Richmond Community High School (RCHS) is a college preparatory alternative high school with an enrollment of approximately 250 students in grades 9-12 within the Richmond Public Schools. Enrollment is open to all public, private and home schooled children who reside in the city. The school is currently housed in the historic J. A. C. Chandler building located at 201 East Brookland Park Boulevard on the city’s north side. RCHS was initiated by the late Andrew J. Asch, Jr., who envisioned a public-private partnership that would provide outstanding education for gifted students whose socio-economic circumstances limited their ability to succeed. Mr. Asch provided leadership as well as giving and garnering financial support to begin the school.
Through a special admission process, students are selected to attend RCHS on the basis of a rated personal interview and performance on tests which examine their creative and general academic ability. According to the principles on which the school was founded, 60 to 75 percent of the admission spaces for incoming freshmen are designated for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Academically gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds have tremendous talents that often remain unrealized. These young people have many strikes against them. They have great potential but society does not expect them to succeed, they have great strength of character but few acceptable leadership models. They have keen minds but frequently do not excel on traditional standardized tests. Their parents, while committed to their children’s education, may not understand the kind of education required for mainstream achievement.
In addition, families and school systems often are not prepared to compete with an environment that sometimes ridicules academic success. To be gifted, young and African-American can mean walking a tightrope between education and the streets. These students face the challenge – whether their minds of their environment will dominate. One young Richmond Community High student noted, “First I had to fight to be gifted . . . then I had to fight because I was gifted.
In the final analysis, successful students are formed not so much by where they come from but by where they believe they are headed. Richmond Community High School helps to shape that vision.
Richmond Community High School is the only public secondary school in Virginia, and one of few in the nation, that targets academically gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nearly 60 percent of the school’s 240 plus students come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and the majority are African-American. The remaining 40 percent come from middle-class families to create a diverse student body whose members learn from each other’s experiences and views. Since the school began in 1977, it has graduated over 1600 students, most of who otherwise might not have had the chance for reaching their potential and been afforded the opportunity to attend college.
Richmond Community High School actively seeks to enroll students from disadvantaged situations, not only those identified as gifted students but also those whose potential has not been recognized. The principal, counselor and faculty work closely with middle school teachers and counselors from ALL middle school in the Richmond Public Schools System. Students from RCHS often participate in recruitment trips to explain, encourage, and demystify the program. Applicants take a variety of tests, some specially designed to assess the potential of culturally diverse students. Students apply and undergo a round of interviews with teachers, administrators, and students. More than 400 Richmond students, including home-schooled and those from private schools, compete annually for the 60-75 spaces in the entering class at RCHS.
RCHS differs from the “Open” and “Governor’s” schools. Open High School, like RCHS, is an alternative school. However, Open High does not focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and its curriculum and school life are not structured for the students RCHS serves. Governor’s schools also are alternative schools that serve gifted students. They often focus on a particular academic area, but they seldom consider socio-economic background in their selection of students. Also, they draw their students from a wider regional geographic area.
RCHS consistently has produced the highest achievement in its students. Since the inception of RCHS, 100 percent of the RCHS students have been accepted by distinguished institutions of higher education, including Ivy League schools, prestigious engineering and technical universities, and the armed forces academies. Ninety-nine percent have attended college. Each year, the graduating class of roughly 45 students is awarded between 2 million and 3.5 million dollars in financial assistance. Richmond Community High School has received important recognition from around the nation:
- The Carnegie Foundation selected RCHS as one of 200 high schools in the nation that promote excellence in education.
- Kappa Delta Pi, a national honorary fraternity, listed RCHS in it “Report of the Good School Project: One Hundred Good Schools.”
- RCHS won the Redbook Award for the 1991-92 school year.
- Education Week, one of the foremost national school publications, featured RCHS in July 1997.
- In 1998, Charles Osgood’s national radio program featured the school as a model.
- U.S. News & World Report magazine ranked RCHS among the nation’s top 500 high schools for the years, 2007 - 2016.