West Contra Costa schools Superintendent Bruce Harter withdrew a decision to close Vista High School in Richmond on Thursday morning after listening to a group of angry speakers and their supporters at the district's board meeting Wednesday night.
The original decision, announced to the school's faculty and staff by a district official April 4, would have closed the independent studies campus on Bernard Street and transferred its students and teachers to the district's six traditional high schools.
Vista faculty members and students were furious that neither they nor the public were consulted about the move, said teacher Cheryl Patterson.
"If we are split up with one teacher at each high school, it will destroy the collaborative process," Patterson told the board. "Don't split us apart, support us where we are. There's bond money set aside for Vista High."
Vista senior Daniela Saavedra, of Richmond, said the school's independent study program has allowed her to stay in school during her pregnancy.
"I wouldn't be graduating if it wasn't for Vista," she said.
Sandra Falk, executive director of the school supervisors union, also urged the board not to throw students back into the large high school situation where she said they had not succeeded before.
She predicted many of the students would leave the district rather than return to traditional high school, potentially costing the district up to $1.5 million in state funding.
"Some of the students were subjected to bullying (on the regular campus), and many cannot socialize at a regular school," Falk said.
Board President Charles Ramsey said he had been unaware of the closure decision when he arrived at the meeting and was impressed by the turnout and shocked at the level of anger.
"It was a process that really hadn't been discussed, and we got the message," Ramsey said Thursday. "The school will continue to operate. They made their point loud and clear. That's why we have public meetings."
The board voted Wednesday to eliminate about 25 noncertificated positions, including 13 positions with the district's after-school programs. An office manager job at Vista was spared pending a final decision about the campus.
"After-school programs are grant-driven, and one of our major grants has expired," Ramsey said. "Even if we get a replacement grant, it probably won't cover all the positions."
The board also heard a presentation from the administration of its charter high school, Leadership Public Schools, which is applying to renew its charter to operate for five more years.
The school's students are mostly African-American and Latino, said Louise Waters, CEO of Leadership, which operates four charters in the Bay Area.
Leadership's Richmond campus was the second-highest performing school in Northern California among schools with the same racial makeup, with an average score of 753 this year on the California Academic Performance Index, Waters said.
Leadership, which will eventually share a new $55 million campus with Gompers Continuation High School, plans to expand its program to include seventh- and eighth-graders.
The new campus will boost the charter's instruction program in high school laboratory science and increase its access to new technology, the twin pillars of its program, Waters said.
"We get exposure to what college is like with a full array of AP courses," said Leadership senior Claudia Reyes, who will be attending UC Davis in the fall. "More attention is invested in individuals (at the school)."
Ramsey, whose pet project is a local alliance with Ivy League colleges and other private schools in the East, left little doubt about his attitude.
"We wouldn't be investing $55 million in combination with Gompers to not approve" the charter, he said.
The board will take up the renewal application again next month.
The board also agreed to another round of general obligation bond refinancing of up to $140 million to take advantage of lower interest rates.
"We could save taxpayers $7 million in present value and much more long term," Ramsey said.