A Promise With A Purpose

 In Board Profiles, Stories

Whether as WCCUSD Superintendent or Richmond Promise Board Member, Dr. Chris Hurst is driven to support Richmond youth in any way he can.

Over the last seven years, Richmond Promise has provided resources and support to thousands of college students from Richmond. That work has benefited from the support of many community partners, but none have been more dedicated to the organization’s success than Richmond Promise’s Board of Directors. We are pleased to introduce you to this passionate and dedicated group with a series of profiles that highlight their work and showcase their commitment to young people in Richmond.

Joining the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) came with a purpose for Superintendent Dr. Kenneth “Chris” Hurst.

In early 2021, Hurst and his wife, Crystal, considered the next move for their family as he served as superintendent of the Othello School District in Central Washington. He’d held the position for five years, a period in which the district’s graduation rates rose 16 percent and absences decreased by 33 percent.

Even with that success, a move home to California held a certain gravitational pull. Prior to moving to Washington, he served as Associate Superintendent of Educational Services for the Oceanside Unified School District just northwest of San Diego. He worked in both the San Diego Unified and Poway Unified school districts, and before becoming an educator served 12 years in the Marines with Camp Pendleton as his primary base.

But, geography alone wasn’t going to be enough to make a move. Hurst sought a community that was invested in providing a better future for children and that would give him a chance to provide the sort of bold leadership that could make a lasting difference.

In West Contra Costa, the Hursts found what they were looking for.

“We were specifically looking to serve a community and have a greater impact,” Hurst said. “For me, it’s always been about making students’ lives better, helping the most students achieve their goals, and urban area impact has always been a key focus of mine.”

Since taking the job, Hurst has done everything possible to be present in the community outside of the operational demands of his day job. 

He serves on multiple boards, is a member of the Richmond Rotary Club, and attends as many events as he can while serving over 30,000 students.

So if it seems like he’s always on the run, rest assured that it has a purpose.

“It’s really important that people can see me outside of just being in this building and as the superintendent. They need to see me making connections with the community,” Hurst said. “People here are family and they can spot a fake in a second. It’s important for me to go to as many barbeques, as many outings, as many rotary club luncheons, as many board meetings with the Richmond Promise as possible. 

It’s grueling, but it lends itself to (people saying) ‘OK, we can believe this guy. He’s talking about this vision but we’ve had a chance to really talk to him personally and now we sort of know this guy and we’re trusting him.’”

If the schedule is so hectic, why make time for an organization like Richmond Promise?

Hurst knows firsthand the impact that Promise programs can have. 

As Associate Superintendent in Oceanside, he supervised the implementation of the Oceanside Promise and helped establish the Oceanside Promise Foudnation, a 501(c)(3) that serves students in much the same way as Richmond Promise.

“There’s a commitment to our kids, and there’s a promise to our community, especially the Richmond community,” Hurst said. “I’ve actually taken it beyond that, and I believe that the Richmond Promise does this as well, (to say) that we’re not only committed to securing resources but that we’re preparing kids for college readiness, career readiness, and that they’re able to compete with students across the globe. That’s the measure right now. How do we make sure our students have the skills when they graduate from high school to compete with anybody else?”

Richmond Promise’s model of providing college access resources in the classroom means that partnerships with teachers are critical. 

Hurst sees those partnerships as hugely beneficial to WCCUSD students. He is working with the WCCUSD School Board to implement a complex organizational change matrix that includes a need for increased resources.

Organizations like Richmond Promise help the WCCUSD narrow that resource gap, a fact that Hurst says helps not only provide access to scholarships and opportunities to go to college but also helps build a growth mindset within the district.

“People here in Richmond invest in each other and they invest in the kids here. They believe in all the organizations that are partners with us in helping to support our vision, our mission and our students,” Hurst said. “Our teachers that have been here for a long period of time, and those people who are considered ‘outsiders’ that are coming to understand the Richmond way or the West Contra Costa way, this is what we do. We believe in our kids. And we have these partners who believe in our kids. We’re all going to work together.”

From a community perspective, it also didn’t take Hurst long to understand that despite its size, Richmond functions like a small town in many ways. 

That’s especially true in the WCCUSD, which has many families with longtime roots in the region and plenty of employees with deep ties to the community they serve.

“We’re not perfect, but one thing I can say is our teachers coalesce around our partners and anyone who wants to contribute to the success of our students,” Hurst said. “ We do operate like a small, rural community. Everybody knows everybody’s business and our business is really that we want to be about our kids. 

“And we’re going to welcome people who want to be about our kids.”

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