Celebrating KCSOS’s Women Leaders: Dr. Mary Barlow
- March 14, 2023
Mary Barlow initially worked in the telecommunications industry for Pacific Bell Telephone Company before deciding to shift to a new career when her husband was offered a position at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.
After relocating to the Kern River Valley and taking a look at the opportunities around her, Barlow decided to explore education and started by volunteering in her son’s second-grade classroom in the Kernville Union School District. She later became a teacher herself in the district, then the Director of Children and Family Services, and eventually the district’s Superintendent.
In 1996, Barlow spearheaded the formation of the Kern River Valley Collaborative, a network of county, private, and nonprofit agencies dedicated to delivering direct medical, dental, and social services to Kern River Valley children and their families before joining KCSOS in 2009.
But seeking leadership positions was never what was important to her, Barlow said. Instead, she says her unwavering purpose during her career has been to empower students to seek a brighter future and encourage them to take advantage of any opportunity to improve their lives.
“As a person, woman or not, you have to be very conscious about what it is you want to do in your life and then go after it,” Barlow said. “Regardless of the path you choose, there will be people who sit in judgment. So knowing your purpose and maintaining that purpose is not only important — it is your north star.”
As Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Barlow emphasizes the importance of knowing yourself and believes there are many ways to start a productive journey of self-discovery.
The first is understanding what it is that makes you tick. She suggests taking a quick strength or trait assessment, then spending time with that information to discover what you feel strongly about and what you consider your core values to be such as honesty, integrity, or compassion, for example. Once those core values are established, they can be used as a guiding light. Knowing yourself will help you begin to understand others, Barlow said.
Looking back at her extensive career, Barlow recognizes there are obstacles that most women face when taking on positions of leadership, which are many times out of their control. She emphasized it’s important to focus on what is in your control.
“How society sees women and the expectations that are put on women — such as the tone of our voice, how direct we are, or how much energy we have when we express our feelings — are out of our control,” Barlow said. “What we can control is what we want to achieve as an individual, then within the organization, and finally how we develop our own skills so that when opportunities arise, we are ready for them.”
Dr. Barlow believes that it is critically important that we lift each other up, while also taking a yearly inventory of what went well throughout the year and noting the areas that need improvement. She said that true fulfillment can be achieved through this reflection.