UPDATE: On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the WCCUSD halted its plan to transition schools at the request of the Board of Education. Follow-up story here.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) is set to begin transitioning seven Richmond public elementary schools into K-8 schools next year, with the stated aim of boosting education outcomes and retaining students.
Impacted schools include Wilson, Nystrom, Lincoln, Coronado, Grant, King, and Washington elementary. All schools except for Washington Elementary are part of the Kennedy Family of schools, which currently require students to transfer to DeJean Middle School to complete the 7th and 8th grades.
Next school year, according to the plan, the six Kennedy Family elementary schools will offer Grade 7 as the district begins to build build toward K-8 programs. Meanwhile, Washington is set to become a full Dual Immersion Spanish-English K-8 school over the next two years, which means the middle school Dual Immersion program at Korematsu Middle School will be phased out, the district said.
DeJean Middle is set to be phased out, as well. The school will serve students in Grade 8 next year and then will open as a different, yet-to-be-determined model the following year — perhaps as a new program, such as an Arts Magnet, or for a current school or program, according to the district.
DeJean Middle is struggling to retain students and thrive academically, according to a WCCUSD report set to be presented at the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday. In the 2014-15 school year, DeJean had 625 students in Grade 7, while in the 2018-19 school year, it had 467, the district said.
“We’re in a time where we have to compete against charter schools,” Marcus Walton, WCCUSD spokesperson, said at the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council meeting Monday night. “We found we lose a lot of students in grades 5 and 6 to charters because those families have chosen not to attend the local middle school.”
The district says ample research shows K-8 schools lead to better student outcomes and maintain strong school communities. Over 80 percent of families surveyed at all seven potentially impacted schools said they would stay at their current campus if grades 7 and 8 were added, the district said.
WCCUSD says the transition is possible despite the district’s multi-million dollar budget deficit.
“We have examined space and believe that we can make this work with potentially only one school needing facilities support for next year,” the district said. That school is King Elementary, where $200,000 is needed in 2020-21 for two portable buildings.
Between $200,000 and $400,000 will be needed in 2021-22 to help build out the transition at Washington and Nystrom. The cost will not utilize general fund or bond fund dollars, but rather will be paid for via funds from developer fees and Fund 40, according to the district.