Education

WCCUSD passes budget to stave off insolvency and state takeover

The West Contra Costa Unified School District board passed a 2022-23 budget Wednesday that is more than $16 million in the red.  This deficit is part of the reason why the $485.6 million budget includes a fiscal solvency plan. The plan is needed because WCCUSD is no longer financially healthy and cannot meet its financial obligations, according to Robert McEntire, interim chief business officer. He said the district will run out of cash during the 2023-24 fiscal year, unless it…

Union leaders mistakenly fired by WCCUSD demand answers

Kristen Pursley has been teaching adult education full time in the West Contra Costa Unified School District for 19 years. So it came as a shock on June 8 when she received an email from Human Resources telling her she was laid off.  When she heard that co-worker Ken Ryan, who has been teaching adult education for 28 years, received the same notice, Pursley grew suspicious. Ryan is president and Pursley vice president of a new union representing around 61…

WCCUSD substitute teacher shortage hurting students, burning out teachers

After hearing of the substitute teacher shortage last November in the West Contra Costa Unified School District where her kids go to school, Katie Ferrell put in an application to help out. As a former high school English teacher, Ferrell thought it’d be a good way to ease back into working while supporting her children’s school. She had planned to work only a few days but ended up doing a couple of long-term assignments and now substitutes on average four…

No layoffs for WCCUSD teachers after board votes down most proposed job cuts

Amid backlash from burnt-out teachers, the West Contra Costa Unified School District board voted against cutting about 93 teachers and 100 other school employee positions during a special meeting Wednesday night. A resolution to lay off three principals and two assistant principal positions passed with only one no vote, from Trustee Jamela Smith-Folds.  The layoffs were part of $34.8 million in budget cuts intended to address a deficit that likely will prompt the Contra Costa County school superintendent to intervene…

At 14, De Anza student commits to playing baseball at Cal — a rarity among freshmen

While most freshmen begin high school having no idea where they’ll end up after the summer of their senior year, Nikko Taylor, 14, of El Sobrante, already knows that if everything goes according to plan, he has a spot at one of the top public universities in the country.     Nikko accepted an offer to play at UC Berkeley and is one of only 18 baseball players in the state to commit to a Division 1 college as a freshman in…

High absences prompt WCCUSD to close schools for two days

With a flare in COVID-19 cases keeping many students and teachers out of school this week, the West Contra Costa Unified School District has decided to shut down on Friday and Monday. The district will take two “smoke days” that the state allows superintendents to use at their discretion, to deep clean its buildings, Superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst said in a news release Wednesday. Hurst attributed the high absentee rate to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is raging…

WCCUSD adds COVID-19 test sites to keep kids safe at school

Three more COVID-19 testing sites opened up this week for students and staff in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, which resumed in-person classes on Monday amid a coronavirus spike propelled by the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus. The district already was offering tests at most schools and on Tuesday, added the Alvarado Adult School in Richmond, the Ohlone Elementary School campus in Hercules, and the district central office in Richmond to that list. Those sites are…

With the budget tight, Richmond middle school librarian crowd funds for books

In 2019, after eight years as an English teacher at Richmond High School, Rebekah Ponce-Larsen was excited to start a new job as a librarian at Lovonya DeJean Middle School. Being a librarian, she thought, would give her an opportunity to work with kids but in a different way. “I have more time to get to know individual students sometimes than teachers do,” she said. It’s through that personal relationship with students that Ponce-Larsen has transformed the library at DeJean,…

WCCUSD workshops give Black parents a chance to confront racial bias in schools

Shortly after the start of the school year, education consultant Mary Bacon encouraged about three dozen parents and guardians in the West Contra Costa Unified School District to engage teachers and schools to improve the educational outcomes for African American students across the district.  “We don’t have the luxury anymore to drop our kids off and say we’ve found the right school district, or this is the right school and the right classroom, and then not check on them again…