By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–
Jennifer Slayton, Education Administrator, Candidate for Kern Community College District Board of Trustees Area 2, has a lot to say about running for Office. When asked to synthesize why she is running, she tells us, “It’s really about making sure that we get the local investment we need and we have the local voice and representation that we deserve.”
Her enthusiasm for the position came from experience in Lamont, a small community located below the Tehachapi Mountains. Lamont wanted college district services there. She tells us, “We honestly didn’t really think we could get that because it seems like a very ambitious goal for a rural community.
But we supported the community in looking at how do you bring services from a community college. We found out when we started looking at the data that we just didn’t have enough people accessing classes in our zip codes. So, we worked with our local employers. We worked with our local nonprofits and local social service agencies to really push community college enrollment. Then we went to the College District Board of the same board I’m running for and asked them to commit to putting a center in the community.” This process took about seven years and with the passage of Bond Measure J the center was approved in 2016. They are expecting ground to be broken next month.
Slayton looks at services in comparison to Cerro Coso. “My own kids here in Ridgecrest, where I live, don’t have the level of services that I’ve helped to bring to the communities of Arvin and Lamont. The dual enrollment programs there are more robust (high school and community college). My own kids won’t be able to graduate with an AA before they get their high school diploma. In Bakersfield you can finish your AA before you graduate from high school. Two years of college you’d have to pay for if you’re at a state school that’s $30,000 right off the top. The bread and butter of community colleges is traditionally vocational and technical education. When you look at the numbers of kids who are going through voc tech programs as a career goal here at Cerro Coso it’s between two to 4%. It’s incredibly small. When you talk to the workforce partners in the community, they say they can’t hire people with the correct training.” She notes that the Forest Service will hire heavy equipment operators on the spot. There are not enough LVNs graduating to fill health care needs.
Two issues are at the front of Slayton’s focus. “The first one is pandemic recovery. This is huge. When you look at Bakersfield College and then unique headcounts where they are now compared to before the pandemic, they’re already back up to where they were. Cerro Coso region wide is at 77% of where it was and the Indian Wells Valley is only 25% of where it was. You feel it when you go to the college; it is like a ghost town, when you go to Kern River Valley, they don’t even have in person services at this point. They’ve all been shut down. So my number one priority is getting the resources and support and investment that we need to get us caught up like Bakersfield is caught up.”
Her second focus is the equitable distribution of funds allocated from the State of California for our region. “We’re expecting about $16 million here. That planning process is happening over the next 18 months. It’s something that I’ve been involved with from the beginning as the Secretary of a Chamber of Commerce in a rural community. We’ve had workshops and participated in presentations.
“I have been here in Ridgecrest for 15 years, and time and again, I see these processes leave us out or they include what Bakersfield thinks we should want. I don’t think that’s right. Our community should have a real place at the table. They should be an authentic voice. We need to make sure that the district is doing what it has to do to make sure that planning process for the ‘once in a generation’ economic development investment in our communities. We need to make sure that our voice here gets heard.”
Not only Ridgecrest needs to be heard, she says, “ I hear from California City and from Kern River Valley, I hear it from the rural communities in Inyokern, Johannesburg, Randsburg they’ve all said, ‘We don’t ever get a voice in these things.’”
Slayton says about living in Ridgecrest, “ I just fell in love with this community because it’s a place you can raise kids and how connected people are. I mean, it’s literally like stepping back in time to where people are civically involved. I’ve been involved in a number of things at the city. I helped start an education foundation here. I’m super involved in scouting. Scouting was a huge part of my life and now my poor kids are getting forced to be in it but my oldest is now a Boy Scout, which means that he’s at every event in the entire world. I’m a 15 year member of our Savior Lutheran Church. I’m pretty embedded in the community.”
“I am running because I believe that it’s important to have robust advocacy and engagement on this board with the communities that would be represented here,” says Christina Cosner-Scrivner, Candidate for Kern Community College District Board of Trustees Area 2. “I believe that our communities in East Kern and up north in Mono and Inyo County often feel that being far away from where decisions are made and resource allocation is being decided struggle to feel that we’re not necessarily as engaged in the process as we’d like to be.”
Cosner-Scrivner is very precise in her communication. She clearly addresses the few questions that The News Review presents.
“Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of working in most of the communities that I would represent and living in many of them. That kind of community involvement and relationships I’ve built in that process put me in a in a great position to be that liaison and that voice for our needs.
“The most important thing I’d like to focus on are continuing to identify needs and opportunities for growth for the Cerro Coso College system, which is the college that serves the area I would represent. I’d also like to really lean into the potential for workforce development and ensuring that our curriculum is responsive to the opportunities in our region. We have so many great jobs and career opportunities in aerospace, mining, renewables and engineering within the district that is around Cerro Coso College campuses and its footprint. There’s a skills gap that the industries are looking to fill, a skills gap in the workforce that they’d like to hire and I think there’s a real opportunity to invite our industry partners to understand what those needs are, and to make sure that not only are we preparing students for credits that will transfer to pursue a four year degree, but we’re also helping get students where they want to go and many of them want to get to work.”
Cosner-Scrivner is well-aware of the effect of the pandemic on higher education. “We have a wonderful opportunity to learn from what was a tumultuous time in education and to examine how the paradigm has shifted and meet our students where they are and help get them where they want to go with multiple avenues through community colleges, dual enrollment programs at the high school and online programs and on-campus learning. We need to be very curious about how our students want to engage in community college.
“Access is a primary concern of mine. Cerro Coso College has done a noble job in outreach and in providing scholarships for students. They have a robust foundation operation; we just need to continue to understand where gaps still exist.
“I would represent the largest community college district in the continental United States. We need to really examine what that means for access to the college campuses. We need to talk about transportation concerns and about how are students graduating from high school if they believe it’s a reasonable path for them to engage in the opportunity that the community college system provides. There are multiple ways to access that; but, we need to really understand that we are not your typical community college region.”
Cosner-Scrivner is well-connected to Indian Wells Valley and the regions she would represent. “ If you could draw a circle around my life it basically looks like area 2. I have lived and worked in nearly every single community in area 2.
She worked for worked for Houchin Community Blood Bank for seven years. She tells us, “My work was specifically to develop the blood donations from the region in area 2. I was out in these areas on a on a semi weekly basis. I doubled the units of blood collected in the East Kern region of our community. That was not an easy task. I think it’s the results that I have from my career that will get people to support me in this next endeavor. I think that the time I spent at the Blood Bank really helped to develop my affinity for that work and certainly my contacts.”
She also raised over $7 million to elevate care for Adventist Health Hospital in Tehachapi, was a founding member and for ten years sat on the Board of Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society (RMES), and she was a member of the Ridgecrest Exchange Club for almost as long. Currently she serves the community through the Community Leader Program for Edwards Air Force Base.
As for ties to Ridgecrest, she says, “I bought my first home in Ridgecrest when I was 21 years old.” She left the region for a while, “I moved to work for our now Congressman Kevin McCarthy up in Sacramento. But I never stopped working in and supporting the community; I just broadened the connectivity that I had to the region in a way that I think really, ideally, situates me to continue to be an effective leader and liaison.”