Mt. Diablo Unified School District currently enrolls over 32,000 students from a territory that covers approximately 150 sq miles, including all of Concord, Clayton, and Pleasant Hill, as well as incorporated and unincorporated portions of Walnut Creek, Pittsburg, Lafayette, Martinez, Bay Point, Clyde, and Pacheco.
Most school districts in Contra Costa County are approximately 1/10th the size of MDUSD. (The two other large districts are West Contra Costa USD and San Ramon Valley USD.) How did MDUSD get to be so big that it now serves so many students in 10 different communities?
The origins of our school district date back to 1901, when various Diablo Valley communities supported their own grammar schools, while others did not offer any public school options at all. Grammar schools offering education up to 6th or 8th grade tended to be independently operated and funded with a combination of local assessments, donations, and student fees. At that time, there were few high schools in small towns and rural areas, and completion of 8th grade was a notable achievement. (It wasn’t until 1940s that the majority of adults in the U.S. had a high school education.) At the beginning of the 1900s, the nearest high schools were in Berkeley and Oakland, and given the slow transportation at the time, most students from the Diablo Valley could not commute to high school classes. Instead, they would typically have had to find room and board close to those high schools during the school week.
In 1901, the community leaders in Concord, CA, with voter approval, founded the Mt. Diablo Union High School District, which assumed responsibility for the town’s public grammar schools and also had, as an important goal, the building of a public high school for the Town of Concord. Voters approved construction of a high school in 1903, and Mt. Diablo High School was completed in 1904. (After additional construction added to the campus over the years, the original school building was demolished in 1963. New construction continued through 1964.) Over the following decades, Concord’s Mt. Diablo Union High School district assumed responsibility for other small grammar schools in the rural areas adjacent to the City. (At the time, the smaller town of Walnut Creek had fewer than 500 residents and supported its own grammar school. It was not incorporated until 1914, nine years after Concord.)
In 1948, Mt. Diablo Unified School District was formed to assume responsibility for all of the grammar schools in Concord, as well as in the surrounding rural areas, and to provide those areas with additional high school facilities. At that time, most of the Diablo Valley was farmland, with very few students living outside the small towns. Postwar education policies favored consolidation of small school districts into large districts that, it was thought, would operate more efficiently. Those policies mirrored trends in the postwar economy, in which manufacturing and service companies merged into ever larger corporate conglomerates, in the belief that “larger” always meant “more efficient”.
Over time, MDUSD assumed control over all K-12 public schools between the communities of Walnut Creek on the south, Martinez on the northwest, Pittsburg to the east, and the Delta to the north. At that time, the agricultural Ygnacio Valley area now known as Northgate had few residents, and Walnut Creek had no plans to expand its city boundaries in that area. Only with the suburbanization that began in the late 1950s and accelerated in the 1960s with BART construction and the opening of the local Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations in 1973, did the Northgate area fill in with houses containing thousands of new families and students. By that time, school boundaries were firmly set throughout California, and the State resisted any boundary changes that did not promote consolidation into larger districts.
So in one sense, students in Northgate today attend a descendant of the original Concord school district, which grew to cover our entire area. Today, MDUSD is approximately the 25th largest school district in California (#25-28 are all similar in size), with over 32,000 students, +3,000 employees, 30 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, 5 high schools, 2 adult education centers, and assorted other instructional facilities, as well as an annual budget of more than $350 million.