In early October of 1914, three petitioners appeared before the Kern County Board of Supervisors to argue in favor of forming a new school district to serve what was then called the Shafter Colony. They asked that territory from the existing Maple School District be set aside to form a new district and suggested that it be called Richland, which described the soil that had brought this area into agricultural prominence. The three men, Charles Shoemate, Ed Wright, and the area postmaster, W.H. Hutchins, had apparently anticipated a favorable response from the board for they already secured temporary housing for the school and raised funds for maintenance through private subscription. The petition was indeed granted and school began the next week under the tutelage of Mrs. Hazel Burns. The Kern County Land Company had donated the building, a small one-room shelter situated on James Street directly across from the present Veteran’s Memorial Hall.
Those somewhat rustic quarters were used for the remainder of that year. Beginning in 1915, school was held in the new Santa Fe School, a larger, more modern facility. The Santa Fe School, named for the railroad, which was so vital to the community’s development, consisted of two classrooms and an assembly hall. The assembly hall was used for a variety of community activities, including church services, farm bureau meetings, and even weddings. Shafter’s very first wedding, joining Woods Stone and Martha Buller was, in fact, held in the school’s assembly hall. Santa Fe School that first year had an ADA (Average Daily Attendance) of just fifteen students and there were many complaints by citizens that the trustees wasted money by building a school that was much too large, so large that it would still be half empty after fifty years. But enrollment tripled to forty-five students the next year and that no doubt stilled the voices of most of the complaints. Enrollment continued to grow and during World War I Santa Fe School was enlarged to ten classrooms. Full use of Santa Fe School diminished once the district began to build other schools in the 1930’s but at least a portion of the school was used until 1948, after which it was abandoned in favor of the newer, more modern facilities. Santa Fe School was finally razed in the 1950’s and most of the property sold to the City of Shafter. That portion of the site retained by the district is now occupied by their maintenance, operations and transportation department.
Although there have been brief periods of no growth or even declining enrollment, Richland has, for the most part, seen steady increases in average daily attendance since the district was formed in 1914. By its tenth year, the average daily attendance had reached 323 pupils. By 1934-35 it had climbed to 574 pupils, by 1944-45, to 1,077 pupils and by 1961-62, to 1,880 pupils. While the pace of growth slowed over the next twenty-five years, the number of students eventually outstripped the available classroom space and by May 1988 enrollment had reached a critical stage. The district was serving almost 2,200 pupils and classrooms were bulging at the seams. Fate intervened in the form of the adjoining Lerdo School District. The Lerdo District for some years had been experiencing declining enrollment and it seemed to be in the best interest of both districts to consider a merger. A similar proposal had been made as early as 1950 but a significant difference in assessed valuation prompted the Richland district officials to oppose the measure. A merger was also proposed in 1987 but, once again, the two districts were unable to reach agreement. This time they were able to agree; consolidation was accomplished in July 1989 and a “new” district, the Richland-Lerdo School District, was formed. (The district dropped “Lerdo” from its name in 2000 because the nearby detention facility operated by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office bears the same name.)
The Lerdo School District, located east of Shafter and north of Bakersfield, had been formed in 1910 to serve the children who lived in Martindale Colony. The Martindale Colony was a group of sixty-five farm families from the mid-west who had settled in the Lerdo area in 1909. The land proved less fruitful than the settlers had anticipated, however, and after about a year they moved on to other parts of the state. It was thought that the Lerdo community would cease to exist when the Martindale families moved out, but the territory was resettled in 1911 by a new group of colonists from Michigan and, consequently, the Lerdo School was able to remain open even though just eleven children were in attendance that first year. The district remained small and had fewer than one hundred pupils each year until 1944-45 when enrollment reached 116 pupils due, for the most part, to the establishment of Minter Field as an Army/Air Force Base. After the war, housing of any sort was in short supply and the barracks buildings on the base were quickly converted to inexpensive rentals and just as quickly occupied by civilian families. By the 1952-53 school year, Lerdo’s ADA had skyrocketed to 441 pupils. The buildings at Minter Field were gradually sold and removed from the base, however, and that led to a steady decline in Lerdo’s enrollment. By 1961-62 the average daily attendance for the district had dropped to 151 pupils and by the time of the merger with Richland in 1989, just 63 pupils were enrolled.
The merger with Lerdo added considerable territory to the Richland District boundaries but it was not the first time that those boundaries had been expanded. Formed in January of 1910, tiny Nord School District, with territory adjoining that of the Lerdo, Richland and Beardsley districts, had too few students from the very beginning to remain open. It ceased operations after ten months even before a school house could be built or a board of trustees elected. Richland acquired two sections, two square miles, of the defunct Nord district’s territory.
In 1936 the Poplar School District lapsed and Richland acquired some of the territory that had been served by that district. Formed in 1914, the same year as Richland, the Poplar District had an average daily attendance of seven pupils that first year. Enrollment peaked at thirty-four pupils in 1926-27 and again in 1929-1930 but a slow decline followed and the district lapsed in 1936 after enrollment had fallen to twenty-three pupils. Territory of the Poplar district was divided between the Maple, Richland, and the Rio-Bravo school districts.
The original Richland School, built in 1934 as a WPA project, is currently the home of Richland Junior High School. In 1954, a wing consisting of five classrooms was added. A fire in the early 1980’s destroyed approximately two-thirds of the original building which was then rebuilt and reopened in 1985. Six of the original classrooms remain in use and three additional, but detached, classroom wings have been added to the campus. In the late 1990's 12 prefabricated classrooms were added to the campus along with a second office building and a research library. The school was completely modernized in 2009.
The first stage of what is now Golden Oak Elementary, a wing of four classrooms was completed in 1938. In 1940, another wing of four classrooms was added to the campus. The final permanent structures: a multipurpose room, a new administration office, two kindergarten buildings with two rooms each, and four additional classroom wings, were added thirteen years later, in 1953. Relocatable classrooms have been added to the site to house the increasing numbers of students. On January 9, 2006 the District began a $5 million dollar renovation project that includes the installation of air conditioners for each classroom.
Much like Golden Oak Elementary, the present Redwood Elementary School was also built in stages. The initial phase, two wings of six classrooms, was completed in 1950. Two years later, two more 6-room wings were completed and occupied. In 1958, the library and an administration office were added to the campus. (The administration building was destroyed by fire in December of 1964 and a new facility completed in July of 1965.) Permanent structures were added in 1969, a music room and District Office facilities. The school’s final permanent structure consisted of four kindergarten classrooms completed in September of 2005. The school was completely modernized in 2010 with the school's office being moved into what was the District Office. The District Offices are now located at 300 N. Valley, next to the Activity Center building.
Sequoia Elementary School opened its doors in August of 2005. The facilities included twenty-two permanent classrooms, an office, a library, and a multipurpose room with a prep kitchen. Five relocateable classroooms were moved on site before the school opened its doors to students.The site is located on a 17 acres site on Fresno and Mannel Avenues.
In 2004 the District purchased 12 acres of the Kirchenmann property on Los Angeles and Schnaidt Streets for the District's next school site.
The Richland School District currently serves more than 3,100 students in four schools: Golden Oak Elementary, Redwood Elementary, Sequoia Elementary (K-6 schools) and Richland Junior High School (7-8 school).
Richland’s longest serving superintendent was Bruce Crawford, who guided district operations from 1950 to 1967. He was followed by David Cooke (1967- December, 1970), Evron Barber (December, 1970 – August, 1979), and Gary Smith (1979-1982). Clifford Rogers then served a very brief pro tem assignment as Superintendent until the district hired Vera Stone in July of 1982. Stone served until December of 1986 and at that time was replaced by Larry Reider, who was interim superintendent until June of 1987. He was followed by George Bury (1987-1990), then another interim superintendent, George Wolters (July, 1990 – October, 1990), and Daniel Knapp (October, 1990 – March, 1999). Lyle Mack served as chief administrator from 1999 - 2007. Dr. Kenneth R. Bergevin was hired in 2007 and presently serves as Superintendent.
In March of 2002, the Richland board of trustees approved the placement of a bond issue before the voters on June 4. The bond measure was a success with 76% voter approval. The sale of the bonds generate $13 million over a period of ten years. The money generated, along with matching funds from the state, is to be used to build a much-needed new K-6 school (the district currently has more than a thousand students housed in portable buildings) and modernization of existing facilities. The modernization projects would include the installation of new heating and air conditioning systems and the updating of electrical wiring, necessary before the district can expand and upgrade its technology program.
In December of 2004 a Community Facilities District (Mello-Roos) was successfully formed. As new homes are built in the Mello-Roos District the District will be able to secure bonds for up to one hundred million dollars for the construction of anticipated schools.
In November of 2008, Measure J was overwhelmingly passed by the voters of Shafter. This $23 million bond measure established a Citizen's Oversight Committee and allowed the District to complete its modernization projects and to plan for future growth and facilities.