems in the districts that need to be addressed, including low enrollment numbers both across Kern County and the state, which are impacting the educational health of the area.
“The loss of learning that is happening to students,” said Little when asked about the impact of low enrollment. “I have spoken to teachers who have students in third grade who don’t know their ABC’s, that don’t know their arithmetic, and the teachers are under stress as well.”
Dena Murphy is running against Little for the Area 3 board seat. Recently retired from the Department of Human Services, she believes her fresh perspective and community contacts give her an edge over the incumbent.
Murphy agrees with Little that charter schools can benefit Kern County students by giving parents more say in their children’s education.
“I am in favor of charter schools and looking at independent learning and any way we can support parents and their choice for what they would like for their children,” Murphy said.
One of the main concerns shared by parents and families of students in Kern County schools right now is school safety, whether it be from acts of violence on campus or illegal drugs like fentanyl. Both candidates agree that the parents wishes should weigh heavily in any policy decisions made about schools.
“The students belong to the parents and not the schools, so the parents should have the ultimate choice about what happens to the students in schools and not the schools,” said Smith.
Both candidates say they want to expand community awareness and education amid the ongoing fentanyl crisis. Although the board has no jurisdiction over policies implemented at individual schools, both Little and Murphy say their role in bringing these issues up and listening to parent concerns can help make a change.
“I think the priority on top of everybody’s mind right now is safety,” said Murphy. “I think the board does absolutely support the safe school practices which is a combining of collaborative effort with law enforcement and schools and behavioral health, and I think that being expanded upon would be significant.”
With respect to drugs and violence on school campuses, there are cases when the only appropriate thing for the school to do is effect a suspension or expulsion of the student causing the problem. In nearly 30 years on the board, Mary Little has had some experience.
“It is a tough situation because we are there for at-risk students, and we are making life decisions for that student, and often we do side with the student because we want them to succeed,” said Little.
Murphy says transparency with parents and guardians about why a student is being disciplined is essential when dealing with punishments.
“Parents, teachers, the child themselves [should] get the opportunity to get a perspective on what happened and why it happened, and there [should] be a fair and balanced body in the background listening to make a determination, because you can change a child’s entire future for the better or not, and that is powerful,” said Murphy. “The advice you send them with should you grant their appeal is also powerful."
Election Day is November 8th, and ballots are already arriving in mailboxes across Kern County. 23ABC will be keeping you informed about with all the Kern County Board of Education area candidates.
Other Kern County Board of Education area races:
- A closer look at the candidates running for Board of Education Area 2
- A closer look at the candidates running for Board of Education Area 7