Aspire Schools in Richmond: A Home of their Own

April 7, 2016

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What does success look like for a charter public school in Richmond, California? For starters, it means having a new, modern school site in which to learn. Add to the equation a site that accommodates two schools focused on academic performance for underserved students, and you have a recipe for success.

Aspire Richmond Technology Academy and Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory High School are charter public schools that share one campus located on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay. The new campus opened in fall 2015 with a configuration that enables nearly 400 Richmond students to get a quality education. More than 1,300 students applied to attend, but 800 still remain on a waiting list.

Finding a location for a school in a socioeconomically challenged city like Richmond is no easy task. Richmond is nestled within a ring of five major oil refineries, three chemical companies, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, plus a port that supplies tankers. In addition to the environmental pollution, the median income in Richmond is just $54,012 and about 13.4% of families and 16.2% of the population live below the poverty line.

"For years, families traveled out of West Contra Costa Unified School District to attend an Aspire school to get a quality education. We're excited to expand opportunities in Richmond to allow students to get the same college-going, K-12 education in their own community," said Kimi Kean, Aspire Public Schools Area Superintendent - Bay Area. "With a technology focus offered at both schools, local students also gain hands-on experience to develop skills needed to be successful in college and beyond."

The elementary school is a new school while the already-established high school is now in a new home. The high-achieving Richmond Cal Prep had been previously located in Berkeley. This year, the schools are serving grades K-5 and 8-12 respectively. Grades 6-7 will be added in the 2016-17 school year.

Eventually, Aspire hopes to grow in Richmond to offer a K-5 elementary school serving 312 students and a 6-12 middle and high school serving 420 students. Both schools have a technology focus. Aspire Richmond Technology Academy offers Aspire's successful blended-learning program, which means a portion of a student's work is completed while gaining exposure to cutting-edge technology and working independently under the supervision of a highly-effective teacher. Blended learning has already produced early successes for teachers and students at Aspire schools by allowing teachers to personalize instruction and spend more one-on-one time with students.

Elementary school students also take part in CODE Aspire, a program that supports students' development in logical reasoning, creativity and tech fluency through computer coding. "It is a dream come true to have a new K-5 school in Richmond," said Arlena Ford, Aspire Richmond Technology Academy principal. "We are pleased to offer Aspire's rigorous instructional model combined with our innovative technology programs to ensure every student is prepared to earn a college degree."

Richmond Cal Prep builds on a decade-long partnership with the neighboring University of California, Berkeley, which includes mentoring, faculty support as well as exposure to college classes and college life through events like College Week.

The high school is one of the highest performing schools in the East Bay region: - One hundred percent of Aspire high school graduates were accepted to a four-year college - Aspire students are nearly three times as likely than their peers, statewide, to graduate meeting the requirements needed to apply to a UC or CSU

At Richmond Cal Prep, students also have access one-to-one on laptops, allowing Aspire to pilot project-based learning for the eighth and ninth grades. "Aspire has been a partner with the Richmond community even before the first day of school," said Shahad Wright, father of an incoming kindergarten student at Aspire Richmond Technology Academy. "The school leaders have thoughtfully worked with parents and the community when creating the technology-focused curriculum offered at the Richmond schools. As a parent, I'm thrilled to know my child attends a school with dedicated individuals who truly believe he can go and will succeed in college."

Founded in 1998, Aspire is one of the nation's first and largest open-enrollment charter public school systems in the US, serving predominantly low-income students, delivering a rigorous College for Certain education to students in grades K-12. An unrelenting focus on college preparedness led to 100 percent of graduating Aspire seniors being accepted to four-year colleges or universities over the last six years. Aspire's mission is to open and operate small, high-quality charter schools in low-income neighborhoods, in order to increase the academic performance of underserved students, develop effective educators, share successful practices with other forward-thinking educators, and to catalyze change in public schools.


Aspire Richmond's campus houses Richmond Technology Academy & Richmond College Preparatory High School on one campus.