Hello all you YV 69ers,
Several months ago I was perusing the internet looking for information regarding Ygnacio Valley High School and came across this disturbing local newspaper article regarding how our school has changed. The article is rather lengthy and in three parts.
I was quite surprised to see the opening picture though, depicting the human pyramid. I vaguely remember participating in this stunt for an edition of the Smoke Signal. Does anyone recognize any of these wild and crazy kind of guys? Thats me on top, far right.
What Happened To Ygnacio Valley High School?: The Glory Years
By David Mills, Patch StaffMay 29, 2013 1:19 am ET | Updated May 31, 2013 1:13 am ET
This is the first in a three-part series on what has transpired at Ygnacio Valley High School since it opened more than 50 years ago.
The numbers at Ygnacio Valley High School these days aren't exactly something to write home about.
Its dropout rate is 17.7 percent, higher than Mt. Diablo and the highest in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
The figures may not surprise people familiar with Ygnacio Valley High these days, but they might be a shock to people who attended the Concord school 40 or so years ago.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Ygnacio Valley was generally considered the best high school in Central Contra Costa County, an educational jewel set in the shadow of Mount Diablo.
"I remember thinking," said Tom Keane, a 1973 graduate, "that we were the best school around."
There aren't figures readily available on the school's graduation rate and test scores from that era. However, Bruce Smith, an arts teacher at Ygnacio Valley from 1965 to 1999, said he can't remember any students dropping out during those years. He said a 97 to 98 percent graduation rate is probably accurate.
"Everybody had to finish. It was expected," Smith said.
A New School
Ygnacio Valley High opened in 1962. That year, juniors, sophomores and freshmen from Mt. Diablo High and other nearby schools entered a shiny new campus.
One of them was Melinda McClure. She was part of the first graduating class of 1964.
She remembers an assembly the previous spring at Oak Grove Intermediate with other incoming juniors to choose the school colors and the mascot.
There weren't an overwhelming number of students that first year because there was no senior class. McClure remembers all the new facilities being state of the art and the atmosphere being top of the line.
"It was really exciting. It was fun. It was all good," said McClure.
Marcia Roseme, McClure's younger sister, was a freshman that initial year. She graduated in 1966, part of the first four-year class at Ygnacio Valley.
"It was really exciting to go to a brand new school. We all felt lucky to be able to go to this school," she said.
One of the chief reasons for the school's excellence, McClure, Roseme and other alumni remember, was the teachers.
Former students describe their instructors as young, energetic, upbeat, engaging and, most of all, good at what they did.
"The teachers were outstanding. The academics were great," said Steve Brown, a 1972 graduate who served as class president his junior year. "There was a lot of good leadership and lots of really smart, talented teachers."
"They weren't just hip and loose," added Keane. "They were progressive, hip and good."
Keane remembers one physics teacher who locked the classroom door as soon as the bell rang, forcing tardy students to come in through a back door and walk across the class to get to their desks... after he gave them permission to sit down.
"They demanded respect for what they were doing for you," said Keane, who earned a national merit scholarship while at Ygnacio.
The graduates give a lot of credit to Principal Ernie Wutzke, who oversaw the school from 1962 to 1985.
They say he hired a great staff of instructors and gave them the guidance and freedom to do their job.
"Everybody loved Dr. Wutzke. They called him Smilin' Ern," recalled Keane. "The school kind of hummed along and Ernie was the guy who made it happen."
Smith said Wutzke was selective when hiring instructors, even though the growing campus required him to hire as many as 18 new teachers in a single year.
Smith said the principal looked for teachers who were outgoing and knowledgeable in their field.
"He hired the very best. He was very cautious that way," said Smith.
Wutzke also supported teachers, Smith said, calling parents if a student gave a teacher a difficult time.
"He'd go out on a limb for you," Smith recalled.
However, Wutzke also expected top-notch performance from both teachers and students.
"He didn't like it when anybody was lagging," said Smith. "Everybody was expected to do their share."
Ygnacio Valley High's attendance boundaries were expansive then. They covered the school's current Concord neighborhoods as well as the area of Walnut Creek now served by Northgate High School.
In the early 1970s, senior classes had more than 1,000 students -- only about 200 students less than the total population at the school now.
Rows of portable classrooms were brought in to accommodate the growing student body.
"I remember it being enormously large," said Keane. "We were busting at the seams."
Ygnacio Valley was overwhelmingly white back then, but it also had a divergent socio-economic mix of students.
There were upper-income families from the Walnut Creek sector. There was a large middle-class contingent from the housing tracts near the school. And there were the lower income kids from the Monument Road corridor.
"It was like a community school. Everybody you knew went there," said Keane.
The different levels of socio-economics weren't a serious factor, former students say. There were certainly "cliques" and groups, but success at the school wasn't related to how big your house was.
Roseme's husband, Gary Roseme, lived in The Trees mobile home park on Monument, but he was sophomore class president.
"There was a healthy mix of people," remembered Marcia Roseme, "but it didn't matter because money had no bearing."
Ygnacio Valley, thanks in part to its large student population, also developed top-notch athletic teams in this early era.
Brown said he wanted to play sports, but he couldn't make the squads because the competition within the school was too tough.
"We took a lot of pride in our sports teams," he said.
Brown added students in other programs, such as music and performing arts, received recognition, too.
"Back then, everybody wanted to be at Ygnacio," said Brown.
Former students now shake their heads at what has transpired at their alma mater the past few decades.
A lot has changed -- at the school, in education and in community. And Ygnacio Valley High is not the only school in California to fall from grace. Some of its problems are mirrored at other schools across the state.
"It's hard to look at Ygnacio Valley High now," said Roseme, "and realize what it was.”
What Happened To Ygnacio Valley High School?: The Decline
By David Mills, Patch StaffMay 30, 2013 12:27 am ET | Updated May 31, 2013 1:11 am ET
This is the second of a three-part series on what has transpired at Ygnacio Valley High School in the more than 50 years since it opened.
The decline of Ygnacio Valley High School didn't happen overnight.
It was slow downhill slide with many factors, some within the school and some outside the campus boundaries.
But fall it has.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Ygnacio Valley was considered by many to be the best high school in Central Contra Costa County.
Its graduation rate is estimated by former students and teachers to have been around 98 percent in its glory years.
That has changed dramatically.
The graduation rate in now 81 percent. The dropout rate is 17 percent, the highest in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
The Concord school's API score sits at 673, almost 130 points below the state's goal of 800 for California schools.
The school now has 1,161 students. That's only slightly larger than some of the 1,000-student senior classes the school had in the early 1970s.
Ygnacio Valley isn't the only high school in the state to see this type of decline.
"There are pockets throughout California where this is happening," said Joseph Ovick, Contra Costa County's superintendent of schools.
So, the question needs to be asked. What happened to Ygnacio Valley High School?
New school opens
Perhaps the most dramatic change to hit Ygnacio Valley was the arrival in 1974 of Northgate High School.
When it opened, Northgate snared about half the student body from its Concord counterpart. More important, however, is who it took away.
The Walnut Creek school is situated three miles south of Ygnacio Valley High, against the hillsides of Shell Ridge. However, when YVHS' new attendance boundaries were drawn, the southern border followed the Walnut Creek city limits along the Contra Costa Canal. Part of that boundary is actually the property line of Ygnacio Valley.
Students from The Woodlands housing tract and other upper-income neighborhoods in that sector of Walnut Creek were not sent to Ygnacio Valley, even though they lived closer to that school than they did to Northgate.
"Northgate took away the more affluent of the Ygnacio Valley kids," said Carol Fidler-Hasse, a counselor at YVHS in the mid-1980s who lives in the Northgate attendance area. "It brought the higher socio-economic level to Northgate."
Pleasant Hill High School closed a few years after that, bringing students from the Poet's Corner region of that city to the YVHS campus.
"It was difficult for them initially," said Bruce Smith, an arts teacher at Ygnacio Valley from 1965 to 1999. "Many of the parents weren't happy that their school had closed."
On top of that, De La Salle High School grew in prominence. In the early 1970s, the Catholic high school that sits next to Ygnacio Valley wasn't highly regarded, former students say. That changed when its sports programs became successful.
"The football team put De La Salle on the map," recalled Steve Brown, a 1972 Ygnacio Valley High graduate.
That provided higher-income Ygnacio Valley High families in the Peppertree, Ygnacio Wood and other neighborhoods with a nearby alternative.
The emergence of Northgate and De La Salle started a demographic change that slowly altered the student make-up of Ygnacio Valley High.
Smith said he first noticed the shift in the early 1980s when families from war-torn Afghanistan moved into Concord. Later that decade, an influx of families from Latin America arrived.
Many of these families came to the United States with little money and little education. More importantly, they arrived speaking little or no English.
Ovick noted a language barrier is a high hurdle to overcome in education. It doesn't matter what the language or situation is. A Northgate High student attending school in Paris would have a difficult time with lessons if he or she didn't speak French.
Ovick said it can take three to four generations for families with language barriers to fully overcome that obstacle. He said it wouldn't be as difficult if foreign-born students came to the U.S. in kindergarten. However, many arrive here as they approach their teenage years.
The numbers today tell the story.
In the 2011-2012 school year, 63 percent of Ygnacio Valley High students were listed as Hispanic or Latino. Another 18 percent were categorized as white while 6 percent were listed as Asian.
At Northgate High, 67 percent of the students are white and 15 percent are Asian. Eight percent are listed as Hispanic or Latino.
The 2010 Census Bureau report shows stark differences from Ygnacio Valley High's two zip codes -- 94518 and 94521 -- compared to Northgate High's 94598.
The median annual income for the 94518 zip is $71,770. For 94521, it's $79,040. Over in the 94598 area, it's $117,229.
On the educational level, 70 percent of 94598 adults have some sort of college degree. It's 50 percent in 94518 and 47 percent in 94521.
The numbers for parents of Ygnacio Valley High students are more of a contrast. The state department of education reports that 27 percent of YVHS parents did not graduate from high school. Another 28 percent have only a high school diploma.
In addition, 69 percent of YVHS students are participants in the free or reduced-priced lunch program.
"It's not the staff. It's not the school. It's the demographics. It's socio-economics," said Fidler-Hasse.
Ygnacio Valley High School principal Sue Brothers said these language and economic barriers are the main reasons for her school's high dropout rate.
"High school can be overwhelming to kids," she said. "They come in with low academic skills and don't see any advantages to graduating."
Making that job more difficult for Brothers and other educators is the financial constraints schools have been placed under the past three decades.
Proposition 13 was approved in 1978. It cut property tax rates by 57 percent across the state. Property taxes were the chief revenue source for schools then. Their budgets were slashed when the initiative took effect in 1979.
"It was hard on everybody's budget. It affected everybody," said Smith.
Smith said teachers were laid off in the years after Prop. 13 and his classes grew from 23 to 28 and then to 32 students.
Families from upper income areas solved part of the problem by approving local parcel taxes or simply writing checks to their schools. Places like Ygnacio Valley High don't get that kind of support.
"Proposition 13 screwed all the schools, but it had a bigger effect on schools like Ygnacio Valley," said Fidler-Hasse.
In 1988, Proposition 98 was approved, guaranteeing minimum revenues for schools. However, the state budget crisis of the past decade has eaten into that funding.
Brown, who coached at Bishop O'Dowd High from 1986 to 2010, said he noticed the decline as he visited campuses with his cross country teams.
"I've seen the deterioration with my own eyes," he said. "It's sad. They don't have the money to do simple maintenance."
Brothers said Ygnacio Valley High has classrooms with as many as 37 students because there aren't enough teachers. There's no money for field trips, new technology or adequate sports programs.
"Right now, we don't have enough to cover the basics," she said. "We're trying not to spend money on things that aren't mission critical."
As the financial and demographic changes hit Ygnacio Valley, the school also lost its leader.
Ernie Wutzke, who was principal at YVHS at its founding in 1962, left his position in 1985. He spent one year in the Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools office before retiring.
Fidler-Hasse remembers arriving as a counselor at the school the year after Wutzke left.
"The staff was in mourning," she said. "They were in culture shock."
Wutzke, who died in April at the age of 86, was credited with hiring a top-notch teaching staff and setting high standards while keeping an upbeat atmosphere on campus.
Smith said future principals put forth an effort, but they simply couldn't match what Wutzke had done.
"Ernie was a tough act to follow," Smith said.
Smith retired in 1999, still enjoying his students and his profession but worn out from riding the downhill slide at Ygnacio Valley.
"I was glad to get out of there," he said.
This past September, Brothers arrived as principal, determined to change the course. She has instituted new programs, designed specifically to help Ygnacio Valley High's current students succeed.
"Our job is to make sure demographics isn't destiny," she said.
What Happened To Ygnacio Valley High School?: The Programs Today
By David Mills, Patch StaffMay 31, 2013 12:56 am ET
This is the third in a three-part series on what has transpired at Ygnacio Valley High School since it opened more than 50 years ago.
Ygnacio Valley High School. Principal Sue Brothers describes a high school student's journey to college as traveling down a winding river with many banks and curves.
"Families that have been there before know what's around the bend," she said. "Families that haven't been there don't know what's ahead."
It's one of the philosophies Brothers and the other educators at Ygnacio Valley High employ as they try to lead their students down a successful path.
Those strategies are wrapped in a number of programs designed specifically for the needs of Ygnacio Valley students.
One is a four-year program that tracks promising students whose families have no college history.
There's also an after-school homework center as well as in-house academies that guide teens toward careers in the health and education fields.
The graduation rate at the Concord school is 81 percent. Its 17 percent dropout rate is the highest in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
The 1,161-student school is listed as 63 percent Hispanic or Latino, many of them not fully proficient in English. Almost 70 percent participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program.
State figures show 27 percent of Ygnacio Valley parents didn't graduate from high school. Another 28 percent graduated but didn't attend college.
"An 80 percent graduation rate is not acceptable," said Brothers. "We've got to turn this around. Kids are at risk."
One of the prominent programs on campus designed to change the course is the Puente Program.
Puente, headquartered at U.C. Berkeley, recruits students from local intermediate schools and then tracks them all four years of high school.
The program is part of their English classes. Every student in that particular class is a Puente participant.
The program is only two years old at Ygnacio. There were 63 freshmen and sophomores enrolled this year. In two years, there'll be students at every grade level participating.
The students are all "first generation" college hopefuls. Some may have siblings who attended college, but none of their parents or grandparents went to higher learning institutes.
Four times a year, the students' parents come to Puente meetings, so they know what their children need to do.
"We educate the parents as well, so they can support the students," said Socorro Lomas, the school's student services coorindator.
Four of this year's Puente freshmen are Luis Delfia, Irais Velazquez, Leilani Flores and Daniel Rivas.
All of them will be enrolled in classes such as chemistry and French as sophomores. They'll also be taking the PSAT next year.
They've learned in the Puente program what they need to do every year they are in high school in order to get into a good college after they graduate. The four freshmen all said the program has made them more organized and kept them on track.
They also have gained motivation by taking field trips to colleges, where they've toured the campuses and talked to students and professors.
"I learned more about what college is like," said Rivas.
The 15-year-old Concord youth isn't sure yet what he wants to study, but he knows why he wants to go to college.
"I want to get a high-paying job, a job that I like," he said.
His 14-year-old classmates have similar goals.
Delfia would like to study criminal justice. Flores has dreams of going to medical school, perhaps to be a pediatrician. Velazquez would like to go into either medicine or criminal justice.
The four teens, like the others in Puente, are now role models, too. They talk to their younger siblings and even cousins about college. They tell their high school friends about the importance of staying in school.
"My parents expect me to be successful," said Delfia, "and I don't want to let them down. Not after the hard work they've done."
In its two short years, Puente already has some success stories. Puente instructor Kara Yu said 90 percent of the program's 10th graders passed the English Language Arts section of the California high school exit exam this past year. On the math portion, 100 percent passed.
"We are so excited and so proud of them," said Yu.
Ygnacio Valley High, however, doesn't stop at the Puente Program.
The school also has health science and education academies. Each program has 150 students who enter the process as sophomores. Their courses emphasize learning in either health or education. The goal is to eventually get them jobs with a minimum of college or vocational training.
This program has been operating for 12 years and students must apply to get in.
Ygnacio Valley also operates an after-school program called CARES that provides tutoring on campus as well as a homework center from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday. At the center, there's also activities and the students are given a snack and even a light dinner.
This program is designed for teens who have no one else at home in the afternoon or whose home life is so disruptive they can't get their school work done.
"Sometimes, this is the safest place for them to be," said Brothers.
A marriage and family therapist is on campus two days a week. Brothers is looking for funding to have the counselor available five days a week.
Despite the programs, Ygnacio Valley students still face many potential pitfalls.
Brothers said students drop out of high school for a number of reasons, many accumulating over time.
"Dropping out is not an event. It's a process," she said.
Among the reasons are students arriving at Ygnacio Valley with low skills and past failure in school. Poverty is another factor. So is language. Half of the school's Hispanic students come from another country.
These students enter high school and see a big mountain to climb.
Brothers said the shrinking of the middle class has eliminated an opportunity. It used to be lower income students just needed to climb one rung to reach a solid middle-class job such as an electrician. A high school diploma may no longer get them there. They may need to climb two or three rungs.
"They'll look at what it'll take to graduate from high school," said Brothers. "They'll see they have to do all this work and they wonder what it's going to get them."
Some sophomores and juniors are lured out of school and into the workplace by a job that pays slightly above minimum wage.
"Ten dollars an hour at their age seems like a lot of money," said Brothers. "We try to show them that ten dollars an hour will get them a shared studio apartment and a bicycle."
A Brighter Future
When she arrived, Brothers also formed teacher teams that get together to discuss curriculum and teaching methods.
The principal also analyzes data to make sure what educators are doing with their precious time is actually effective. One of the focuses now is the freshmen failure rate.
"We can't let these kids fall behind. They get easily discouraged," said Brothers.
This summer, the school is using Measure C money to rebuild the 100 wing into a more modern science center. It'll have labs and lecture halls.
Measure C money is also being used to refurbish a building near the gymnasium. That new facility will house an athletic training room for sports medicine students, a weight room and a ceramics classroom with an outside kiln.
Brothers said the new structures help facilitate learning and increase school pride. All part of the chief goal at Ygnacio Valley High these days -- keeping kids in school.
"I'm really thrilled with what we're going to be able to do," she said.