Moving to Albany for the Schools

Archived Responses: 

Stay in Oakland or Move to Albany for the Schools?

Feb 2004

I have read extensively in the archives about Albany schools versus Oakland schools. I just haven't seen anything about the specifics of how to decide where to live based on schools, how much we can afford for a house, etc. My partner and I have 2 children, 1 and 2.5 years old. We live in Oakland in a neighborhood that has been designated as one of the Oakland elementary schools to be closed. I work in Berkeley, my partner in Pleasanton. We are commited to sending our kids to public school when the time comes, but are in a panic about the stress of inter-district transfers, etc. Our question is, do we move to Albany to be assured of at least a descent school system all the way through high school, or move to a different neighborhood in Oakland with a good performing elementary school and worry about middle and high school later on? Oakland is sort of mid way between both of our work locations, we currently live in Oakland and feel comfortable there, we could probably afford a bigger house in Oakland, but Albany seems like it would provide some peace of mind regarding public schools. Since we have decided to move (just not sure where) do we look in both Albany and Oakland or choose before we start looking? I know that there isn't a perfect answer out there, but I was wondering how people made that decision? Was it based solely on what house you could afford, or schools, or work, or...? HELP!! how to decide?

I know exactly what you're going through, as we just moved to Albany from Oakland. The main reason was the schools. I can tell you what our thinking was.....although there are parts of Oakland that we love, we feel that the school system just keeps getting worse. You can get a transfer into the elementary school of your choice, if you're lucky, but the jr and high schools are not the best. In our case, we were living in a so-so neighborhood with one of the worst elementary schools in the city. We were faced with the gamble of the transfer or the cost of private school. In either case, we decided that we would want to send our daughter to private school once she reached Jr. High. Once we decided our priorities, the decision came down to...Do we want to spend the money on private school (and stay in our so-so neighborhood) or on a mortgage in Albany (and go to public school)? We decided to make the move, and we are so happy! Now we don't have to wonder about our daughter's school situation AND we get to live in a nice place (the house is small, but that's okay!) The drawbacks to our decision include... 1. Our mortgage is much higher, 2. Albany appears to be less diverse than Oakland (maybe not, but I'm just guessing, based on what I see), and 3. Oakland is much more centrally located. I guess you really have to weigh the importance of all the considerations-good luck! anon

I am a teacher at Sequoia Elementary, a public school in Oakland, and I just want to offer one voice regarding the schools issue. As you may very well know, there is a lot more to a school than how well standarized tests report it has ''performed.'' I've taught at schools that came in right at the bottom of the test scores (due mainly to linguistic/cultural diversity), but where I would happily send my daughter (now two) due to the wonderful community of the school. Now I'm at a school with better scores (still not astounding, as we serve a very economically diverse population, from very needy students to those with excellent resources) but I'm much more impressed by the experience of the staff and the leadership of the principal.

The flipside of underenrollment and the drastic measure of closing of schools is that there may be more opportunity to get into some excellent public schools. I know Sequoia, for one, is actively seeking students from all over Oakland, as our enrollment is down. I can't speak for other schools, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Sequoia, a rare blend of a school with experienced, very dedicated teachers (actively recruited by a talent scout principal), and a very diverse population, both culturally AND economically, which is how I think it should be.

My last point is just a call to any parent out there who is facing this dilemma. If you have the resources to choose between a troubled urban school district and a more comfortable one, remember this. You can make an incredible difference at a school like Sequoia and/or in a district like Oakland Unified. One parent, with some skills or resources, can touch many, many lives at a school like mine. At the same time, your child can thrive in an environment like Sequoia, no matter what ability level. There are wonderful teachers at work behind the Standarized Curtain. Come visit!

As someone who's lived in Albany and graduated from Albany schools you are right to consider the school system for quality throughout elementery and high school...but you should know a few things first. 1) Getting an interdistrict transfer is unlikely, the schools are very small, so unless you own some kind of property and pay taxes in Albany I think your chances of getting in are slim. 2)You mentioned that you have two children. Allbany is a bungalow town. Most of the houses are 2br, and unless you are prepared to buy a house and add on, you will be limited for space. 3) Because of the schools, property is VERY expensive. You can expect to pay at least 10% over the asking price for a house because of the bidding wars. This is all probably not what you want to hear, but I hope it helps in your decision. anon

I went to Richmond schools from k-8 then because of scheduling problems at Kennedy (HS in Richmond) I bailed and used a fake address to go to Albany High. My friends at Kennedy and El Cerrito definitely had more challenging course work and more advanced opportunities with speech, debate, math and government field trips. In my humble opinion, Albany schools are really over rated, I remember being parked in front of videos, and many teachers didn't relate to or challenge advanced students. I think Albany fosters a homey white-bread community feeling for the B average student who will thrive in the Cal State system. The diversity is provided by children of international PHD students at Berkeley, which is nice, but there's only modest ethnic or economic diversity outside of the Village. I'm interested in the idea that Albany Schools are especially good, I'm guessing the self-selection of the educated middle- class parents promote the impression that the schools are better, but as having been a student in the high school, I really don't think the schools and teachers are superior, there's just not a lot of special needs or otherwise challenged students at Albany that strain their system like might happen at larger and more urban school districts.(BTW I ended up at UCB as an A student). Look into the teachers that your child will be with in Oakland (or Richmond, or wherever) because the personal connection is what makes all the difference. Good Luck! PS- I'm homeschooling my kids, think about that as a great option!

When we looked for a house (10 yrs ago) years before we had kids, we looked mostly in school districts that had good junior highs and high schools. And on this side of the hill (where we like the diversity more) that kept us looking in Berkeley and Albany. We looked for 6 months before we found a place. Nothing opened up that we liked in Albany and we found something in Berkeley. Albany schools are great and score very well all the way up to high school. Berkeley schools are great, too. They don't score as well as Albany, but better than Oakland. There is a gap in achievement in BUSD that tracks somewhat along income levels (and therefore in Berkeley, somewhat along ethnic lines). However, a lot of kids do great in Berkeley schools, and go on to great colleges. Perhaps it is due to the ability of their parents to be more involved in their eduacation. Many kids who have been in private education through 8th grade go to Berkeley High. Kids try to transfer into Berkeley High from Oakland all the time. If schooling is such an interest for you now, it will certainly not become less so in 5 years. I recommend that you move to Berkeley or Albany and allow yourself to be less stressed out in the junior high and high school years. berkeley public school parent

hi, well, we put our son in an oakland school that didn't even score low enough to be considered ''bad enough to get a transfer'' and it was the worst thing we could have done for him. he was there only one year and i don't think he learned a thing. while test scores are not everything, they do tell you something. and consideration for language differences etc. matter, it is also because the schools have been abandoned that it is filled with so many high need kids who don't speak english at home or don't develop language skills before entering school.

having said that, do you really want to worry about where your kid is going to go to school every year or every few years? isn't there enough to worry about? most of the people i know had one view of this crisis before having kids and now either send their kids to private or moved to a district that is not in constant turmoil and chaos.

if your kid is smart, they will be bored. if they are average or below they will suffer because they will be considered ''smart'' and therefore neglected in the class because there are so many other kids who need the teacher's attention. aside from the discipline and behavioral problems these schools have to address, your kid will be exposed to things you would not ever let happen in your own house. also, whenever i visited the school there were kids yelling at each other, teachers yelling at the kids and/or the police had been called to deal with a violent incident (which is school district policy) - mind you for some 7 year olds who had thrown a rock at each other or something. and then when you consider what other kids are getting from their functioning schools, your kid will be playing major catch up by the time they go to college.

i know it's harsh and many will disagree, but the damage to our son was just so extreme. jane