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About Us

Our School

Welcome to Jesse Bethel High School. Located in Vallejo, California, we are a four-year comprehensive WASC-accredited high school. We have an enrollment of approximately 1600 students in grades 9-12 and are one of two comprehensive high schools in the Vallejo City Unified School District. Jesse Bethel High School is proud to be a member of the Vallejo Full Service Community Schools Program (VFSCS).

We opened our doors for the first time during the 1998-1999 school year, and graduated our first senior class in 2002. Jesse Bethel High School is composed of an ethnically diverse student population; we find that diversity to be a source of great richness in our students' educational experience. 

The Story of Jesse M. Bethel

Our school is named for Jesse Moncell Bethel. Mr. Bethel was a man who demonstrated the depth of his integrity as an individual and scope of his passion for education in many ways. Born in Harlem, New York, Mr. Bethel experienced many challenges that shaped his character, guided his future, and established him as a legend in our community.

Mr. Bethel was orphaned as a young child, and was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather and great-grandfather were college-educated men, and his grandmother was the successful proprietor of a business establishment. Mr. Bethel attended integrated elementary schools in Ohio, and segregated middle and high schools in Oklahoma under Jim Crow Laws. He persevered through the racial injustices that existed and graduated as valedictorian of his class. Inspired by Thurgood Marshall, an African American Trial Attorney who defended a Black man falsely accused and then viciously tortured into confessing a crime he didn’t commit, Mr. Bethel was determined to pursue a career in law. However, with the onset of World War II, Mr. Bethel altered his goal. He resolved to become a chemist in order to help with the war effort.

Mr. Bethel realized that to have a meaningful life, he had to continue his education – that meant not just finishing high school but attending college and graduating with a degree. Higher education did not seem unachievable, as it did (and still does) for so many others because of the real-life examples set by his grandfather and great grandfather who had done so before him. In 1944, Mr. Bethel graduated from Tillotson College in Austin, Texas with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry.

Upon graduating from college, Mr. Bethel married his college-sweetheart, Claudia Nichols, and moved to Vallejo, California where Mr. Bethel embarked on a career as a chemist at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Three children followed along with grand and great grandchildren. Mr. Bethel’s sheer determination and commitment to excellence gained him the respect of his peers, which assisted him in advancing to the position of Head Chemist of the Nuclear Power division at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1960. Mr. Bethel was the first African American to hold the position of Head Chemist on this elite military base. Fourteen years later, Mr. Bethel also started his own business. While a Chemist with Mare Island, he also worked part-time selling life insurance and collecting the premiums – literally nickels – for Golden State Mutual. It was a natural progression that he would later acquire his own insurance agency for the “Good Neighbor” company, State Farm Insurance.

Always a seeker of greater challenges, in 1969 Mr. Bethel believed he could provide “Better Education through Honest, Effective Leadership (BETHEL)” and ran for the local school board. The community demonstrated their agreement with and support of Mr. Bethel and elected him to the Vallejo City Unified School District Governing Board. In 1970, Jesse M. Bethel was selected as the VCUSD Governing Board President, again the first African American to hold such a prestigious position. In 1976, Mr. Bethel became the President of the California State School Board Association. In the mid-1990’s, Vallejo City Unified School District honored Mr. Bethel’s leadership in and influence upon our community by naming its newest high school in his honor. Jesse M. Bethel High School opened its doors to students in the fall of 1998, and saw its first graduating class in the spring of 2001. While Mr. Bethel’s life on this earth did not extend so that he could witness these milestones with us, our leaders recall the honor and blessing of his participation in the groundbreaking ceremony for the institution that is named for him. Our desire is that all who walk our campus will be inspired to live their lives with the integrity, passion, and valor that are hallmarks of our namesake’s character.