Peninsula School Districts

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi,

    We will be moving to Bay area- Peninsula region in May/June next year and are looking for advice on school districts for our to-be 5 year old.

    We are currently looking at Palo Alto, Mountain view, Cupertino areas as we will be commuting to Menlo park n sunnyvale for our respective work places

    Any recommendations on areas from school n commute prospective will be appreciated.

    I don't know what your budget is or if you plan to rent/own but in general the quality of the school district correlates directly to housing prices. Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Mountain View all have great school districts and are very close to your workplaces. Palo Alto is probably regarded as the best but it's also super expensive to live there, and maybe not worth it. Cupertino and Mountain View are both nice but also expensive since they're the HQs of Apple and Google, respectively. Driving from Cupertino to Menlo Park might make you hate your life, since traffic between Palo Alto to South Bay is probably some of the worst on the Peninsula. But, especially on the Peninsula, it's hard to escape some kind of commute - Caltrain runs a decent service if your offices are nearby or a bikable distance away.

    Some other options:
    Redwood City: Cheaper but schools are worse. I think elementary schools are generally pretty good there but get worse for middle/high school. TBF, I've heard from educators that it's not so much the quality of schools that are bad, only that they have more diversity of incomes and more english as a second language which can lead to worse testing outcomes.

    Los Altos/Woodside: Also expensive but has great schools - has a more country, rural vibe than cities closer to highway 101, which I find charming! There are super affluent neighborhoods in these cities, and a few affordable areas.

    San Carlos: Your commute might be a little worse but great schools and charming downtown. A lot of young families live there.

    Unfortunately, I don't know much about cities south of Mountain View. We looked a little at moving to Sunnyvale and it's cheaper but seemed like houses were generally postage stamp sized and neighborhoods felt a little depressing (very limited knowledge though, someone correct me if I'm off base). Santa Clara has good neighborhoods and schools, I hear. I also have a lot of friends moving to the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose lately, which has a very cute downtown area and better schools.

    I go on Zillow a lot and check the school ratings associated with houses in neighborhoods we're interested in. Maybe everyone does that already but thought I'd mention!

I can't speak for SF or East Bay but can for the peninsula were I tried to do a similar thing. We were there for just one year so I wanted to rent an apartment within walking distance of the elementary school so I had picked out about 4 possible apartment complexes in different cities that were close to 4 elementary schools I thought were best in 3 cities (Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos.  I then tried to get the school district registration offices to give me info on how crowded my son's grade level was in each of these schools so that I could figure out which apartment complex was best.  Well.  That was almost impossible. From their point of view, their schools are over-crowded and you will just be lucky to be assigned whatever school you get even if it's on the other side of town - which I understand, I just wanted to find out which schools I might have the best chance with and get an apartment nearby. 

They are very very resistant to this, no one wanted to give me that info even tho they can. They want you to go by their procedure which is get your place, provide your proof, they will try to assign you the closest school but be prepared to have to go anywhere. And this won't even be decided until the last week before school starts as that's when they have a better idea of who has left the district, who is on the waiting list and still might want to switch, then how many spaces there are if any, and then they will assign your spot. And these are the school districts that are supposedly well-run, but they are overwhelmed and unhelpful, really have a hardened attitude if you can't drive your kid across town every morning, too bad for you.

By persistence I ended up finding out how full the classes were for 5th grade at various schools and what the waiting lists were (which does not mean that those on the waiting list will actually still want to switch over) and took a gamble that paid off as I got the school I wanted.  But to figure that out for all 3 kids sounds really stressful.  I like the advise of Albany - a smaller school district where all the choices are relatively close.  That might be your best bet. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Schools, progressive education on the Peninsula

Feb 2014

My husband and I have had our hearts set on moving back to the Berkeley area for a few years now, so last year and this year we returned to Berkeley a few times to do a bunch of school tours in the East Bay since our son is starting Kindergarten in the Fall. We really liked some of the charter schools in Oakland and Alameda, fell head over heels in love with Walden and Berkwood Hedge in Berkeley (and applied there), and were pleased to feel happy with the Berkeley and Alameda public school options. Suddenly, though, my husband has been offered an amazing job at Google. We are in a whirlwind about this as it's happened so fast. Of course we considered commuting from the East Bay to Google, but everything we have read on the BPN or heard from friends has discouraged us from making this commute. I am in the dissertation stage of my PhD and am flexible to move anywhere, so we are seriously thinking about moving closer to Google. But now we are totally confused about schools! We did months of research and visits for our return to the East Bay, and don't even know how to begin to think about the huge number of options we would have on the Peninsula. Do you have any advice about how to start?

Let's say we zeroed in on Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Saratoga. It seems enormously expensive to live there, so I think we'd have to consider public schools. Are there good progressive charter schools on the Peninsula? If we moved further north up the Peninsula would we have better opportunities for progressive education? What about the public schools - is there a commitment to smaller class sizes? We would be grateful for any advice you can give us about this! Excited about the possibilities

I currently live in Redwood City. My son is under 2 and we are renting so I haven't spent a significant amount of time looking into schools. However, the public schools in Palo Alto and Los Altos are excellent - one of the reasons those areas are expensive. There is also a wide variety of private schools, although some are quite expensive. I often see posts about the local schools on The Parents' Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park ( I would suggest that you look there to get more local opinions. Happy on the Peninsula

Congratulations on your husband's new job! I'm not at all familiar with schools on the peninsula so I can't help you out there, but I just wanted to add that Google do run buses from the East Bay, including Berkeley, to Mountain View. The commute does take about 1 1/2 hours each way so it is long, however your husband may be able to work from the bus (they have wi-fi) and the commute time could count towards his work day. My husband does this and as his commute time is factored into his work time he actually gets home from work much earlier than he did when he worked in the Financial District in San Francisco. If you have your heart set on living in Berkeley this could be a solution for you. It works for us Sally

We lived on the Peninsula in Palo Alto. Our child is very bright testing high above average to gifted. Yet at school our child was considered a problem because asking questions and thinking outside the box make more work for the teachers. We researched the Peninsula and could not find a progressive school. We eventually realized that only the East Bay or San Francisco offered the type of schools that would work for us. My husband and I compute to the Peninsula and our child is very happy at school. Since your husband works at Google couldn't he get to SF and take one of their buses to work? In the end it's up to you but in our experience only the East Bay provided the schools that worked for us. Happy Child in the East Bay

Hi there, my family did the opposite move from the South Bay/Peninsula up to the East Bay just after we had our now ten-year-old daughter. When we lived down there we found that the Cupertino school district offered a progressive program at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School--I wonder if it is still there? The atmosphere at Christa McAuliffe was very sweet with no grades, child-centered learning, etc., quite similar to Walden (where our child currently goes). The district offered several special program schools (e.g., Mandarin-immersion, all-year programs, etc.) in addition to good all-purpose elementaries. McAuliffe was then the most progressive of all the schools down there, and it is free! But I think you may need to live in Cupertino. There are nice pockets that aren't all monster homes--the west side of town, which abuts Los Altos, would be an easy commute to Mountain View on 85 or even surface streets. Good luck! Transplant