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.


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.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

{ 11 trackbacks }

School |
September 5, 2013 at 6:35 am
Weekend Pretties | All Sorts of Pretty
September 6, 2013 at 6:41 am
This Weekend | Dejlige Days
September 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm
Honor Roll | Making it Lovely
September 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm
What Are You Reading? | a glass of milk
September 9, 2013 at 5:24 am
Public High School in Oakland - maiki
September 11, 2013 at 1:44 pm
I'm In Love With An Incredible Woman! Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom. | The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful
September 13, 2013 at 11:09 am
Stop, Drop and Blog – This Week: Instagram, Links, and Elsewhere
September 14, 2013 at 8:55 am
Transitions |
January 29, 2014 at 11:53 pm
On Getting My Kids Into College « Rich and Deep and High and Wide
October 20, 2014 at 11:25 am
School Ratings – Do they really matter? | Kuerth Creative | Graphic Design + Inspiration
October 20, 2014 at 6:29 pm

{ 341 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Terri September 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

What a thoughtful post! My answer…yes and no. Quite frankly, you couldn’t pay me to move to California right now because the school funding situation is so dire and the state governance is just atrocious. Even the best schools are having to make do with terrible funding situations.

That said, you have found something unique. If you visit the CA gov’t website can find tons more data.
I did some digging and assuming Tom Hanks only graduated from one high school ;) there’s a complicated story to tell there. There is a pretty serious achievement gap – white/wealthy students do way better than poor students or students of color. However, the graduation rate is pretty solid – around 80%, which is higher than the national average – and it’s across most groups of students, even poor ones. And while the students are diverse, the number of students in poverty is closer to 50-55%, which is pretty good for an urban area. GreatSchools is just one source, I always urge parents to visit the school for themselves and dig deeper into the data…there’s always a story to be told.


2 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for the link, Terri! I had no idea where to find that sort of information, and I’m sure other parents are in the same boat. I appreciate the help.


3 Katie September 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I appreciate this post SO much! I live in Chicago and we have some amazing and some horrible schools here, and of course everything in between – I’ve seen many first hand. I was a teacher in the system, then an informal educator (supporting the schools through grant-funded projects), and I’m now a parent.
Many of the “best” schools in the city – those with high ratings and high test scores, quite frankly, make me sick. I could never send my daughter to them. The emphasis in the classroom is on tests and only tests. The school communities are focused on fundraising and parents who cannot contribute are ostracized.
On the other hand, many of the neighborhood schools I’ve been into are hidden gems. In some cases, the neighborhoods are too unsafe and I’d never consider putting my daughter at risk for any school. But, many are like you’ve described, underutilized schools in either affluent or diverse areas. Many of these are diverse. Many have amazing programs. While family fundraising may be weak, they often earn grants for innovative programs in the schools.
Kudos to you for being open minded enough to try this school out! I hope that many urban parents will read this post and look twice at the schools in their cities that don’t earn a 9 or a 10 on Great Schools.


4 Vandegee September 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm

What a great, great post. Schools are so much more than statistics, and what makes a GREAT school is a dynamic and organic mix of the principal, the teachers, the parents, the kids. It’s so much more than just one thing, it’s so much more than what kind of math curriculum is taught, more than teacher performance related to salary, more than filling in bubbles. It’s a living breathing thing that needs to be nurtured and cared for — all of it’s parts, not just one. And not just a band aid on one problem. So thank you for posting this, and helping nudge people beyond looking at statistics and websites, and looking with their own eyes, hearts and minds. Brava! Thank you. And please keep us updated on how Maude and Ralph are liking school and adjusting.

On a separate note, I’ve been very curious about what you’ll do to keep the kids french “operable.” I imagine the older kids will have French in school, but the younger ones it might be more of a challenge?


5 Erin September 5, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Yes!! We need more people investing in our public school–and by investing, I mean ATTENDING! My father went to high school in Hawaii where he was a minority (being white) and had some struggles (bullies/fights) b.c. of it–he is a rich white man so he’s been fine ever since, but it was SO good for him to experience briefly being a minority.


6 allison September 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm

i admire you so much. i am only starting school with my kids and my husband and i often talk about the kind of experiences we want our kids to have through school. what you have described is what we want and also what we are slightly afraid of. we want our kids to see and understand all walks of life, but also to rise above some of the problems that can occur at a school rated 2 out of 10. living in a town with absolutely no diversity, it will be hard to give that to our kids. i am hoping we can find some way to offer that to them. i am looking forward to hearing how the school year goes for your kids, the good and the bad!


7 Rachel September 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience! As the parent of an elementary school student who attends a school that gets a 1 out of 10 on Great Schools (so absurd it almost makes me laugh!) I completely agree with your thoughts. He is also a racial minority at school (only white kid in his class last year) and many of his friends and fellow students are from foreign-born families, so he’s growing up with people from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Bangladesh, and the ~20 other countries that are represented in the student body. Those are experiences that can’t be learned from books. Like you, if at some point the school does not meet my son’s educational or safety needs, we will consider other options…but certainly won’t consider moving him to another school based on test scores, ratings, or neighbors’ opinions (several neighbors take their kids to other schools).


8 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Oh brother. The 1 and 2 ratings are just ridiculous. If the scale is 1 to 10, wouldn’t a 1 be something like an abandoned school? It seems so arbitrary!


9 cathy September 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Thank you for having such an open mind on a subject that many would never tackle.


10 Janelle Dunn September 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I LOVE your attitude about the school. I LOVE your openness to your kids’ attendance giving them a broader education because of the experiences they’ll have (including dancing on tables :) in THAT school. Because of your attitude, they will come away with a most- assuredly (mostly) positive HS experience.


11 Barb September 5, 2013 at 1:25 pm

You guys are good parents, I hope you know that. I think you are so wise and smart to have open minds and encourage Ralph and Maude to do the same.

How are the elementary schools? I am slightly worried about the local elementary school where we live, and more so because at a young age, some of these same concerns you mentioned would be harder to navigate. Interested in your thoughts on that.


12 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm

We really like the elementary school! I’m working on a post…


13 Tawni September 5, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Your outlook is refreshing and your parenting is what makes schools like this survive & thrive. Thank you for being a part of California’s school system as crazy, weird and poor as it may be. Can’t wait to read about the amazing things your children accomplish in this school.


14 Beth September 5, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Reading your description of the school and having seen the photos, etc. of your kids I am reminded of the movie Rushmore when Max gets kicked out of Rushmore and has to go to a “tougher” public school. I can see your kids starting the beekeepers’ club at their new school!


15 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm

On registration day, Ralph signed up for more info at pretty much every booth and then said he kept thinking of the opening sequence in Rushmore.


16 PJ September 5, 2013 at 2:10 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 Master’s 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!”

God Bless.


17 Cammie September 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Thank you. I really needed to read this today. We’re moving to CA in a few weeks and I’ve been so worried about the 3 ranking of my kids soon-to-be school. I’ll remember this when I walk them into K and 2nd.


18 rachelle September 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Fantastic post Gabrielle! I’m so happy we get to experience Oakland (and now high school in Oakland!) through your observant, open-minded, thoughtful, intelligent approach. Thank you for taking us on the journey.


19 Sarah September 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I think it’s great that you are sending your kids to your local public high school, but as someone who attended a similarly diverse school in Los Angeles, I can’t help but think that this is an easy choice when you are reasonably confident that your children will be tracked into the ‘best’ classes (you mention AP History as an example) and that you can switch schools if things don’t work out. Just watch out for a “have-and-have-not” mentality that your kids may unwittingly absorb. I think many of my high school classmates came away with the notion that it’s perfectly normal and ok for most of the students to be reading below grade-level as long as the elite students were making it into the right colleges. I really don’t mean this as a personal criticism, but something to keep in mind when you are thinking about other people’s decisions regarding schools for their children.


20 Emme September 5, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I like your open-mindedness. However, for me, I would worry about the strong language and the general classes where the teaching is interrupted by students. I believe the cultural diversity is a wonderful thing, but it’s nice to uphold high standards of behavior and respect!


21 Cathi September 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I think the school will be what Ralph and Maude can make it for themselves. Does that make sense? They’re good student who want to learn and have a good social life and with the foundation that you’ve built for them at home the negative influences are really going to influence them. And I like what you said about learning to be the minority. Helps us see the world in a good way.
As for lockers … my kids graduated in 2000, 1997 and 1995 from a Southern California HS. They NEVER had a locker. Ever. The lockers weren’t in use because of vandalism. Thus … kids with back issues from carrying around 50 pound backpacks. My oldest grandson is in middle school and still … no lockers. Hmmm…


22 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Interesting! So lockers may never happen. Good to know.


23 Katherine September 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Love that they dance on the tables at lunch. That is seriously the stuff of movies!


24 Lauren Stacey September 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I went to a high school with a similar reputation in San Jose. However, I loved my experience there. It was a little rough around the edges but I felt like the things that made the school great came from the students and were supported by the staff (instead of the other way around). It gave me a sense of autonomy and creativity that I didn’t find after I moved to another state with a “higher ranking” high school. It prepared me more for college and for life than my experience at the other school. So happy to hear that you didn’t let the rankings determine your decision!


25 Polly September 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I grew up attending some of the worst public schools in California. I was always one of a handful of white kids. Some years were great and others not so much. At one school the teachers were at such a loss about what to do with my sister and I that they let us just sit and read after we finished the years work. So in 2nd and 3rd grade I was done with the years lessons by October and would just sit and read Lord of the Rings for the rest of the year. When I see all the enrichment activities my sons have it makes me a little sad at the lost opportunities of my childhood. That being said my sisters and I all have graduate degrees from prestigious universities.

What I am missing for my children is the diversity. Living in an area with amazing schools and economic and political diversity there is no racial diversity. I am sad that my boys won’t go to quinceaneras or have a mexican folk dance team at their school- all things I loved about my child hood.

My brother in law is a high school teacher where I grew up. And yes some of his kids go on to good universities. But the numbers of drop outs, teenage pregnancies, or kids who have been passed for years without learning to read is so sad to me. I think the bigger question for these poor preforming schools is not how well the kids from driven intact families will do, but how do they support the kids without that foundation? Is this something schools can fix even, or is it a bigger societal problem? My kids are going to do great. They have all they need to succeed. But what can we do to help the kids without the same support and bounty in our lives. With moms who don’t have the time and energy to read blog posts and make long winded comments on them!


26 Sarah September 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm

“I think the bigger question for these poor preforming schools is not how well the kids from driven intact families will do, but how do they support the kids without that foundation?”

Exactly what I was trying to say but you put it so much better.


27 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Great question with no easy answers. But I would hope that having more involved families in the school could help free up resources for high-risk kids, and could also mean having more adults around watching out for kids who might be slipping through the cracks.


28 Lhotse September 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Please do some more research on the big picture and don’t just flippantly hand your child’s mind over to someone else. You don’t send your kid to a school because it’s “cool”. For goodness sake. Please read “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America” which was written by a woman formerly at the top of the Department of Education. Also look into John Taylor Gatto, a veteran teacher with some very valuable observations and opinions.


29 Hayley September 5, 2013 at 11:36 pm

I honestly do not thin she is sending her children to a school just because it is “cool”. I know the school, my mother grew up around the corner and ended up going to a different, predominantly white high school down the road. What I think she is trying to convey, and what I know from personal experience in the area, is that it is an experience like no other. I understand that you fear that her children will not succeed in such a school, but like she said, as long as they are getting the proper education, what else matters? What is really important though is how the teachers are with the children. The documentary, “Waiting for Superman” show cases what can happen to poor scoring schools. They get the worst teachers in the district. As an aspiring teacher, I hope to teach in such a place like Oakland, or somewhere near by like Richmond, or south SF. Good teachers are a huge influence on children during high school and that would be my main concern when looking at a poor scoring school. Best of luck to the Blair kids!!!


30 Chandra September 5, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I have been waiting for this post! So timely. I’m in Hayward (moved from Oakland – Dimond District!) and my 4 yr old is currently in Preschool in the next town over. We are African-American and he is a racial minority in his school right now but would not be in our local school. The schools in the next town over also have higher test scores than our local schools. My husband and I are having daily conversations about where to send my son for elementary next year. Local public, next town over public, private? A major consideration for us is diversity and that my son not be a minority racially. My husband and I have very strong academic backgrounds, are those “very involved” parents (perhaps too much), and feel that my son will have a strong academic background between school & what we provide at home.

We are doing our research, visiting the schools, talking to other parents, etc. to formulate our plan. My big AHA moment on such a simple concept was that I felt like I was making a 7 year decision instead of one that I could change after a year (or less) if I wasn’t happy with the results.

Thank you for this post! Thank you for your honesty! I wish your family great health and happiness as you explore our little region.


31 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm

“My big AHA moment on such a simple concept was that I felt like I was making a 7 year decision instead of one that I could change after a year (or less) if I wasn’t happy with the results.”

Yes! Take it year by year. Or even semester by semester. One thing the American system does really well is offer options. There’s always another option!


32 Michelle A September 5, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I’m so glad the school is working out! I hope it continues to do so, even just selfishly for myself so my Oakland children have more options when they become teenagers.

When I look at a site like Great Schools (or recommend it to someone), I think of it as just an overview of basic information (class size, racial diversity, extra curriculars). I never would assume that their rating is the absolute truth. Even the state-required standardized test scores (which I’m assuming make up the bulk of the score), I have my own personal angst about. With all that said, I am glad sites like that exist. It helped me make my “short list” of schools to tour when looking at elementary schools, especially since the site includes private, charter and public.

I can’t wait to read the rest of your Oakland school posts. People who don’t live in Oakland give me such crap about living here, most of it about the crime and the schools. And I love my child’s public elementary school. But within Oakland, fellow parents are quick to criticize other schools. It’s just what you said, majority of the wealthy and upper-middle-class families send their children to private, especially for high school. That’s not an option for my financially, I would love it if public high school could be a fit.

Thanks for continuing to be so honest here on your site Gabby.


33 KatieB September 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm

My mom always, always said, “It’s not where you go. It’s who you are.”


34 This is Carrie September 5, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Perfect timing for me to read this post. It’s a nice little boost heading into another year as PTA president at an elementary school that’s rated a 4 out of 10 and continues to lose about 30 students a year. Keeping our kids in a “failing” school where they are part of the ethnic minority is often hard and sometimes exhausting, but so far, it’s been the right decision for our family – for many of the same reasons you listed above. It’s helpful to know we’re not the only “crazy” ones out there!


35 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Best of luck PTA President. I salute you.


36 Vicki September 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

To echo other comments – this is such a great post and one that has really helped me to trust my own instincts too. We live in an “urban” part of London. So many of our friends are “fleeing” for the ‘burbs. Nothing wrong with the suburbs – I grew up in one, but it’s not really want we want to do. Not least because both our jobs are city based and neither of us want a huge commute – and also because we love our city and think there is so much that our kids can get out of it. Our son goes to a tiny city infant (age 4-7) school which has an incredible cross section of society within – from rich families to refugees, from MP’s children (MP’s the equivalent of congressmen/senators – not sure which!) to market stall traders families. It’s also incredibly diverse ethnically. I love it.

Secondary schools (equivalent of high schools) are where many people baulk and move to the suburbs. We think that we will probably stay. We think that if our kids want to do well, then they will, and that the benefits of being in a mixed school – both socially and ethnically, will be hugely beneficial in life in general.

The trouble is that I sometimes doubt the courage of my convictions and wonder if we should move out or go private. I find it hard to see other people’s choices and not compare them to my own and doubt myself. Your post was informative and enlightening and makes me want to relax about things a bit (I’m already worried about secondary school options for my daughter – aged 3!)

Good luck to Ralph and Maude – I’m sure they will thrive and prosper. Can’t wait to hear about the schooling options/choices for the rest of the clan.

I hope you are feeling somewhat better Gabrielle – wishing you all the best.


37 Angie September 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I am a parent of 2 kids, ages 10 and 12. We are fortunate that our home elementary school is rated on of the best in our district…at a 4. Our children went there for 4 years and we were very involved…sat on committees, volunteered in the classroom, but by the time my son reached 4th grade we decided to call it quits. Sometimes it isn’t the score, but the school. The middle school in our district is riddled with violence an drugs and at the informational meeting for new parents, the principal spent 20 of her 30 minute speech telling us how the school handled drugs and fighting. Ugh! My daughter is in Middle School now, out of district, and is thriving. We also moved my son out of district to another school that is more ethnically diverse and where 80% of the student body qualifies for free/reduced lunch. His new school is still only rated a 4, but it is truly fantastic and he is happy now. I feel it is an individual decision for each family. Hoping it continues to work out for you!


38 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Glad to hear you’ve found schools that work for your kids. Certainly, that’s really all that parents are looking for.


39 Sherry September 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

We just moved, but in our previous area our children were the (white) racial minority. I can’t say enough how great of an experience that is. White privilege is too easily overlooked.


40 Sally from Little Hiccups September 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I’m so glad to hear that your family is happy with the high school. I’d love to see Maude and Ralph dancing on the tables in the cafeteria!
How are your younger kids finding their school/s? I’ve been wondering where you would send them.
When we first moved to the Bay Area from Australia finding a good school district was one of the biggest deciding factors on where we’d live. We were priced out of San Francisco so started looking in Oakland, however we heard nothing but bad stories about the local schools. So instead we ended up in Berkeley which is a pretty good school district and has (slightly) cheaper rent than San Francisco.
We’ve been really happy with our daughter’s school so far. It took a little while to get used to the differences between Australian schools and American schools, but once I got over the fact that the schools here don’t have computers for each child, swimming pools, sports fields, language classes or uniforms as standard I was fine. While all of those things would be nice, the fact that my daughter loves her school and is thriving there is the most important thing.
I hope your kids are all enjoying their new schools :)


41 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Computers for each child, swimming pools, sports fields, language classes and uniforms? Color me impressed! Sounds like Australian schools have it going on.


42 Carmen September 5, 2013 at 4:29 pm

My husband and I are expecting our first right now and have talked about school choice when the time comes. For the most part we decided we hope our kids can go to any school they’re assigned to geographically and help raise the school up–make it even better! Participate, stand up to bullying, and be kind, be respectful, and be good students. Thanks for the inside view to a school many others would never give a chance.


43 Grace @ sense and simplicity September 5, 2013 at 4:41 pm

What an interesting post and a great perspective on your children’s high school. We don’t have a rating system like that here in Canada (or at least not that I’m aware of) so I really don’t know how our children’s high school would be rated. What I do know is that it had a very high level of ethnic diversity (although mostly middle class). My husband and I loved that our children got a global perspective on life by being exposed to people from all different cultures and religions.

The only downfall was that the school administration went to such lengths to build-up awareness of and empower students from other backgrounds that our children (especially our daughter) were left feeling that white was not what you wanted to be. I remember my daughter saying that she wanted to marry someone who is brown or black so she would have coloured children (not that I mind, but it isn’t the right reason for selecting a spouse and is just as racist as not choosing a person because of their colour).

I also remember on one occasion my daughter and a couple of her classmates had organized a school wide mental health awareness week and were told that they could only do it the following year if they included some students who were not white. What? I couldn’t believe it – discouraging students from doing good things just because they were white (and to be clear my daughter and her classmates hadn’t excluded anyone who wanted to join or purposely sought people that were white to work with). Apart from that though we thought it was a good experience. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes with your children.


44 Grace September 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I went to a public school in a Bloomington, CA that had a similar racial divide and was a very low-scoring school. I loved, loved, loved my high school years! I thrived in that environment and learned so much by being surrounded such diversity. I was on a multitude of clubs from swimming to Key Club to AP English Club and even developed an entirely new club called Students in Action that focuses on raising money for second and third world trusted charities. A lot of the kids at my school attended UC’s after graduation, including myself. I went to UC Santa Barbara (talk about a HUGE culture shock, where white makes up 70% of the students). But my good friend attended UC Berekley and a few others went to UCLA and USC. Your kids will do great, I’m positive. I hope they have a happy school year and make a lot of friends! Also playing music during lunch was an everyday affair at my school, I honestly thought that was a normal occurrence!


45 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Ralph has been talking about UCLA and NYU (because of their film programs) for ages. It will be interesting to see where he ends up!


46 kelly harp September 5, 2013 at 5:08 pm

fascinating!!! we live in an area with troubled public schools, too. we were so distraught over choosing a Kinder for my oldest last year. we ended up choosing a charter that was a lot like a the public schools in diversity, plus it was free & open to all children. However, we didnt end up feeling like he was getting the instruction he needed, so we moved him to a Montessori this year & are praying for the money each month :). Maybe we’ll go back to public in the future. I think his current school & then public highschool might make for a great education!


47 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:16 pm

We’re trying a Montessori for one of our kids this year too. It’s a new experience for us. I’ll write more about it in my next school update…


48 Sophia September 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm

After checking Great Schools, I was not surprised to find that the middle school I went to received a 2/10 as well. It was a magnet in a very poor area, with racial divides very similar to those you describe. However, the magnet program opened a lot of doors, and I was able to take dance classes and very advanced sciences that I wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise. I think there’s a lot more to a school than it’s internet rating.


49 Jennifer September 5, 2013 at 6:16 pm

See…that’s the thing. The PEOPLE make the community at the school. The PEOPLE make the culture. I’m so glad you are not letting some website decide for you whether it is a great school or not. Get in there and make that school community even better. (I know you will!)


50 Kit September 5, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Interesting post! I’m impressed by your open-mindedness, Gabrielle.
I’m Australian, and graduated last year from a private all-girls school. I had a wonderful high school experience for which I am very grateful. I understand private schooling is nowhere near as common in the US as it is here, and I’m very curious about the system over there.
When you say that you were “assigned” to the school, does that mean you didn’t have the pick of other public schools in Oakland?


51 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Good question, Kit. We’re new enough to this school district that I may get this wrong when I try to explain, but from what I understand each home address is assigned to a particular school. If you don’t like the school, you can opt in to another school in the district, but only if they have room to accept you. As you might guess, if a school has high ratings, they also have wait lists.

I don’t know which public high schools (if any) in Oakland have high ratings. We moved here so close to the start of the school year, that we basically signed the kids up and went with the geographically assigned schools.

And in case you’re curious, every school system in America has it’s own rules and guidelines on switching schools. So it really depends on where you move.


52 Shelly September 5, 2013 at 6:31 pm

We have just moved back from the States and have been looking at schools for our children. We have a school director that helps families who are returning to the DC – His full time job is to help State Department people find good schools for their kids. All the schools he recommended were ranked low on the Great Schools website. He said the test scores reflect nothing and that is all they use. The schools he recommended were diverse but have amazing teachers and administrators, and the parents were super involved. That was what made them great – not test scores.


53 Shakila September 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I am African American and went to public schools for most of my education. Because of my parents’ diligence in participating in my education, I was able to get into a top ten school, almost all tuition paid. So, I agree that public schools can be great schools. Also, I realized that my closest non African American friends are those who experienced life as a racial minority. I think it makes for great adults with a crucial perspective for today’s world.


54 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm

“I realized that my closest non African American friends are those who experienced life as a racial minority.”

I’m so grateful for your comment. I think that’s important to acknowledge.


55 Elizabeth Aquino September 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Thank you for this. I have shared it on my Facebook page. Really, Gabrielle — THANK YOU.


56 Kristin September 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I too went to a racially diverse school here in Chicago. I (being white) was also in the 10%! It was hard, but ultimately an inspiring time in my life. I will never forget Sophomore year history class, discussing slavery while being the only white kid in class. What an eye-opener. I remember just wanting to stand up and yell, “But that wasn’t me!! My grandparents are all immigrants who just came over to America!” I applaud you all for giving your neighborhood public school a try!


57 Vanessa September 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Hooray! I love this post, I love your attitude, and I’m so happy you’re in Oakland! Welcome to the East Bay. You’re going to hella love it here.


58 Sarahjane September 5, 2013 at 7:00 pm

We have a very similar situation. The house we moved to has an elementary school one block away (it scored a 4 on Great Schools), yet very few people from the neighborhood send their kids there. Kids from this area are bused to magnet, charter, and private schools while students from poorer areas are bused here. We chose to give the school a try, and, two years in, we have been very happy. So far the positives like diversity and proximity far outweigh any negatives. You might enjoy the book “How to Walk to School.”


59 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I’m so glad to hear it’s working out for you, Sarahjane!


60 Melanie Holmes September 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Thank you for writing this! I actually teach at a school that’s rated a 3 out of 10 on Great Schools, and while we certainly have our problems like any other school, there are also some really wonderful things happening at my school. Thank you for being the kind of parent that looks beyond test scores and race. It makes such a huge difference!
I loved what you said about your kids being a racial minority and how that’s an important part of their American education. I couldn’t agree more! I’m white, but the majority of my students are African-American and I’ve learned so much about their culture and myself since I’ve been teaching there. I would never trade this experience.


61 Alix September 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm

This was a wonderful post….and makes me love you all the more. As a mama with a little guy in an Oakland Public School I share your frustration with Great Schools. Our school’s rating has gone up consistently over the years (wolfie is in 4th grade) but I’m with you, that doesn’t tell the whole story. The past year or so we made a big push to get parents to write “reviews” of our school on Great Schools so that parents looking there would see how much we love it, and how wonderful a community we have!

Our school is very diverse (as you know!) and Wolfie has mentioned to me before “I’m the only person with light eyes in my entire class.” I love that he is surrounded by children of all ethnicities and backgrounds! We have a lot of friends who live in an area with a really highly rated elementary school and I have to say in my experience the kids at our school are SO much more respectful and well behaved than the kids we have encountered at this “fancier” school! I can’t wait to hear more updates. I’m especially intrigued by the middle school/highschool experiences! Thanks as always for sharing these peeks into your world. xo


62 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I love, love, love that we share a school, Alix!


63 Heide September 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I too applaud you for your positive outlook, and the gusto to at least try the local school first. I wish it would have worked for my step-daughter, but despite her, and our, desire, this is what we experienced: Kids who have been in struggling schools all the way through, even the smartest ones, are so unaccustomed to school running smoothly that it isn’t the teaching, that made it impossible to learn, it was the behavior issues. This was in an urban neighborhood school on the far North side of Chicago — a great majority of the students are black and hispanic. And my SD wanted this — she’s bi-racial. Socially she fit right in — cheerleader, student council — immediately. But the teachers could not teach because the students were not able or accustomed to sitting still to learn. She stayed six months. She’s at a charter now, and much happier. But we’re all still sad our experiment didn’t work out.


64 Sara September 5, 2013 at 7:41 pm

What an interesting post.

I went through an under-performing Catholic school system, where teachers were never reviewed, test scores were in the lowest percentile, it was 99% white and homophobic. I graduated in high school in 2000 and sadly, it has not changed. My parents saw the system as “a step up” from public schools and were so proud to have sent us. I don’t have the heart to tell them what a sad experience it was for me.

On the other hand, I would have a large problem with teachers cussing in school and the kids talking over the teachers in class. To me, this is just disrespectful and no amount of poverty or “diversity” can excuse this behavior. I would have a very difficult time learning in that kind of an environment, which I think contributes to the poor test scores and overall experience.

I live in an area that consistently has some of the top ranking public schools in the country, right down the street from the Philadelphia public school system (mentioned in a previous comment) that is failing, or has failed (depending on who you talk to). I know of many open-minded, service-driven people who lived in Philadelphia and sent their children to public schools, only to have to remove them due to violence, a complete lack of funding, and children that were so unprepared for school that they could not keep up with the rest of the class (resulting in a classroom of chaos as the teacher tried to teach to 10 different levels).

Until we realize the importance of a well-rounded education for all, kids in both public and private school will continue to fall short.


65 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:28 pm

“I would have a large problem with teachers cussing in school and the kids talking over the teachers in class”

I hear you. The cussing doesn’t actually bother me — I don’t swear much, but 8 years in New York accustomed me to hearing it enough that it doesn’t stress me out. But I will be curious to see how my kids feel about the rowdiness after a few months.


66 Deanna September 5, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Gabby, what a great post! I am SO guilty of shopping for a well ranked school rather than shopping for the right home. Is that okay to admit here? :) It was hard to overlook the rankings because they were linked to every realty listing we looked at. We were moving from a top-ranked elementary in rural, upstate NY to northern Utah. My husband and I grew up in Utah, we know that the dollars for education are stretched thinly here. We didn’t want our kids to feel a deficit of opportunity. I paid most attention to the testing scores for schools, thinking that high scores would indicate a school’s ability to achieve high academic standards despite chronic-state-wide, low funding. We got lucky. We found our dream home, after we found a suitable school. The school turned out to be a disappointment. It may have ranked at an “8″ but it felt nothing like the school we left in NY. The lack of funding had stripped it of music and artistic opportunities. Last year, our children got into a local charter school that is focussed on integrated arts. Class sizes are capped. Discipline issues are minimal, and parents have to give at least 30 volunteer hours to the school each year. Parents have a voice. Parents are involved closely with administrators and teachers in educating. I LOVE it. The school feels like a community.


67 Nikki September 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I have the opposite worry! We’re about to move to a neighbourhood where the school is a 10 and I’m terrified about the lack of diversity. I can’t remember a single test I took in grade school but I definitely remember the friends and experiences I had.


68 Monica Lalanne September 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Went to that school and probably the junior high you chose… and maybe the elementary. Sent my children to public school here in Santa Cruz County. They are successful college students and know how to live in our world with all kinds of people and situations. Support your public school and be a parent who is present and asks questions. It works!


69 Jennifer September 5, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I’ve been waiting for this post too! Thank you so much for sharing. Once again I feel as though we are living somewhat parallel lives. My son just started Spanish-immersion at a primary school that is also a 2 out of 10. He is coming from French school and so there are lots of transitions: language, private to public, new city, new cultures. And these have been adjustments for me too, but I have learned so much about the obstacles many other children are facing, the enthusiasm of the community regardless of official test scores, and like your kids, what it is like to be a visible racial minority (everyone knows whose Mom I am).

And just to add to the inevitable sensitivities about public vs private: I have personally attended both. My public school was in a wealthy, mostly white suburb and my super-elite boarding school had kids of all races, socio-economic classes, and places. When I wanted to talk about my experience of this new, urban public school that my son is attending, I called up my high school roommate who remains one of my best friends to ask about her grade school experience in a similar school.

And finally, I love that you acknowledge this new experience as one that offers as much growth as the time in France. I have felt similarly.

I cannot wait for more updates!



70 Laura September 5, 2013 at 9:13 pm

I went to a “9″ school in the east bay and the short version of the story is that it was terrible. Very controlled, white washed, keeping up with the jones type environment. I was miserable and barely graduated.

Inter went on to a junior college, then and excellent college and a nationally recognized masters program and have a prestigious career. College exposed me to the diversity of thought my high school was missing that also made me thrive academically.

A good school is about so much more then test scores.


71 Karen September 5, 2013 at 9:13 pm

We have good friends whose children graduated from that same high school. They both loved it, and are well on their way through some great Universities. I think sometimes people forget how important the home is when it comes to the happiness and success of a child.


72 Erica September 5, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I love your attitude, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I grew up in a poor rural community and went to a school that is (I just checked) rated a 1. The school was a very good mix of cultures, but one thing that I most appreciated about attending a school like this is that I think it gives you a better perspective on what you should or shouldn’t be complaining about. I had friends whose parents were in prison for drugs or who were homeless or who frequently went hungry. My daughter now attends a school in an entirely too expensive area of Los Angeles. Her school is rated a 10, and I have been impressed by the school and adore her teacher, but there is so little diversity. Plus there is so much comparison about what people are wearing and which backpacks people have and she is in KINDERGARTEN! There are good things and bad things about every school.


73 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:29 pm

“I think it gives you a better perspective on what you should or shouldn’t be complaining about”

I agree!


74 Rachel Clark September 5, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Thank you for posting this. We are currently living overseas in Melbourne Australia where the public vs private school thing was something that I wasn’t prepared for in the least. We are from Southern California & have been happy with the public schools in the area where we live back home. We decided to give the public schools here a chance & so far so good. Our oldest daughter is currently in high school (7th grade here is high school). I’m so amazed at how many people (adults & children) comment about the fact that she is attending “public” high school instead of private. Interested to see how the school transition goes when we return back to the USA hopefully in 2014.


75 Jamie Grumet September 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Hey Gabrielle! My mom and dad both went to that high school and both went to UC Berkeley after… Hope you guys are having a great time adjusting to life in the Bay.


76 Lisa Clark September 5, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Gabby, I am so excited for your kids’ experience at this school. Dancing on the tables?! That shows that the kids are fun and confident! I appreciate the fact that you and Ben, who know a thing or two about education, will give public school a real chance. I think it will be a big benefit to your kids. Super cool.


77 Christine Gough September 5, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Woop woop!!! I know that high school!!!!! You will not regret your decision. Oakland schools can be tough and make for challenging decisions for parents. But, after moving to Oregon in July—the same week you moved !—-we really miss and notice the lack of diversity. My son was one in the racial minority at our school before moving and it didn’t phase him a bit. I loved hearing him weave names into his creative writing and imaginative play that were normal to him, but so different than any I had known before. I have found as a teacher myself that the diversity along all levels is something I can’t live without! Blessings to Your two bunnies!!!!


78 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:30 pm

“I loved hearing him weave names into his creative writing and imaginative play that were normal to him, but so different than any I had known before.”

I love hearing that!


79 Jessica September 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I loved this post. I grew up in a small town in Utah and have always felt that one of the things that I sorely lack is the social experiences that your children are having. From reading your blog for several years I can tell you and Ben Blair are active, involved parents, which I would echo the other coents that say that is a major factor in success of a child. Thanks for opening my mind up a little more and giving another opinion that puts a positive spin on something that others looked at so negatively. Your kids are so lucky to have you two as parents.


80 Juliana September 5, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Love your perspective and attitude! I remember how stressed I got when my friends mentioned about the scores schools here get – I didn’t even know there was such a thing, to tell you the truth.
I always studied in private schools in Brazil, and none of them were near as good as public schools here in UT (even though the scores here are low). But honestly, even after I saw the low scores, I didnt see how putting my kids in private schools could be an answer to improve public education. In the contrary, I wish the community would get more involved and improved those same schools they are bashing, instead of running away from them with their kids.


81 Marie September 5, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Gabrielle, do you think the time you spent in France and the fact that you kids attended the public school there has helped you with your decision?


82 Design Mom September 5, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Probably. But our thoughts on schooling have been pretty consistent since we started Ralph in preschool in New York. I’m trying to write up a post about it…


83 christine September 5, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I know plenty of Oakland public school graduates, including 3 of my cousins who all went to your kids’ high school (though over 10 years ago) and went on to UC Berkeley and two to UC Davis. One is now a professional photographer in Hawaii (she was in photography during high school), one in NYC working for Merrill lynch, and one graduated from police academy two years ago. I have another cousin there (a junior I think) and she is always telling me about her extracurricular activities – swimming, JROTC, tennis, etc. I, on the other hand, went to a small private school (42 in our graduating class) even though I lived less than a mile from your kids’ high school. I never had nearly as many extra-curricular activities available and it was 99% one ethnicity, though I thoroughly enjoyed my experience too. I definitely missed out on a lot by not going to public school and hope that my daughter (and any other future children) will be able to have a great experience in public school


84 Katie September 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Schools in the USA are stressful! My daughter is 4 and in preschool and kindergarten at what school is a hot topic. I don’t care about my kid’s test scores. I just want them to play and have fun! Not sure what I’m going to do. Glad I don’t have to make decisions quite yet!


85 jill September 5, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Imagine our schools if every child went to their neighborhood school…


86 Shilo September 5, 2013 at 10:24 pm

His post was a lovely reminder about how to look at the world for our children. Where I am located in Northern Canada — we have public schools or 1 private catholic school (which is also non denominational, where you cn attend even if you’re not catholic) we don’t have many boarding schools in BC and I’ve never heard if a charter school. However we do have Waldorf private etc.

In saying that we opted to have our children (7 and 5) attend a French immersion school. It was lower in the scales about 4 years prior but with the backing of admin, teachers
And parents it’s moved to 15 out of 59 in all of BC.

For me this was a great thing especially livin in our small northern town — however we would have still put out children in the FI school -/ since a lot of the time it’s your dedication and communication that helps get your kids through.

Now my question is being LDS – do you feel that your values and general family (way) will keep your children on the straight and narrow? I know for me drugs. Sex and general inappropriate behaviour is horrifying and we are non religious!

The works has changed so. And it’s no longer the same — I flow many blogs of
Mormon families and notice not much mention of being ‘swayed’ and how you overcome those obstacles…maybe that’s to personal? I just no as a parent it’s nice to know we am sorta battle the same stuff …
Especially since from my understanding the LdS religion is quiet conservative — have your children me ruined seeing anything very ‘shocking’ to then? How do you keep that line of communication?

I hope I’m not overstepping — I’ve followed your blog for many year. nd adore it! You seems like amazing dedicated parents who have raised lovely children — I wish them good luck in their new school!


87 Caila September 5, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Thank you for posting this! I haven’t had time to read all the comments (over 200, wow!), but I will read through as many as I can. This is interesting! We live in a city that is considered “ghetto” by the surrounding areas, although our neighborhood is nice, respectable, and safe. My first grader attends a public school that tests at only 30% proficiency. For this reason, we *almost* put him in a private school. But it’s very important to us that our children see what the real world is like, understand what it’s like to be the racial minority. So, we put him in the public school. So far, I am incredibly impressed. Would we remove him if he became unsafe or wasn’t learning enough? Of course. But so far, he’s thriving. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in making this decision! Thank you again for sharing. :)


88 Caila September 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Oh, and I just checked and my son’s school is rated a 3 on Great Schools. Haha!


89 Theresa September 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I read this with mixed feelings. My kids attended a low-rated inner-city school for a year and initially I was drawn to the diversity and the unique experience they would have. I saw the school as an institution we could get heavily involved in and make a difference. By the end of the year we made the decision to pull them out. It was truly an unsafe environment, and my kids were frustrated by the lack of learning & disrespect in the classes. These are formative years for your teenagers- some of the most important decisions they will make will come soon. You are smart parents so I’m sure you will do what is best- just know going into this that sometimes the great schools ratings are legit & don’t feel bad if your “experience” is shorter than you thought it would be.


90 Karen September 5, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post, because the reputation of the public school systems in Oakland and SF (to some extent) are generally not considered as up to par as some of the other school systems in neighboring cities/counties. We have only ever considered living in one or the other place due to our jobs, but we have the added complication of wanting to enroll our kid in a language immersion school. In SF, the entire school system is set up on a lottery basis, so you have to roll the die and see if you can manage to get into one of the immersion programs in the public system. (Living in the neighborhood doesn’t provide any advantage.) Due to that wrinkle, we are also considering private immersion programs on both sides of the Bay Bridge.

I really admire your open-minded attitude about your local public schools – it can be daunting in the face of the never-ending pressure to help one’s kids access the best resources possible. I’m so glad that the high school experience has turned out to be more than about the Great Schools rankings for your kids, and I am looking forward to hearing about your other kids’ experiences at the elementary/middle school grades. You truly do make an adventure out of your life!


91 Lauren September 5, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Wow, great post. I’m interested to see how R&M acclimate to such a new environment. Sounds like a great opportunity.

I went to a diverse urban high school, and had a great academic experience. We were split almost 50/50 white/black. Looking back, though, we were segregated, not racially as much as socioeconomically. And I still live among people who make about the same amount as money as me, although my neighborhood is about a third white, Chinese, and Indian. I wonder if the racial divide we have in our country is more about money than skin color. But then I’m white so I can’t really say.


92 Alice September 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I grew up in Hayward and this seems like a glorified version of my HS. We had about the same race ratio. Unfortunately there was a lot of racism and violence at my school. It was a hard 4 years to navigate The art program and orchestra were cut due to funding, any school spirit was slammed. I remember by our junior year we’d have to hide our float the night before the big rally (homecoming) because our freshman and sophmore years people from our own school destroyed it. I hope that Maude and Ralph have good experiences. I appreciate your approach. I am grateful for my rough school because it opened my eyes to what the real world is like and encouraged me to broaden and expand and gain an appreciation for many cultures. Don’t be quick to pull them out if anything bad happens, stick it out because any academic flaws that the school might have, you and your husband are capable of filing in that gap. This cultural experience will define them. Some children are too sheltered and they go on to be shocked when they enter the real world. A school like this will challenge them more creatively. Good luck, it’ll be great!


93 Damaris @Kitchen Corners September 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm

There’s so much I want to say but I’ll keep it really brief. I think that allowing your kids to experience diversity is the best education they will get. Hands down.

I hope they have a great school year, all of your kids. Oakland is amazing. You and Ben should go Salsa dancing one night there, the salsa there is phenomenal.


94 Kjerste September 6, 2013 at 1:17 am

We love Oakland, and after 4 years living here are pleasantly surprised delightfully often. I’m sick of hearing abour how ghetto our beloved city is, and “but what are you going to do about school?” as though an education doesn’t exist for our children here. Our bi-racial daughter is not in school yet, but your perspective on schooling, diversity and life experiences totally speaks to me and our family values. Bravo!


95 Jillian Lopina September 6, 2013 at 6:27 am

Gabby, thank you… this post is just awesome. I don’t even have kids yet but I really feel I’m filing away these kinds of posts & lessons for when I do down the road. You’ve become a trusted source of musings on issues like this. This has absolutely been one of my favorite posts in the 3 years I’ve been reading. Thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness!


96 Amanda September 6, 2013 at 7:41 am

Thank you for this reassuring post. My husband and I are thinking of making a move to a city we love. Unfortunately it seems most families like ours (white) have abandoned the public schools. We looked up the school our son would likely attend on Great Schools and were devastated to see a ranking of 5. We immediately started checking out our private options. Our son is in kindergarten and thanks to your post I think we’ll visit the school first – before making any rash decisions.


97 CeeBee September 6, 2013 at 7:57 am

LOVE this post, love your personal family insights (my favorite type of post!), and LOVE that you are making me think AND rethink my own choices and biases in terms of what makes a public school “the best.”

In elementary school, I was one of a handful of white children in a class. The lessons I learned in terms of sociology, class culture in the U.S., and empathy stick with me so clearly to this day. I continue to think about some of my peer students now 30 years later.

I hope R+M continue to love this school, but no matter what, you have made a difference today in helping us think broadly, without fearing the unknown or clinging to what’s most familiar. Thank you!


98 Sarah September 6, 2013 at 8:04 am

What a great post! I live in a neighborhood where there has been a lot of [elementary] school drama lately. Of course it is parent-driven, and has does nothing for our sense of community here. On the three blocks surrounding our home, there are children attending eight (maybe more!) different elementary schools. Remember the good ‘ol days when you attended YOUR local school? Within a year of moving here, our school had an influx of refugees and a greatschools score drop from 10 to 6. Now it seems like parents can’t pull their kids out fast enough to get them in the “best” program at some other school. My kids aren’t in school yet, but I’d like to think that they will get a great education no matter where they attend because of the environment and values we create and teach at home. Not because they are attending a ’10′ school.


99 jenny September 6, 2013 at 8:05 am

love you even more now!!!
Ralph and Maude will thrive because you have raised them to be creative, open-minded and willling to take on challenges and then step back, let them be themselves and while always being available to offer incredible support from you and your family.
Thank you for this wonderful post! I cannot wait to hear more in the future about how things are coming along


100 jenny September 6, 2013 at 8:07 am

PS And definitely cannot wait for the what to wear to school edition from the new Oakland HS!!!! Sounds like it might be a bit of a transition from the last posting from France :)


101 Jen September 6, 2013 at 8:19 am

Hi Gabrielle, I have never commented before, but this post was so great and hit close to home. I live in Oakland (Rockridge) and our daughter would go to Oakland Tech (also ranked very low on good schools). Luckily we live on a very open minded street where most of my neighbors have sent their children to Oakland Tech and rave about it. They tell me about all the wonderful programs and opportunities their children have had from going to an urban and very diverse school. I take ballet in Rockridge and often have OT kids in my class because the school has a partnership with the studio to offer discounted classes to students. Living in Oakland is amazing. My husband and I lived in SF for years prior to moving to Oakland and we have never regretted moving to this side of the bay. Welcome and thanks for this great post on such a deserving school and community.


102 Stephanie September 6, 2013 at 8:24 am

There are no good schools, just good (or bad) teachers, says my friend who has been a devoted 5th grade teacher for over 30 years. This is especially applicable in elementary school when the kids are with 1 teacher mist of the day.


103 Tammy September 6, 2013 at 8:52 am

I loved this post!
Growing up, I lived in France and when I came back to the States in high school, I went to a public school in the middle of a wealthy community. It was ranked one of the best public schools in the nation, and yet I didn’t really like it. Many/most of the students fit into this cookie cutter mold of what the community expected. It wasn’t interesting, or mind-opening. I ended up switching to a french international school (with low rankings in math and science) and loved it! I’m so glad you’re open minded about the school systems, and are really looking for what fits your family best! Cheers!


104 claire September 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

We moved to our area specifically so our kids could go to a “9″ ranked school. The highest in town. And I’ve really disliked it from the beginning. While there is some diversity, the amount of wealth in the area has given most of the children attending an insane attitude of entitlement.
For example one of the things that I really dislike is that at the high school and middle school my children will be attending they offer “get out of homework” passes and “be in the front of the line” passes, and front row seats to school events held for you, if you pay the PTA a certain amount of money (in the hundreds). What does that teach kids? Hey, guys if you have enough money you don’t have to work for your grades or wait in line you can just pay someone to get out of it. I honestly don’t even know how that is legal in the public school system? It makes me miss our days of the inner city schools and regret moving to this “top” school.


105 Mrs. LIAYF September 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Claire – seriously!!??

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound legal in a public school system. Good gravy, it simply teaches students that money matters more than effort and that you can get away with anything if you have money. I feel a bit ill.


106 Kiran September 6, 2013 at 9:07 am

I am a Bay Area girl and I am pretty sure I know which school you are talking about. I also went to a HUGE high school, Berkeley High which was totally diverse. The test scores weren’t great when I went there but if you advocated for yourself you could get great classes with great teachers and go on to a great college. In my opinion the life skills you learn in a school like that set you up for the rest of your life in a way that Advanced Calculus won’t. You learn to relate to people from every imaginable background and you learn to stand up for yourself to get what you want/need.

Because of the path life took my family on, my kids will grow up going to school with predominantly white kids on the top end of the socioeconomic ladder and I am kind of sad about that.

Welcome to the Bay Area! It is SUCH an amazing place to live!


107 Nic September 6, 2013 at 9:32 am

When I read your post I thought, this sounds a lot like the high school my husband worked at in Oakland. Then I saw your Instagram post and was even more sure. I noticed you haven’t disclosed the name of the school, so I’ll do the same.

What I can say is this… It really, truly is a good school, and probably the best high school in Oakland. My husband taught both AP and regular biology at this high school. He loved the diversity, and believed it helped keep all the kids motivated to do better. He even had a few students that were children of Berkeley professors! Most of the teachers bring fun and innovative ways to learn to the classroom. Including a Spanish teacher who (if she is still there) created a work/trade program for students to work lunches and save money for a study abroad trip to Europe their senior year. It’s also one of the few Oakland high schools that actually has a football team, so enjoy the extracurriculars!

My husband only taught there for a year, then was moved to an underprivileged and less diverse (90% black) charter high school in a different part of Oakland. After that school year, we relocated back to Chicago.

We loved living in Oakland for those two years, and make if a point to visit once a year. There are some really cool things happening there right now. Hope you love it too! And good luck to your children! Also, feel free to message me if you have any questions.


108 marta September 6, 2013 at 9:38 am

I really appreciate your stand on this. Here in Europe we probably don’t get so much choice in the school system, so sometimes Americans sound a bit too spoilt when talking about private, charter, independent, public, homeschool, unschool, immersion, whatever school… It’s great to see that a lot of Americans are still sensible and smart enough to experience first and judge later.
My two older kids are in two different public schools (the 3rd is in 3rd grade and goes to a small non-profit private school; and the baby… is still a baby) and so far so good. One of the schools would rank something like 2 or 3 out of 10 as well but they’ve thrived with new and diverse friends, a fair amount of sports and clubs, 15 minutes walking distance from our place, good staff, safe environment. The other school would be more like 6 or 7 out of 10 (in terms of grades, of course) but is less diverse and the staff is not so homogenously good…
So, the bottom line is, never say no to something you don’t know firsthand.


109 Roxanna (miguelina) September 6, 2013 at 9:45 am

I just adore you. I went to a school just like the one you describe, and I turned out OK. :)

But I really love this: “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.”

I learned a lot by going to my big public high school in Miami. But the main thing I learned is to think for myself and to judge people based on their character, not on the surface. Because I saw first hand that there is very little correlation between smarts, wit, kindness and money.

I love that your kids are embracing their new school, and I wish them the best.


110 Carolina September 6, 2013 at 9:59 am

I attended a high school similar to the one described in this post in LA. First, I love the post and I appreciate Gabrielle’s approach to her children’s education. I was not a racial minority in high school (which was predominantly Latino and AA) but I was one at university (NY private) and I can honestly tell you that it was both a shock and great learning experience because, let’s be honest, I will forever be a racial minority in the work world. Just to say that being a minority at some point in your life is a great opportunity to grow.
Now, I live in DC in a good area with terrible public schools. After trying our local out for one year, my husband and I decided to bite the financial bullet and send our kindergartener to a private school which is more diverse than most but not really (the is very little socio-economic diversity for obvious reasons). We are sending her there for the strong academics but the responsibility to expose her to the broader world, instill a sense of pride in her multiracial identity and compassion for people with less is ours as parents. My point is that no school will ever offer a child all they need. You might need to supplement the academic at home (which my parents never did with me) but your children will look back at their high school experience with pride (like I do).


111 Shani September 6, 2013 at 10:47 am

This is fantastic. Awesome. Special. Amazing. Good on you!!!


112 Eirin September 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

I loved reading this post. I grew up in Oakland and lived very close to this high school (I ended up going to the Catholic high school instead). I applaud you for looking beyond the reputation and giving the school a chance. Oakland is a wonderful place to grow up and I miss it so! I look forward to living vicariously through your adventures!


113 Em September 6, 2013 at 11:23 am

Great post!


114 Melissa September 6, 2013 at 11:28 am

The high school my brother, sister, and I attended was an inner-city school in Las Vegas. It had it’s fair share of struggles, but my mom and dad were always public school advocates, and we all had really good experiences there. My brother and I were both National Merit Scholars, we all took as many Honors and AP classes as we wanted to, and the clubs and sports teams were very welcoming. We probably had more chances to participate in whatever we wanted to than kids who went to the “nicer” high schools in town.

Now that I have kids of my own in school, public school has been an eye-opening experience. Our sweet little elementary school doesn’t have the highest scores in the district, and because of that, a lot of wonderful families that should go there have chosen other schools instead. But we feel like our kids are getting a great education there. Their teachers are sweet and loving, the office staff is friendly, and the PTO loooooves volunteers. I feel like my little family can make a difference there, and that is a wonderful thing!


115 Ellen September 6, 2013 at 11:36 am

Gabrielle, you are very right about judging a school purely by test scores. The social environment plays a huge roll in education. You mentioned that you went to a school with its share of violence and drugs. I can relate to that myself. Having dealt with both extremes, I see the advantages and disadvantages. My personal conclusion was that fear & gangs are NOT an option. Every school has drugs. Every class has a clown. Every school has it popularity BS to deal with. I hate that public schools are being abandoned. I would like to see it turned around. But you feeling good about it is just a bonus. Your kids need to feel safe and be educated. If that changes, you will have to change also. I love that you are putting your views out there. I’m all for taking a stand on an issue you feel strongly about. But your stand is represented through you kids’ day to day activities. Not yours. Stay open to them, not us. Screw us. Our opinions don’t matter. It’s your kids opinions that matter. I wish them all the culture and fun and learning they can possibly experience so they become enriched, educated and tolerant adults.


116 Kiersten September 6, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I love this post! I live in Alameda and have a 3-year-old daughter so I’m always curious about the schools in the area.


117 Annie September 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm

My mom went to that school! (And she’s awesome.) She has some pretty cool stories about being a racial minority there in the 1960′s; we used to love her story of the day Dr. Martin Luther King was killed.


118 Deena McClain September 6, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I love this because it is exactly why we have lived in Oakland for so long! It is a microcosm for our country–particularly where it is headed! Thanks for a realistic (good and questionable) description of the high school! By the way, I think coming from an Oakland public school with good grades and scores actually may help in college admissions!


119 Liz H September 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm

It’s not Great School’s fault that the school gets a “2″ rating. They are just going off of test scores. That’s all they’ve got to go off of. Of course it’s not the whole picture, but it is one benchmark. On and other places, you can look at the school’s racial make-up, number of students on free/ reduced lunch, etc.


120 Emily Foley September 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

We live in Gallup, NM and my white kids are for sure a minority here, as is my husband, the only white employee currently working for the Navajo Nation. My kids don’t notice or mind, which is great. But the schools here leave something to be desired. No school has passed the standardized testing here. Ever. There is a lot of apathy towards education in the general Navajo population in my experience here…which is a whole different post of course, but there is such a wide discrepancy in grades as to their skills level and intelligence that it’s hard for the teachers to know where to start. So many kids don’t even start kindergarten knowing English so how do you teach them to read? I’ve considered homeschooling more than once but I don’t know if that’s the answer.


121 Alecia September 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Thank you SO much for writing this. We are in a very similar situation where we send our girls to a school with a low rank (3) and where they are the racial minority (only 5% of the school is Caucasian.) Everyone thought we were crazy, but it has been really good for us. The main thing that made us decide was actually visiting the school beforehand. The principal took time to sit and answer all of our questions and concerns, both justified and some that ended up being hearsay.

Are there things that I wish my kids weren’t learning right now? Yes, but if I think about it, there would be things they’d learn that I didn’t want them to at ANY school, even the best ones. We’ve been very active in the school (it’s elementary) and have really felt like we have made a difference in some areas. Like you, we are happy that our girls are learning about diversity and about kids from different situations. Some of the kids in their school come from families so poor that their only meal each day is lunch and the after school program snack. It’s sad, but I’m glad my girls are learning not to take things for granted.

We’ve noticed how the Great Schools rating has affected the real estate market in our area. It’s sad, because a lot of times some of these schools really are great but are suffering from old reputations and bad PR. SO many factors go into test scores, but I find the best judge of a school is to read the GS parent reviews. Those say more to me than test scores.

Anyway, sorry to ramble on, but I felt like I’d found a “kindred spirit” when I read your post. We live in the Deep South where racial tensions are still high, and none of our friends understand our reasoning.


122 zoe September 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I have to thank you for such a great share. Very inspiring!

I always loved the diversity of Oakland, it’s something I miss living where I live now.

I have to admit if I am being totally honest with myself, when I enrolled my twins in the private elementary school on the campus of my husbands work it was so they could have some NEEDED space from each other and be in separate classrooms BUT….
It was also tagged to MY fears, my bad school experiences. I wonder how many other parents are reliving their own schooling when they decide where to send their children?


123 Mrs. LIAYF September 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm

This is such a great approach to a school!

In our neighborhood, the north-end public schools are 80-90% white, and the south-end public schools are 80-90% minorities. Because they are neighborhood schools, they draw from the immediate area and people are assigned by address. And, if you go on Great Schools, you can see that the ratings for the north-end schools are higher (usually based on test scores).

Although we live in the north-end, we wanted our child to attend a school that wasn’t quite so racially divided – that’s not really how the world looks. So, we were so grateful that a new school opened up last year when our son started Kindergarten. It’s right in the middle of our neighborhood and is an “option” school, which means it draws from every part of the neighborhood and students are picked through a lottery. It offers a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum with a project-based teaching approach.

As anticipated, it is nearly 50/50 in racial diversity and has a nice blend of kids from all economic strata (33% Free and Reduced Lunch).
The teachers are amazing and enthusiastic about the school and the students. Many of the kids come from “failing” schools, but have been so inspired by the teachers, and the hands-on science and engineering projects, that they are talking about becoming doctors and architects.
It must be amazing to be able to work on projects in the classroom and have lab classes (rather than simply sitting in chairs all day and being tested all the time because your school is “failing”).

It’s no surprise that we have a long, long waiting list this year! And, I’m glad that my son is in a classroom with kids who speak other languages and don’t all look alike.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: