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West County Community High charter denial leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find alternatives

The Contra Costa County Board of Education’s denial of the West County Community High School charter’s renewal petition on Wednesday leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find new schools.

Board President Cynthia Ruehlig said the decision would allow the charter students to attend “better schools,” but some teens, parents staff and community members said afterward that they disagreed.

Although the charter’s test scores were not as high as those in some other district schools, they pointed out that the charter served a high percentage of special education students and others who felt they didn’t fit in on larger campuses.

“A lot of these kids are really scared of where they’re going,” said history teacher Andy Wolverton, before hugging one student goodbye. “A lot of them have been bullied. A lot have been in gangs. They’ve done the public schools. That’s why they came to our school. I just hope they don’t go back to their old lifestyles at their old schools. And that’s the scary thing — keeping them out of gangs. Every student at our school has a story.”

Student Dante Spruit, 17, said he would try to take a high school equivalency test, then attend Contra Costa Community College, with the goal of eventually enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. He told me last week that he still had vivid memories of a violent fight he witnessed between two teenage boys when he was in sixth grade at Hercules Middle and High School.

“One had on a white T-shirt and it turned red with blood,” Spruit said. “Everyone was looking. At West County Community High School, I haven’t seen any fights.”

Parent Suzanne Camp said she planned to meet with other parents to discuss options such as online learning.

“We’re facing a situation that’s a crisis for our kids because these students are either too small for their age or there’s some difficulty for them being able to work with these other students at these big schools,” Camp said. “I am, as a desperate parent, looking for solutions for these students who can’t adapt to these congested schools. It’s really difficult to put your kid into a school that’s not safe.”

During the renewal hearing, three parents praised the school’s “loving” environment, in which their students thrived.

“There are kids that need that school that feel welcomed, feel loved and feel safe,” said parent Carlos Casares.

Theresa Padilla echoed these sentiments, saying her son struggled in algebra as a freshman at another school.

“Thank God for West County Community High School,” she said. “With the help of loving staff, he brought his grade from a D to a B. He chose not to return to his first school. ”

Sue Britson said her family selected the charter over El Cerrito High because of the caliber and dedication of teachers, parent involvement, safe environment and staff’s commitment to helping students like her son.

“Richmond is a large community,” she said. “We need places for students who are smart, but have challenges.”

Although trustees were sympathetic to students and parents, they said they could not overlook insufficient budget and curriculum materials submitted in the charter petition. Trustee Pamela Mirabella said she brainstormed with some parents after the meeting about how to meet their children’s needs.

“It is our fear that when a charter goes under like this, you have kids that have to be sent back to the district,” she said. “It disrupts their lives. They just have bonded. You have families that feel they have a loving relationship.”

In response to some who complained about difficulties reaching agreements with the West Contra Costa school district, Mirabella suggested the county could see whether it could provide an avenue for appeals regarding disagreements.

“I let them know that this is a learning experience,” she said. “It’s very sad, but we can do it better next time.”

Camp — who took over as treasurer for the school in February and was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting — told me Thursday that she filed a police report in April regarding discrepancies in the financial reports that could indicate some money was missing. Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French said police were investigating, but no arrests have been made.

Here is a link to a downloadable version of the County’s staff report:

Video clips from the meeting are at and

What alternatives do you think parents should explore?

Posted on Friday, August 17th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Richmond, West Contra Costa school district | 3 Comments »

West county kids slam stock exchange with powerful poetry

Bay Area students travel to New York to recite poetry.

Bay Area students travel to New York to recite poetry.

By Theresa Harrington
West Contra Costa County education reporter Shelly Meron wrote Friday about students from Richmond and Pinole who recited their poems at the New Stock Exchange.
Elishama Vallare of Ford Elementary in Richmond read his poem “Devasatation of Povery on the Streets,” and Shannon Chand from Stewart Elementary in Pinole shared her poem “Slavery.” They recited the poems as part of National Poetry Month in April.
The poetry event was organized by America SCORES, an organization that empowers students in urban communities using soccer, writing, creative expression and service learning, Meron reported.
I spoke to Elishama and Shannon today to find out how they got the ideas for their poetry and talk about their trip to New York, which neither of them had visited.
Elishama said he got the idea for his poem because he knows what it’s like to be on the street.
“I had the experience of being a poor person,” said the 11-year-old. “My aunt put us out, so we stayed in a mission for a while.”

Elishama Vallare recites "Devastation of Poverty on the Streets"

Elishama Vallare recites "Devastation of Poverty on the Streets"

Here is his poem:

“Devastation of Poverty on the Streets,” by Elishama Vallare
Did you know almost 39.1 million people in California are poor?
Poor people are older people, children, maybe even families.
On the street, I see gangs, dark mysterious alleys, and as I’m turning a corner
I see a poor man asking for money.
He looks sad, I can tell by the look on his face.
His clothes are tattered with holes.
You may not know what it feels like to be poor.
But I do.
When I was seven years old,
my auntie kicked me, my mom and my 24-month-old baby brother out.
A few days afterwards, we stayed at a mission in Seattle, Washington.
Living in a house with strangers, everyone looks dull without energy.
Strong feelings of frustration because an aggravated lady yells at my mom.
This is my story.
I try to help people who are poor by giving them a buck or two.
So pitch in to help your community!
You might be the one to end poverty in California.
This is it — you can “make the change.”

Although he was a little nervous about reading his poem at first, Elishama said he soon gained his confidence.
“It was like, ‘Okay, I can do this,’” he said. “Afterwards, a lot of people asked me to sign their pamphlets and some people said my poem made them cry.”
The people in the audience received pamphlets with information about the students. Elishama was happy about their reaction.
“It made me feel great inside,” he said, “like I was doing the right thing.”
Shannon, 11, said she enjoys soccer and poetry in the SCORES program. She didn’t find it difficult to write about slavery, she said.
“The subject just popped in my mind and I just started writing,” she said.

Here’s her poem:

“Slavery,” by Shannon Chand.
I have a dozen, or two, of friends.
They all are different colors.
Colors of black, brown, white, and others.
I would never judge on how they look.
Long before I was born, slavery was all over the world.
Slavery was bad.
Slaves were taken from their homes.
They were beaten for no cause.
They died from diseases and the lack of food and water.
They were shoved around, treated badly; creating bruises and chances of dying.
I don’t know how it felt, but I’m positive my ancestors knew slavery was a huge deal.
Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot to save us.
Maybe today we would be suffering with slavery, if it weren’t for him.
We should be proud of ourselves.
Also, we should be happy we aren’t a part of it.

Both children said they plan to write more poetry in the future.
“I like writing,” Elishama said. “It’s something I’m good at.”
How did Elishama and Shannon’s poems make you feel?

Posted on Monday, May 3rd, 2010
Under: Education, Pinole, Richmond, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »