PITTSBURG -- Marnea is looking forward to attending a school with features that most students take for granted: a brick-and-mortar building and a basketball court that's not in the parking lot.
"This doesn't seem like a real school to me. This isn't a building," said the 15-year-old sophomore whose last name is not being used to protect her privacy, as she sat in a portable classroom at the Pittsburg branch of the Golden Gate Community School.
Community schools serve expelled high school and middle school students barred from attending schools in their home district. Other students are there because of attendance problems, a referral by a probation officer who wants them in a more structured educational environment or as a result of a parental request. Forty students are currently enrolled in the Pittsburg location, which is run by the Contra Costa County Office of Education.
Marnea said she will be glad to go to a "school that's not embarrassing" when the new community school opens Feb. 26.
The goal of community schools is to get students back on track by improving their academic and social skills so they can return to a school in their home district and continue their education, said Lynn Mackey, director of court and community schools with the county education office.
"Our mission is to help them with academics and bring their skills up," Mackey said. "There are two adults to every class, so it's a really small setting.
The Pittsburg branch is one of four community schools in Contra Costa County, including a leased storefront in Rodeo, portable classrooms in Martinez, and a brick-and-mortar school in Brentwood that opened in 2008 to replace a leased storefront school using the same source of funds from the state bond measure that built the new Pittsburg campus.
The new Pittsburg campus on Stoneman Avenue is a contemporary one-story brick building with four state-of-the art classrooms that are bright, airy and spacious, along with offices for two classroom teachers, two instructional assistants and an independent study teacher. Landscaping will be done soon and a bike rack is in front of the school. There is an open-air atrium that looks out onto a basketball court not in a parking lot.
"I think it's a drastic difference. It think it's better for the kids. It creates more of a comprehensive school environment. Hopefully, it will make the kids act in a way that might be more professional, " teacher Douglas Corbin said.
The school teaches a basic curriculum that meets high school and middle school requirements, along with astrobiology classes taught by Corbin.
"I'm sure there will be some sense of pride that they will be the first students in the new school," said Andrew Keel, an instructional assistant in Corbin's classroom.
The $2.65 million project was built with funds from a voter-approved statewide bond measure for school construction. The project was done in a partnership with Pittsburg Unified, which owns the land and leases it to the county education office.
The school is next to Pittsburg Unified's Black Diamond High School, an alternative school for students who have not been successful in a traditional school setting because of attendance, behavioral and/or academic achievement problems. To keep students from the two schools apart, class schedules for Black Diamond and the community school have been staggered, Mackey said.
Over the last decade, the Pittsburg community school has been moved to three different locations, most recently at the site of the old alternative high school that closed when Black Diamond opened last year.
"We won't be moved around anymore. It will be a permanent spot," she said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.