How Failing Districts Kill Good Schools, The Curious Case of John Henry High in Richmond, and How You Can Help

It was a slap in the face to 315 families when one of California’s most dysfunctional school boards, West Contra Costs Unified (WCCUSD), voted to close one of the few functioning high schools in Richmond, and a triumph of politics over children, at least thus far.

John Henry High School (JHHS) is one of the top high schools In West Contra Costa, and the top high school for serving Brown and Black children.  This is a lifeline in a district that has historically been a death/prison/or menial labor sentence for these children.  I know because my brother was one of them.

Let’s compare the numbers.  JHHS is significantly outperforming all district schools in ELA, with 68.4% of students showing proficiency compared to Kennedy HS at 14.28%, Richmond HS at 39.94% and De Anza HS at 45.24%.  JHHS is outperforming in Math with 20.89% compared to Kennedy HS 2.16%, Richmond HS 15.87% and De Anza HS 11.55%.  90% of JHHS seniors graduate and get accepted to a 4yr. college with multiple offers.

90% acceptance to 4 year colleges, in a school that is almost exclusively Brown, Black and low income.  What are Richmond’s stats?

So it is obvious that a child attending JHHS has a much better chance than one attending WCCUSD, so why would this stellar school that is serving kids and send them to college that WCCUSD isn’t.  It’s charter-district politics, and it has nothing to do with kids and families.

The Pretext for Closure- Judge not lest ye be judged

Families don’t care what kind of public school they go to.  Every poll of Black and Brown families show this. They want a good school, where they are treated fairly, feel belonging and their child prospers.  If WCCUSD offered those things that would be one thing—fact is they don’t, and they never have.

Not knowing anything except my own experience, I guarantee you there are dozens of special ed complaints, high turnover of staff and issues with performance of English language learners.  The three issues they raised about JHHS.  Oh and the anonymous unsubstantiated complaint of something by you can guess whom.  It would be a joke if the board didn’t use the pretext seriously.  And I guarantee you JHHS does better in all of those areas than the district.  Not to mention the violence that students face going to school.

So, if WCCUSD could actually offer these children better, that would be one thing.  But nobody, least of all the actual parents can say that is true with a straight face.  And to these parents it’s actually a cruel joke whose costs weigh on their babies.

A cost of failure that Black and Brown families have borne too long in Richmond.  I know this personally, my brother went to “opportunity school” in Richmond in middle school, when he was struggling, it was a half day program where he went home after lunch.  They threw a mess of kids with a lot of challenges in a classroom and gave them less instructional time.  They told him he had to work his way back into regular school, all the while getting less and less grade level instruction.

In high school at Kennedy, I went to his open house, and his teacher showed me a drawing of the globe that he had made.  It said “math makes the world go round.”  He is good at coloring his teacher told me, that was his 9th grade math class.  

Not a surprise he did a 9 year bid.

More recent history, my godson, was handcuffed in elementary school for pushing a staff member trying to get his ball.  He also was told (illegally) that he couldn’t come back to school until he took meds (he was not suspended), and a variety of other indignities, so much that mom home schooled him.  So that is WCCUSD in my experience.  And when you look at the data on high schools, it’s obvious who is serving children and who is not.

The next step for the families at JHHS is the State Board of Education, whose staff have recommended approval of school.  I hope for the families of JHHS that the Board sees the WCCUSD Board decision for the cruel joke that it is, and approve this school so that these children, staff and families can get back to the work of education and out of the muck of the politics of it.

If folks would like to support the school, here is some info the school sent

The State Board of Education will be voting on the John Henry High School Charter Appeal next week on Thursday July 9, 2020 at around 9am. Action on your part is vital to keep John Henry High open! Please forward this to family and friends who can spare a few minutes of their time to support our vibrant school community.

What you can do to help:

  1. Send an email to the State Board of Education by Friday July 3rd at 12PM.
    1. Send email to [email protected]
    1. Be sure to include the following information in your email:
  2. Subject Line: Keep John Henry High Open
  3. Your first and last name
  4. Affiliation (Ex: Community Member, Student, Parent, etc.)
  5. Agenda Item #20
  6. Your message in support of John Henry High
  7. End with: Please Vote in FAVOR of John Henry High
  • Call the State Board of Education on the day of the meeting (July 9th at 9AM) to make a public comment.
    • Phone number: 712-432-0075
    • Access code: 651905#
    • Press *6 to continue, then Press 1 to enter into the queue
    • Wait until you hear “You have been unmuted. Please state your name and begin public comment. Your time begins now.” 
    • You will then have one minute to make your public comment.

John Henry High School Highlights:

  1. JHHS received a 6-year WASC accreditation status in 2019.
  2. JHHS was named one of the nation’s best high schools in 2020 by the US News and World Report.
  3. JHHS serves over 90% socio-economically disadvantaged and minority students.
  4. Over 90% of JHHS graduates have been accepted to a 4-year college or university.
  5. JHHS is the third best high school in all of WCCUSD when compared to both charter and traditional public schools.
  6. JHHS has the highest percentage of English Learners making progress toward proficiency among all high schools in WCCUSD.
  7. JHHS has outperformed all of the surrounding high schools, in both English and Math, since we began testing in 2017.
  8. JHHS received a Letter of Good Standing from the WCCUSD Superintendent in 2018 and has not received any complaints or Letters of Concern since.
  9. The State Board of Education Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS) recommended that JHHS be renewed, by a 7-2 vote, at their meeting last month.
What do you think?

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