CCCOE History






schoolIn today's fast-paced school day, where students learn through digital media streaming and computerized lessons, it is a challenge to imagine what education was like 150 years ago.

The Good Old Days?

In 1852, when L.H. Hastings, the first Superintendent of Common Schools, was assigned to Contra Costa County, 25 students traveled (on horseback or by foot) to a one-room schoolhouse in Martinez -— the only school in the county. At that time, Contra Costa County encompassed a larger space than today, including parts of Alameda County, which branched off on its own in 1853.

Students wrote their lessons out on slates (small chalkboards), and when those weren’t available, they wrote on their hands.

There was no heat, running water or indoor plumbing. Students were required to perform chores and recess was spent feeding horses, chopping wood and mopping floors. As if that weren’t payment enough, they were charged a fee to attend classes.

It wasn’t until John Swett became California’s first Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1863 that public schools became free institutions. Also during his term, Superintendent Swett created a state board of education, organized schools into grades, created school libraries and provided for the certification of teachers. Swett was appalled by low teacher wages and lack of professional training for teachers. In response, he helped increase the average teacher salary to a lofty $60 a year and created teacher training institutions.



The Evolution of County Schools

More schools started popping up in Contra Costa County in the late 1860s, most of them poorly constructed one- or two-room schoolhouses. Keeping the schools in shape to handle the growing population and acquiring quality teachers at such low pay proved to be as much of a challenge then as it is today.

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s the basic foundation of Contra Costa County’s educational system was laid out -— scattered school districts were consolidated, the first high school was established (in Martinez, 1888) and eventually middle schools were added (the first was Roosevelt in Richmond in 1924).

The opening of the Caldecott Tunnel in 1937 launched a population boom in Contra Costa County, requiring the establishment of numerous additional schools. This massive population expansion led to additional strain on the already overburdened and underpaid county superintendent of schools and school board (the sole overseers of the entire county school system).


   County Office of Education Roots


Establishment of a centralized office of education began in 1904 at the insistence of Superintendent A.A. Bailey. Bailey rallied for a larger staff of deputies, attendance officers and supervisors to help manage the county’s schools. It wasn’t until 1932, when Superintendent B.O. Wilson took office that the County Department of Education (predecessor to the County Office of Education) was officially established. In 1981, the County Office of Education split from its affiliation with the County and became the independent agency we’re familiar with today.

The Board of Education, as we presently know it, was organized in 1956. For nearly 100 years prior, the Board consisted of the County Superintendent and three teachers, who examined and issued teacher certificates. In 1956, the California Legislature created an elected seven-member board comprised of members of the public rather than professional teachers, allowing for more streamlined communication between the public and educational community.

In 1992, the electorate of Contra Costa County voted to decrease the number of trustees on the CCC Board of Education from seven to five.

How Far We’ve Come


The Contra Costa County Office of Education has extensively expanded its services throughout the past 150 years. The Office has grown from a small group overseeing a handful of schools to an all-encompassing organization responsible for maintaining the highest educational quality of various programs, schools, districts and sites. 
The 1980s were an especially busy time at the County Office. By 1980, ROP had been in existence for seven years, and CCCOE was rapidly adding new programs such as the State WorkAbility Program.

In January of 1980, CCCOE’s Alternative Education department established the Community Schools Program, which was renamed Golden Gate Community School in 1997. The department had several programs at different facilities in existence
at the time, including the Byron Boys Ranch and several Juvenile Hall programs. These were renamed Delta Vista High School, Mt. McKinley School and the Contra Costa Adult Schools in the 1990s.

Special Education received a boost in the 1980s with two new facilities. In 1984, a new building was constructed adjacent to the Valley School in Alamo; the facility was renamed the Lucille Glass Mauzy Special Center. In May of 1985, the Marchus School opened in Concord.

The agency consolidated its services in May of 1987, moving several scattered departments under one roof, into the newly constructed main office building on Santa Barbara Road. At the same time the current, more modern logo was unveiled.


Poised for the Future


One hundred fifty years ago, Contra Costa’s educational system consisted of one superintendent, 25 students and two teachers. Now, more than 160,000 students and 8,000 teachers are spread throughout 18 districts, each with an elected local governing board, and its own district superintendent. Supporting them all is the County Superintendent of Schools and 700 COE educators and support staff. This dedicated team provides a multitude of services including: special and alternative education, supplemental programs, budgetary oversight, technical assistance and Internet access. An integral part of the county’s educational system, the County Office of Education is well positioned to handle the challenges of the future.


Contra Costa Schools, 1865-1940, Fontaine Harrington, 1953

County Office of Education, A Historical Perspective, Trustee Alice Johnson, 1978

Contra Costa County Board of Education, A Century of Public Education, written by Fontaine Weitzel and published by the Contra Costa County Office of Education, 1966

Early Vision of Semple, Swett Realized in Broad, Firm Educational System, Museum of the City of San Francisco, Will C. Wood, 1927

Special thanks to Laura Huerta, former Clerk to the Board



  • Top: Green Valley School, Danville's one-room schoolhouse, 1913. Courtesy Green Valley School

    The Good Old Days?

  • Students on Contra Costa County school steps, late 1800s. Contra Costa County Historical Society
  • John Swett, California's first Superintendent of Public Instruction

    The Evolution of County Schools

  • Crockett Schoolroom, 1899. Contra Costa County Historical Society
  • Liberty Union High School, Brentwood, 1920. Contra Costa County Historical Society

    County Office of Education Roots

  • Student looking back on the past through a laptop computer

    How Far We've Come

  • ROP Desktop Publishing Class

    Poised for the Future

  • Dr. Ovick with a student
  • Dr. Ovick reads to a classroom on Dr. Seuss' birthday, March 2002
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