Build it and they will come.
That seems to have been the philosophy in the last three years since Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon opened its state-of-the-art campus on Albion Road.
With its third year under way, Dougherty Valley has grown from 500 students to 1,500, and currently is enjoying its first year with all four grade levels. The school will be graduating its first senior class at the end of this academic year.
The class of 2010 started out as sophomores when the school opened, but the 238 seniors slated to wear caps and gowns this spring have been paving the way for future DVHS graduates.
"It's a smaller class, but personally I think they've done an extraordinary job in creating traditions and taking ownership," said Principal Denise Hibbard.
Creating traditions, on the surface, may not seem daunting. But Dougherty Valley is the first new high school to open in the district during the last 30-some years.
The school's construction was unique in that it was entirely developer funded and built. The developers, Windemere BLC and Shapell Industries of Northern California, agreed to fund the school's construction in lieu of paying developer fees, explained Terry Koehne, director of community relations for San Ramon Valley Unified School District. The agreement with the two developers has produced eight new school constructions within the SRVUSD: five elementary schools, two middle schools and Dougherty Valley.
DVHS has cashed in on the unusual developer-funded agreement, one of the first of its type in California.
"It really is the crown jewel," Koehne said, adding that the campus was "open, spacious, had the latest technology and state-of-the-art athletic stadium and facility."
As a new school, everything about DVHS had to be created from scratch. For Hibbard, it's been challenging.
"How do you create culture, create opportunity to ensure students become leaders on campus? They don't have senior or upperclassmen to model. That was something we were constantly trying to explore," Hibbard said.
It's the little things often taken for granted that presented a challenge - what traditions should be created - Hibbard explained. "What does homecoming look like when there's no one coming home, what do rallies look like?"
Hibbard credits the students for stepping up to the plate and meeting the challenge head on.
"Typically, you see seniors or upperclassmen running club meetings, but in our case, our freshmen and sophomores were running clubs," Hibbard said.
When the school opened in August 2007, only about 500 freshman and sophomore students walked the halls on the 54-acre campus. Fewer than 100 students transferred from existing high schools and the remaining mostly came from Windemere Ranch Middle School. Their success was due in part to teacher and parent support, Hibbard noted. "There was a lot of patience and modeling by adults."
Unlike other areas beaten by economic hardships, Dougherty Valley has continued to experience growth, albeit on a slower pace. Nevertheless, the school has faced strife due to the flagging economy.
"Because this is new high school, our hired staff's seniority is pretty low," Hibbard said. A recent major challenge has been "pink slips," potential lay-off notices. "It's one of those things where we don't know what we know until the budget comes out and we see the numbers."
Last year, the school faced a large possible lay-off scenario with 60 percent of staffing receiving pink slips. The lifeline turned out to be the parcel tax, Hibbard said, adding that "the parcel tax meant stability for the students, parents and staff."
The school is also special due to its ethnic diversity.
"It's reflective of the real world," Hibbard said.
The demographics cross the board. Twenty-one percent of the student population is of Chinese descent, 30 percent Caucasian, 13 percent Asian Indian, and several other groups are 7 percent each.
The demographics are also reflected in the school's programs. In addition to Spanish and French, DVHS offers Mandarin as a foreign language option.
The students have also responded to rigorous academic courses in mathematics and science, Hibbard said.
"We have parents with strong science and math backgrounds," she said, adding that they have a lot of students eager to take multiple science and math courses.
High school graduation and college requirements include two sciences and two maths, but Hibbard said they've noticed a number of students were taking four of each. "We're noticing these kids want to learn, and these are two areas that intrigue them."
The school's academic rigor is showing. Its current API (Academic Performance Index) score is 905, up from 891 last year. Administered by the California Department of Education, the API measures academic performance and growth. The statewide performance target for California schools is 800. DVHS' API score is ranked among the top 10 percent of all high schools in California, Hibbard said - 27th overall in the state.
The future for DVHS will not only mean maintaining its high standards and freshly minted traditions, it will also include meeting the needs of a growing student population.
"We're supposed to grow," Hibbard said. "Eventually we'll have over 2,000 students. A challenge will be continuing to find staff members who are innovative and creative and engaging, while attracting high-quality teachers."
In the meantime, Hibbard has graduation to look toward, sending 238 seniors off to meet the world.
The last three years have been a process, she said, and she's proud of the seniors.
"They came as sophomores," she reminisced. "They packed up and came here and they have made the best of opportunities available to them. I think they'll always have this experience."