Advice about Living in West Contra Costa & Solano Counties
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.
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!