GATE Academy

San Rafael

Private School
Email: admin [at] gateacademy.orgPhone: 415 491-4700
1 Saint Vincent Drive San Rafael, CA 94903
Editors' Notes: 
  • GATE Academy was formerly know as Dunham Academy

Parent Q&A

Candid conversation about GATE Academy? Feb 18, 2017 (1 responses below)
Move to San Rafael for GATE Academy ? Nov 18, 2016 (3 responses below)
  • Candid conversation about GATE Academy?

    (1 reply)


    I'm wondering if there are any current GATE Academy parents willing to privately share candid thoughts and experiences with me. I am looking into GATE for my child and would love the opportunity to have candid conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of the school.


    My two boys have been at GATE for five years, and we love it. We started there after leaving a small private school in Berkeley, and GATE has been a much better fit. I'd be happy to discuss it; please contact me via my user name, below.

    Happy GATE Mom

  • Move to San Rafael for GATE Academy ?

    (3 replies)

    Hi All. We live in Albany and are considering GATE Academy in San Rafael for our almost 5 yr old son. We have been doing test drives to the school to figure out how long it takes in the morning to get there. One other option we are considering is moving to San Rafael. My husband works in Emeryville but I have an option to work from home. After living in Berkeley area I am a bit worried that we may not fit in San Rafael. We are Indians (from India) and have a very diverse circle of friends here. Can anyone living there comment about the demographics ? Are there many Indians there ? I have read posts about how its all rich, thin, white people but I want to hear from families who've moved there recently. Any family move there recently for GATE Academy ?

    I lived in Terra Linda (northern San Rafael neighborhood) and nearby in Santa Venetia (Marin County unincorporated) for a total of 11 years and currently live in Novato. So my observations apply to northern Marin.  All of these neighborhoods are mostly but not exclusively white, to my eye no more than Albany is.  We are not thin or rich and my husband is Chinese-American. Our cousins in Terra Linda are a mixed race couple; their child is in a Boy Scout troop and one of the leaders is an Indian-American woman. If you look at the AreaVibes website you can get more details, which shows over 25% of residents in 94903 are foreign-born.  I would say overall what I notice about northern Marin vs. Albany is that the educational level is more variable (not everyone has a PhD).  You have lots of people who have lived here for years and years, people who have cops in the family or who are contractors.  There are a lot of second generation Italians, Portuguese, Irish, etc.  (I do hear a lot of complaints from locals about entitled newcomers, but they always seem to live somewhere else.) 

    On a more practical note, I do find grocery store prices here shocking; there is nothing like Monterey Market.  So I shop a lot at Grocery Outlet, Costco, etc.  Highway traffic is not as bad as the East Bay but it's still pretty awful and the Richmond bridge can back up. The libraries are well-supported and fabulous.

    It's easy to find nice people here but do find it takes a lot of time to find true friends when you move, no matter what your race.


    I'd like to chime in only because I hear in your post your reluctance to lose your community which is something my husband and I have had to deal with when we moved from Washington state for 2 job moves to Los Angeles and then to San Rafael. (I'm from SF but had been living in WA for a while when my son was born). We had a diverse group of friends in both Washington and Los Angeles and when we moved to SR we found ourselves home alone a lot wondering where all the friendly people were! We have lived in SR for 5 years and we are white (although not very thin nor rich, lol!) and it has been challenging to find strong social circles. We have yet to be able to pinpoint why exactly it is so difficult other than it seems that the folks here are just not as open or friendly as they are in Berkeley. Why? Well, there is poverty and drug use here as well as a lot of people working hard to just maintain their average lifestyles, leaving very little room for socialization. Demographically you will find a strong mix of white and hispanic but in my opinion, very small numbers of Indians or other cultures. In my circles I have one Indian (British) friend and we know one Canadian/Portuguese family and everyone else is white. GATE is near Marinwood which is even more white than San Rafael. If I had known then what I know now I would have better researched surrounding communities before agreeing to this last move to SR. Community is important! If you don't mind traveling back to Berkeley for your social engagements and it's worth it to you that your son go to GATE academy then it may be a move you can handle. Otherwise I'd stay put and commute my child. My two cents! Good luck! 

    Hi Mom AV,

    We are an Indian family that moved from Fremont in 2011 for our then 5 year old for Gate academy. We are happy with our move. The school worked well for him for a many years, but he's now homeschooling . My daughter (8) is very happy at Gate. I had the same concerns as you with demographics, but were pleasantly surprised with Marin and Marinites. I have to say though that we were not well connected prior to that and don't have or want a big circle of friends either. So it may be different for your family. We have a small circle of Indian friends , half of whom are nostalgic about South and East bay and the other half of whom would dread leaving Marin for other parts of the Bay. There are maybe 300-500 Indian families throughout Marin but you'll find most of them are in Novato or maybe San Rafael. We have a proposed Temple project and also an Indian association that connects us. I'm not sure how to share my contact details here, but I'd be happy to talk more if you'd like to take my information from Sandy, our admin at Gate.

Parent Reviews

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Archived Q&A and Reviews

Oct 2014

Re: Middle School Advice for Advanced Math Kid?
If your child is advanced in math you should check out GATE Academy in San Rafael. Every child works at their own level in math. There are several who are advanced in math and it is a place where your child will not be held back or given busy work. Some middle schoolers do calculus and more! We commute from the east bay and love it for the differentiation and challenging academics that have made my kids motivated to learn. Super happy

Sept 2014

Re: Elementary School for advanced learner?

You should check out GATE Academy in San Rafael if you want advanced, accelerated academics and meaningful differentiation. This place has been phenomenal for both my kids and so far our experience has been that all the teachers are excellent. Besides academics every day the kids do mediation and PE. Since starting there I have much happier, calmer, better behaved kids. We commute from Oakland and are not the only East Bay family. happy Gate parent

I think you're asking all the right questions; it sounds like you're looking for a school that really gets gifted kids and doesn't just talk the talk. I encourage you to come visit GATE Academy in San Rafael (a drive from Berkeley, but we come from Oakland, and a lot of GATE families have long commutes from all over).

We moved our two PG kids to GATE after a few years at a private school in Berkeley. We've found that there is a world of difference between a traditional school that may (or may not) make some accommodations for one or two highly gifted kids and a school that is actually designed for and filled with highly gifted kids.

The academics are top notch at GATE. Every child is challenged because almost everything is self-paced and adapted to his or her abilities. In each of the school year's six sessions, the classes study a particular topic. Each student in the school comes up with a research question related to the class's topic, researches the answer, develops the research into a project, and then presents that project to the entire school. The emphasis is on developing the skills to be a learner, rather than memorizing facts.

The math program is similarly self-paced; the teachers work very hard to continuously assess the students' progress so that each kid can move ahead as soon as he or she masters a concept (unlike in most schools, where everyone has to wait for the entire class to finish learning a concept before anyone can move on). There are some very young kids taking advanced math with the big kids. At the same time, the students aren't pushed to just move quickly through the material; on the contrary, the teachers devote a lot of math time to out-of-the-box challenge problems and math games and other activities that make math a community experience.

The other thing about GATE that goes to the heart of your questions is that the teachers and administration really understand the particular social/emotional challenges that gifted children face. They know how to help kids who struggle with perfectionism, or who are asynchronous, or who have oversensitivities or overexcitabilities. There is a heavy emphasis on mindfulness and on the idea that failure is ok because it leads to more learning. The kids have daily PE and foreign language, and they have weekly art, science lab, music, and theater. All of the kids are excited about learning and are really interested in each other's projects. And even though they are a really bright group of kids, the atmosphere is not competitive at all. It's been a haven for my kids. Happy GATE Mom

July 2014

Our daughter has recently been identified as 2E (Profoundly gifted with dyslexia and dysgraphia) and we're not sure her current school is going to continue to be a match for her. We've looked briefly at Brightworks, Alt School, Gate Academy and heard a little about Da Vinci, but since we found out late in the year we didn't get to visit any of the school's in session. We'd love to hear about anyone's experience at any of these programs, or other gifted programs in the Bay Area. We're in Oakland, so closer is of course better, but we're willing to travel some for a good fit. She's going into 4th grade this fall. -Looking for a better fit

My two PG kids have been commuting from Oakland to GATE Academy for two years, and we could not be happier. It's a really amazing place that follows best practices in gifted education, with tiny classes and self-paced, inquiry-based learning. The breadth and depth of material that they study is astonishing, and both of my kids are excited to go to school every day. The teachers and administration really understand the issues that these kids face, including with respect to asynchronous development and perfectionism. The parent community is also very involved and supportive. I would encourage you to come for a tour; we are year-round, so classes are ongoing until our late August break. I would also be happy to talk offline if you want to get my contact info from the administrator. Oakland Mom with a Fastrak

Can't comment on the other schools as I have no first hand knowledge of them, but I will say that Gate Academy is fantastic. The curriculum is accelerated and differentiated in a way I have not seen at any other school. While both my kids are gifted their learning profiles are very different and it is suiting them both incredibly well and meeting their individual needs. We feel like we won the lottery getting both our children here! We are not the only ones who commute from the East Bay and it feels totally worth it. It does take us about 35-45 minutes, depending on traffic, from Oakland, but since there is parking it offsets the extra time driving there. oakland family

Jan 2013

Re: Which private elementary for highly gifted child?
I would encourage you to consider GATE Academy in San Rafael (formerly Dunham Academy), It's a very small school for highly gifted kids (about 35 students in K-8), and they follow best practices in gifted education. My kids started there this past fall after spending their first few years at a private school in Berkeley, and we've been really impressed and happy with GATE. Being in a school designed to meet the needs of gifted kids is very different than trying to adapt a traditional education for a gifted student, especially if you have a kid who is several grade levels advanced in one or more subjects. The classes at GATE are mixed-age and limited to ten students, and most of the work is self-paced. When my second grader started, his teacher did a number of assessments in math and figured out what level was appropriate for him, as well as what gaps in his knowledge he would need to fill in order to work at that level (topics that he hadn't been taught yet in his old school). She then created a workbook for him that had the exact materials he needed, instead of just giving him a second grade book and ''challenge sheets.'' My fourth grader, who had gotten used to working alone on a computer for math while the teacher taught the rest of his class, now collaborates with older students on math challenges.

In addition to allowing each student to proceed in traditional subjects at his or her own pace, GATE also provides specialized gifted instruction. The school runs year-round and is organized into six ''inquiry'' periods. In each inquiry, the entire school studies a topic in depth. Right now they are learning about physics, chemistry and energy; in the November-December inquiry, they studied the rise of civilization. During each inquiry, each child selects a particular area of interest to research and then prepares a final project and presents it to the whole school. The students not only learn a ton about a topic of their choosing, but they really learn how to learn -- how to gather, organize, and present information to a group, six times a year, starting in kindergarten. Both of my kids love this part of the program.

Finally, the teachers at GATE really *get* highly gifted kids and the challenges that they often face -- perfectionism, sensitivity, etc. The school has mindfulness and ethics classes, as well as daily P.E., and it provides a very safe and supportive environment where it's ok to be different. And even though everyone is working at a high level, we've found it to be very non-competitive; the kids love learning for its own sake.

I know San Rafael sounds far from the other schools you're considering, but we've been commuting from Oakland, and it really hasn't been bad (about 30-40 minutes). There are several other families that come from the East Bay, and others that come from the city. It's also been entirely worth the drive to find a place where my kids can truly be themselves and can learn without limits. Happy GATE Academy mom

Oct 2010

Re: Elementary Schools for ''gifted'' children
If you're not sure about whether your daughter is ''gifted'', the first step is to have her assessed. This can be done by a wide range of professionals. You might consider contacting Dunham Academy ( and talking to the folks there about the process they recommend. In case you're not aware, Dunham is an amazing school just FOR gifted kids. Even better, the people there are incredibly warm and helpful, and they can help make sure you're on the right track to take care of your daughter's special needs. mom of another gifted kid

For those of you who are parents of a gifted child, you know how difficult it is to find the right school and teacher for your gifted child because of their unusual sensitivity, asynchronous development, extraordinary expression and perhaps behavioral issues. Once you find a school where your child can be themselves with true intellectual peers and teachers who understand, appreciate, nurture and challenge your gifted child you feel truly blessed.

I found that school, Dunham Academy, for my two gifted sons ages 9 and 12 after years of trying to work with the public school system in Orinda and after looking at nine other schools. Dunham Academy is a small private K-8 school for gifted children located in San Rafael. The co-founder Jennifer Dunham has a Master's Degree in Gifted Education from Johns Hopkins University, one of only two such masters programs in the US.

Dunham Academy offers individual attention as well as a secure, fun, social and stimulating environment. They have a self-paced math program that allows study up to high school level and beyond. Their exceptional science education is showcased at the yearly science fair. Dunham has an advanced language arts program plus all students study French or Spanish. Art, music and physical education are integrated daily into the curriculum.

Applications for admission are accepted year round and students can start anytime of the year. Sheila

Aug 2004

I was wondering if anyone has experience or knows others with kids at Dunham Academy, a private school for gifted children in San Rafael. I am starting to look at kindergarten options for my son. Any information is appreciated. Thanks!

Dunham Academy ( is a small school for gifted children grades K-8 (though they have admitted highly gifted preschoolers). Dunham is academically very challenging, and is based upon the International Baccalaureate program (IBO). The school is quiet and studious - but children do have fun. There is lots of laughter, and witty, self-poking-fun at the "stereotypes" of gifted kids. There is a zero tolerance for bullying. Gifted children often have a very hard time fitting in with their peers, and having an opportunity to learn along side children with similar needs is a huge benefit for these kids. The school's directors have created a much needed safe-haven for these kids.

The school is not for everyone, nor do not accept everyone. The school's directors deeply understand the unique needs of gifted children, and are very compassionate to those special needs. The school was founded in order to meet the oft-neglected needs of intellectually gifted kids. They do marvelous job of keeping the children challenged, and disciplined, within a creative and supportive environment. Children are encouraged to go as far as they want to in any subject, and study in multi- age settings. The program is highly individualized.

There is no homework! The school feels that since the kids do meaningful hard work at school all day, the kids need down time to explore the world on their own, and just have fun. They also discourage the perfectionistic tendencies that often go hand-in-hand with being gifted.

Outside enrichment instructors handle foreign language and poetry. The poetry instructor is truly outstanding; there is no condescension, at all, to the children - poems are reviewed anonymously and honestly.

The school is a year round school, that has 6-week "programs of inquiry" centered on a specific subject (e.g. History of the Arts), and then the school closes for one week off. Writing, Math, Vocabulary, are taught every day. Weekly report cards are issued for all children; and each child has their own computer (in middle school).

The school has recently moved to a new, outstanding location, at St. Vincent's in northern San Rafael. The 150-year-old mission provides an extremely scenic environment in which to study. Dunham Academy is the only school in three counties' that addresses the needs of gifted children. The school draws children from the East Bay, San Francisco and Marin. Nueva School in Hillsborough on the Peninsula is the next closest school for gifted.

Dunham has an intimacy that can only be found in a small setting. Which has pluses and minuses - highly personalized attention, but lack of resources for things that would help the school be more organized, etc. That should change with the new location, which is able to accommodate more children, and thus more revenues. (Ironically, the school does a great job of teaching organizational skills and personal responsibility to the children). -Anon '