Northgate High School (Walnut Creek, California)

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Northgate High School
425 Castle Rock Road


United States
School districtMt. Diablo Unified School District
SuperintendentDr. Nellie Meyer[1]
PrincipalMichael McAlister
Faculty60[2] (2012-13)
Enrollment1,599 (2015-16)[3]
Color(s)Crimson and gold         
AthleticsDiablo Athletic League (DAL)
NewspaperNorthgate Sentinel
Feeder schoolsFoothill Middle School
Information(925) 938-0900

Northgate High School (NHS) is a public high school located in the suburban Northgate neighborhood of Walnut Creek, California, United States.Coordinates: 37°54′28″N 122°00′30″W / 37.90778°N 122.00833°W / 37.90778; -122.00833[4] The most recent of five high schools in the Mount Diablo Unified School District, the school was built in 1974, and is home to approximately 1,600 students from Walnut Creek and Concord, California, grades 9–12. Its name derives from its location at the north entrance of Mount Diablo State Park.


Northgate High School opened in 1974 to relieve pressure on neighboring Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord. Students were gradually phased in; the school graduated its first class in 1976. Northgate was the last high school to be built in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.

Plaque inside Northgate main entrance

In December 2007, a petition was made to move Northgate to the Acalanes Union High School District. The Mt. Diablo school district board[5] and the Contra Costa County Office of Education[6] both denied the petition.

In 2016, a group named Northgate CAPS (Community Advocacy for our Public Schools)[7] began a new campaign to separate Northgate High and its feeder elementary and middle schools into a new, separate school district.[8] On May 2–3, 2017, the Contra Costa County Board of Education held public meetings on the petition.[9][10][11] The county board recommended against the proposal;[12] the state board of education could still take up the proposal but has not done so as of July 2018.


Northgate High School was named a distinguished school in 2007.[13] The school employs 60 certified teachers. 19 Advanced Placement courses are offered in fields including science, math, English, foreign language, social science, and art. Approximately 97% of graduates attend four-year or two-year colleges and universities.[2] The school had a 94.8% graduation rate in 2010–2011.[14]

Unlike some other schools in the Mt. Diablo district, Northgate does not have any formal academies. However, for freshmen it does offer a Global Perspectives "pathway". A fixed cadre of students takes three "threaded” classes (English 1, World History, and Art Design) that build connections between the content in all three. Project-based learning is designed to strengthen concepts taught in the classes.

The course catalog also offers several sets of suggested courses for students with a specific interest, but these are not planned collaboratively; they include sequences in communications, environmental studies, animation, and engineering.[15] Every senior must participate in a Mock Congress during the fall and must present a Senior Project at the end of the school year.

Extracurricular activities[edit]


The Northgate High School Athletic Department oversees 24 competitive varsity athletic teams that compete in the Diablo Valley Athletic League[16] (in the North Coast Section of the California Interscholastic Federation). Northgate's sports include football, cheerleading, basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, cross country, golf, lacrosse, swimming, tennis, track and field, softball, water polo, and wrestling. During the 2013-14 year, the school broke ground on a new center to provide a pool for the aquatics teams and facilities for the school's sports medicine program.[17]

The annual football game between Northgate and its cross-town rival Las Lomas High School is nicknamed "The Battle of the Creek" after Walnut Creek, California.[18]

Performing arts[edit]

All Northgate performing arts programs operate chiefly out of the Jack De Rieux Little Theatre, which was remodeled and enlarged in 2006.[19]

The instrumental music program consists of a Concert Band, Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Orchestra, and Marching band (all are regular courses except the extracurricular marching band). Symphonic Band is the largest instrumental music group, typically consisting of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade members. Orchestra consists of students from all grades; the prerequisite is previous experience with private teachers or Orchestra in middle school. The audition process for Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, the two most advanced bands, is competitive in nature due to a high number of talented students vying for a small number of spaces. In addition to concerts on campus, each spring the jazz ensembles usually hold a concert at Yoshi's nightclub in Oakland. All the other groups perform together at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in downtown Walnut Creek. Jazz I won the "Next Generation Jazz Festival" in Monterey in five consecutive years (2014–2018), a record for that competition.[20]

The choir program consists of several groups: the entry-level Concert Choir, which does not require an audition, Cantiamo (Level 2 Women's Choir), Il Coro (Level 2 Men's Choir), Bella Voce (Level 3 Women's Choir) and Madrigals (Level 3 Co-ed Choir). In order to be a part of Cantiamo or Il Coro, students must choose a song to audition with. To get into Bella Voce or Madrigals, any prospective member must have first spent at least one year in Il Coro or Cantiamo (some exceptions have been made in the past), and audition with a song of their choice and a selected choir piece. Cantiamo members trying out will decide whether they are trying out for Madrigals, Bella Voce, or both.

Madrigals have a heavy winter schedule, as they do holiday gigs for restaurants and families that hire them. This fundraising activity has been in place since the late 1970s and occupies most of December for the members. Bella Voce performs a variety of gigs throughout the year as well. The funds from these activities support the students' spring tour. Bella Voce, Madrigals, Cantiamo, Il Coro and the Instrumental Music program all go to Disneyland in the spring to perform and participate in the musical programs that are held for high schools and other performing arts groups. This event is called "Disney Performing Arts" (formerly known as "Magic Music Days").

The drama program consists of four levels, the last being Production Workshop which produces at least one play per semester. Students have the opportunity to try working with all aspects of theater, including stage lighting, sound design, promotions, scenic design, props (theatrical property), and stage management. Northgate also participates in the Devil Mountain Improv League, a completely student-created and student-run coalition of competitive high school improvisational theater students that has been around since 1996.

Student groups[edit]

Northgate hosts approximately 50 clubs and organizations.[21] These include school chapters of Junior Statesmen of America, National Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation, Model United Nations, the Filipino Cultural Club, Northgate Robotics Group, Key Club and Environmentally Concerned Kids (ECK). The Northgate Bird Saving Association, established in 2014, is dedicated to ensuring that avian species are treated with dignity and respect, and has steadfastly worked to spearhead protecting the numerous species of birds indigenous to the Northgate campus. The conflict management program and peer tutoring program allow older students to advise their peers. The Youth Educators program involves juniors and seniors instructing 8th graders at Foothill Middle School on drug abuse.


Northgate High School has received both acclaim and criticism for its brutalist architecture. The school is built into the side of a hill on Castle Rock Road, at the foothills of Mt. Diablo. The school is sometimes referred to as a prison by its students, because of its concrete exterior and a lack of windows in all classrooms (see Gallery below).

When the school was originally constructed, none of the classrooms had permanent walls; rather, they had half-high walls that could be moved to make more room if needed.[22] Classrooms were later retrofitted with walls because the concept was considered a fire hazard. Movable walls in classrooms were replaced by full-height walls. The school closed for many months after the Loma Prieta Earthquake due to the discovery of asbestos. During the 1990–91 school year, portable classrooms were used on the school grounds and the former Castle Rock Elementary grounds.

The library sits in the main forum of the school and remains one of the only areas with five-foot walls, making the library very open, and is in clear view of the office on the second floor. In the center of the school is a small atrium, which has been variously used as a lounge area or as a native-plant garden with plants, a small pond, and even turtles.

Northgate High School "atrium"

In popular culture[edit]

The movie The Principal was partially filmed at Northgate High School.[23][24] Northgate was chosen as a location for its partial-wall "open environment" classroom design, representing an easy teaching job at a "nice school" for the character Rick Latimer (James Belushi). After getting into trouble he is transferred to a tough school in Oakland, California.

Notable alumni and staff[edit]



  1. ^ "Mt. Diablo Unified School District: Superintendent".
  2. ^ a b Clark, Linda. "Northgate High School Profile 2012-13". Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Archived from the original on March 30, 2013. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  3. ^ "Northgate High". National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  4. ^ United States Geological Survey (March 5, 1997). "GNIS Detail - Northgate High School". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  5. ^ Dang, Shirley (8 January 2008). "Board votes down Northgate transfer". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  6. ^ Dang, Shirley (4 April 2008). "Mt. Diablo district will retain its schools". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  7. ^ "Northgate CAPS". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  8. ^ Neys, Jennifer (29 August 2016). "Northgate Unified School District Initiative". Community Focus. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  9. ^ Hurd, Cheryl (2 May 2017). "East Bay High School Proposes Splitting From District". NBC Bay Area (KNTV Channel 11). Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  10. ^ Clifford, Charles (2 May 2017). "2 communities fight over school's plan to leave East Bay district". KRON 4. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  11. ^ Barnard, Cornell (2 May 2017). "Opponents of Mt. Diablo secession call it 'segregation'". ABC7 (KGO). Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  12. ^ Richards, Sam (30 August 2017). "Contra Costa ed board says Northgate petition doesn't pass muster". East Bay Times. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  13. ^ California Department of Education. "2007 Distinguished Middle and High Schools". Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  14. ^ "School Accountability Report Card". Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Archived from the original on March 14, 2013. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  15. ^ "Northgate High School Course Planning Guide 2013-2014". Northgate High School. p. 8. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  16. ^ "Diablo Valley Athletic League".
  17. ^ Mills, David (20 December 2013). "Northgate High Breaks Ground On New Aquatics Center". Walnut Creek Patch. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  18. ^ Fajardo, Jose Carlos (19 September 2012). "Northgate High defeats Las Lomas in the football edition of Battle of the Creek". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  19. ^ "Northgate High School Little Theater". LCA Architects. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  20. ^ Fancher, Lou (8 April 2018). "Walnut Creek: Northgate High jazz band wins big at Monterey fest". East Bay Times. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  21. ^ Northgate High School. "Clubs 2012-13". Archived from the original on October 10, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2013.
  22. ^ Ross, Martha. "Remember when? "Sparkling new" Northgate High opens in 1974". Crazy In Suburbia. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  23. ^ Internet Movie Database. "Filming Locations for The Principal (1987)". Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  24. ^ The 80s Movies Rewind. "The Principal Movie Filming Locations". Retrieved 15 August 2012.

External links[edit]