Private Middle Schools - Prospect Sierra and Head Royce

We've been in BUSD/public school for 6 years. We are now considering Prospect Sierra and Head Royce for 2021-22 (our kid will be entering 6th grade, is a solid student, this year has been a disaster with distance learning) and are wondering about:

1. The overall culture. Is there a good mix of families in terms of socioeconomic status? Sending our kid to private school would be a big financial stretch for us even with financial aid but we think it's the right move at this point. Both schools claim that they value diversity but are the communities truly diverse and welcoming? We want to make sure our kid will not feel like an outsider just because we are a family of moderate income.

2. If you've made the move from public to private, were there significant differences in terms of academics and overall student experience? Are the above schools really "better" compared to BUSD middle schools? 

Any insights would be appreciated. 

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We have a child in middle school at PS, and I would consider us a moderate income family. Due to remote learning, etc etc I think the welcome aspect was probably less than normal but we have been both reached out to by individual classmate's families as well as met warmly when we reached out. Other families clearly have more means than ours, which we expected and have discussed with our child. It is an ongoing adjustment.

I can't speak to BUSD middle schools per se, but yes we consider this academic experience to be superior (deeper, more engaging, more rigourous in humanities at least, maybe not math this year) to the alternative in our local public school option. (We have an older child who went through public so we have a point of comparison.)

We are very happy with PS so far even despite all the ups and downs of this remote year.

We have had mixed feelings about Prospect Sierra. There are some areas where they seem to be doing a significantly better job than BUSD, but other areas where there really just isn't that much of a difference. The day is more structured (and longer) at PS, but we haven't seen much of a difference in terms of actual content / skills learned. In terms so diversity, they are completely different places. PS does make a concerted effort to recruit students from a range of backgrounds, but it sometimes feels like a "curated" diversity compared to the real-world diversity of BUSD.

I'd say it really depends on the peer group. In general, our experience at PS was a mixed bag: good in some ways but not good in other important ways, and the reasons were in part due to the peer group and also to variability in the teaching. With respect to the peer group and inclusivity, we never felt like income was a determining factor, but there were definitely cliques (among both boys and girls) at the school that were unhealthy and made our kids feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I think the best way for your kid to get a sense of that is via an in-person visit, which is tough this year. I'd simply ask around a lot more, and I'd encourage you to look at other schools like BPC, Redwood Day, or the Berkeley School, too.

Our child is a new 6th grader at PS, and we are a moderate-income family (think: just barely into 6 figures for a family of 4; we are only able to send our child to PS because a grandparent is paying for it). Our child came to PS from a public school. You can take everything I'm saying with a grain of salt, because of the pandemic. But for what it's worth... I think PS walks the walk in terms of having racial/ethnic/gender diversity and very explicitly valuing that. I'm so impressed with how much time and effort they have spent on building community and building a culture where all individuals are valued. And I'm impressed with the way they've put a lot of effort into translating that into a mostly-online school year. Overall, we're very happy with the school and think it has a very healthy social/emotional culture. Our child loves it.

In terms of socio-economic diversity... ehhh, that's a bit of a different story. I think there's just no escaping the fact that it's not a fully socioeconomically diverse school, nor can it be. My child is already quite aware that many of their classmates have had fabulous European vacations, live in houses much bigger than ours, etc. I haven't had too many opportunities to interact with the parent community, but so far my impression is that everyone is so very, very kind and welcoming. Truly lovely. And I have also witnessed a few moments that I would describe as tone deaf in terms of awareness that not everyone is swimming in the luxury pool, you know? But honestly, that same thing was a regular occurrence at my child's public elementary school (where there was a significant subset of very affluent families who often were in positions of leadership on the PTA, etc.) I think it's less a function of PS' parent culture and more just part of the reality of living in the Bay Area in 2021. While our child notices the differences in income between our family and some of their classmates, our child has definitely never felt unwelcome or like an outsider because of that. I think that's OK. And it has honestly led us into some really interesting conversations about status, privilege, class, and our own choice to be part of this community right now. So on balance, we feel like it's working for us.

I definitely think our child is having a richer academic experience than their former classmates who are at our local public middle school (we are in touch with many of them). Some of this is due to the pandemic. PS has been able to adjust and be creative much more rapidly than the public school district has. All of last spring, while public schools were effectively doing nothing, PS was experimenting with online learning and figuring out what works and what doesn't. They continue to do that, and the result is that my child is having a very different experience from her public school peers. This is a freaking tragedy and mostly fills me with rage, but that's a post for another time. Good luck making your decision!