Construction continues as Del Oro preps for Aug. 17 opening

·4 min read

Aug. 6—Ask Principal Gail Bentley, and she will tell you — proudly — that Del Oro High School was designed to be unlike any other high school in Kern County.

And when it opens to students Aug. 17, she said, it will signal a new era in education for the Kern High School District.

The veteran educator, who served at the helm of Foothill High before being tapped to head up the district's first new comprehensive high school in 14 years, led a group of local reporters and photojournalists on a tour of the Del Oro campus Friday morning.

"It's absolutely beyond exciting to be here right now opening this school for this community," Bentley said as she stood outside one of the gates to the sprawling, $173 million campus in southeast Bakersfield.

As construction workers in hard hats labored over dozens of finishing touches to the campus, Bentley began to describe the innovations and advances students and teachers can expect to experience during the coming school year.

"This past year has just flown by," Bentley said, "as we've worked so hard to plan a beautiful facility and an engaging instructional program — and I can't believe we're less than two weeks away from welcoming our students here."

The school is unique in its design, Bentley said, with interior hallways that are as much an instructional space as classrooms.

"Teachers will be moving from class to class as opposed to having their own assigned classroom," she said. "And that's very purposeful because we want our teachers to be collaborative and talking to each other and working on their own practice — and that's a great way to do that."

Classes will be on a block schedule, which means students will be in classes for two hours at a time. Fewer class periods and interruptions during a typical school day help reduce the amount of time teachers spend on routine administrative or classroom-management tasks, which increases the total amount of time students are engaged in core-learning activities.

But there's a downside, Bentley acknowledged. Students are more likely to lose focus, zone out or become disengaged during longer class schedules.

But at Del Oro, teachers will be encouraged to move to other environments, including outdoors where campus designers are placing "lots of places for students to land," Bentley said, including benches and seats in shaded or sunny areas.

In some classrooms, the line between indoor and outdoor environments is being challenged. These rooms include large glass doors that can be lifted, essentially erasing the barrier between the classroom and the quad.

Collaboration is the name of the game at this innovative school — for students as well as teachers. Some walls between classrooms can be removed, bringing groups of students together for shared projects.

And teachers, too, have several "teacher workrooms," where educators are more likely to come together, as opposed to being isolated in their traditional home rooms.

"People need to be helping themselves by meeting with others who do what they do," Bentley said. "This is so empowering to students to know teachers have to move like they do."

The first year will include ninth- and 10th-graders only, with about 925 students total. But in some ways, the school resembles a college campus more than it does a traditional high school.

The large, impressive library includes group study rooms equipped with two monitors each to encourage students working on group projects — collaborating — to be able to share from their laptops the content they are researching or creating.

Every student who doesn't already have a working laptop will get a Chromebook, Bentley said.

And cellphones are no longer taboo on the Del Oro campus. Just as personal digital devices are used regularly in most work environments, so they will be used in Del Oro study sessions, discussions and research projects.

Besides, Bentley said, she is weary of fighting against the tide on this issue.

The campus is located at East Panama Lane and Cottonwood Road, and for Bentley — and many in the surrounding community — that address holds a historical and cultural significance that is hard to miss.

"Anybody who is from Bakersfield understands," Bentley said, that this community in the city's southeast has been underserved, that it has suffered from higher levels of poverty, crime and the social problems that go with it.

"To land this kind of school at this time in this community," she said, "is very encouraging for us and for this community."

Over the past year, Bentley and others on her team have met with residents and businesses in the area.

"We have heard from our community and we have met with our community, and they are so excited to engage with us."

They're putting together a group called Del Oro Dads, and partnerships with companies in the neighborhood are being formed.

"We know that our community is super-excited about this beautiful facility coming to their community."

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.