PHOTO: Cal Prep Richmond Sign

Cal Prep

PHOTO: Cal Prep logo

The Richmond Aspire California College Preparatory Academy (Cal Prep) is a public charter and early college secondary school, co-founded by University of California, Berkeley and Aspire Public Schools in August, 2005 to propel under-served low-income and first-generation to college students with access to and success in higher education.

The school serves approximately 540 students in grades 6-12, with 80% of the students from racial and ethnic groups under-represented in higher education. The student body is 13% African American, 74% Latino/Hispanic, 9% Asian (including Filipino and East Indian students), 4% Multi-ethnic/Caucasian; 16% are English Language Learners, 69% are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and 75% will be first in their families to graduate from college.

A UC Berkeley multi-disciplinary committee of faculty and staff, together with Aspire and Cal Prep leadership, work to create a school with high expectations for student achievement—offering a non-tracked college preparatory and early college curriculum—and a culture of support.

This collaboration yields just over 50 graduates each year, all headed to a variety of college opportunities.

The tale of the partnership, knowledge gleaned from research and practice, and lessons learned can be found in Achieving College Dreams: How a University-Charter District Partnership Created an Early College High School, a book edited by Rhona S. Weinstein and Frank C. Worrell and published by Oxford University Press (2016). 

  • High performing: One of the highest performing high schools in the East Bay Highway 80 corridor.
  • College acceptance: All of its graduates have been accepted into four year colleges or universities.
  • In fall 2015, with the support of the Chamberlin Foundation, CAL Prep opened a brand new facility in Richmond CA to house a full grades 6-12 secondary school and provide a wonderful learning environment for our students, educators and families.
  • CAL Prep maintains a committed and long-standing staff -- 90% of Cal Prep team returned in 2016-17.
  • CAL Prep is expanding to a full grades 6-12 in 2016-2017.
  • On the state’s new common core based exams (SBAC), 61% of CAL Prep’s students Met or Exceeded the state standard in English Language Arts; and 73% of its eleventh graders did.
  • In 2016, for the first time, CAL Prep will implement a student-centered Portfolio system of assessment.
  • In 2016, the first CAL Prep student graduated from UC Berkeley (Alana Banks, aka ab).
  • 2015 CAL Prep alum Stephanie Alejandre has been hired as a full time Social Studies teacher at CAL Prep after spending last year in Aspire’s Residency program. 

Alana Banks, now known as ab, is our first CAL Prep alum to graduate from UC Berkeley, spring 2016. She said that, “CAL Prep believed in me before I did.” That “CAL Prep was her gardener, they taught me that even a seed without light and water can grow through the dirt in the spring time.”

ab began CAL Prep in the 6th grade, was diagnosed as dyslexic with a speech impediment. At CAL Prep by 8th grade she became stellar in math—her favorite subject and thought of herself as a scientist.

ab says that, “….CAL Prep transformed an Oakland girl with no hopes into a cooperative citizen” and who is setting an example for the other young people in her family.

ab majored in Public Health, was an activist on campus participating in the Black Student Union, interning in the African American Student Development Office and the Multi-cultural Community Center, and elected Senator to the ASUC. This year she gave the UCB welcome at the CAL Prep graduation and is still confirming her plans for graduate school. 

PHOTO: Carlene Ervin, Cal Prep '14Carlene Ervin was her own biggest obstacle. Growing up in the foster care system made her angry, bitter and untrusting - traits which don't lend themselves to working well with others. "I didn't trust anyone and felt like it was me against the world. My biggest obstacle was understanding that I wasn't alone and if you let them, people will conspire to help you." 

Aspire teachers were the team conspiring to help, encouraging her not just academically but also with her character. Carlene found a community of her own starting with her fifth grade teacher Ms. Chai to the Dean of Student life, Ms. Salazar at CAL Prep. 

"I am inspired by the work that Aspire does in communities. I want to change things on a grander scale so that opening Aspire Charter schools is an easier process."  

Carlene is now in her Junior year at Yale University, majoring in History.  She plans to go to law school when she graduates.

The school opened in 2005 and is currently authorized by the West Contra Costa County Office of Education and located in Richmond, California. The development of the partnership between UC Berkeley and Aspire was funded primarily through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supported by Aspire, UC Berkeley, and individual donors. The partnership is managed by UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education and the Division of Equity and Inclusion through the Center for Educational Partnerships.

This more than 10-year partnership between Aspire and UC Berkeley nurtured the development of CAL Prep by interweaving knowledge from community-engaged scholarship and best practices in school design.

The school’s teachers and staff, students and families, together with the UC Berkeley community and Aspire Public Schools are committed to integrating practical research-based support and providing unique training opportunities while ensuring a rich college-going culture. The partnership benefits both school and university. Among many of our collaborative efforts are new courses and curriculum, vertical teams for professional development, summer programs and courses, College Week, teacher training, clinical internship placements, and research studies. 

As a public school, CAL Prep receives per student funding from the state of California, additional funds (such as Title 1 Federal Funds) for which they are eligible, and philanthropic dollars raised by Aspire and UC Berkeley to create an adult- and opportunity-rich environment. 


  • Weinstein, R.S., & Worrell, F. C. (Eds) (2016). Achieving College Dreams: How a University-Charter District Partnership Created an Early College High School. New York: NY. Oxford University Press.
  • UC Berkeley is one of four University of California campuses that partner with districts to create college-going public schools. See the policy brief and video of our UC Network of College-Going Schools in Public Scholarship as New School Development, an   American Educational Research Association Invited Presidential Session, Washington, DC. April 2016. 
  • Mehan, H., Kaufman, G., Quartz, K. H., & Weinstein, R. S. (2010). Building educational field stations to promote diversity and access in higher education. In E, Grodsky & M. Kurlaender (Eds.), Equal Opportunity in higher education: The past and future of California’s Proposition 209 (pp.173-193). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 


Miya Hayes, UC Berkeley Center for Educational Partnerships, Deputy Director, miyahay [at]

Frank C. Worrell, Professor, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, Faculty Director, frankc [at]

Tatiana Lim-Breitbart, Principal, CAL Prep, Tatiana.Lim [at]

Nicole Williams Browning, Aspire Public Schools, Bay Area Superintendent, Nicole.WilliamsBrowning [at]