Public High School in Oakland

September 5, 2013

The tubes for the St. Charles band.

By Gabrielle. Image here.

When locals heard which public high school our new home was assigned to here in Oakland, they made uncomfortable noises and told us to look it up on Great Schools. So we did.

The school gets a 2 out of 10. Let me repeat: 2 out of 10.

Two. Two? What does that even mean? Is the school some sort of black hole of despair? Partially burned to the ground, with students desperately navigating through the smoking, charred remains? Has the National Guard been called out to patrol the campus? Is disease and ruin running rampant among the students? What in the world is a “two” school even like?

I could not have been more curious.

The week before school started, we visited campus for the first time, for Maude’s freshman registration. As we walked through the parking lot, we heard music playing in the quad (it was Michael Jackson, in case you’re curious), saw tents and tables set up for each of the different clubs and organizations. And saw nervous parents and nervous 14 year olds not sure where to start. So far so good.

And then the upperclassmen started welcoming the freshmen. And the older kids were so friendly and outgoing! The sports teams were enthusiastically recruiting. So was the debate team. Key Club and Build On were offering service opportunities for students and reminding them that service “looks great on your college applications”. We heard more about the legendary theater department (apparently Tom Hanks graduated from this high school and several years ago generously donated funds to ramp up the Performing Arts classes). Students were confident. And they were cool.

Like really cool. I kept thinking: Oh. These guys are the real deal. They aren’t trying to take fashion inspiration from urban culture. They’re creating it. They are urban culture. And it was so clear that how these kids talk, and how they dress, and what they’re listening to is what the rest of the country will be caring about in the next year or two. They are legit.

As we left, I looked at Ben Blair and said, “This is coolest school I’ve ever been to.”

We love the high school!

Here are a few more tidbits:

- The district lists the school’s racial stats as 30% Hispanic, 30% Black, 30% Asian/Other, and 10% White. And that’s accurate. Ralph and Maude noticed their whiteness is a bit of novelty on campus when they heard comments like, “Hey! We’ve got a white kid in class!” And when they kept getting comments on their eyes, they realized they are among very few that are sporting blue.

- Though Maude and Ralph know what it’s like to be the new kid, and to be a minority, this is their first experience as a racial minority. (I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced being a racial minority, except as a tourist, but it seems like such a valuable thing to understand — especially in America. I’m really grateful for this aspect of their education.)

- The kids say no one is like they expect. The person they have pegged as the class clown is actually a serious student. The person that looks likely to rough someone up after class turns out to love animé and reading Percy Jackson books. So they’re having to ditch any pre-conceived notions.

- During new student orientation, Ralph cheekily asked if there was a Twerking Team at the school and that won him big social points.

- Maude is noticing how people dress and wanting to experiment more with her own wardrobe.

- On registration days, we saw tons of parental support — a father or mother, taking time off work in the middle of the day to attend with their child, and to make sure all the paperwork is in order. But there were definitely some kids that were navigating the registration system and paperwork on their own. And the more we learn about the students, the more we’ve come to understand that many of these kids overcome incredible challenges in their homes to make it to school each day.

- There aren’t school buses. Students come from all over the city and they mostly use public transportation to get there. Very, very few drive their own cars.

- We’re looking forward to the school football games and the basketball games. We’re expecting some of the athletes will be on professional teams in not very long.

- The campus is closed. Meaning everyone eats lunch in the cafeteria. Lunch is very short (at least compared to France) and our kids bring their own, but they said that’s unusual. Most kids pick up something at school.

- There is a dress code. No spaghetti straps, no shorts or skirts more than 6 inches above the knee, no underwear/boxers showing, etc. We have seen it enforced. On Monday, we were waiting in the school office and saw a father come to pick up his daughter because her jeans had slashes up the front of her legs. But the kids have told us it’s not widely or consistently enforced.

- We’re about two weeks in and lockers haven’t been assigned yet. Not sure what that’s about.

- We keep begging Ralph and Maude for details, but because they’ve never attended another American high school, they aren’t necessarily aware of what’s different about this school. But in their daily how-was-school-today reports, there’s often some mention that makes me and Ben look at each other with dropped jaws. Like when they mentioned that at lunch, kids turn on music (loud!) and people dance on the tables.

Whaaa?!

I told them that I had never seen a high school where that happened except in movies. : )

- In the freshman classes and the more challenging classes (like AP History), students are generally respectful. But during other classes, it’s not unusual for the kids to talk over the teacher and cause problems.

- There are lots of extra-curricular options. Maude has joined the cross-country team. Ralph is doing marching band. They’re both joining the debate team. Maude wants to work for the school paper. Ralph wants to try out for a play.

- The campus is on prime property with amazing views of the Bay. In fact, the houses surrounding the school sell for crazy high prices. But interestingly, the residents around the school generally don’t send their kids there, and opt for private school instead. There are definitely rich/poor divides happening in Oakland (as they do in every big city).

- Tattoos are everywhere on campus. On the teachers and staff, too. And language is rough. Even some of the teachers cuss.

- We met with the freshman counselor to go over a 4 year plan for Maude and we were impressed. There are excellent classes available and we really like the counselor. She’s young, and she herself is a graduate of this high school. (We’ll meet with Ralph’s counselor soon.)

Our conclusion: Great Schools isn’t doing anyone any favors by labeling a school with a two. It may be reflective of test scores, but ultimately it doesn’t tell us anything of real value. And it must be a huge downer for the 1800 students attending this school if they’re aware of it. More instructive to me? There’s a list on the school website of the universities where graduates of the class of 2013 were accepted. Pretty much every top university is on the list. (Yes, even Harvard.) This tells me no doors close for my kids by attending this school. And details like the dancing at the lunch? They tell me that attending this school will be every bit as mind-opening as living in France was.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you live in a community where it’s hard to find a good school? Would you ever consider sending your kids to a school that’s rated 2 out of 10?

P.S. — Would we ever pull the kids out of this school? Sure. If we felt they were unsafe in any way, we’d find alternatives. And if they felt doors were closing — that they weren’t able to learn what they needed to learn — we’d look at other options. (For example, the Oakland School of the Arts, a local charter school, sounds like it could also be a good fit for our kids.) But as of now, they’re both happy and thriving. As long as that continues, we’re good.

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{ 339 comments… read them below or add one }

1 marija Taraba September 5, 2013 at 3:51 am

As someone who lived in The States for 11 years, I must say I am pleasantly surprised at your approach to this high school! My kid was only in kindergarden ( in a very WASP NJ town ) and even then, parents went over and above to place 5 y olds in the ” best” school – but usually meaning just higher % of whites and smaller % of other races. Good lack to M and R and I hope they jump on those tables at least once!

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2 Laura September 5, 2013 at 11:57 am

“I hope they jump on those tables at least once!”

Yes, this! What a great attitude.

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3 Melissa September 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I will say that school with the best scores unfortunately might have a higher percentage of white kids, but that isn’t the reason that most people would pick a school. Many people get freaked out about schools with lower ratings, which is a shame, but I don’t think it’s necessarily for race reasons, but rather because of lower test scores. Who wouldn’t want the best for their kids? For the Blairs, they see this school as the best for their kids, but for other families, a 10 rating school might be the best choice for them. I like the tone/approach of the post here today on Design Mom, don’t get me wrong, but I think your comment was a bit off base.

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4 Maike September 6, 2013 at 12:35 am

I like both: the post and the comment and I know from Germany that schools which are rated ‘good’ schools are usually those with fewer immigrants. It’s hard to free yourself from that and stay open. I myself was at a school were German kids from middle class families were the minority and I know what kind of conflicts you are confronted with and how difficult it can be but I also know that I got insights and perspectives that I’d never want to miss. It is a big limitation to shield kids from diversity and to think academic education is everything.

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5 Adrienne September 6, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Let’s not kid ourselves. There is a HUGE racial divide in this country and many parents would ABSOLUTELY judge a school by the racial make up alone. Ever heard of “white flight?”

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6 n September 7, 2013 at 5:58 am

Yes, and I have heard of black flight, too. Parents want what they perceive as best for their children. They are not always right.

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7 Parag September 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Yes, but white flight happens for all sorts of reasons. The opposite end of this school is Mission San Jose in Fremont, California. It has a majority immigrant population consisting mainly of Indian and Chinese kids, whose parents are mostly in Silicon Valley firms.

These are high income / high education immigrants with a very high acadamic focus – guess what, there was white flight from this school as well because they felt the Asian dominated enviornment was too much of a pressurecooker. The footbal team was shut down – Asian kids weren’t interested, there weren’t too many Non-Asians left.

So, whereas test scores and class may appear to be more of a factor than race, Mission San Jose sort of disproves that theory.

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8 cynthia September 5, 2013 at 3:58 am

i love your outlook on this school. i wish there was more diversity in the town we live in. i really feel like it’s not a true representation of the world we live in. your children will do exceptionally well, because of your influence in their lives. best of luck!

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9 M September 5, 2013 at 4:00 am

Hi Gabrielle. Very informative post. I can tell you that here in London, the situation for school catchment areas is the same. We happen to live in a house we all love but unfortunately the secondary schools (high schools) are not so great. With four children, my youngest two go to a lovely primary school and my older two have ended up going to different secondary schools because my second daughter just had a really tough time settling in to the same school her older sister goes to which by the way, she loves! There are many children with different backgrounds and some with challenging home lives, which inevitably influences behaviour in school. This was tough for my second daughter to cope with…which was strange to me because out of all my children I thought she would be the one who could adapt the easiest. This has resulted in her now going to a private school. I just hope the difference in their schooling doesn’t come back and bite me when they’re older! The older kids get…the more complicated our decisions become.

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10 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:58 am

“The older kids get…the more complicated our decisions become.”

So true!

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11 Rebecca September 5, 2013 at 4:40 am

Dear Gabrielle,
I have been waiting to hear about schools! I love that you jump in and try the local high school- both in France and then near to where you live currently. Will your children be studying French?
Rebecca

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12 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:59 am

Yes. The older two are in French III, and we’re looking for a French “tutor” who will come to our home for conversation/games a couple of times each week.

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13 Jen G September 6, 2013 at 12:04 pm

FYI – we are in San Jose and have had great luck with Tutor Doctor. They interview you and the kids and work to match up with tutor personalities. The tutor comes to the house, which was exactly what I needed. Last year, my daughter’s Geometry tutor was great. We are about to get started with a new Math and Spanish teacher for this year. (DD is 17 and a senior in public school). We are using them for SAT Prep also.

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14 Jacquie Lyman September 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

You mentioned you’re looking for a French tutor.. I have a very good friend who lives in the Oakland area who is fluent in French (she served as a missionary for our church in Madagascar where she spoke it exclusively). She was my roommate in college and is a really great girl! I wonder if the two of you would be interested in partnering up. Email me if you are interested! Great post by the way. I think there is a certain richness added to our lives and our children’s lives when we get to experience diversity and what it feels like to get out of your bubble and even be part of a minority. I think they are lucky to have those experiences and will be very grateful for them!

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15 Lindsey September 5, 2013 at 4:44 am

I really enjoyed this post. I always felt that many of the most valuable things I learned in high school were social lessons, not academic ones. But with my oldest starting kindergarten next year, we have seriously considered moving to a neighboring city where the schools are better. From everything that I’ve heard, not only are the test scores much higher, there is a lot more parent involvement and the students are less disruptive. Are you planning to write a post about your younger kids’ schools? I would be really interested to know what their schools are like and how it influences them. Do your choices change based upon the ages or personalities of your kids?

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16 Kimberly September 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Just a quick note to what you wrote:
Please don’t write off a school because of poor parent involvement! I live in a poor urban area where the PTA consists of one woman. One! When I took my son to Kindergarten registration last Spring, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a thriving PTA like the one in my (small, rural, all-white) hometown. The fact is that most of the parents work multiple jobs, have multiple kids (myself included), and cannot spare the expense or time of volunteering at school. On top of that, 74% are Hispanic and many come from non-English language homes. I felt that if I sent my child to a school outside my district, I was doing more harm than good. What am I saying about the worth of these children by judging their parents? What kind of role model am I being to my own children? I really, truly feel that by being involved myself, making my son’s education a priority and modeling that behavior, and engaging with other parents, I can make a positive difference not only for my children but also for future classes. Of course, I also work for a non-profit literacy organization that donates books to children in disadvantaged communities around the world and have many educators in my family, so I’m a bit biased. :)
Is it disappointing to attend an Open House at a school with 390 children and only have a handful of parents show up? Yes. But think of how much more heartbreaking and numbing it is for the educators! Be the parent that is present and set an example. As Gabrielle’s post suggests, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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17 Andrea September 5, 2013 at 4:56 am

Oh, I just love your outlook on life! I could take some lessons from you!

I have personally been swayed too many times by greatschools, only to be surprised that the 10 school was just ok. After moving many times, I have realized that most schools have a mix of good & bad -no school is a sure thing for positive experiences!!! It’s a perspective like yours that will bring us happiness! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

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18 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Totally. Even when we’ve been in high-rated school, if our child doesn’t relate well with their teacher, the year can turn into kind of bust anyway. There are no perfect schools.

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19 Maike September 6, 2013 at 12:38 am

so true!

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20 chania September 5, 2013 at 5:42 am

I think your open mind is to be commended. Private schools to me are like gated communities. The close out the real world. The racial mix at your school will teach your kids far more than they could learn in a non-diverse school. The will see struggle and hard work and issues with their fellow students and I am sure they will become stronger, wiser and more compassionate. An education of people can’t be bought.

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21 Denise September 5, 2013 at 8:04 am

Chania – “Private schools to me are like gated communities. The close out the real world.” Not too open minded on your part. My daughter’s private school has a very diverse student population (racial, economic, etc) and still maintains a strong academic program. Please don’t judge private schools and their students just because they are private.
Gabrielle – Great post. Can’t wait to hear about the younger kids schools too.

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22 jessica September 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I removed my daughter from a 9 out of a 10 for lack of diversity, narrow mindedness, racism, too much wealth, disorganized administration, bad teachers and much more. So these ratings are not always accurate. I guess it all depends on what you are looking for in a school. We proceeded to put her in a private school that was very international, many religions and varying levels of income. I agree with Denise, don’t judge it just because it is private. Great post Gabrielle. I wish all parents were comfortable with diversity. It would make the world a much nicer place.

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23 Melissa September 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I agree. My cousin’s daughter attends the French International School in San Francisco (Design Mom- maybe a good future option for your family since it’s French if this school does not work out- although I hope it does!), a pricey private school, but poor kids from Oakland and kids from all sorts of racial and economic backgrounds go to school there. Sure, some suburban prep schools might not be diverse, but plenty are!

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24 Jennifer O. September 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Because of family tradition, I attended an Catholic archdiocese high school (we considered it the “public” Catholic school compared to the truly “private” ones) and it had a wide variety of races, incomes, and learning levels represented. It was probably more diverse than the public schools I had attended up until then. Please don’t tar all private schools with one brush, (though I could argue parochial isn’t quite the same as private).
Also, six inches above the knee? Wow – I think our skirts could be no more than 2!

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25 Amy September 5, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Have to weigh in on the “gated community” remark. So not true! Our private school actively seeks diversity, and has a good amount of financial aid available to help with economic diversity, as well. Additionally, it has loads of recess/play time (when my oldest was entering school, our local school system abolished recess in order to make more time for academics, which was one of the reasons we went private.). Another reason we abandoned public schools is the relentless standardized testing schedule that wastes weeks out of the school year. The burdensome administrative layer at the county layer, the “factory” approach (even AP classes are delivered the same way across the country, on the schedule), and the confusion of grades with learning were others.

And, even though statistics can tell you how diverse overall a public school is, what really matters is how diverse the various tracks are. Speaking only of our local public high school, classes in IB or AP classes are largely filled with white kids, even though the school is about 60% African American American and 20% Hispanic/Latino. And because of the severity of tracking, those kids will rarely mingle with others who learn differently, who don’t have strong family support, or who maybe just need a slower pace.

So please don’t make blanket remarks about public vs private. It is a complicated decisions and each family makes decisions based on their own circumstances.

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26 Happy September 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I just made a comment below about attending “a school within a school” because of intense tracking. Your comments about the statistics of the school versus the statistics of a single student’s experience really hit home. I feel like I missed out on so much of the available cultural richness in high school because of the tracking system.

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27 PJ September 5, 2013 at 6:15 pm

My sons attended only private schools – K through 12th grade. The older one attended an All-Boys Prep school in Baltimore with more diversity than you could ever find in any public school – every religion, race, ethnicity and socio-economic class were heavily represented and assimilated beautifully. Academics, athletics, and community service were emphasized and character development was top priority. Our younger son left this school after middle school to attend a co-ed (boys and girls) boarding school, which was also incredibly diverse: we are Christian, his roommates and friends were Jewish and Middle Eastern Muslims and Indian Hindu. It never occurred to them to judge their classmates by their race or religion – they were schoolmates and friends…period. But one thing that was absolutely NOT tolerated was disrespectful behavior – toward teachers, staff, or each other. Tolerating cursing, talking over teachers, disruptive behavior, and dancing on the tables is essentially giving up on these kids. It communicates that these kids can’t possibly reach a high standard of behavior and decorum, so why set a high bar of excellence for them to achieve? What a disservice to them! We must stop excusing poor performance and unacceptable behavior because of a child’s background and home life. Offer them a higher calling and help them reach their potential with discipline, dignity and self-respect. Our sons thank us constantly for the investment (and sacrifice) we made in their education. (They continued on to private universities and earned MBA and Law degrees.) We learned that there are many bright, capable young people competing for jobs today; but the employers are as interested in character as they are in competence. So beware of lax standards…kids interpret this lack of discipline as indifference. They instinctively relate discipline (holding their feet to the fire in academics and social behavior) to a sense of trust and a belief in their potential. We must show them that character and achievement will get them noticed in the “real world” far better than “dancing on the tables!”

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28 JR September 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

Perhaps you underestimate the ability of Ben and Gabrielle to instill their children with discipline, dignity and self-respect at home. To insinuate that character can only be learned in a private school setting is preposterous.

29 sue September 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

I have no doubt that the school your children will attend is great, but I think teachers swearing in front of kids is unacceptable behavior.

30 Nicole September 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm

People will not like me for putting this link up but as a teacher i COMPLETELY AGREE with this article.

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/08/private_school_vs_public_school_only_bad_people_send_their_kids_to_private.html

“Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids. Use the energy you have otherwise directed at fighting to get your daughter a slot at the competitive private school to fight for more computers at the public school. Use your connections to power and money and innovation to make your local school—the one you are now sending your child to—better. Don’t just acknowledge your liberal guilt—listen to it.”

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31 Jennifer September 5, 2013 at 5:44 am

Hooray! I love your attitude! I went to a school labeled the worst in an already below-par district and turned out just fine by pursuing things I loved like AP, band, and swimming
I went onto the college of my choice (out of state), then onto a fantastic graduate program, and even lived overseas all by the age of 23. Not trying to brag, just saying having involved parents and a will to graduate well can go a long ways. PS. On my mobile phone, your comment section is auto-populating the last commenter’s name and email address which may be a privacy concern over the past few days. Not sure if this is happening for others.

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32 Lauren September 5, 2013 at 5:57 am

Gabrielle, you just made my day with this post! How I wish more people were as open minded about schools as you and Ben Blair! As someone who grew up in a mixed race family and currently has a mixed race family, I get so tired of schools being labeled “a bad school” just because they are not primarily white. I want my kids to prepare to be great citizens and I don’t really think that the way to do that is by surrounding them only with people who are exactly like them. I hope that Ralph and Maude have an awesome year!

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33 Amber September 5, 2013 at 6:12 am

That sounds awesome! What a surprise, thanks for expanding my horizons!

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34 Lucy Mitchell September 5, 2013 at 6:15 am

Wow. Props for visiting and making up your own mind about the school. Every senior school has a “reputation” and as my eldest will be starting next year, my ears have been pricking up at every rumour, but so many of them are just that, rumours, and fear and snobbery. That is fantastic that your two are settling so well.

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35 Sadie Struss September 5, 2013 at 6:30 am

In 6th grade I moved from a very small town very white very Christian community to St. Paul MN. My parents decided that I should go to the local elementary school to finish off that year. We were in a neighborhood that sounds a lot like where your highschool is placed – everyone decided to go to private schools, So my classmates were bused in long distances from all over the city. And bam suddenly I was in the opposite world from my old home town. I was in a class of 30 kids and was the only white kid. I didn’t learn a lot academically that year (not the school’s fault, I had a crappy teacher) but I learned so much more socially. My classmates were welcoming although it was clear that I was clueless. I learned so many life lessons that year, most of all it was to get the full story. For example I learned that when a classmate fell asleep at their desk it wasn’t rudeness it was because in 6th grade they were expected to watch their infant sibling all night as their mom went to work the night shift. That you never knew the weight that someone was being expected to deal with, even at age 12. I ended up going to a magnet school the next year just so I could get some academics in. However, as a teacher today I still use and am thankful for the perspective and social lessons that I gained back when I was 12.

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36 Amelia September 5, 2013 at 6:31 am

Very enlightening post, I’m sure that your children will have an amazing experience due to their supportive parents!

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37 Jen E @ mommablogsalot September 5, 2013 at 6:34 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! My kids are going to an elementary school that is a 3 out of 10. And yes the test scores aren’t great ; and yes 70% of the students come from low income / single parent households. Yes my kids are also in a racial minority. And yes we were warned by well intentioned friends and neighbors to send the kids somewhere else.

But I’ll tell you – we have had nothing but wonderful experiences with the teachers and faculty and our kids are happy and well adjusted and I’ve visited the classrooms and have found that the kids are all very sweet (they are 7 years old and under for crying out loud!) and the teachers work hard to create a friendly and warm atmosphere with a zero tolerance policy on bullying.

I’ve finally come to peace with this school and decided that I’m glad we didn’t send our kids somewhere else and that yes sometimes that score doesn’t mean as much as you think it will. Also that, frankly, my kids are in elementary school and we have plenty of time to freak out later about their education. My son is in top of his class and reading at an advanced level, loves his teachers and classmates and comes home happy 95% of the time.

I’ll remember your advice when it comes time to look at high schools. Looking at college acceptances is a great idea!

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38 monique September 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

My situation is similar, we live in a “good” neighborhood in San Jose but our local elementary school is a 4 on great schools and our API is below 800 and we are in PI which means parents can send their kids to a “better” school if they choose. The kids in our neighborhood almost all go to private schools. The school is 70% Hispanic, most are spanish speaking homes where many of the parents don’t speak a lick of english. about 80% socioeconomically disadvantaged. The school has vastly improved over the last 5 years. (This is our second year). My oldest just started high school and most people say “he’s going where?” In a disdainful tone.

I firmly believe that the public schools will never get better unless good families send their kids to public school. When we are involved parents, we can monitor situations and intervene when necessary. Mostly I let my kids figure things out but I have had to step in once or twice.

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39 Hayley September 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm

@ monique – Carrie at This Mama Makes Stuff has a couple of blog posts dedicated to basically what you just said, “I firmly believe that public schools will never get better unless good families send their kids to public school.” I enjoyed the read and it has convicted me to enroll my kids are our local public school. Even so much that I ran for the local school board this past May (and won! only female & only person under the age of 45 on it!)

http://thismamamakesstuff.com/2011/03/public-schools-–-worth-a-look/

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40 Nicole September 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I also just posted this above, but this article says a similar thing.
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/08/private_school_vs_public_school_only_bad_people_send_their_kids_to_private.html
“Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids. Use the energy you have otherwise directed at fighting to get your daughter a slot at the competitive private school to fight for more computers at the public school. Use your connections to power and money and innovation to make your local school—the one you are now sending your child to—better. Don’t just acknowledge your liberal guilt—listen to it.’

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41 Franca Bollo September 5, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Monique,
Thank you for succinctly expressing my thoughts regarding public schools. We all need to participant to level the playing field for every child. I feel that one of the main issues in this country is the ever widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Equality in education would be a significant step toward reducing the divide.

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42 Jenny Stockton September 5, 2013 at 6:39 am

Thank you for this! As an informed parent, you’re giving your kids so much support and so many learning opportunities they may have otherwise missed. I have a deep disdain for the ways our system of education has been reduced to numbers (especially when they’re based on standardized tests), and am just so happy that you’ve decided to give the school a chance. Good luck to Ralph and Maude!

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43 Amy3 September 5, 2013 at 6:42 am

Your willingness to be open to new experiences and to find the positive aspects of a situation are an amazing legacy for your kids!

Ralph and Maude’s school sounds somewhat like my daughter’s, which ranks a 4 at Great Schools (I’d honestly never checked until I read this post) and is 53% Hispanic, 25% white, and 18% African American (the remaining 4% is unaccounted for). I appreciate that my daughter is getting the experience of being a minority (at least at school) and is in an environment that looks more like what the US as a whole will look like in the future.

Her school is a middle-school/high-school and she’ll be in 7th grade this year (first day is 9/9). Our time at the school is short yet and we’ve only experienced the middle school aspects, but we’ve been very happy there. The teachers and administration are engaged and upbeat, the kids are happy, and the school feels like a vibrant place. Because we’re in NYC she has the option of attending other high schools, and we’ll definitely look around, but I’d be very happy if she remained at this school until graduation.

I can’t wait to hear more about the kids’ experiences in Oakland schools, including the younger ones. These school reports are amongst my favorites!

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44 Carly September 5, 2013 at 6:51 am

I love this!! I am a HUGE Public School advocate and love to hear that others are too! Can you imagine how amazing the school would be if all of those in the surrounding neighborhood sent their kids there too? The possibilities are endless! Good luck to Ralph and Maude– I hope they thrive in this setting!

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45 Summer September 5, 2013 at 7:28 am

I always wonder the same thing!

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46 Leann September 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Your comment raised a question that I had never thought of before. What would the public school system do if everyone from private schools started going there? The public schools would be so overcrowded, at least for a couple of years! Not criticizing your comment, just thinking out loud!

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47 Tracy September 5, 2013 at 6:56 am

After we completed a 4-year job assignment in France/Belgium, we moved back to the states and enrolled our kids in a public elementary school that also had “low scores.” And our exploratory time was similar to yours. After being abroad in large cities where our kids were surrounded by many different cultures at the public school in Belgium, we were grateful to realize that they could continue their interactions with kids from all walks of life at their new school in the states. We were concerned that moving to a smaller place in the Midwest would land us squarely in the middle of a very homogeneous group. We were thrilled to find a diverse one instead. What may have been a deterrent for some was a huge bonus for us. Our children thrived there for a school year, and then we were off again to The Netherlands, so grateful for a year of continued learning to appreciate people who are different than we are.
Now that we are permanently back in the states, our kids are attending a very rural high school and middle school that has celebrations like Drive Your Farm Tractor to School Day. Our kids are putting their cultural adaptation skills to work in a whole new way as they wade through their new rural life and find that here, too, are people who are fascinating partly because their lives are different than any we’ve ever encountered. I’m grateful for all the diversity they encountered along the way that is helping them now.
I hope your kids have a great school year! Bravo for you guys for taking the time to investigate the schools for yourself. I’m sure your children’s attending will add its own enrichment to an already thriving school.
Maude may be beyond the stage where she wants to do a fashion photo shoot, but those of us here in the rural Midwest would love to see what fashions we will be shopping for in the next couple of years!

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48 Erin September 5, 2013 at 6:57 am

I’m an urban high school teacher, at a low performing school. This story made me cry. My kids are awesome. They have to overcome drugs, abuse, hunger, and so much more just to do a homework assignment. Thank you for highlighting how great these schools can be and how a school isn’t just a test score.

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49 Hayley September 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Thank YOU for staying at that school and being such a positive influence on those kids. Teachers rock!

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50 Franca Bollo September 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I second Hayley’s comment. I admired your choice of profession, your strength and your dedication. Thank you, thank you.

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51 Amy Hackworth September 5, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Erin, your comment makes me cry. You’re doing great work, and it inspires me!

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52 Azra September 5, 2013 at 7:01 am

Gabrielle, you always find a way to surprise me. You and Ben are so cool and open minded. Hands down to both of you. I have basically learned a huge lesson from this post. :) And I think people should be more open about the school systems and see what works the best for their kids.
We live in Boston area and it is so competitive here. At least among the people I know. Our school is 9 but I wish it was 10. What’s wrong with me?

I can’t wait to see how it turns out with Ralph and Maude. By the way I was laughing so hard about dancing on the tables. I wish that people here would be more relaxed. That’s one of the problems in MA… so uptight.

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53 Stephanie September 5, 2013 at 7:03 am

Brilliant post! Thank you. This issue is near and dear to my heart. Although my eldest is 10 years away from high school, she is only one year away from kindergarten, in Philadelphia. Oh, Philadelphia, my urban crush, my favorite neighborhood, my sweet little home, but oh your horrible school district. There are dirty rotten things happening right now with our school district. We have an over $300 million budget shortfall, schools without police officers, counselors, nurses, and vice principals, and the very real threat of combined grades and severe over-crowding.The teacher union is being threatened, and asked for drastic pay cuts. It’s ugly.

I’ve been working with the education committee of my neighborhood association for years. Our neighborhood elementary school is a gem despite their non-existent budget, and it will only get better as parents take that leap of faith and get involved. Similar to your P.S., we too will keep our options open for charter schools, but I really don’t want to leave this city.

Your Oakland high school sounds like such a fun and enriching place, and I wish your two high schoolers all the best!

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54 Erin Frost September 5, 2013 at 7:18 am

Thank you for this post, it is so good to hear from other urban parents. For our son’s birthday party last year, we had 20 families attend. Now we are one of two families left in the city. One of the primary reasons friends have left are the schools. The urban schools terrify them. But we stayed, even after being told we were risking our child’s future. We love our life in the city. We happen to be in a zone that has several high scoring schools. After an exhausting lottery process, we have a spot for kindergarten. It is a completely urban school so different from the small New England town school I grew up attending. But I love my son’s school. We are lucky to be there and there is still work to do. I would rather work to make a school great for 500 kids than move away from a life we love to an already perfect system. It’s not an easy choice but it is the best one for our family. I believe, there is tremendous value in learning to really understand and work with people that have different values and experiences. Not the usual differences we typically celebrate as multiculturalism, like speaking a different language, having a different skin color, or coming from a different country while still adhering to all the middle class social norms that make us comfortable.

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55 Kimberly September 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

“I would rather work to make a school great for 500 kids than move away from a life we love to an already perfect system.”
THIS! This +1000! My husband works for PBS and one of the education specialists urged him to place our son in a private school for Kindergarten. I downright refused. First of all, we can’t afford it. But more than that, I feel that making the schools better through my participation is so much more rewarding and says to the educators, children, and other parents in our community that I believe in them. It’s a small voice, but it’s strong and persistent.
Thank you for articulating (and acting) my thoughts!

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56 Sara September 5, 2013 at 7:26 am

This is such an awesome post. Literally, every detail had me saying, yes, yes, yes! I think it’s fantastic that your kids have an opportunity to have this kind of incredibly valuable life experience AND still get the foundation in terms of challenging classes, etc. to be able to go/do whatever they want. I went to a very white, supposedly fine high school, got into and went to MIT as a freshman, but was COMPLETELY unprepared due to my high school’s lack of AP or other challenging classes. My kids now go to a “best practices” academy school in our (very poor) midwestern city district. It’s a lottery to get into the school, but it has things like a research proven reading program, special interviews required for teachers, foreign language, class size capped at 22 students, mandatory parental involvement, etc., and I love that their classes actually represent the real racial distribution of our city. They are in K and 3rd grade and so far we have been super happy with it. The school’s test scores don’t compare to an adjacent (all white, very rich) district that is rated one of the best public school districts in the state, but right now, my kids are getting way more out of their education, both academically and life-experience wise. Also, something that shocked me…that same, very rich, top-rated nearby district? Shockingly mediocre list of colleges to which graduates are acceptances. Most years don’t have any Ivy League or top colleges on the list at all.

After all this, is it totally superficial that now I am really, really hoping at some point you’ll do some “what to wear” posts for Maude and Ralph so we can see this amazing urban culture fashion???

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57 Sara September 5, 2013 at 7:31 am

I love this post. I have family who chose to send their kids to the local public school when all the other family in the area were splurging on private. These kids who went to public school excelled because it’s about what you make of the experience. They played sports, took good classes and remained true to who they are. They are now off to college. High school is what you make of it!

We are currently living overseas in Ethiopia and in a few years we will be looking to buy and settle down in the States. I’ve been pouring over Zillow and Great schools sites and steering clear of neighborhoods that had schools listed as a 7 and choosing a home in the 10 school district. How silly of me! Thanks for this post!

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58 Erin September 5, 2013 at 7:37 am

First, Great Schools is a joke and I applaud you for being brave enough to call them out on your blog. I hate when I hear parents refer to it. There is so much more to a good school than test scores or a mad parent’s opinion. I could go on and on about schools in the this country and how all the testing and ratings etc… make it so much harder and complicated for parents to figure things out themselves.

Diversity is the real world and good teachers are everywhere even at so called “under performing schools”. I have truly come to believe a willing child can get a good education and can make the most of almost any situation. I have seen this happen. (One kid I know just finished his master in engineering at MIT. He didn’t graduate from a top performing high school.) My children’s schools are diverse and overall test scores are so-so but my kids have done well and are constantly being challenged to do more. We couldn’t be happier.

Your high school sounds great and I hope the rest of the year goes well for Ralph and Maude!

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59 Emily September 5, 2013 at 7:45 am

You’ve made me (unexpectedly) nostalgic for my own high school! Not that those four years were all rainbows, but I loved learning everyday. In college I worked nearly full-time, so looking back HS was a time where I felt I could learn and explore and truly pursue what interested me. It sounds like Maude and Ralph will do just that! X

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60 Rachel September 5, 2013 at 7:47 am

So glad you wrote this post. I’m not a fan of Great Schools. A static test grade score doesn’t tell you even a quarter of what you need to know as a parent. Also, I firmly believe that kids who excel will excel in whatever situation they are put into. Good luck!

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61 Margaret September 5, 2013 at 7:50 am

So glad you guys have found a high school you’re happy with! And I think you’re going into it with the right attitude: open-minded, willing to course-correct down the road if need be, but taking advantage of the opportunities given as a learning experience in themselves. Good luck to Maude and Ralph as they readjust to American schools!

I have to say, I had never heard of Great Schools before, but their rankings mystified me. I grew up in an area known for its excellent public schools, but when I checked the county’s high school rankings on Great Schools, they averaged a score between 4-6 — and those few 8/10 outliers had more negative comments from students and parents. It’s all a little confusing…

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62 Jen (Arriving) September 5, 2013 at 7:54 am

Good timing on this post for me. Thank you :-)

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63 jodi inkenbrandt September 5, 2013 at 7:55 am

I am so glad you posted this! It’s exactly the kind of post I scoured the internet for before my husband and I moved our two kids from the midwest to the Bay Area. We landed in Alameda, mostly because on Great Schools.com their schools rated much higher than many Oakland schools. But I never felt that I was getting the whole picture by just looking at test scores and ratings. I love that you posted this and I’d love to hear how it goes as the year goes by.

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64 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:56 am

I was in Alameda for the flea market this last weekend. Such fun neighborhoods!

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65 jodi inkenbrandt September 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

We do really love living in our little town! Really fun neighborhoods. Although, I’ve never been to the Alameda Flea Market and I’ve been dying to go.

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66 Liliana September 5, 2013 at 7:55 am

Our family just moved two months ago to Layton, Utah and just like you I researched the schools my kids would be attending. I found out that the local elementary school had a rating of “1″. I got so nervous thinking about what kind of teachers and classmates my children would have; I even had nightmares about it, but decided to try anyway and so far I love it and they love it too. I think this website really is misleading and you shoudn’t base your decisions based on their ratings. I agree with many of the comments where in many instances a “good” school means a higher percentage of white students and that is just plain wrong. I am so happy you are sharing your attitude and openness with everyone as a way to change what people might perceive as a disadvantage, is just a lesson on the real world. Thank you for sharing this WONDERFUL post and I wish both of your children a great school year :)

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67 Makayla Sampson September 5, 2013 at 8:03 am

I also use greatschools.org to look up school ratings. Having had my 4 children in public schools for years that score 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s, and seeing the high quality education in these schools (at least for the states) I would never send my kids to lower performing schools academically. What a high score tells me is that most everyone in the education process in the school is doing what they are supposed to to do to help the children achieve academically. This includes, teachers, students, administrators, and parents. For me, this means that my child will be surrounded by peers whose families also value education, and not only value it, but know how to help their children succeed academically. I also know that children sometimes copy and model peers so its important to me that my children be surrounded for the most part by peers with the same value for education. It is sad, but I have found that in the U.S., some parents do not know how or do not have the means to help their children succeed in our school system. And our school system in the U.S. does not do an extraordinary job of bringing up lower performing students as in countries like Finland. I am reading a book called The Smartest Kids in the World (and how they got that way) by Amanda Ripley. She explores why students in education systems in Finland, Poland, and Korea perform much higher on testing in Math, Science, and Reading than students in America. It is eye opening because it is completely different from what we do here in the states.
Also, at one time, I was a teacher in a low performing school, and although I wish succcess to those students, I would never send my own children to such a school simply because I know that the environment would hinder their academic progress and success. This was an inner city school with gangs, and a low graduation rate.
You seem to have a great attitude….I would just be careful that your children get everything they need academically. Honors and A.P. classes are helpful, and that they aren’t overwhelmed by teenage influences such as alcohol, drugs, pressure to have sex, ect.
I am personally bothered by the cursing that goes on in public schools here in the U.S. My kids have attended two different highly rated districts in two states, and in both school systems everyday cursing by the students was common in the hallways and outside the building and on the school bus at the middle and high school level. This bothered my children. However, teachers did not curse to my knowledge, and they ignored the cursing that they heard in the hallways. I wish that school administrators would stop accepting this from students as normal behavior, and teach our students to behave in a respectful manner at all times.

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68 Libby September 9, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Test scores,–specifically STAR tests but most bubble fillers–by any measurement, are mostly indicative of how well the students were prepped to take the tests and next to nothing else, certainly not, “this means that my child will be surrounded by peers whose families also value education, and not only value it, but know how to help their children succeed academically”. Because the schools that get good scores? they are not penalized. Schools that score low have the bar set higher the next year, ie: at 20% proficient and an expectation of a 10% increase that was not met, the school is expected to increase to 35% the following year. Imagine a child hitting a ball and you say, “Hit 5 balls out of town and I’ll get you a root beer float.” And the child hits 5, so you say, “Hit 7 balls out of 10 and I’ll get you a breath mint.” That’s pretty much how test scores go. But you were a teacher, so you know.

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69 Ki September 5, 2013 at 8:12 am

I went to a high school like this–and it was a wonderful experience. It shaped my interests in college and my politics in a way that no other education could have. It made me a better person. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that only rich, white schools provide opportunities–or that you are a neglectful parent for sending your kids someplace not deemed “the best.” But, the first lessons private schools teach are of racism and exclusion. Bravo for you for choosing a braver path. Though…truth be told, I would have a much more difficult time sending my children to an underperforming predominately white school simply because what made my own education so worthwhile (and there were drawbacks) was the diversity–engaging with peers I might not have picked for myself as a 14 year old has changed the way I view just about everything.

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70 Jenyalso September 5, 2013 at 8:21 am

Fascinating! Thanks for the super thoughtful post; race and soci0-economic difference is a tricky thing to write about and your did it beautifully and honestly.

It’s so interesting to get a glimpse into how different kinds of families make decisions. We’re currently looking for a new house (it’s not easy in the Bay Area!) and since private school is not “in the budget” we tend to look at the local public schools FIRST and then the house. Sounds like you fell in love with your beautiful home and then found out about the schools.

Also interesting how some families and communities won’t even consider certain public schools for their kids due to word-of-mouth/test scores. Sounds like that’s what is going on in the neighborhood surrounding the school.

I’m looking forward to reading about the schools your younger children are attending.

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71 Jenyalso September 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

Maybe too personal to talk about here but I am also interested in hearing your thoughts, and those of our kids, about being exposed to drug use and very different expectations around sexuality.

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72 Amy September 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

When we lived in suburban New Jersey there was a study published in our paper that said that children in suburbs were TWICE as likely as inner city kids to use illegal drugs. Makes sense when you think about it–what inner city kids have money for drugs? Please do not think that because children go to a shiny school with well-to-do parents that they will not be exposed to drugs and sex.

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73 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:52 am

Yes. That’s exactly what happened. The house became ours before we’d even given a thought to the schools. We spend so much time at home, that it’s the first priority for me. Schools are flexible and changing, and there are always other options, so they’re a secondary concern for me after the home.

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74 Heidi September 5, 2013 at 8:22 am

We do our children such a disservice by relying on standardized tests to assess children and schools. I wonder it there is a standardized test for bloggers!? I just finished my masters in education, and I was often shocked when I read articles that spoke of the the “test orientation” of many schools in the USA. Unfortunately, there are those who are pushing our system in that direction (I’m in BC). Sigh.

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75 annie September 5, 2013 at 8:29 am

So nice to read – idealogically I can’t stomach abandoning public schools, but of course, as a mom, my social ideals are often forgotten in the face of …my children’s faces. We just moved to DC from Chicago, so school has been and continues to be a perennial conversation/concern – but when I stop and think/remember what kind of people I want my kids to be – an economic or even academic success are not at the top of my list – and in that respect public schools may prove a much better environment for them to grow into empathetic/socially conscious people that understand the value of doing your best and hard work even in the absence of economic incentive. …well, given the caveats, like you said, of safety/opportunities/etc – and perhaps this is more true for high school rather than elementary.
Also – after some searches on Great Schools – I’m not super impressed.
Hope the school continues to work out!

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76 Melissa September 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I agree with what you said here! The only thing is that many private Catholic schools have a strong focus on service, teach that kids should respect and be kind to everyone, and teach that money is not everything, so be careful to say that only public schools can offer that experience.

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77 sarah September 5, 2013 at 8:31 am

this post is wonderful, and came at a perfect time for me. i’ve been struggling with school stuff, as my older son will be entering grade school before too long. the public schools in our area are not great (according to multiple sources), but having valued my own public school education i’m hesitant to turn to private schooling with my limited knowledge of the offerings here. resources like greatschools have caused me to question and doubt, although i know that a school is so much more than a number and test scores. others have also pointed out to me that while the school is important, the most important factor in a child’s education and success is involved parents. you and ben are clearly very involved and open-minded, and are setting your kids up for great success. you’ve provided me with lots of inspiration, and turned apprehension for the school search into something more like excitement :)

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78 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

“the most important factor in a child’s education and success is involved parents”

I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And it also makes me doubly impressed with the kids to succeed despite having little or no parental involvement.

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79 Barchbo September 5, 2013 at 8:33 am

Thanks for sharing, Gabby! I’ve been dying for the scholastic update!

As a former teacher at a urban high school similar to this one (oh, I miss the daily compliments on my beautiful “colored eyes”) I would encourage ANY parent at ANY school to do exactly what you did: visit the campus before you condone or condemn it.

I look forward to updates on the school clothes and posts about the other schools.

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80 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

More posts coming… We finished shooting the what to wear posts on Labor Day. Now I just need to edit the pics down!

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81 Megan September 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

Great post! Anyone else read this essay this week?
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/08/private_school_vs_public_school_only_bad_people_send_their_kids_to_private.html
Definitely adds to the debate.

And yay for cross country! Best thing I ever did was join my HS team. I’m 33 and still run every day.

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82 Marilyn September 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Yes, I was going to mention this article tool! Fodder for the thought that what we learn socially in adolescence is so important too.

Love that Ralph and Maude are doing so well!

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83 Jenny September 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

Thanks for publicly taking time to really nicely say great schools ratings can suck it. I am so tired of that website being touted as that golden standard for choosing a school. We moved partway through the last school year to a school and the rating is only an 8 or 9 and I actually had people tell me they couldn’t believe I was going to send my kids to a low performing school.

Go you for being an informed, involved parenting making informed, involved decisions.

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84 aimee @ smilingmama September 5, 2013 at 8:45 am

I can’t tell you how much I love this! When we first moved to our incredible little town outside of a big city, we were told the local elementary school “wasn’t an option” but I wasn’t willing to accept that so started doing my own research, got involved (when my oldest was only 2!) and we’ve had fabulous experiences there (he’s now in 2nd grade). He’s absolutely a racial minority at the school, which I think is awesome. I didn’t experience diversity until I went to college. For the past few years, I’ve helped to plan and host a breakfast for families in our community to come and ask questions/listen to parents who have their kids at the school NOW. It’s been a huge success and more and more families are “opting in” to our local public elementary school, which of course, only makes it even better!

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85 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:46 am

Such a hopeful comment. The last line especially! Thanks for adding to the conversation, Aimee.

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86 Anne September 5, 2013 at 8:50 am

I grew up in Denver during the days of court-ordered bussing. The bus would drive by our neighborhood school on our way to our assigned high school, which was more urban. There were some hard times and some hard lessons to learn, but I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to go there. My high school opened way more doors for me than it closed, and I’ll be forever grateful for both the academic and social education I got there.

Our neighborhood elementary school is probably the lowest rated one in our city now, but when I have kids they will absolutely go there because from what I can tell, the test scores may be low but the learning environment is rich.

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87 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:45 am

“There were some hard times and some hard lessons to learn, but I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to go there. My high school opened way more doors for me than it closed, and I’ll be forever grateful for both the academic and social education I got there.”

That made me happy.

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88 Jade September 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

Excellent post! I just loved reading it and wish more people were like you, open-minded :). We all would be so much better off! We are planning on doing the same with our children.

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89 Mary September 5, 2013 at 8:56 am

What a cool and interesting post. It sounds like your kids are going to learn a lot from the experience, and with two hands-on parents as well helping to guide them, I’m sure they will thrive. I love your attitude and willingness to check out the school for yourselves first. I’ll be interested to hear more about how they’re doing. I personally went to the “city” school with a large minority population, but I was happy to have the experience. I think it has served me well.

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90 Gia September 5, 2013 at 8:56 am

I love your attitude! Whites were the minority at my high school, and it was meaningful to me to have that. I look back and feel bad for people who didn’t experience the great diversity I experienced; black, Tongan, phillipino, Asian, Hispanic..

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91 Heather September 5, 2013 at 8:57 am

Thanks for this post. The schools in our area are all over the map with scores because of the large number of immigrants who resettle in Nashville. We love this about our city but have wondered what it will mean when our future kids get to the high school that has a two rating. It is so cool that you guys didnt let that deter you. I look forward to future updates.

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92 Amy September 5, 2013 at 9:03 am

You’re the real deal, aren’t you Gabby? Your outlook on life continues to inspire me in real ways. Can’t wait to hear more about your Oakland adventures.

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93 Jennifer September 5, 2013 at 10:32 am

Amy, my thoughts exactly. She’s the real deal.

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94 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:42 am

Oh man. This comment made me unexpectedly blush! Thanks for making my day.

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95 michelle September 5, 2013 at 9:05 am

I really enjoyed this post. As a teacher, I agree that it’s frustrating to know a school can be rated by purely a number, which some choose to subscribe to exclusively. But really, there is so much more to a school than its ranking; the faculty, the students, the clubs, the parent involvement, the school spirit. I’m glad you didn’t take the #2 at face value and are embracing and celebrating the difference in R & M’s new community. Great post :)

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96 kate September 5, 2013 at 9:07 am

Great schools website is about as reliable as yelp. Interesting to read what other people think but you can never put too much weight on others’ opinions.

It sounds like a great place for your kids to learn larger life lessons that extend beyond homework and exams. I am sure it will have a huge impact on the adults they become.

Cheers to a great school year for all of the kiddos and parents!

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97 Mina September 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

Gabrielle, I teach high school (8th year now) and those scores you see online are really narrow minded. They go based off of testing and nothing else. There is SO MUCH MORE to be learned in high school than the academic curriculum. Granted, the curriculum is important. But, the social relationships and exposure to diverse populations your kids will get, is priceless! Nothing like seeing what the “real world” looks like right there at school! It’s a microcosm of society! It’s awesome! And yes… I stand at my door for each and every passing period JUST so I can see the creative outfits walking down the hall. It’s truly awesome! Kids are our future creative minds and such an inspiration for old geezers like me! Ha!

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98 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

“But, the social relationships and exposure to diverse populations your kids will get, is priceless!”

I really believe this as well.

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99 juliagblair September 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

Fantastic!Marvelous!***********88atLeast!

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100 Miggy September 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

Dude. I LOVE this post.

Currently our oldest daughter is also in the racial minority at her school and while it looks a bit rougher on the outside from some of the schools her friends attend, it’s been a great experience and really it’s a great school (although, I think it does have a decent great schools rating…so whatever). Props to you guys for seeing past a number and seeing the people and the school for who they are. I too feel like I want to support public schools because I do feel like every kid deserves a great education no matter where they live or what they can or can’t afford. And it’s going to happen with less fear and more involvement from parents like you in their community. That being said, having a daughter with special needs I’m also worried about her future scholastic experience (especially socially) and I like the idea of an all girls private school as a possible alternative for her. (I’ve heard from other mothers and even girls who’ve opted for all-girls private schools that the main pay off is in a much more relaxed, less clicky social atmosphere.)

Anyway, I’m excited to hear more about their experience! And props to Ralph for the twerking comment. Hilar. :)

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101 Jenny September 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

I know what school your kids go to from your description (my sister is a teacher there) and I applaud your and your kids open minds. One thing to know about going to such a low ranking high school is that your kids, if they do well, will find it much easier to get into the high ranking colleges. Believe it or not, that’s how it works! Talk to any college counselor or honest admissions officer. I would just say safety at that school is something your kids should be mindful of, sometimes the school does go into lockdown, have your kids be careful at games, etc., when kids from other schools are there, and really keep an eye out for drugs/alcohol/etc. Good Luck!

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102 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:39 am

Ralph will play in the marching band at the first home game. I think it’s next week. We’re very curious about what the games will be like!

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103 Lisette Wolter-McKinley September 5, 2013 at 9:39 am

I always find your attitude and openness for change so refreshing. Thanks for allowing your kids to experience the world in all its forms.

Dancing on the tables? I want to go there!

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104 Kristin September 5, 2013 at 9:39 am

Thank you so much for this post. I am incredibly worried about public schools in America. My (primarily middle class, white) friends with kids are leaving the cities and public schools one by one for the suburbs. If they aren’t actually moving they are sending their kids to private school.

We live in a medium size city in the Midwest with a fairly diverse racial population (at least for the Midwest). The neighborhoods our school pulls from are also diverse, but quite segregated from each other. My son is in 1st grade and his school is about 60% black, and 40% white, with very few other minority groups represented. 80% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. I just looked up the school on Great Schools (never heard of that before now) and it is rated a 3.

We love the school. Because the student population is primarily low-income it qualifies for federal funding that reduces all class sizes to a maximum of 16 students. The school has a strict, zero tolerance policy toward bullying, disrespectful behavior and even talking in the hallways. My son has made some great friends, and learned a ton in his first year there.

I think two things are very important about education. First, school is what you make of it. If a student wants to learn and do well, they will, and it doesn’t matter what school they attend. I went to a small town, all white high school and I was bored out of my mind. Most of the classes were not challenging (AP wasn’t offered at that time), and most of my classmates were not engaged. Maybe 10% of them ended up going to college. I learned and did well because it was important to me, not because my peers were interested in doing the same, or because the environment was outstanding.

Second, a school can be made better through parental involvement. We have a small but VERY active PTO and those parents are making a huge difference in all of the kid’s lives.

I guess I can understand moving to be in a different school district, but I can not get behind living in a neighborhood and not attending the neighborhood public school. Yes, there are exceptions as some kids need specific environments in which to learn, but most kids will be just fine in a public school. The fear that is out there right now about public education is crazy to me. I can only speak from a white, middle class perspective, but I really think everyone needs to calm down.

Thank you for your open mind and for sharing such an important topic, Gabby. This post and reading some of the comments just strengthened my resolve to keep my kids in public school and to work hard as a parent and neighbor to make the school the best it can be.

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105 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

I agree with both of your point strongly. I haven’t written about our elementary school yet, but I’ve already seen how influential parental involvement is there.

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106 Linnea September 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

The public high school that I graduated from (not so long ago, in the East Bay) had similar demographics and the same range of opportunities — arts, AP classes, sports, band — for a very socioeconomically and racially diverse student body.

There were certainly downsides to attending a public school that you’d expect (lowish graduation rates — especially among students of color — some vandalism, teen pregnancy, kids falling through the cracks, funding issues), but there were MANY upsides. My high school friends and I speak with great pride about our experience.

And get this: when my mom started helping my brother and I with the college application process, she went to a workshop with some admissions counselors from top schools. Can you guess what they said? They claimed that if two students applied to their university with the exact same academic background, test scores, and extracurriculars, but one of them went to the “not so good” public high school, and other was from a “nicer public” or private school, they would always choose the former! I think they recognize that an imperfect public school with lots of diversity offers students a more real world experience, opportunities to grow, and gives them invaluable life skills.

Best of luck to your kids — I know they’ll excel!

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107 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:37 am

That tidbit about the admission counselors is fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

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108 Melissa September 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I don’t know if I believe that is necessarily true about admissions. To be perfectly honest, the really expensive and fancy private schools in my area (that cost $30,000 or more per year) have 10+ kids at Harvard, Princeton, top liberal arts colleges, etc. from each class. It’s not the kid’s “fault,” per se, that he or she goes to a certain school. Also, I’ve heard that over 60% of kids in Ivy League schools are from high socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s not fair, but it’s true. (And by the way, my kids go to a parochial school that is somewhere in between a private and public school experience).

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109 Happy September 5, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Admissions is a complicated process that takes into account many factors, including socio-economics and ranking of high school, amongst others, and the criteria vary from year to year as they are trying to build a class, not just select student by student. The comment about choosing the poor public school kid from “two equal candidates” highlights one factor that goes into the calculation. At the Ivy I’m affiliated with, we limit the number of kids who come from each of the elite prep schools (usually 10-12, depending on the quality of the school) even though many more of them probably merit admission. The students at these schools are thus in competition with each other rather than the entire applicant pool. The result is a more diverse class. So, while it’s correct that the student body at the elite schools is heavily populated with students from high socio-economic groups, the ratio of groups admitted is usually skewed relative to those that applied to lower groups, at least amongst those that practice need blind admission.

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110 Melissa September 5, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Just curious, but why limit those who merit admission from elite prep schools? I absolutely do not believe that an elite prep school is necessarily a better environment than many public schools, but it seems kind of odd to put a cap on numbers of students from there. Why not just admit those who merit admission, regardless of their class or “quality of school?” Quality of school shouldn’t matter- Design Mom’s whole post is about the fact that her kids now go to a school that is perceived as lower in quality, yet their experience has been positive. Wouldn’t that work both ways? Ever student makes his or her own path in high school, “high quality” or not, so it’s not fair to generalize about the quality of a school. A kid could go to a #1 ranked public or private school and still learn nothing, while a kid could go to a very badly ranked school and learn a huge amount.

Design Mom, if you think making decisions about elementary/high school is hard, just wait for the college process! It’s fun. But hey, it’s great that you guys are in the University of California system now! That will be a great opportunity later on.

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111 MSH September 5, 2013 at 9:55 am

Absolutely! Our kids go to a bilingual immersion school that gets very low test scores. I don’t care. I see kids thriving (including mine) and parents loving the school. The curriculum is amazing, but it doesn’t conform to the testing timelines, so low test scores.

Test scores are an indicator, but only one of many, many, many indicators. I love that you have looked at this from the angle of a learning experience for your kids. Keeping them with students who are just like them in every way does not always lead to learning. Bravo to you and your fantastic children!

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112 Erin September 5, 2013 at 9:56 am

I just went through similar emotions after moving to San Diego and finding a school for our kindergartner. Tough stuff, but we’re cautiously happy with our little neighborhood charter.
I’m curious if, as a Mormon family, you encourage your children to attend BYU? Is that important? I have very few (uh, maybe zero) LDS friends who attended a different college. Just curious if it matters to your family?

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113 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Ben Blair and I are both BYU graduates, but I don’t feel strongly about whether or not my kids attend BYU.

I think one of the really big draws of BYU is the price. A year of tuition at BYU is a lot less than a semester at most preschools in our area. Not kidding! In fact, the low cost makes it surprisingly competitive to get into.

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114 Kate September 5, 2013 at 10:03 am

I’ve never commented before, but I have to say I so admire your attitude and outlook on life. You inspire me!

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115 Gail September 5, 2013 at 10:09 am

Gabby, you are my hero! Great post! My girls attend a public elementary school in Queens, NY. They are very much in the minority being Caucasian and Jewish. They don’t even think its unusual and I think it’s fantastic they’re making friends literally from all over the world. I hope I can be as bold as you when it comes to high school and not be swayed by all the pressure here in NY to send kids to schools that are perceived as “the best.”

Letters2slinkie.com

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116 Colleen September 5, 2013 at 10:12 am

I so love your perspective!

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117 A.M. September 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

We pulled our kids out of a school that scores ” high” on state tests and put them in a school that scores” lower” on state tests and the parents of the first school looked at us like we were crazy for moving them. My kids were miserable and it was seeping into every aspect of their lives, something had to be done. After the first day my kids were happy after the first week I could say I had my kids back! They are happy and thriving at their new schools! I am so glad you did not let a label deter you from giving the school a chance.

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118 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

So glad to hear your kids are thriving at the new school. It’s such a relief when you find something that works!

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119 Jennifer September 5, 2013 at 10:28 am

Well, that settles it, Gabby. You are officially one of the coolest people I’ve ever “known”.

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120 Rachel September 5, 2013 at 10:33 am

Like everyone else, I so appreciate your outlook and open mind about the schools your kids go to.

One thing my husband’s family taught me is that is also valuable to keep an open mind about finding the right fit for each child. In their family of five kids, they all went to a variety of high schools — private, charter, public — based on what worked for each individual. This can make transportation and a number of other things really complicated, but I think it’s the right approach, if possible.

To continue to public/private discussion:
I went to public schools, but my husband is a teacher and administrator at a private school (He went to Columbia TC like Ben Blair!), so schooling is a really tough issue for me — emotionally and politically/socially. I am a big supporter of public schools, but my kids will likely have the opportunity (with drastically reduced tuition) to go to a top tier private school. It makes me uncomfortable on a certain level, but I am also not ashamed to say that when it comes to your kids, I think it’s okay to be selfish.

In the end, everyone has to do what is right for their kids and their family. If this means a private school, an urban public school, a charter school, or even homeschooling, then I think parents should feel empowered to confidently make that decision, as long as it is being made for the right reasons. I felt this even more strongly after hearing my husband explain and reading about landmark school choice supreme court decisions (See Pierce v. Society of Sisters and Wisconsin v. Yoder). It makes you realize that people actually had to fight for the right to make that decision for their children.

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121 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

I so agree. Finding what works for your child is key. Ben Blair and I talk about this a lot.

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122 Katy @ All Sorts of Pretty September 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

Oh man, it sounded like you were writing about my high school! My husband and I both graduated from a lower income, minority white school that didn’t score so high on tests and we turned out alright. I don’t know if we would send our kids to a similar school though…depends on finances I guess. I think if we could swing it, I would want them to go to a better high school than we did. But if not, well, I think we would try to make it work like you guys are doing. I think there is something extremely valuable though about being a minority in America though and a great experience for kids.

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123 Jen September 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

I’ve been waiting for this post and was totally expecting you to say that you were sending your kids to a french immersion school. so surprised and glad to see you guys again immersing your family to the local experience and the community. I so enjoyed reading this!

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124 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

We did actually end up choosing a French immersion program for one of the kids. More on that in the next school update…

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125 Heather September 6, 2013 at 7:30 am

My kids both go to French immersion as well. Its totally amazing, but its really expensive and limits other aspects of our lives. We determined if both kids stayed until 8th grade we would have spent a total of 660K. WE recently made the tough decision that this would be their last year. If money were not an issue we would stay. There are a lot of things we can do with that money to enrich our lives in other ways and provide them (and us) with a stable future. Its such a tough decision. I feel like parents put too much emphasis on schooling these days and not enough on other aspects of their lives. I put emphasis on my kids working hard in school/doing their best–focus on learning not grades, but also on home life–cleaning up after themselves, helping to cook and do laundry, sitting with me while I do work (I am a designer and they love helping/watching), and playing outside. Also (on a more random note) my husband went to an ivy league school and he hated it. Priorities for us in raising our children are focused on helping them to be independent, creative thinkers, compassionate, and most of all-happy! If they can be independent, resilient and happy, they will hopefully have a good life.

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126 Heather September 6, 2013 at 8:02 am

I forgot to mention….We decided to have my give up my crazy busy consulting projects that paid for school, so that I could be more present with our family (while still doing smaller projects). It gave me a lot of guilt (why can’t I do it all!). For us we felt it was more important for me to be more available for the kids, then to work to pay for school. It allows us to have a pretty great and calm family life…including simple things like eating breakfast and dinners together, and being together after school.

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127 mom101 September 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

You are such a wonderful mom and so great for writing this post. I adore you even more for supporting public schools so….publicly, and for being another sane voice about how these absurd rating systems and over-testing nonsense are hurting our kids.

I’m excited to hear how it goes for your kids; I wish them the most wonderful school year yet.

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128 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:32 am

It means a lot that you read and enjoyed the post, Liz. I respect your opinion so much!

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129 Rose Toutjian September 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

So glad to hear your take on this school which is the same school my husband attended and the school my kids will most likely attend when the time comes. Oakland can be a fascinating and intimidating place with it’s incredible racial and economic divide. You’re smart not to get caught up in the hype about our schools and see it for yourself. Hope your kids thrive in their schools this year and welcome to this wonderful city!

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130 Helen Jane September 5, 2013 at 10:45 am

Three cheers for public schools!

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131 Patty September 5, 2013 at 11:08 am

You blog is one of the few I contiunue to read (out of 20ish that I followed in the past); this post brings home why.

Thank you, thank you, thank you….. for sharing your experience and taking that “Great Schools” number and smashing it into the ground!

Your adoring fan, Patty :o)

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132 Marianne September 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

I loved this post because this has been something we have been dealing with too. We moved to an area a year ago and found the assigned school did not score high on Great Schools or School Digger (the site I prefer). I was nervous but sent them anyway because I am a big believer in supporting your local public school. I also used to teach at a public high school.

Here is what happened in our situation. Our 1st grader and 3rd grader found no academic challenge in school at all. The 3rd grader was happy because she is social and loved her teacher. The 1st grader came home everyday and complained that already knew everything they were doing in school and he hated it. Long story short- this school had nothing to offer my kids who were above grade level. Their resources went to improving and pulling up those below grade level. They also were lacking in other programs like music, art, etc. Eventually we pulled our kids out and put them in a 9 school across town and our son now is learning Mandarin Chinese. Because the school has more resources there is an art and music teacher, and even a dance teacher. My daughter has her own computer on her desk. There are also accelerated programs that were not available in the other school.

So even though I want the other school to have those things too and I want to support my local school- I ended up moving my kids because they needed more. They love the new (9) school much more than the old school. We ended up buying a house in that area to keep them there.

It’s a tough choice. I hope your kids are happy and it all works out.

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133 Amy September 6, 2013 at 11:48 am

Marianne,
Your experience mirrors mine when we tried to make our public school work (way back when my oldest was starting kindergarten).

I visited the school frequently, and sat in classes long enough so that the teachers would forget I was there. Overall, the teachers were engaged and warm, but I witnessed too much yelling and too much discipline instead of redirection (we’re talking kindergarteners). The principal was OK. I attended PTA meetings where I was one of four families in attendance, out of a student population of 450. The school got low marks on many metrics, and I thought those marks were deserved based on what I witnessed. So we went private. After a few years, I gave the school another chance. Unfortunately, that year, the school had 40% of its fifth graders FAIL the state-mandated science exam, which meant that those fifth graders could not be promoted to sixth grade until they passed the exam. Forty percent! And, because No Child Left Behind had been implemented, the school and those teachers would be penalized for those low test scores. I came to the sad realization that most of the teaching effort would go toward pulling up those who were not working on grade level, leaving scant resources for higher-achieving kids.

I really wish it had worked out, because I had been a strong supporter of public schools. But I was not going to sacrifice my kids’ educations – and it would have been a sacrifice. It’s a tough call to choose where to send your kids, but I really felt that we had no choice if we wanted them to get a good education.

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134 Marianne September 8, 2013 at 11:19 am

Amy,
You did have a similar experience. However I should clarify that our kids still go to a public school, it is just a school with more programs for kids above grade level. We were drawn to the school for our son to do a Chinese immersion program. Then our other children were given permission to attend because he was there. I am just amazed at how much more this public school offers. But – the reality is that it is in a more affluent location and is partly a magnet school and the parental involvement is outstanding.

I met one mom there who chose the school not on the Great Schools number but only looked at schools with high parent involvement. The schools with high involvement also happened to have high scores on Great Schools. No surprise. Then she bought a house in the school boundaries.

In regards to the school we left, I still don’t think it is a bad school. In fact they had some innovative ideas and programs for helping children who were struggling in school. That was just not what my kids needed.

I agree that schools are not just a number, parents have to investigate further. However, as someone who has moved a lot, Great Schools and School Digger have been a good tool when we have moved to a new area. I have found most people in any particular area think their local school is fine and have no idea how it stacks up. Those sites just offer additional information.

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135 julia September 5, 2013 at 11:15 am

As an aside, my dearest friend teaches at Oakland School for the Arts, and it is one of the most amazing and enriching environments for teens that I’ve witnessed. It makes me wish (for only a fraction of a second) that I could re-do high school in an environment like that.

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136 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 11:30 am

We’ve heard so many good things about OSA! We visited the campus and it’s really neat — right down town in an historic theater. You have to try out/apply to get in, and they accept about 30% of applicants.

By the time we moved here, try outs were long over, so it isn’t an option for us right now. But I know they offer mid-year transfers that we may consider if Ralph or Maude is interested, and we can definitely consider them for future years as well.

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137 Chantalle September 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

That is great! When I was in HS 10 years ago, the Oakland Mission President had his kids go to an Oakland public school. They joked that they would occasionally get roughed up and razzled, and they would have to convince their captors that just because they were white, they weren’t rich- since their dad didn’t get an income they were one of the poorest! They eventually became well-liked by a few groups, but their mother talked to our relief society- she did not share your open view of the campus :) And playing loud music and dancing around for lunch is common in CA- we had huge speakers and my friend was in charge of the play list. It always included MJ- usually Smooth Criminal! (Go AHVS Dons!)

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138 Michelle September 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

Gabrielle,
I love your approach to this and that your family is trying out the local public school. You are a person I want to be like.
Michelle

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139 Rikki September 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

THANK YOU for this post, for a million reasons! Yes, you are the real deal. This post sums up why yours is one of the few blogs I still read. Smooch!

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140 DeAnn September 5, 2013 at 11:39 am

I am excited for your children. Makes me sort of wish I had kids in school again as mine are all grown. I am happy to see you so unafraid of something different… a good lesson for me as a mother at any age.

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141 Heidi September 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

As usual-I love your perspective. Our daughter goes to a large public school-and her experience (she’s a sophomore) has been really positive. As I was bemoaning the class sizes (43 kids in her honors math class-they didn’t even have enough desks!) my husband calmly pointed out that this is good prep for college. Her teachers have so far been amazing. They’re bright, funny, encouraging-and certainly are pushing her to do her best. There is a really diverse population-both ethnically and economically-and again, hello Real Life. There are tons of different electives and really active clubs. I went to a small, private high school-and while it paid lip service to being supportive and inclusive to all types of people-it really wasn’t. My daughter’s school is accepting of all kinds of kooky things. Any way-another plug for a California public school that doesn’t rank particularly high on “Great Schools.”

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142 Liz Maravilla September 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

Twerking Team!!!! LOL!

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143 Kem September 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

I love this. I grew up in the military and because of that have had the opportunity to be a minority on a few occasion. When we moved back to the states after living in Japan at the age of 6, I couldn’t believe that there could be so many white people. Living in California when I was in JR high in one of my classes I was the only white kid. I am so glad that I had these experiences and I think your smart to let your kids. I have a freshman (who plays the tuba in marching band), so I know how hard these high school years are as a parent and how you second guess yourself about your choices for them, so I love that you are talking to your kids about how school is going for them. I bet that they will love their time at this school.

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144 Jim September 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

I have found Great Schools very useful, and would like to note that the reviews are a combination of test scores, amenities AND parents reviews. None of these things, on their own, tell the whole story.
And as we all know, parents can be very opinionated-especially the ones that are NOT happy.
If happy parents took the time to write reviews for public schools, they would have a better rating, and thus a more well rounded view of the school.
Denouncing a non-profit for helping a lot of parents decide where to send their children is short sighted. Want to help make Great Schools better? Take the time to write a great review for the school your child attends.

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145 Ann September 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I second Jim’s comments.

Also, it is wonderful in the USA that many people do have options with regard to schooling and can make choices.

I do enjoy your blog, Gabrielle, and so glad the transition process is moving forward for your family.

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146 Ashley September 5, 2013 at 11:57 am

Thank you so much for sharing your view on public schools. It was so refreshing to read this, as I live in the DC suburbs and parents here can be very dismissive of the public schools and very cutthroat about getting their students into the “best” schools.
I have always been an advocate for utilizing local public schools except in the most exceptional of circumstances. Now that I have a child, I’m going to have to put my money where my mouth is and send him to our local public elementary school, which has a GreatSchools rating of 3. That worried me, and was definitely something my husband and I considered before taking the plunge and buying our home (despite the fact that we loved the house and the neighborhood overall).
I’m a tutor and freelance teacher of creative arts after school programs, and I’ve done a lot of teaching in elementary schools with 2, 3, or 4 rankings, and I have to say, I have always seen good things happening in those schools. The test scores aren’t fantastic, but the students seem happy, the teachers seem dedicated, and because we live in a school district that is very affluent overall, the classrooms have amazing technology. I’m fairly certain that when my son reaches kindergarten age and starts attending that “3″ school in a few years, he’s going to do just fine.
I wish that all of these school sites had a better metric for measuring schools based on factors other than just their test scores and a few random parent comments. We live in a neighborhood that is full of first-generation Americans. My son will be one of only 7% of white students in a school that is predominantly populated by the children of the Latino and Ethiopian immigrants in my neighborhood. I think that will be a great thing for him and, frankly, with a population in which almost half of the students qualify for free lunch and the majority don’t speak English as their primary language at home, I’m impressed with the fact that 80% of the students are passing the state exams (GreatSchools, obviously, is not impressed. 3!)
Overall, I think what happens at home is more important than what happens at school. I went through a less-than-stellar school system. I witnessed a fair amount of gang activity, the classroom environment was rowdy (sounds like your kids’ experiences so far), I was definitely the minority in my school. But I made a good group of friends who shared my values, graduated near the top of my class, went to a good college, and now have a PhD! My parents made sure that I was challenged and given extra-curricular opportunities to supplement what was happening for me at school, and I thrived. I’m sure my son will, too, and I’m sure your children will as well.
Thank you for being so open-minded and sharing your outlook with all of us!
P.S.-I have the same criteria you do in terms of when I would pull my child out. If he does not end up feeling safe at his school, or I do not feel like he is learning what I need him to learn, I’d pull him out. But I definitely believe in giving the public school a chance.

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147 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

” I went through a less-than-stellar school system. I witnessed a fair amount of gang activity, the classroom environment was rowdy (sounds like your kids’ experiences so far), I was definitely the minority in my school. But I made a good group of friends who shared my values, graduated near the top of my class, went to a good college, and now have a PhD!”

I love reading about your experience, Ashley! Inspiring.

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148 Happy September 5, 2013 at 5:05 pm

It’s been interesting to read these comments. I looked up my alma mater and found it was a 1! While I was fortunate to be offered lots of opportunities like AP classes for just about everything, the result was that the classes I was in looked nothing like the population of the school. When I was a student, the student body was ~50% hispanic (mostly ESL), 25% black, 25% white yet my classes were 99% white with my classmates all from the same small neighborhood. The top 20 of my high school class (of 400) all went on to great things but the school’s college placement rates overall were pretty abysmal, despite being able to tout a great ivy league list of college for each graduating class. I wonder if your kids will end up finding themselves in a “school within a school” as I did. I feel like I missed out on a lot of the great things you are highlighting here.

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149 Lindsay // Shop Ella Lou September 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Wow, this is awesome to hear! Thank you for sharing! As a fellow Oakland parent (and recent San Francisco transplant), we are constantly debating the school system. I went all the way through CA public schools – from kindergarden through the UC system for graduate school and am a huge fan of our public school system. However, in the Bay Area, there are so many public and private options and positives and negatives of each, it can be difficult to develop your own opinion realize ratings don’t mean everything.

Although our daughter is only 3 and our local public elementary school is excellent, we have heard mixed reviews about middle and high schools. We frequently discuss what we will do when we get to that point in our children’s education because the reputation of Oakland high schools is so poor. Your post was eye-opening and truly shed light on the positives of an Oakland high school education – which is rare to hear. Thank you for sharing your alternative perspective!

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150 Lizzie September 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

As a city planner, it is so frustrating seeing families move out to the suburbs once their kids are school-aged. It perpetuates a cycle of disinvestment and is detrimental to the growth and sustainability of our cities. At the same time, I am worried about what to do about raising my kids in Philadelphia – we’re not exactly known for our stellar public schools. This post was excellent. It is super interesting to learn about your kids’ experiences so far and get your take on the “bad” school. It also gave me reassurance and hope for my own kids and the future of American cities.

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151 neda September 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm

so interesting! thanks so much for sharing.

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152 Megan M. September 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I love your perspective as well! Public schools are suffering so much because parents are unwilling to “risk” putting their child in a school that doesn’t look good on paper. It’s so refreshing to hear someone with a lot of opportunities available to them is willing to give an urban school a chance. I can’t wait to hear more updates on their school experience and see their new fashion choices!

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153 Kelly September 5, 2013 at 12:16 pm

This was a great post and I love your take, and love that you didn’t panic & run when you saw that “2.” It sounds like an amazing place to attend high school.

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154 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:10 pm

The thing is, I for sure felt a moment of panic when I saw the number. I calmed down quickly, but it was a reminder to me how damaging it can be to rate a complex school with a simple number.

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155 cal September 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Oh I definitely know what school your talking about in Oakland, and its not the only one of its kind like that…my high school was somewhat similar, but there is good and bad in every school, and kids that will go places from every school….its really up to them

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156 JananW September 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm

We are a military family, so we move often. The education of our 4 children is very important to us. Every place we’ve lived we are warned about how bad the public schools are academically and socially (kids attitudes and behaviors) etc…. We’ve always given them a chance and been very pleased. My good kids have found good friends. They’ve excelled in classes. It’s not unlike reactions to each place we’ve lived. Plenty of people hate a place that other people love. Most often it’s about our attitudes and behavior.
That being said my favorite schools have been local charter schools where everyone is held to a higher standard especially educators and administrators.
And, that being said, there are schools that are non-productive and need over-hauls

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157 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm

We’ve never tried a charter school, but try to be aware of the charter options in our area. I like that the idea of them.

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158 Laura September 5, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this, I really needed to read it.

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159 coffeemommy September 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm

LOVE THIS!
As a former public school teacher, a current parent of two and a huge proponent of public and community schools, you totally get it!
Standardized test scores aren’t everything and prejudging academic and social excellence based on socio-economic status or racial breakdown isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Congratulations to you and your family on not only finding what sounds like an excellent school but helping to keep it excellent by finding the fabulous inherent!

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160 Krysta September 5, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I really love your perspective on this. I bet your kids will do great. It sounds like a great experience. You know your kids best and what they can handle.

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161 Lisl Sukachevin September 5, 2013 at 12:36 pm

My oldest son’s school sounded similar to your so I had to go look it up on Great Schools. Surprisingly it rates a ’6′! Racially our high school (in suburban MD, just outside WA DC) is 41% african american, 32% hispanic, 14% asian, and 10 % white. We do have an IB program at our school and that helps tremendously! My son loves it and is happy there and doing well.

My middle son went to the neighborhood middle school (same racial profile, but only 7% white, rated a ’5′ on Great Schools) and while he had a good three years, I did/do have concerns. A lot of class time was spent on discipline issues instead of instruction time. In addition, even though my son was in advanced classes, I don’t believe my son was challenged in those classes. He is at a math magnet high school now, and I see a great difference instruction-wise.

I would just suggest always being vigilant, and paying attention to what is going on at your high school. You definitely want your kids to be safe and challenged. Good luck!

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162 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Safe and challenged for the win!

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163 Ceci Bean September 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I am surprised how meaningful this post was for me. I don’t even have children yet! But I do live in Oakland and have already thought about what that will mean in the future, when I do have a little one.

As a student, I was taken out of a more diverse public school (where I thrived) and put in a private school (where I didn’t adapt to the environment particularly well, even though I do believe the actual academics were good), so I love to hear a parent support the public school system. I sometimes wonder what my path would have looked like if I’d been allowed to stay in the public school system.

As for the school…I didn’t move to Oakland until college, but I worked at coffee shops alongside quite a few students from the high school you’re talking about, and I cannot say enough good things about them. They were as bright, well-mannered, and hard-working as any teens I’ve met.

Thank you for sharing the positive aspects of this city as well. I hope you continue to explore it and love it more.

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164 Alan September 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience. I work at GreatSchools, and I’d like to echo Jim’s comment above.

Our goal is to provide information that helps parents find a great school that is a great fit for their family. We know that parents want to consider a variety of information, and that ratings and test scores are only a starting point. In fact, one of the most popular parts of our school profiles are the reviews posted by parents, teachers and students. You know your school best, and we hope you’ll share your insights with other parents by writing a review at http://www.greatschools.org/thescoop

Thanks again, and I’m glad you found a great school for your kids!

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165 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Thanks for chiming in, Alan.

On the Great Schools profiles, the pages are designed so that the simple ranking number gets the attention. I realize there is a variety of information on the profiles, but until the page is redesigned to take the focus away from the 1-10 ranking, schools on Great Schools will be nothing more than a number.

As I’m sure you know, assigning a simple number to a complex school can be harmful and damaging — even instilling fear in some families so that they move out of the school district, and instilling shame on those who have no choice but to use a low-rated school.

I hope the Great Schools UX designers will consider changing the way the profile information is displayed, so that schools aren’t reduced to a number.

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166 Hannah September 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I’d like to echo a comment from above: Gabby, you’re the real deal.

One of my favorite posts on DM that I’ve seen in the two years I’ve been reading it.

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167 KK September 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Here in NYC the district gives schools a letter grade. So even though there may be other info on these “school report cards,” it is the reductive single letter that people see and respond to. In other words, I totally agree with your critique, G.

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168 Robin September 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Once again I find myself wishing you were my parents!

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169 Margaret September 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Wonderful post! Your comment about the dancing on the tables at lunch made me think of the movie Save the Last Dance, when a white teenage ballet dancer has to move to inner-city Chicago and attend a virtually all-black school. Your kids’ lives could be a movie plot. :-)

I think the key to all that you wrote was in your comment that you spend the most time at home and that’s why home is more important than the neighborhood school. When kids have a grounding in a loving, close family, I think they can survive and thrive in all kinds of different schools. That’s a great reminder to me to continue to prioritize family time and our home as a place of peace and safety, for our kids to venture out into the world!

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170 Julia A September 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm

yay! that sounds like a good start and a wonderful approach to any new school. We’re one city over from you (San Leandro) My son’s new kindergarten got a low score on Great Schools too but honestly – I’m so happy with his school so far. It’s walking distance from our house (I love seeing different parents walking with their kids to school) and there’s only 15 kids in his class. It’s wonderfully diverse and I like the before/afterschool care options – key when you’ve got two working parents.
I’m so glad you weren’t immediately put off off the Oakland public schools.

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171 Erin September 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm

LOVE this and totally needed it today! We just found out this morning that we will be moving! Looking at all of the scores on Great Schools totally stresses me out. Thank you!

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172 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm

No stress! It will all work out. You’ll find a school that meets your child’s needs. I’m sure of it!

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173 Christy September 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Can you be my Mom? I could (and do) learn so much from you! Thanks for your blog,and general awesome-ness.

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174 Shelby September 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Love love these kinds of posts. This is my favorite aspect of blogging. I find it all so interesting and I love hearing about it.

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