Diverse, "affordable" areas with good schools? HELP!

Hello all,

My wife and I have recently moved from Boston to the Bay Area for my job. We are currently renting in Danville and aside from it being totally untouchable to us price-wise, we are not connecting with the community and would really prefer an area with more diversity and more of an LGBTQ presence. It seems like Oakland is the best option for that sort of area but the schools as a whole are not rated well. We have a 3 and 1/2 year old son and an 11 month old daughter and we are hoping to buy within the next year (trying to stay under $850K if we can). Are there areas we are overlooking? Affordable private schools that we should look into to make Oakland work? Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you!!!

Kira 

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I have two pieces of advice for you.  One is to not make your determination about what schools are good based on the test scores.  Generally, really high test scores correlate with really high incomes among the parents and/or and intense testing focus by the school.  I would think about the kind of climate you'd like for your children to go to school in, and try to find that, with the understanding that in elementary school at least any "gaps" in instruction tend to be easily and almost effortlessly closed by engaged  parents who read to their kids and take them to museums, etc.  I myself went to high school in Danville and was absolutely miserable there and at my elementary school in San Ramon.  The quality of teaching was mediocre at best, but everyone was affluent so the scores looked good.  My daughter, in contrast, goes to Ellerhorst elementary in Pinole, and although I was very nervous at the start of the year because the test scores aren't very good (and in fact almost panicked and moved to private school), we are very happy there and her own test scores are showing remarkable progress.  The school is extremely diverse, and we have been blown away by the kind, supportive, family-like atmosphere of the school.  Some schools achieve good test scores by sacrificing many of the things we value in our children's education: PE, music and movement, science, art, imaginative play, and it was a game changer for us to realize that while we valued quality education, that did not always mean picking the school with the best test scores.

My second piece of advice would be to check out West Contra Costa County.  I lived in Oakland for a decade and will always love Oakland, but it is pretty much out of reach for under $850k in the kind of family friendly neighborhood I'm imagining you would want (especially when you consider that the listing prices tend to be $100k or more under the eventual sale price).  El Sobrante, Pinole, and Hercules are the hidden gems of the East Bay, and although the WCCUSD schools often are not super highly ranked, we know many, many families who are extremely happy with their neighborhood schools.  I can only speak to Pinole, but it offers a lot of the good parts of growing up in the TriValley area (amenities, greenery, safety) without the competition and snobbery and intense social pressure that made it so awful as a child that didn't fit in in Danville and San Ramon.  The area has been filled with a lot of older folks for a long time, but in the last two years or so, we've seen a huge wave of older folks moving out and young families and couples moving in from Berkeley/Oakland etc.  Check it out! 

I agree with the previous poster! Schools in West Contra Costa and San Leandro/Hayward may not have great test scores, but many of the students do very well and the schools are very diverse. In fact, Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito is the 4th most ethnically diverse middle school in the entire US. The basic curriculum is the same at every public school in California.

I'd highly recommend Alameda. It's an island town outside of Oakland that feels like a close-knit community, yet is close to everything. The housing market is competitive, so you'd probably be looking at a 2 bedroom home in your price range, but it's definitely more affordable than Oakland.  The schools are all excellent and the community is extremely welcoming. In particular, I've found it to be super family friendly with lots of events, resources and parent groups. 

Just here to echo what previous posters have said - you should definitely have a look at West Contra Costa. I grew up in Oakland and went through the city's public school system but when I moved back to the Bay Area two years ago and started looking to buy a home, I was deterred by how poorly the public schools were rated. Granted, one shouldn't entirely judge the system on these ratings, but with friends who actually teach in some of these Oakland public schools who shared some not so great stories with me, we figured it was worth widening our house-hunting options (and who knows, perhaps in a few years' time, Oakland public schools will be doing better with the shift in demographics/continued gentrification of the city...as another poster pointed out, parental involvement is critical). In any event, we were pleasantly surprised when we ended up buying in El Cerrito. This city also seems to be going through a demographic shift, with a mix of an older generation who've probably lived here all their lives and younger families/couples moving in. Our kids are still young so haven't entered the public schools yet, thus, I can't speak to that, but we're also liking its proximity to Berkeley/SF/Oakland in case we need to head to any of those spots. Overall, we've been really happy with our decision to move out this way.

Check out the Grass Valley neighborhood in Oakland. It’s diverse, quiet and can fit in your 850k budget. We bought here a year ago and couldn’t be happier. We anticipated going with private school when our child reached school age and now we are hearing such great things about our local elementary school that were considering it when our son starts K in another year. I’m happy to answer questions you have about the neighborhood. 

Hi, welcome to the Bay Area!  I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of this, and you probably know this already if you’ve looked around much, but even a 2-ber will be impossible to find in Oakland, and even more so in Berkeley/Albany / other parts of Alameda County. You could try the Richmond Annex, but from what I understand your kids will pretty much have to go to private schools if you go that route. I wish your family the best of luck; housing is a real problem here, though other aspects of living here are nice. 

I know a couple families in Oakland who weren't happy with their public school assignments this year (mostly because the assigned school was very far from their homes) that have been looking at St. Theresa school in Oakland. It is a Catholic school but according to the families I know, it is very welcoming to non-Catholic families. It is significantly cheaper than ordinary private school, although obviously more than public. Might be worth a look. 

We recently decided to relocate to Davis for better home prices (yes, you can buy for under 850 there) and strong schools.

I'd second previous poster's glowing recommendations of Pinole. I can't speak personally to the experience of LGBT families, but can say that there does appear to be a lot of diversity here (ethnic, economic, generational, etc). My 20-month daughter and I go to our local playground almost every day and see kids there from all different backgrounds. Our neighborhood has a lot of empty-nesters but also a LOT of new families moving in. We're probably going to send our daughter to the East Bay Waldorf School for at least her preschool education, which would not be everyone's choice, but have also heard wonderful things about Ellerhorst and are still thinking seriously about going the public route for grade school. I'm happy to talk in more detail if it would help -- feel free to PM me :)

Hello, and welcome to the area! We bought in Oakland in December 2017 for 750K (I still feel my heart rate jump when I say that) and we are really happy with our neighborhood. My daughter is finishing up the school year in Berkeley and will be starting at a public school in Oakland in the fall. It's not our neighborhood school but it is a diverse public school not too far and we're hopeful about it. I would echo the words of other parents that test scores reflect little more than the socioeconomic status of the families, not the dedication and strength of the teachers. BPN is actually a great forum for parent feedback about specific schools, so you can search old posts when it comes time to make your school selections. So I wouldn't write off Oakland just yet. We live in Fairfax, close to Maxwell Park, and I think you can still buy for under $800K there. Happy to talk more - and recommend a great realtor! - if you want to message me :)

Another vote here for considering more than test scores (which might as well be a proxy for housing costs, it's so closely related to local average income) when considering local public school districts!  School quality is about a lot more than numeric "ratings".

For whatever it's worth, even in school districts with an overall poorer reputation, such as Oakland and West Contra Costa, involved parents tend to like the elementary schools very much.  Your children are so young that a lot can change between now and when they are ready to graduate from high school, and you don't know yet whether they may have any special needs in school (even well-rated schools often don't do a great job of supporting kids who are exceptionally gifted or who have learning disabilities or other particular challenges).  So if you find an area that's a good fit for your family, you may want to start your kids in the neighborhood school and revisit the private school decision when they reach middle or high school age.

All that said: Besides Oakland, and El Sobrante/Pinole/Hercules as suggested by the previous person, consider Albany (there are condos selling in your price range; the town is very white but is adjacent to more racially diverse neighborhoods, and there's a substantial LGBTQ+ presence) and El Cerrito, and also San Leandro and Castro Valley (I have a few friends who've bought homes in that area after being priced out of Berkeley/Albany, and they are very happy with their neighborhoods and grade schools; none of them happen to be LGBTQ but in general, those cities are a lot more diverse than anything east of the hills). 

Take a look at Alameda. There are lots of LGBTQ families. Housing is not affordable overall, but there are still nice smaller homes available in the price range you mentioned. Public schools are good K - 12, with regular and charter options at every level. Very family friendly community, lots of parks, access to the beach. Easy access to BART, SF, etc. We've never regretted moving there!

I agree with the first poster. School ratings correspond to test scores, which correspond to the socioeconomic status of the children’s parents, which of course often correlates with race. People say they want diversity, but then they don’t tolerate it in their schools, except in very small amounts. Sorry to be blunt, but places like Oakland don’t need more gentrifiers who don’t want to be part of the community.

Oakland is really wonderful but it's also blown up, price-wise. And there's no such thing as an affordable private school. You have to come look at Richmond. I'm in Each Richmond Heights, but there are many really fantastic neighborhoods here. You can contact me off-line. We have an amazing LGBTQ community and a diverse elementary school. Same-same about test scores, that's often a reflection of how many English-language-learners there are, which = diversity. Talk to parents at the schools you are thinking of and come look at them. 

I like to tell parents the best determining factor for a child's success has little to do with the school they attend and more to do with the family environment they come from. Parents (caregivers) who care and are involved in their child's education both at school and at home make the difference no matter where their child attends school. They also make the difference at the schools their children attend. Schools with not-great test scores but great parent involvement should not be ruled out. We attend a fantastic school in Pinole (Ellerhorst) after moving here two years ago. It is very diverse in every way you can imagine- we have socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, ability diversity (we have 3 classrooms for severely and non-severely handicapped children) and political diversity. We have a strong and committed PTA and a very active Dads Club. I'm so happy to be part of this community. Some other pluses of this particular area (Pinole Valley-the community that begins at the east side of the freeway off the Pinole Valley Road exit) are the lush rolling hills with hiking trails, the wildlife, the better summer weather and safety. My big kid can ride his bike freely throughout the valley with the other neighborhood kids. But hurry before home prices get crazy- prices here are starting to take off! 

Loving Pinole

We just moved to the El sobrante section of Richmond and love it so far! Our 12m old will likely attend Valley View elementary which parents seem to like. The neighborhood is diverse but a little light on the LGBT families as far as we have seen so far but we are queer and recruiting;)

Don't discount Oakland schools. Oakland gets a bad rap in so many ways, yet there is so much to love. It is extremely diverse, family friendly, amazing food, LGBTQ friendly, and yes, have great schools. Like previous poster said, don't rely on test scores or great schools.org to be the only data in your school research. When we applied to K, we had more than the 6 allowed schools you can apply for that I would send my kids to. She is now in 1st grade and extremely happy in an Oakland public school.

As for buying a home within your budget, that may be more challenging, but there are still some diverse, affordable areas. Some areas to look are Maxwell Park, Dimond District, Santa Fe, Longfellow, Laurel, Golden Gate...

Good luck!

We live in El Cerrito and really love the neighborhood and our school.  El Cerrito is close enough to Berkeley and Oakland to still be able to easily access all the fun those cities have to offer.  We have awesome parks, a rec center with pool, libraries, natural food store, brewing company, movie theater, local cafes and shops and largers chains like Trader Joes and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  El Cerrito is also BART accessible with two stations stopping here.  The homes are somewhat affordable (prices are going up currently but a few yrs ago you could definitely buy a 3 bedroom house with a yard for that amount).  We send our kids to Crestmont School in the El Cerrito/Richmond Hills (https://www.crestmontschool.org/).  It provides a wonderful, diverse, nurturing environment.  It is a co-op so the tuition is much less than other private schools and the community is tight-knit and conscientious about diversity and family differences. It is small and has a community school house feel.  Check it out!

Hi,

We were looking for the same thing (we are a diverse couple), and ended up buying in Albany.  We considered Berkeley as well, but did not end up with a house we liked there, and the housing market there is much more competitive.  Another option we considered very heavily is the (Island Republic of) Alameda.  Alameda is great, probably our favorite in many ways, but did not have good commute options for us.  For all of those, you probably can find a house in your price range, but that is the lower end of the price range in any of the cities.  Based on a quick search, out of the 10 houses recently sold in Albany, only 3 sold for $850k or less.  Not that I put tremendous stock in it, but Albany's schools are always rated 9/10 or 10/10.  Much more important to me, Albany has immersion after-school programs in Spanish or Chinese (based on which elementary school you go to).   In terms of diversity, looking at the school numbers on Great Schools, Albany is less diverse than Berkeley, more middling in terms of diversity.  Walking around the streets, Albany appears more diverse that the school numbers would led me to believe - likely because it is a tiny town smack between Berkeley and El Cerrito, both of which might be considered more diverse.

Speaking of which, I have not checked in a while, but El Cerrito was considerably cheaper when we were looking.  It also has two BART stops.  

Good luck!

Check out Alameda. Although you can certainly spend more than your budget, you should be able to find something for less than $850K, particularly on the west end. The schools are generally good, and there are also some excellent charter school options. We have many LGBTQ families in our schools, along with a high degree of diversity in general. Good luck with your move! 

Another plug for Oakland! We live in what I think is called the upper Laurel (it's between the Dimond and Laurel districts) and it is known for having a really great LGBT community (really mostly lesbian families with young children). You can definitely find houses here for under 850K, although if you want 3 bedrooms you will get close to that. And you just never know what school you will be assigned- I think Sequoia Elem also has a good LGBT community. Good Luck!

San Leandro all the way.  Several neighborhoods that have more affordable homes in your price range and are safe, family-friendly, diverse.  Roosevelt Elementary is a great school and there's a LGBTQ family group I believe.