Advice about Orinda Public Schools

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Parent Q&A

  • Hi everyone, my husband and I are looking to move to Orinda with our two young boys, to the new Wilder development off of highway 24 (moving from San Francisco). The public schools we would be eligible for are Wagner Ranch Elementary, Orinda Intermediate and Miramonte HS. However we are also very interested in the Head-Royce School starting with kindergarten and possibly CPS as well for high school. Curious if there are other Lamorinda area families who sent their children to Head-Royce or CPS and if that was an issue living in a different city than where the school is located? I don't think Wilder Orinda is too far from these schools - between 4 and 7 miles it seems. 

    Also would appreciate any thoughts from Lamorinda families on why they actually chose to do Oakland private school vs. the public schools in Orinda/Lafayette (which are all good it seems). One thing we are looking for is a somewhat diverse school and I am worried that OIS/Miramonte may not really have that. Thank you in advance for any thoughts!

    Why not consider Orinda private school grades 8-12? Orinda Academy is quite diverse and has a stellar faculty, and small class sizes.

    Our kids went to Orinda schools for K-5, which was not much of a diverse experience but was fine.  The older kid crashed and burned in middle school (bullying, poor school response to that and other issues), and we switched to private school for him and the younger one when middle school came along.  Both went to CPS for high school.  We loved CPS; it was a great fit for our smart but quirky kids.   There were kids from all over the East Bay, and it was more diverse than Orinda.

    Orinda schools have good test scores and high rates of college bound kids.  But they are not good for all kids.  Our sense was that the schools work well for maybe 60% of the kids, are so-so for maybe 20% and are iffy-to-awful for the rest.  Maybe that is all that can be said for any district.  Orinda is a nice community in many ways.  But it can be a cruel place for kids who are not blond, attractive, athletic and socially comfortable.  And it can be very unwelcoming place for Moms who have careers; the cliques of SAHMs formed fast and they and their children created a culture of exclusion.  For our family, Orinda felt very unwelcoming.  That was some years ago (our youngest graduated from HS in 2013), but I suspect not much has changed.

    Not to be totally snarky, but I am sure they are at least as diverse as private schools that cost $30K plus a year? Depending on what you mean by "diverse" (economic? cultural? racial? religious?), all of these schools are going to be more similar than not. I kept my kids in the Lafayette schools, but know others who went to Bentley, Head Royce or CPS for various reasons.  One thing that I have heard people discuss is that it can be quite difficult, particularly as the kids get older, to have all of their school friends living in other communities.  Good luck with your decision.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

2013 - 2014 Recommendations

Nov 2013

Re: Seeking Elementary/Middle School Advice
We have a 2nd grader at Del Rey in Orinda - they have been there since K. Part of why we chose Orinda is because with parent/community donations, class sizes are kept small. K has a max of 20 (my kid had 19), 1-3 have a max of 22 (right now 21 in their class).

In addition each class has a funded teachers aide which provides additional teaching contact for students. The unique schedule in the lower grades (early/late bird) also means kids are broken into small reading groups with more intensive teacher time weekly.

We have had no issues with leadership - the school has a wonderful involved principal who cares about each student and the school. Love the setting, what our kid is learning, and the dedication of the community to our kids' collective success. Orinda schools fan

Do Orinda schools ''teach to the test''?

April 2013

We are considering moving from Berkeley to Orinda. Everyone says Orinda schools are great, but I was a bit underwhelmed by my first impression. Afterschool offerings seem pretty limited compared to Berkeley. Glorietta, the school I attempted to visit, seemed fairly sterile on the outside and in the main office. (I was going out of season, so I guess I shouldn't hold it against them that they wouldn't let me walk around the halls.) According to the info on their website, their music program is less extensive than the undistinguished elementary school I attended (albeit 35 years ago in a different state.) When I clicked on the school's webpage for ''Science'', no one had bothered to enter anything. Most of the teachers hadn't entered anything for their bios. So I can't help but wonder if the Orinda system is resting on its laurels. Or if they have great scores just because their incoming demographic is overwhelmingly well-off. Are they really teaching kids to think, or just teaching to the test? Opinions, anybody? Wondering in Berkeley

We moved to Orinda a few years ago. We moved here for the ideal location and to have lots of outdoor space and nature. It's beautiful here. We thought having great schools was a bonus for our kids. That being said, we were also underwhelmed by the schools. As we gathered more information from other community members as well as meeting with our local school principal - we opted to send our kids to a private school in Oakland.

We have friends who really like the schools here and it is a good fit for them. However, many of these kids are stressed out. It's very competitive and it seems to be directed by the parent community. Kids in elementary school have tutors! We also have some friends who are unhappy and have moved their children to private schools.

The only reason there is any PE, Art, Music and other extras (including teaching assistants) is because of parent contributions and fundraising. There is a lot of parent involvement as well. There is no 'whole child' education here.

My advice: don't move here for the schools. There are many amazing independent schools in Berkeley/Oakland. Happy in private school

Transfer students in Orinda schools?

Jan 2012

We are trying to decide where to move so that our young daughters can go to an excellent public school. We found a house we like in the Martinez school district, but as we work in Oakland we only want to move there if we can transfer to Orinda schools. At first, I thought I would be fine with Martinez schools, but then I saw that the middle school is two blocks from the oil refinery! Of course I know that if I want to go to Orinda schools then I should just find a house within the district, but we really like the idea of living in this rural area. And it seems like it could work if we just drop the girls off to school on the way to Oakland. So, I would really like to get a sense about how many transfer students actually make it into Orinda schools. Do any of you have any experience with this? really want to live off the grid

I live in Lafayette, not Orinda, so I can't say for certain, but I would be very surprised if you can get your child into a public school in Orinda if you do not 1. live there or 2. work there. I believe that there may have been a handful of transfers of parents who work in Orinda (I know this has been the case, albeit rarely, in nearby Lafayette).

If you want to benefit from Lamorinda schools, you may need to just move here. There are areas around here that don't feel like you are living in town. There is a semi-rural feeling to parts of Lamorinda, especially if you get further out. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for our children and their education.

My kids have attended a couple schools in Lafayette and we have yet to meet someone who doesn't have at least one parent living within the school boundaries (although I have heard that there are some students in our school district who live elsewhere but have parents who work in Lafayette). That makes sense to me because if you are living and/or working here, then you are contributing to the community and can therefore reap the benefits of the excellent school systems. I think it's unlikely that you'd get a spot any other way. Good luck with your search for a good school. Loving Lafayette

2010 - 2012 Recommendations

Orinda Elementary Schools

Sept 2010

Can anyone comment on the quality of Orinda elementary schools? I know that they're good schools but I'm looking for more specifics such as differentiated instruction (my son is 4 and already knows his letters, numbers, can write his name and already shows an interest in reading and writing his own texts.)? Enforcement of the scripted curriculum? Any flexibility for the teachers to bring their own ideas and lessons to the classroom? How big are the class sizes (other schools are over 20)? Demographics? SES? If your information is only specific to a certain school, if you would please specify that as well. Lastly, if I don't live in the school district, are there ''check ups'' to make sure I live there? Will I be kicked out or reported? Thank you in advance for your replies. Debating elementary schools

We are very happy with the schools in Orinda; my daughters attend Sleepy Hollow Elementary. My oldest is in 3rd grade and my youngest just started kindergarten. We moved from Berkeley 2 years ago, thus my oldest daughter started there in first grade. We have been very pleased with the teachers' ability to bring their own creative style into the classroom and the individual attention our daughters have received. So far, each year there have been less than 20 kids in their class. The teacher is supported by an aid and a parent for most of the day (there are a lot of stay at home Mom's in Orinda who volunteer at the school, I am not one of them but am very happy they are there). They have music class, library and computer time, PE and a wonderful before school and after school care program. The school is very academically focused, as are the parents, and most, if not all, the children have attended pre- school. As for diversity, there is more than you think. But still we make a conscience effort to keep our children exposed to the greater bay area as much as possible, via our ties to Berkeley and to San Francisco. If you don't live in Orinda, (which now is a great time to buy, and no I am not a real estate agent) it is challenging to get in. They are very thorough in making sure you live in Orinda to go to school in Orinda. You can request an interdistrict transfer, check out the district's website at We visited multiple public and private schools around the east bay before deciding to move to Orinda. You should visit any school in the district to see if it is the right fit for you and your family. We are very happy living in Orinda and are very glad we found 12 years of top rated schools. Happy in Orinda

May 2008

Hi, Does anyone have feedback/personal insights on the Orinda elementary schools? Based on API's, all 4 schools look great (950-980 API's) but I'm sure there are differences among the schools that #'s don't reveal. I'd like to understand the pros/cons, differences in culture, etc. We're househunting in Orinda and I don't yet have any friends/contacts I can ask. Pls note I've checked the archives.

  The 4 schools are: 1. Sleepy Hollow 2. Del Rey 3. Glorietta 4. Wagner Ranch

Even if you have experience with one of these schools, I'd love to get your feedback. Thanks in advance, Leila

Hi, I wanted to try to answer some of your questions but I'm hoping others with more information will also reply. I moved to Orinda about 3 years ago and our local school is Sleepy Hollow. My girls are not yet in school, so I don't have personal experience. I also didn't do any research into the local school, we just got lucky and found a great house and knew the schools in Orinda were good, so didn't worry about the specifics.

The young woman who babysits for me lives down the street and attended Sleepy Hollow several years ago (she's now 16). She said she got a great education and was very excited about learning and loved her classes, but she felt a little left out socially because her family did not have as much money as most of her classmates and even in elementary school it was an issue. She said that when she went to an Orinda Middle School she made all new friends and her social life improved. Sleepy Hollow is mostly populated by a neighborhood called ''the downs'' which, I've gleaned, is one of the most expensive/ostentatious neighborhoods in Orinda. We live in the ''country club'' area which has some older more modest homes sprinkled in it. It feeds both into Sleepy Hollow and Wagner Ranch, depending where you are in the neighborhood (We live closer to St. Stephens church).

One thing I can say about the kids I've met in the neighborhood and in Orinda in general, is that they are all very well spoken, seem to have great self esteem, and are very friendly. Coming from Alameda and before that, North Berkeley, I can't say I had the same experience with kids there. These are kids in the age range of 3-17. So very broad. But I can honestly say that when I take a walk in my neighborhood, children will, unprompted, wave and say hello. When they talk to me they look me in the eye and they have interesting, funny, and clever things to say. I hope this is a reflection on the local schools, because I'd love for my children to be as friendly, confident, and smart as the kids around here seem to be. monika

Feb 2008

Hello, I have the opportunity to transfer my children from a middle/lower-middle-class neighborhood school to Orinda, a much wealthier community and school system. I know that the academics will be much stronger and am glad for it, as my kids are at the top of their classes here, and have essentially ''topped-out.''

My concern and doubt about the transfer surround the differing socio-economic levels (we are not wealthy) and making new friends while continuing to live outside of the community. (The social upside of a private school is that all the children come from all over the bay area, so no one is an ''outsider'' unlike transferring into another district. )

A previous past poster said: ''The school with the craziest Get-Your-Kid-Into- Harvard-at-10 parents is Sleepy Hollow. The most relaxed and creative schools are Glorietta and Del Rey'' 1-Does this still ring true? Anyone know anything about Wagner Ranch? 2-Are ''outsiders'' welcome in Orinda? 3-Which of the elementary schools in Orinda is least overly-wealthy? 4-How can I best help my children acclimate to a new school? 5-How can I best help my children make new friends and integrate? 6-Anything else I should consider with this lifestyle of getting schooled outside of my own community? thanks in advance!

We moved to Orinda a year ago and have been very happy there. We are not as wealthy as some of the other families there, but this has not proved to be an issue. Our kids are at Glorietta, and I found the parents there to be extremely friendly and welcoming when we arrived mid-year.

Our kids made new friends quickly, without any help from us, so I wouldn't worry too much about that, either. I don't think being an ''outsider'' is much of an issue. None of my kids' friends live within easy walking distance, and once you're in the car, it doesn't really matter if your friend lives one mile or five miles away.

The one thing to be aware of is that the Orinda schools do not receive their fair share of money from the state, so there is a lot of pressure on parents to contribute. We have learned to just contribute what we can afford, rather than what they ''suggest,'' so that they'll stop calling us. Edna