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Montclair jr/high school: public, private or move?

May 2013

My husband and I have two small children under 5 and are starting to think about long term schooling plans. We live in Montclair - our elementary is Montclair which we have only heard wonderful things about and would certainly look forward to sending out kids there. However, it seems like things get dicey at best with Montera middle school and Skyline High. I've read all old BPN posts, and both schools are ranked pretty poorly in state rankings. My question is - where do (or have) other Montclair parents sent their kids to middle and high school and how did it work out? Did you keep them in the public system in Oakland, go private after elementary school or move? We are considering all 3. Private school is so horribly expensive that at that point we would save money by just moving to Orinda and sending our kids to public school. Making a school change at 6th grade can be tough, so if we are going to move we would rather do it now so our kids have the benefit of going all through school with their friends (we also don't want to dump more money into our 1920s house on the necessary improvements it will need in 5 years if we are just going to move). The problem is my husband and I love Oakland, the culture and diversity. We have gone to a number of open homes in Orinda, and frankly, hate how white and privileged it feels. Very curious to hear from other parents in Montclair (or who used to live here and move) on what you did for post elementary schooling and what your experiences were. Thanks so much! Always so grateful for BPN community and all the wonderful advice I've received over the years. Montclair Mama


I wouldn't move or go private for middle school. Our child is in 6th grade at Montera, after having attended Montclair. It is a California Distinguished School, and the test scores are not so bad at all. I am not so big on paying attention to test scores. Instead, I care about how happy my daughter is and if she is learning. Well, she is thriving. The work is challenging, and interesting. For the core academics, the school is ahead of the curve in working toward the common core standards. In brief, that means more emphasis on thinking instead of rote work and it is something all states (except for Montana and Texas) are moving toward. Her social studies class covers ancient history, and right now it's all about ancienct Greece- they are learning about the Greek gods and creating designs to incorporate what they have learned. My daughter has come out of her shell in math this year, and her teacher is giving her more advanced math to supplement what is standard for 6th grade. English covers a lot of writing, and they are reading some great novels and evaluating them in class. Science is great too. There is about 1+ hour of homework each night, and she works hard at it. I was VERY worried to send her to Montera because of all one heards about OUSD, etc., especially as a graduate of the esteemed (but not deservedly so, IMO) Orinda schools, but am now embarassed to have been so. It's a gem. Yes, it's a public school and all that entails, but there will always be issues whereever you go. One more thing...we have seen a few folks leave private schools for Montera, and it seems they are thriving as well. I do hear that 7th grade hasn't been as strong as 6th, but I also hear that the principal is working on this. I ask my daughter every day if school is ok, and she loves it. Couldn't ask for more. Happy at Montera
We were in the same predicament last year except our kids were only 3 and 1. We were happy with Thornhill and the thought of our kids going there. However, we had the same qualms about Montera and Skyline. I, myself, was born and raised in Oakland and am a product of both Montera and Skyline. It had its share of violence when i was there less than 20 years ago and I heard it got worse after I graduated. But I love the culture, diversity, people of Oakland and have so much pride from being from there. We had every intention of raising our future kids there when we bought our home in Oakland after getting married. But we got fed up with mayoral ineptitude and the sharp rise in crime and violence. And the more we thought about it, we felt like taking the kids away from their close friends around the time they were Middle school-aged would be traumatic. We started looking in Piedmont and Orinda in hopes of better schools and police response. My first choice was Piedmont due to its geographical location, but the home prices were outrageous for the condition of the homes. We ended up finding a home we loved in Orinda. I had so much anxiety that I was making the wrong decision because, I too, never wanted to raise my kids in such a homogenous community (we are of a minority ethnicity). However, once we moved here, all worries were wiped away. We were blown away by how welcoming, friendly, and nice all the families are around here. Orinda was named the 2nd most friendliest town in America by Forbes last year and I definitely believe it after being here for almost a year now. Yes, it is very ''white'' but I feel like most people are here via San Francisco, Oakland, educated, and cultured. As long as we do our part to teach our own kids about culture and diversity, I feel like they will be fine. We still eat, shop, go to preschool in Oakland so they are immersed in the culture there. This is just our experience and how it's worked out for us. I hope this will help you feel better about the decisions you make for your own family. Good luck! Kris
Both of my kids went to Oakland public elementary (Joaquin Miller, not Montclair) and both are now at Montera and we are very happy there. There is a very large group of kids who went to Montclair and at least in the current 6th grade class I think Montclair and Joaquin Miller are the two schools that sent the biggest groups of kids to Montera. We are happy both with the excellent education they are receiving and with the way the school is run. There is a significant core of high achieving students and some really great teachers. We also have a great new principal who is committed to addressing the achievement gap and making sure that every child at Montera is succeeding. We live in Oakland, and chose not to move to someplace like Orinda, for exactly the reasons you mention. There are certainly challenges that kids will experience at Montera that they may not experience at a private school or a school in a place like Orinda. They are going to meet kids from very different backgrounds and they are going to encounter some kids with behavior problems. I think the school does a good job of dealing with those problems when they arise and in my experience they are not common. We think that some challenges are a good thing for our kids. We considered private school for middle school and have no regrets about not doing it. My son will be going to Oakland Tech next year, having been admitted to Head-Royce and deciding it was not for him. Skyline also has some great programs and we know many people whose kids have been successful there. I would urge you to talk to people who have kids at Montera for information about that school as there are plenty of false rumors to be had from those who don't. Good luck. Montera Parent
Sigh. It is very hard to hear the phrase ''We love Oakland's culture and diversity'' invariably followed by the interest in what other Montclair families choose. I encourage you to get more information and make your own decision!

Please remember that the diversity in Oakland very much includes socio-economic circumstances. My daughter went to a sought-after 'hills' elementary school and it was jaw-dropping to witness the white flight after 5th grade (private school or move.) In some ways, it is the ultimate chicken or egg scenario--when the children of well educated, fully enfranchised families leave the system, the school doesn't have the parent engagement it needs to thrive, the kids often test lower at CST time so the school rating goes down, and on and on it goes.

My daughter was one of very few kids from her 5th grade class to go on the public middle school as it seemed like everyone early on--as early as you seem to be--made the decision that they wouldn't be staying in OUSD after elementary school. Her teachers are great. There are surprisingly many super-involved parents who have provided for a lot of programming that would be otherwise not available. But let's be truthful, the school has all manner of real Oakland families in its community. Parents that are seriously young and definitely never went to college. Kids that each nachos and soda for breakfast on the bus. Home situations that include unsafe neighborhoods and under- or unemployed family members. These families don't get involved because they don't know what that looks like. So their kids aren't as connected to the school and have a tougher time. And they don't do as well on standardized tests which make the overall scores low. But these kids are just as wonderful as your two sweet children and need the support of their whole community to make a well-rounded school.

If you honestly hate how white and privileged it feels to flee through the tunnel (or to private school,) I encourage you to start early in supporting Montera. It's never too early get involved as a volunteer or fundraising donor. In my experience, it has been the best transition to middle school for those parents that had a realistic understanding of what kids that age are like (ugh--they swear and act rowdy) and how things work. In the sheltered environments of our wonderful hills elementary schools, it can seem like such a drastic change. But for our daughter, it has been great to watch her make friends with a truly *diverse* group of kids as well as thrive in her classes. While I am not a cheerleader for OUSD, I do think there are some great things happening in the schools that do not get recognized. Good luck with your choices. Anon


I have a lot to say, but will try to be succinct. I'm not in Montclair, but am in Oakland and have two, soon to be three, kids in OUSD. You're right, kids in Oakland scatter when it comes time for middle school. My son is a 5th grader at the best elementary in Oakland (I say that tongue in cheek, because I think a lot of people think that about their school). He's going on to our local middle school which has a bad reputation and low test scores (okay, it's Claremont). BUT, he is a middle-class white kid who is a decent, but not great student AND he has enough of his cohort going with him, that I'm feeling pretty good about the decision. When my son started kindergarten, I told my husband in no uncertain terms that we would not stay in Oakland for middle school, but now here we are. I've spent the last few years getting to ''know'' Claremont, signing up for newsletters, touring, talking to current parents and students.

Also, the Claremont of 6 years ago, when we first enrolled in OUSD was very different from the Claremont of today--like I said, I had totally written it off. So I would encourage you to remain open-minded about OUSD middle school and high school. At least one of our 5th graders is heading on to Montera in the fall, feeling like it's a solid choice. Other students from our elementary are there now and are very happy. There is a HUGE amount of peer pressure among middle-class parents in Oakland when it comes to middle school. I'm trying to teach my kids how to stand up to peer pressure, so I guess I had better walk the walk! Be brave, be open-minded, think for yourself! And BTW, why Orinda? That's a whole other topic that I won't get into here. OUSD mom x3


We are having the same dilemma. We are in a rental in Montclair while we sell our home in a different part of Oakland, to start the process of either buy in Montclair or through the tunnel within the next 8 months or so. Like you I have reservations about going to ''the other side''. My heart is here in Oakland. My community is here. My son is already in a great Montclair Elementary School that he LOVES. I have reached out to a couple friends who are now in Orinda or Moraga after making this same decision. I would be happy to forward their emails to you if you would like. And I would love to chat with you more via email. In my ideal world- you would stay, I would stay, all those considering would stay and make all the effort in the world to make the public high school better when we get to that point w/ our kids. I work in a public school (different district)- and I know there is only so much parents can do... but if there was a way to guarantee we have enough of us willing to make the effort- I would be all for it. BUT- I flip flop every couple days about which way we should go with our next home purchase. :/ I feel your pain. Please feel free to email me directly. kellita71 at yahoo. still debating too
Never again will we ever move to Orinda. I read your message and had the exact same thoughts in 2010. At the time I had a 3 yr old and 5 year old. We own our home in Montclair. We decided to rent out our home and rent in Orinda for awhile and once we found a place we liked would consider selling our home and buying out there. My boys were the only black boys in their classes. None of the neighbors came to met us. We had used a real estate agent to find our rental so all of our paperwork went through her. My husband and I are both professionals with good jobs. On paper you can not tell the color of our skin. After we moved in and met the landlord, she told the real estate agent that she regretted leasing to us. She constantly harassed us. We had an extremely unpleasant experience in Orinda. It is white and from my experience is not welcoming to others that are different. We are thankful to still own our home in Oakland and would rather pay for private school than live in a hurtful homogenous community. Glad to be out of Orinda
I'm the mother of a 6th grader at Montera this year. I just want to add some recent ''numbers'' to the discussion about OUSD middle schools because I think these have either dramatically changed over the past 5 years or the rumors of flight from OUSD middle schools have been exaggerated. Of the 60 fifth graders at Montclair Elementary School in 2011-2012, only 2 went on to private schools, one moved (not to Piedmont or Orinda or Marin, by the way), 4 went to other OUSD schools (e.g., art and performance), and the rest all went to Montera. So only ~3 out of ~60 Montclair Elementary families made the decision to leave OUSD at the middle school level. This means that in the the transition to the larger middle school, the children have a significant cohort of friends, and a lot of the parents already know each other, facilitating building community at the middle school level overall. Montera mom

Just moved to West Oakland, need good school for 7th grade

Feb 2012

please help, this is time sensitive. my 12, almost 13 year old son is extremely smart, has the TAG/GATE award, and has always attended the best school we can find for him. we recently moved back to the bay from hawaii, and due to our financial circumstances, have taken a room in west oakland. we have no car and shoddy bikes. i have called OUSD, i have called every charter school in range, and i have looked into online education. i applied him to stanford online but it is financial aid for one course at a time, and books are $500-600/per. he gets excellent grades, loves to learn, and works very hard. we have made huge sacrifices for his education, and this is the first time we have just hit a wall. i have been all over the BPN (was a member before) and not found much current info addressing this issue. my stress level is through the roof.

can anyone PLEASE refer us to at least a decent online school for the remainder of his 7th grade? he is highly motivated. we have gone with a K12 online before and it was awful, he needs challenge. the charters may or may not have room next year. at this point all i can think to do is to homeschool and have him test out at the end of the year, but neither of us want to do this, he wants to be in school.

intense frustration that there are so many kids who DON'T want to learn taking class space away from kids who DO. repeat: transportation an issue. please do not advise we move to alameda or albany, we do not have the luxury of choice. thank you in advance for considerate advisement. frustrated in west oakland


You have a few options, other than online school, which I don't believe is the best option. There is a KIPP middle school in West Oakland which is highly regarded. You can try contacting them and explaining your circumstances. Also, for the remainder of 7th grade, try to apply for an inter-district transfer to Hayward or San Leandro. I know many students from Oakland who attend public schools in these cities without any problems with district boundaries. There is also a Montessori charter school in Hayward that has high test scores, I believe it's called Golden Oak Montessori. If you contact any of these schools/districts and explain your situation, they should be very helpful.

Finally, try and contact some private and parochial schools. They may have scholarship and financial aid money. I did a quick search and also found a website that gives scholarship funds to kids who want to attend private schools. http://www.independent.org/newsroom/news_detail.asp?newsID=112

Good luck. Tenacity and persistence will pay off in the end. Your child will have a school to attend! anon


It sounds like you are open to homeschooling. Hickman is a homeschooling charter. They have a library and materials available and will pay for some classes. They also offer classes on Wednesday in Berkeley.

Hickman Charter Annex 546 9th Street, Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 893-1011 ‎ hickman.k12.ca.us

EPGY math and language are inexpensive if you do it through open enrollment (around $125 for a year). Also, Kahn academy is completely free. As are many college level classes on OpenCourseWare. http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

Another option that may be close to you is the Oakland Math Circle. http://oebmc.mathcircles.org/

If you are BART accessible you can easily get your child to Quantum Camp classes in downtown Berkeley. I believe they offer financial aid.

You can always file a private school affidavit and homeschool your child and put together your own curriculum . You don't have to have him enrolled in any online school.

If you decide to homeschool AOHL (alameda oakland home learners) has parkdays on Thursdays. You can meet people and get a lot of info on resources.

Also,have you looked at American Indian Charter? They have a remarkable number of kids scoring very high on SAT talent searches. good luck


Dear stuck, I understand your frustration. I don't have any good suggestions for you for an online school, but there is a charter school you should look into called COVA. If you can't start there this spring, think about it for next fall. You could get there from West Oakland by taking BART to Fruitvale station and then a bus runs from there up to Redwood Road. The reason I think COVA would be good for your son is because it is able to accommodate very gifted kids through a partnership with the Peralta junior college system. COVA kids go to Merritt College and take some classes there, receiving both high school and college credit for them. The director of the school is committed to getting kids an education that is at the right level for them. To succeed in it, your son should have the maturity level to handle self-directed work. Kids who take classes at Merritt still participate in regular school activities, particularly music and enrichment classes, so this would also fit your son's desire to attend school with his peers. Just a suggestion, take a look at it: covaconservatory.org Good luck!
AC Transit's 62 bus route runs from the West Oakland BART station and passes within a few blocks of two OUSD middle schools: Edna Brewer and Roosevelt. Both have better test scores than West Oakland Middle School (FWIW), with Edna Brewer far and away the best of the 3. Edna Brewer is our local middle school and I have heard positive things about it, relative to other Oakland middle schools. My daughter has a few years to go before middle school, so no personal experience, but you can find reviews on BPN. Carrie
I teach at St. Martin de Porres Middle School on Peralta and 10th. Nearly every child in the school (something like 90%) get financial aid of some sort or another - BASIC, FACE or school aid. We are a Catholic school, though most of our students are not Catholic. 40% of our students are Latino/a and 60% African American.

The school is fairly structured, and I would say traditional and effective. Kids typically graduate from SMDP and go to various Catholic High Schools in the area (St. Mary's, Bishop O'Dowd, Salesian, St. Liz)

It's worth taking a look and seeing if it is a good fit. The academics are solid, and the school is a warm, nurturing, safe place.

In any case, take a look at the website http://www.stmdp.org/ and call for a tour if interested. Myriam


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