Commuting from Lamorinda to the South Bay

Parent Q&A

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  • We have an infant, are currently living in SF, and are looking into buying a house in the East Bay for the better schools, to be closer to family and to get more space.  We have been concentrating in the Montclair, Crocker Highlands and Upper Rockridge areas of Oakland, but we are also open to the Lamorinda area.  

    1) Does anyone have advice on choosing between Hillcrest, Crocker Highlands, Montclair, and Thornhill elementary schools?  They all seem like decent schools with a strong parent base.  Are there any differences we should be aware of or any other factors we should consider?  Hillcrest is K-8 which is appealing.

    2) The main reason we have focused on Oakland rather than Lamorinda is because I work in Palo Alto.  However, my job is flexible enough such that I can try to avoid rush hour or work from home a couple days a week.  How much time would it add to my commute to go through the tunnel to Lamorinda?  Does anyone have any thoughts about Oakland schools (the specific ones listed above) vs Lamorinda schools?

    Thanks in advance!

    The main thing to think about schoolwise for the Oakland schools is which middle and high schools that they feed to--Crocker goes to Edna Brewer and Oakland High, while Montclair and Thornhill go to Montera and then to Skyline. Hillcrest feeds to Oakland Tech. Brewer is generally considered the stronger of the two middle schools right now, but Montera has a growing IB program that might be of interest. Hillcrest has its own small middle school; most years all Hillcrest fifth graders who want to stay for middle do get spots, but it isn't guaranteed.

    I can't speak to Lamorinda schools, but would strongly advise trying the commute realtime to see just how much time it will add to be on the other side of the tunnel. The East Bay "rush hour" window is LONG—traffic begins backing up in the commute direction as early as 7 and sometimes stays backed up till well past 9, and in the afternoons, the backup can begin before 4 and occasionally last till 7 before it's really moving again. So to really avoid it, you may need to leave extremely early or late. I would look at Piedmont before I'd go through the tunnel. For a Palo Alto commute (and assuming the other commute is to SF), I'd also be looking at the East End of Alameda.

    I will start by saying that my child is at Thornhill.  The neighborhood surrounding Hillcrest (Upper Rockridge) is highly sought after because of Hillcrest Elementary and the fact that it goes to 8th grade.  There have been years where everyone in the neighborhood did not got in.  I believe the kids were placed at other top schools, but just something to keep in mind.  Montclair is the largest of the schools you listed.  

    As you are doing your research, I encourage you to also research aftercare programs and their availability.  Like many Hills schools, Thornhill's aftercare program is run by Adventure Time.  We have been very happy with the program, but the demand for on site aftercare far exceeds the available number of spots and enrollment (required annually) can be a bit stressful.  

    Another thing to be aware of is that the class sizes tend to be on the upper end in these sought after schools.  I naively thought that schools with very active parents who do a lot of fundraising would be able to use some of the funding to secure smaller class sizes.  This has not been our experience.  There is a good chance that your child's Kindergarten class could have 26-27 kids, which is a lot.  

    Best of luck to you!

    Hi- my comment regards commuting from Lafayette (the easiest of freeway access in Lamorinda) to Palo Alto or main land Silicon Valley.  I work from home with corporate based in PA and do need to drive there for a week or so here and there.  I would never in one million years do that commute regularly.  The last time I had to be onsite for 3 days I got a hotel in PA.  The drive is that horrible (and I am likely highly sensitive to it's horribleness because I DON'T drive it every day).  I have tried various combinations of off-commute hours and there simply are not many windows with all the people in the bay area.  I have spent anywhere from 1.5-3 hours getting home if the weather is bad and never there in less than 1.5 hours.  It's exhausting and complete waste of time- and I do listen to pod cast, use Waze detours anything to numb the pain of sitting in a car THAT long NOT moving.  Of course you are doing it now from SF, which I wouldn't do either so you likely have a much higher tolerance for this sort of thing then I do. :)

    We moved from SF to Montclair/Upper Rockridge area and our older son attended Hillcrest for the first 2 years of school. It's a great school - we felt like we won the lottery when he got a spot there. But it's a very small school (facility/space wise) and the attendance was getting larger and larger. His class size was over 30 in K and first grade. We were also concerned about paying for private in high school (and some elect to go private at 6th grade at Hillcrest because it is so small; bigger middle schools may have more extra-curricular activities, band, clubs, sports, etc.). We made the decision to move to Orinda after about 5 years in our house in Oakland - wasn't the smartest financial decision to buy/sell our house in short time frame, but in the long run it was the right one for us. We also had a few attempted break-ins to our house in Oakland; I just didn't feel very safe there. Maybe it's gotten better? not sure. We now live in Orinda and are really happy. We have a big backyard, are near hiking trails and have a pool. The schools are great. Class sizes K-3 are maxed out at 20 kids which is funded by parents/community. My son just started OIS (middle school) and so far really likes it. The principal is awesome and his teachers seem great. We've been really happy here - and we get warm/hot summers with lots of outdoor BBQs and pool parties. When I moved here, doing all the daily tasks of raising kids just seemed easier - there's lots of activities for kids. We also joined our neighborhood swim/tennis club and my kids are on the swim team which is a great activity for summer.  There's undoubtedly less diversity here and there is a lot of wealth, but honestly Hillcrest had a similar make up. Most of my friends here moved from SF or Oakland. Being very left-leaning, I'm happy about the political climate here - I expected it to be more conservative.

    I can't say how much time living in Orinda would add to your commute - kind of depends where you live. Staying near the freeway would be good; living in Moraga would be bad for your commute...   Lastly, for Hillcrest you're not guaranteed a spot since there are fewer spots than kids who want to get in. So you have to be prepared to be redirected to another school. One last, last note is that we still have friends who attend Hillcrest and are really happy. So just depends

    Checking in with each of the  Oakland schools you mentioned is a good place to start.  For instance, while Hillcrest is a great school, even homeowners that live in the neighborhood "catchment" sometimes find themselves unable to attend because it is so impacted.  I too thought k-8 was appealing, but, Hillcrest is such a small school that some kids, by the time they reach 6th grade are ready for some new faces.  A handy site to see what addresses feed into which Oakland school:  

    I have heard good things about Lamorinda schools but have no direct experience with them.  They seem to be more consistent then Oakland Schools (OUSD).  While I have been happy with OUSD, it has been a lot of extra work researching and applying to various schools to make sure we have the right situation for us.  Because I really want to be in Oakland, we chose to take on this extra work.  If Lamorinda and Oakland are interchangable in ideal surroundings, then, the school situation seems like it is much more "seamless" in Lamorinda. And, houses tend to be "larger" through the tunnel.  If you can avoid peak times, the tunnel isn't much of a hassle.  If you need to come through around 4 p.m to 6 it is a challenge. Best of luck to you.