Case Studies

Jenny Hannah  Brown– Kern High School District 

Leading the way in school facilities management 

There is an old saying that everything is bigger in Texas. But for those who say that California would like a word.  

With nearly 1,000 public school districts and over 5.4 million enrolled students, facilities personnel have their work cut out to ensure California’s public school children have everything they need to succeed. 

Jenny Hannah Brown has been in public school facilities management for 30 years and has seen it all during her three decades of service. She is wrapping up her career as the executive director of facilities for Kern High School District in Bakersfield, and she says she is confident she is leaving the district in a solid position on their facility assets. 

“Since coming here seven years ago, we’ve accomplished a lot and set up our facilities, and therefore, our students for success,” Brown tells Blueprint magazine in February.  

The district includes 19 comprehensive high schools, six alternative education schools, two career and technical education regional training centers and one adult school. The district has over 40,000 students and 3,000 employees, whose boundaries cover over 3,200 square miles.  

Bigger in California 

In the past decade, the district has experienced tremendous growth, and with over 300 leased growth portable buildings across the district, Brown and her team of 12 stay busy.  

“Over half our schools are over 50 years old, and some of the ‘newer’ ones are over 30 years old,” Brown says. “There is always work to be done on aging building systems, like improving indoor air quality through our HVAC upgrades and replacing several roofs utilizing federal funding. Student and staff safety are of utmost concern, and security measures have been added and strengthened throughout the district’s facilities.” 

Recently, the district completed construction of its 19th comprehensive high school that breaks the mold of KHSD’s typical comprehensive campus builds, Brown says. Partnering with innovative educators and architects, Brown and her team developed a school to foster creativity and flexibility, including shared workrooms for teachers and internal hallways promoting collaboration and safety.  

The Del Oro High School project in South Bakersfield, designed by HMC Architects, also incorporated green initiatives, such as using durable construction materials for a 100-year building life and strategically placing solar panels to allow for more natural landscaping and drainage around the site. An artwork mural installation by famous  California artist Stan Bitters was the finishing touch to the modern school design.  

“Public buildings should always have a public art installation as another way to establish pride in the facility,” Brown says.  

Looking ahead to 2024, Brown and her team plan for major refurbishments in California, called modernizations. With aging systems and older schools, building systems require upgrades, roofs need replacement, and interior finishes need updating.  

“This work is more challenging than building a new school, but it is just as gratifying,” Brown explains. “We can apply what we know about learning environments and work today’s concepts into schools designed decades before. In a large district like ours, striving for equity on all campuses is important.” 

Facing challenges, improving the experience 

Modern students and staff expect a facility that adapts to the varied and individual needs of everyone on campus while providing teachers the ability to engage and instruct without distraction. Brown says facilities leaders should, at minimum, ensure students are in a safe, comfortable and well-lit environment. Taking it further, the environment should be inspiring and facilitate the best possible student outcomes.  She says that school facilities can create a strong sense of pride among students and teachers. 

“Having students take ownership and believe that the school is theirs leads to fewer problems on campus,” Brown says. “Someone who takes ownership in something will more likely work harder to preserve and respect it.” 

Providing these environments across such a large district has challenges, especially regarding staffing. Brown says she is fortunate to have a talented and hard-working staff, but she is also convinced that most people don’t know what a facility planner is or what they do—that makes recruiting tough if there aren’t enough people in the field.  

“More likely, a person goes to school for architecture, engineering or construction management and then ends up working in facilities,” Brown says. “Most of my peers have gained their knowledge through work experience.” 

But work is being done to recruit new facilities leaders into the field. Brown is the former chairperson and board member of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing in California, which has created a rigorous facilities training program for school leaders in the state. 

Building a career 

Brown earned a degree in industrial arts from California State University, Fresno and worked in interior design for five years for architects on mostly healthcare and corporate projects. There were a few school projects, too. During these years, she became enthralled with school design work. 

“Much like healthcare, the work done in schools can really impact the lives of the occupants,” Brown says.  

After being hired by a visionary county superintendent, Brown spent over 21 years as chief facilities officer for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office and subsequently joined the Kern High School District in her current role in February 2017. 

Construction and facilities management is traditionally male-dominated, but Brown says she consistently tells women they can achieve great success in the field. But, rather than standing at a podium and speaking, Brown leads by example.  

“It is more important to set yourself apart by making each project a focus and encouraging each team member to take an active part in the decision-making process,” Brown says.  “Set your goals high and never sacrifice your principles for short-term gain.” 

When Brown retires in July of 2024,  she plans to spend more time gardening and working on the 20 acres of land in the foothills near Tehachapi, California, that she owns with her husband. She says she is also excited about having more time with her family, especially her two granddaughters, 

“I am fortunate to be able to think about the possibilities for the next part of life, and I’m excited for where it will take me,” Brown says.  

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