By Kathy Chouteau
In the wake of severe vandalism at Richmond’s Lincoln Elementary, a team of volunteers from the school district and local community descended upon the school’s hallways on Saturday to kick its cleanup effort into overdrive, providing a ray of hope to what Principal Taylor Parham called a “pretty heartbreaking week.”
The cleanup included approximately ten teachers and Chevron Richmond employees, WCCUSD custodians, district administrators and other community members. With brooms, scrapers and cleaning solutions in hand, they worked diligently to help repair the rampant destruction unleashed upon Lincoln during the previous weekend. Three other campuses in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) were also targeted by unknown vandals.
Volunteers dug in via small teams to do their part amid a torrent of senseless ruin that encompassed paint stains throughout hallways and on a projector screen, glitter and papers strewn about, severely damaged school files and equipment, broken windows, glass and the like. Their work centered on the hallways, navigating around furniture and other supplies stationed there pre-vandalism while awaiting floor waxing. The work also involved classrooms.
Lucia Watson, an operational excellence assurance team leader/advisor at Chevron Richmond, felt it was important for her to pitch in on the cleanup. Some of her work Saturday included sorting through books destroyed by paint and identifying any that could be salvaged, organizing pens, paper, learning tools and baskets that had been strewn about, sweeping and “trying to clean paint off…that people have just thrown all over,” she said.
“Education is the foundation that we all grow on, and so, for kids not to have a classroom that is in order hurts me,” Watson said. “So anything I can do to help the teachers that are helping our kids is something I feel drawn to do—I’m here to help.”
Principal Parham said that the flip side of the rough week has been “the outpouring of support from the community,” which she called “amazing.”
She said numerous community members offered to volunteer their time and provide money for their teachers to replace their supplies. “We actually had to turn volunteers away today because we had so many people want to help.”
WCCUSD Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Chris Hurst said that he had also received numerous offers of help, adding that “it really shows that people care about our community, they care about our schools, but most of all, they care about our students.”
He shared that the offers of help have come from all corners of the community.
“The teachers have been the first individuals that stepped up, which is really great. But it’s also been our staff, it’s been community members as well, emailing me and they’ve been emailing the board. And then, of course, Chevron Richmond is here as well. So it really is overwhelming…to know that people are going to chip in and help clean up this vandalism.”
Pilar Fernandez Baumann, a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln, called the destruction at the school “devastating.” She said she was still trying to process “who would do this to our community school, to little kids and to teachers.”
“We’ve all worked so hard to build our classrooms,” Baumann said. “Put in our own money and our time and it’s just hard to see how we’re going to have to start over on a lot of things.” She also shared how she’s concerned for how Lincoln’s students may be feeling, likely having seen what happened on the news. “I just hope they know that we’re going to piece it all back together for them before we get back to school.”
As extensive as the vandalism to Lincoln was when the volunteers showed up Saturday, it was worse before their arrival, according to WCCUSD Director of Operations Chris Kornahrens.
“We’ve had a number of additional custodians in here the last few days,” he said, referring to the lead up to Saturday’s cleanup. The crew of custodians and supervisors, which came from different school sites, cleaned up the fallout from Lincoln’s main office’s eight broken windows, shattered glass throughout the principal’s office, a destroyed microwave and vending machine (and confidential files that had been ransacked.
“There were magazines, T-shirts, books, various stamping items, paint—a lot of things have been urinated on, and so we disposed of those. And we saved as much as we could…so that there’s something to come back to,” he added.
“The damage we’re seeing now is much improved, although there’s still a lot,” said Kornahrens.
Due to the ongoing investigation, Dr. Hurst said he’s limited on what he can share about the suspected vandals, but “we do know that, from the footage…it is juveniles.” He added that the police are investigating and that “it is an active investigation of four schools: Lincoln, Bayview, Nystrom and Greenwood.”
Principal Parham said that following Saturday’s volunteer cleanup effort, they will assess the overall damage and losses to the school and will examine how they might coordinate a related future fundraising effort.