Educating The Masses with Passion and Persistence
By Jason Gutierrez

Larry E. Reider has spent the last 40 years trying to make a difference in his community. Originally from eastern Washington state, Reider came to Kern County pursuing a career in education. Arriving in 1965, Larry took his first teaching job in Arvin after he received his bachelor's degree from Central Washington State University. He spent 19 years in the Arvin Union School District as a teacher and administrator. He earned advanced degrees at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and the University of Southern California.

"There are a couple of reasons that I got into education," he says. "The first, I like helping people; the second reason was myself. I grew up as a farm laborer. While growing up I thought to myself, 'There just has to be something more out there.' I decided to become a teacher right after college because I wanted to help people. I enjoy people, and in education you are around people every day. The bottom line is, we need to provide for future leaders to make our world better and that's what teachers do every day — they inspire students."

The position of Kern County Superintendent of Schools is a county-wide elected position. Being a constitutional office, the superintendent's role is to provide fiscal oversight over all Kern County school districts. This means, in essence, ensuring that no school district in Kern becomes fiscally insolvent. Examples of services the office provides include insurance, legal services, school bus and vehicle maintenance, school bus driver training, construction assistance and more.

On the instructional side, the office educates the most at-risk students in the county through special education and alternative education programs. Special education encompasses students with mental, physical or multiple disabilities. About 130 special education classes are in operation throughout the county. Alternative education encompasses students who are incarcerated, expelled or who are not attending their traditional school for other reasons.

As superintendent, Reider has added many impressive accomplishments to his resume. Since becoming Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 1999, he has led projects to improve reading proficiency among elementary students. These include the volunteer-based Community Reading Project with The Bakersfield Californian, and the Target Reading First Collaborative, an outgrowth of Vision 2020. Working with private partners, he was instrumental in developing Ready to Start, a pilot program designed to make preschool-age students ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. Ready to Start is funded in large part by private-sector contributions. This year Ready to Start was expanded to more schools in Kern County. Outside of the educational realm, in 2000 Reider joined the Downtown Rotary Club to further aid the community through various service projects.

But his job is far from completed. "I would say there's a lot that has been done for education in Kern County and there is a lot more that needs to be done," he says. "There are a lot of good things going on in education but there is always room to grow and improve. Education has a responsibility to grow. I go to the gym in the morning and when I do a set of something I try to increase that set the next day. That's what education needs to do. Never stop and keep growing. A lot of people out there depend on us."

At the end of the day Reider is a normal, down-to-earth guy. At home, he and his wife, Sandy, a retired junior high language arts and drama teacher, enjoy gourmet cooking, gardening and music. He also enjoys swimming among other outdoor activities. He says his enjoyment in being outside is a throwback to his youth and days spent outside on the farm. But nothing compares to the love Reider has for reading.

"I love to read," he says. "I've loved to read since before I was in school. We didn't have kindergarten at my school, so I went right into the first grade. When I came home after my first day my mom asked if I liked school and I said I didn't. I thought the first day I was going to learn how to read. When I didn't I was disappointed. I learned and loved it ever since."

He also loves music. He owns close to 800 CDs, mostly rock 'n' roll, sprinkled with blues, jazz, classical and other various genres that he says make him feel good. Imagining Reider in a profession outside of education could be tough. But if he didn't find a career in education he might have ended up in law, he says. "I'd probably be an attorney. I've always had a fascination with the law and how laws are developed and why they are developed. It's something that allows you to interact with people and make a difference in their lives. You also get to model good behavior."

In order to be a good leader, Reider says he draws upon the inspiration of his heroes. "A hero is someone who has integrity: when they say they'll do something they'll do it, they want to make sure they leave the world a better place than when they entered it, and they care about people. Keeping that in mind, I have to say Harry Truman and Winston Churchill are two of my heroes. I read a lot of history, and although I was barely born when they were alive, both of them led countries through dark periods but they did it through their integrity and willingness to stand up and do the right thing. Leaders have to do tough things sometimes, but if it's the right thing then they will do it. But there are a lot of heroes locally who make a difference every day. I consider my family to be my heroes too because I get guidance from them every day."

A good way to get to know people is by walking into their offices and taking notice of the items that sit on their desks or hang on their walls. Reider's walls are adorned with plaques and certificates of personal accomplishments, professional recognition and community support. However it's Reider's love of baseball that turns the professional community leader into a wide-eyed dreamer. He proudly displays a collection of vintage autographed baseballs from some of his favorite players, each with a story that he's willing to tell. All of these items, including photographs of his family, are the true fibers that make Larry E. Reider the man he is today in a community he proudly calls home.

"When I came here in the mid-'60s I thought I would be here for a year or two and then head someplace else," he recalls. "The people here made me decide to stay. These are people with solid values, who value family life and believe in a deal on a handshake. We still have a lot to do for education, but Kern County is willing to roll up its sleeves and make it happen. And I love that about our home."

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