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  Vista Hills Continuation School Plan Appears Dead
July 24, 2004

Dozens of residents of Fairmeade-Hilltop who have lobbied the Richmond City Council and the WCCUSD Board for weeks to rethink a plan to combine two existing continuation schools at the Vista Hills (former) elementary school campus will likely break out the champagne Monday night and take a victory lap. See the following story from today’s West County Times:


Continuation school plan opposed
Posted on Sat, Jul. 24, 2004


West Contra Costa school district Superintendent Gloria Johnston will recommend at a special school board meeting Monday that a plan to combine two continuation high schools in a Hilltop neighborhood be abandoned.

The recommendation will come two weeks after the Richmond City Council unanimously approved a resolution recommending that the school district not merge Gompers and North Campus continuation high schools at a Hilltop site at 2465 Barnard St., and instead look for alternate sites.

The city also said it might challenge an environmental study on the plan, released by the district this month.

But the largest outcry against the plan came from the Fairmede-Hilltop neighbors, who are backed by Richmond Police Chief Charles Bennett. He and other police officials say combining the schools would mix members of two rival gangs and could result in problems.

"Based on the actions of the Richmond City Council and the concerns expressed by the community, we're responding to their request," Johnston said.

Alternatives to the plan will be presented at a future board meeting.

The idea to merge the schools was approved by the school board in March as a cost-cutting measure in the face of a $16.5 million budget shortfall. By combining the schools, the district hoped to save $250,000.

Other than the Hilltop site, Johnston said, the district has no other place to combine the two schools.

In search of other options, she said the school district met this month with Richmond city officials to discuss possibly using city surplus land for the continuation school. But a large piece of land was not identified, she said. The district needs 6 to 8 acres to accommodate students from both schools, she said.

Although Johnston will advise the board Monday against placing a continuation high school in the Hilltop area, she said the district still plans to combine Gompers and North Campus into one school.

"That is still my recommendation, that we have one school," she said. "In these economic times, we cannot afford to have two continuation schools under 150 students."

The district faces pressure from the Leadership charter school to find a new location for Gompers. The charter school was scheduled to move into the Gompers campus this summer.

Vernon Thompson, the charter school's director of development and communications, is hoping his school will be placed in the Hilltop site.

Hilltop residents may prefer to have a college prep school in their neighborhood rather than a continuation high school, Thompson said.

Moving the charter school to the Hilltop site is not part of the district's plan, Johnston said.

The charter school, which opened to students last year, is being housed in portable classrooms across from Gompers.

Board member Glen Price said he supports Johnston's recommendation not to combine the two continuation high schools in the Hilltop area.

"I think it's become clear that there are a number of apparent difficulties that we really haven't been able to reconcile. At the same time we needed to have done a much better job of involving the community," Price said.

Karen Okusu, a member of the Fairmede-Hilltop Neighborhood Council, agrees with Price and hopes the district will involve neighbors in future talks about the Hilltop site.

As for Johnston's recommendation, Okusu said Hilltop neighbors will wait and see what the board decides Monday.

"It's not a done deal until the board votes," Okusu said.

Reach Ana Facio Contreras at 510-262-2798 or acontreras@cctimes.com