Advice about OUSD Middle Schools
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Hello, I am fortunate enough to be in the Montclair Elementary School district and am happy to have my child attend shortly. Being a type A parent, I am already concerned with middle school. I am open to Montera only if the test scores/API rises. If this does not happen, I will try to swing private. If I go the private route, does anyone know how hard it is to get in at the middle schools at that level- are there new spaces open/class expansions in anticipation of these new students? I am considering schools like Head Royce, Bentley, Prospect Sierra etc. Also, any experience with how well Montclair students do on the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam)? Thank you for any information you can provide. Anon
Great question- Montera has definitely had its ups and downs. If you are a type A parent like me, you probably won't want to send your child there. Many of the teachers are great, but the level of instruction (My child in 6th grade had other kids that didn't know how to read and kids at her level that tested at the senior year of high school for reading ability in a 36 child class— our teachers would bemoan this all the time, since the school doesn't group the kids by ability), a library that parents valiantly fight to keep open by staffing it themselves, a gutted math program as of a few years ago (before, many parents would bypass private so their kids could do the excellent math program), leadership that seemed only focused on the kids at the very bottom instead of ALL kids (getting a bit better with new principal), and the overall messiness of that school got us down. That said, a large contingency from Montclair Elementary is attending this fall, hoping they can make it better. I see hope there.
Your child should have no challenge getting into private if they are a good student (in other words, it won't be Montclair holding him or her back). They all open up spaces for middle school. We see kids each year from Montclair get into all of the privates, as well as the charter schools. They do fine on the ISEE (no matter what, they'll need to study on the side- it's that kind of test-- we have friends at Head Royce that did test prep for months so they could do well enough to attend another school for middle school). Our child was accepted at every private they applied to (including ones you mentioned), and the schools seems to really like Montclair Elementary kids, since so much is done at the school not just for academic intelligence, but also emotional intelligence and enrichment. Good luck!
One more thing...by the time 5th grade rolls around, your child will also let you know by their interests, abilities, and social needs, etc. what school is the best fit- could be Montera, a private, a charter, or home-schooling -- fellow parent
Now take a deep breath and read the blog by Oakland mom WWW.designmom.com on Oakland public schools and school ''fit'' in general. My experience as a public school parent is the same as hers, but she says it better. Local mom
As a parent volunteer for admissions at one of the highly regarded schools you mentioned, I would advise transferring in fourth or fifth grade if you decide to go the private route. It is just so difficult to get in a middle school otherwise. Some years there are only a few spots.
We're trying to pick an Oakland middle school, and weighing options for our anxious, hard-to-transition son. We are looking at NOCCS, Claremont and EBIA. After touring all, they seem similar in terms of electives (not a bunch), so we're really looking at:
I can offer some advice about NOCCS for middle school. First the good news: NOCCS always goes through its waiting list for middle school. So, if history is any indication, you will get a spot there for your child (if you don't mind waiting until the end of summer). Also, adults at NOCCS are very emotionally supportive of the kids so I think sensitive kids have a relatively easy time with the transition. Now for my concerns: It sounds like you have a very academic child. Look into the school's math program. They are currently not preparing students for Geometry in high school like most of the other local middle schools; and many people are unhappy with the computer-based math curriculum they use. The school's ability to present ''academic rigor'' and to differentiate levels of academic challenge/support seems to vary from year to year depending on who's teaching. This applies to your other concerns as well. The school seems to be in a constant state of flux which affects their ability to provide a cohesive education and to predict what any given year at the middle school will be like. I hope that's helpful. I'm interested to see whether other NOCCS parents respond. Good luck with your decision!
We have three years experience at Claremont. Our first year at Claremont was bumpy, but the second year was a huge improvement, so much so that we didnt consider sending our now 6th grader anywhere else. Now, our third year, is mostly smooth and our two children are happy. Just last night my 6th grade daughter and I were laughing about how terrified she was of starting middle school, as compared to now, how content and relaxed she is.
So now for your specific questions. As far as the social/emotional learning, its definitely incorporated into the curriculum, but not nearly as strongly as it was at our elementary school. However, each year brings improvement. This year, they have a new thing called Advisory, grouped by grade and gender (smallish groups, like 18-20, I think). Its about half an hour per day and its all about team-building and school culture. The kids love it. As far as your question about social justice/cultural diversity, Claremont is very diverse and unlike our elementary school, getting more diverse. In this case, it means there are more white and brown students and fewer black students, and soon I think well be at the sweet spot of true Oakland diversity, with no single dominant group. I am on campus frequently and love seeing all cultures of Oakland represented. The teachers are also a diverse group; among my two childrens teachers, there are black, white, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Latina teachers, and almost half of them are male, which is a refreshing change from elementary school. There's a huge range of economic diversity as well, with very poor kids coming from all over Oakland, and many middle- and upper-middle class kids who live in Rockridge (whose families, I am happy to say, donate a lot to support the school).
In terms of social justice, discussion of it is woven through the curriculum. Last night there was a schoolwide event for historical literacy (including free dinner!) and one of the activities involved reading about the International Declaration of Human Rights (I may have the exact name wrong) and matching parts of it to photos and news clippings and indicating if it was in alignment with the Declaration or against it.
As far as academic rigor and readiness for high school go, the academic rigor is decent, and stronger in some areas than others. They offer advanced math to 8th graders, but Im not sure why not to 6th and 7th graders as well. This is probably something that changes year to year. The science teachers at Claremont are rock starsall three grades, but I have no complaints about Language Arts and Social Science either. My 8th graders friend told me that the new 8th grade English teachers class is kind of hard, and Im happy to hear that. All the kids I know whove gone on to high school from Claremont are doing just fine. Claremont kids are getting into Paideia and the Engineering Academy at Oakland Tech, right alongside their peers who went to private middle schools. The teaching staff this year at Claremont is top-notch. This wasnt necessarily true the last two years, but somehow the small group of weaker teachers left at the end of last year, including some with tenurereally not sure how they made that happen!
There is also a brand-new, completely revamped after-school program at Claremont and the offerings are amazingmovie-making, parkour, cross-country, and rock-climbing, just to name a very few. Both of my children have made a lovely circle of friends, whose parents are pretty great as well. This years 6th grade cohort seems especially strong. My kids walk to school and walk to friends houses after school. Claremont is not a perfect school, but every aspect of it has made huge leaps in improvement over the last few years. You say your kid is prone to anxiety. I would say my kids are shy and both were very nervous about attending Claremont, but now both are happy and cant imagine being anywhere else. I could add a lot more, but this got way longer than I intended! Oakland mom
My husband and I have two small children under 5 and are starting to think about long term schooling plans. We live in Montclair - our elementary is Montclair which we have only heard wonderful things about and would certainly look forward to sending out kids there. However, it seems like things get dicey at best with Montera middle school and Skyline High. I've read all old BPN posts, and both schools are ranked pretty poorly in state rankings. My question is - where do (or have) other Montclair parents sent their kids to middle and high school and how did it work out? Did you keep them in the public system in Oakland, go private after elementary school or move? We are considering all 3. Private school is so horribly expensive that at that point we would save money by just moving to Orinda and sending our kids to public school. Making a school change at 6th grade can be tough, so if we are going to move we would rather do it now so our kids have the benefit of going all through school with their friends (we also don't want to dump more money into our 1920s house on the necessary improvements it will need in 5 years if we are just going to move). The problem is my husband and I love Oakland, the culture and diversity. We have gone to a number of open homes in Orinda, and frankly, hate how white and privileged it feels. Very curious to hear from other parents in Montclair (or who used to live here and move) on what you did for post elementary schooling and what your experiences were. Thanks so much! Always so grateful for BPN community and all the wonderful advice I've received over the years. Montclair Mama
I wouldn't move or go private for middle school. Our child is in 6th grade at Montera, after having attended Montclair. It is a California Distinguished School, and the test scores are not so bad at all. I am not so big on paying attention to test scores. Instead, I care about how happy my daughter is and if she is learning. Well, she is thriving. The work is challenging, and interesting. For the core academics, the school is ahead of the curve in working toward the common core standards. In brief, that means more emphasis on thinking instead of rote work and it is something all states (except for Montana and Texas) are moving toward. Her social studies class covers ancient history, and right now it's all about ancienct Greece- they are learning about the Greek gods and creating designs to incorporate what they have learned. My daughter has come out of her shell in math this year, and her teacher is giving her more advanced math to supplement what is standard for 6th grade. English covers a lot of writing, and they are reading some great novels and evaluating them in class. Science is great too. There is about 1+ hour of homework each night, and she works hard at it. I was VERY worried to send her to Montera because of all one heards about OUSD, etc., especially as a graduate of the esteemed (but not deservedly so, IMO) Orinda schools, but am now embarassed to have been so. It's a gem. Yes, it's a public school and all that entails, but there will always be issues whereever you go. One more thing...we have seen a few folks leave private schools for Montera, and it seems they are thriving as well. I do hear that 7th grade hasn't been as strong as 6th, but I also hear that the principal is working on this. I ask my daughter every day if school is ok, and she loves it. Couldn't ask for more. Happy at Montera
We were in the same predicament last year except our kids were only 3 and 1. We were happy with Thornhill and the thought of our kids going there. However, we had the same qualms about Montera and Skyline. I, myself, was born and raised in Oakland and am a product of both Montera and Skyline. It had its share of violence when i was there less than 20 years ago and I heard it got worse after I graduated. But I love the culture, diversity, people of Oakland and have so much pride from being from there. We had every intention of raising our future kids there when we bought our home in Oakland after getting married. But we got fed up with mayoral ineptitude and the sharp rise in crime and violence. And the more we thought about it, we felt like taking the kids away from their close friends around the time they were Middle school-aged would be traumatic. We started looking in Piedmont and Orinda in hopes of better schools and police response. My first choice was Piedmont due to its geographical location, but the home prices were outrageous for the condition of the homes. We ended up finding a home we loved in Orinda. I had so much anxiety that I was making the wrong decision because, I too, never wanted to raise my kids in such a homogenous community (we are of a minority ethnicity). However, once we moved here, all worries were wiped away. We were blown away by how welcoming, friendly, and nice all the families are around here. Orinda was named the 2nd most friendliest town in America by Forbes last year and I definitely believe it after being here for almost a year now. Yes, it is very ''white'' but I feel like most people are here via San Francisco, Oakland, educated, and cultured. As long as we do our part to teach our own kids about culture and diversity, I feel like they will be fine. We still eat, shop, go to preschool in Oakland so they are immersed in the culture there. This is just our experience and how it's worked out for us. I hope this will help you feel better about the decisions you make for your own family. Good luck! Kris
Both of my kids went to Oakland public elementary (Joaquin Miller, not Montclair) and both are now at Montera and we are very happy there. There is a very large group of kids who went to Montclair and at least in the current 6th grade class I think Montclair and Joaquin Miller are the two schools that sent the biggest groups of kids to Montera. We are happy both with the excellent education they are receiving and with the way the school is run. There is a significant core of high achieving students and some really great teachers. We also have a great new principal who is committed to addressing the achievement gap and making sure that every child at Montera is succeeding. We live in Oakland, and chose not to move to someplace like Orinda, for exactly the reasons you mention. There are certainly challenges that kids will experience at Montera that they may not experience at a private school or a school in a place like Orinda. They are going to meet kids from very different backgrounds and they are going to encounter some kids with behavior problems. I think the school does a good job of dealing with those problems when they arise and in my experience they are not common. We think that some challenges are a good thing for our kids. We considered private school for middle school and have no regrets about not doing it. My son will be going to Oakland Tech next year, having been admitted to Head-Royce and deciding it was not for him. Skyline also has some great programs and we know many people whose kids have been successful there. I would urge you to talk to people who have kids at Montera for information about that school as there are plenty of false rumors to be had from those who don't. Good luck. Montera Parent
Sigh. It is very hard to hear the phrase ''We love Oakland's culture and diversity'' invariably followed by the interest in what other Montclair families choose. I encourage you to get more information and make your own decision!
Please remember that the diversity in Oakland very much includes socio-economic circumstances. My daughter went to a sought-after 'hills' elementary school and it was jaw-dropping to witness the white flight after 5th grade (private school or move.) In some ways, it is the ultimate chicken or egg scenario--when the children of well educated, fully enfranchised families leave the system, the school doesn't have the parent engagement it needs to thrive, the kids often test lower at CST time so the school rating goes down, and on and on it goes.
My daughter was one of very few kids from her 5th grade class to go on the public middle school as it seemed like everyone early on--as early as you seem to be--made the decision that they wouldn't be staying in OUSD after elementary school. Her teachers are great. There are surprisingly many super-involved parents who have provided for a lot of programming that would be otherwise not available. But let's be truthful, the school has all manner of real Oakland families in its community. Parents that are seriously young and definitely never went to college. Kids that each nachos and soda for breakfast on the bus. Home situations that include unsafe neighborhoods and under- or unemployed family members. These families don't get involved because they don't know what that looks like. So their kids aren't as connected to the school and have a tougher time. And they don't do as well on standardized tests which make the overall scores low. But these kids are just as wonderful as your two sweet children and need the support of their whole community to make a well-rounded school.
If you honestly hate how white and privileged it feels to flee through the tunnel (or to private school,) I encourage you to start early in supporting Montera. It's never too early get involved as a volunteer or fundraising donor. In my experience, it has been the best transition to middle school for those parents that had a realistic understanding of what kids that age are like (ugh--they swear and act rowdy) and how things work. In the sheltered environments of our wonderful hills elementary schools, it can seem like such a drastic change. But for our daughter, it has been great to watch her make friends with a truly *diverse* group of kids as well as thrive in her classes. While I am not a cheerleader for OUSD, I do think there are some great things happening in the schools that do not get recognized. Good luck with your choices. Anon
I have a lot to say, but will try to be succinct. I'm not in Montclair, but am in Oakland and have two, soon to be three, kids in OUSD. You're right, kids in Oakland scatter when it comes time for middle school. My son is a 5th grader at the best elementary in Oakland (I say that tongue in cheek, because I think a lot of people think that about their school). He's going on to our local middle school which has a bad reputation and low test scores (okay, it's Claremont). BUT, he is a middle-class white kid who is a decent, but not great student AND he has enough of his cohort going with him, that I'm feeling pretty good about the decision. When my son started kindergarten, I told my husband in no uncertain terms that we would not stay in Oakland for middle school, but now here we are. I've spent the last few years getting to ''know'' Claremont, signing up for newsletters, touring, talking to current parents and students.
Also, the Claremont of 6 years ago, when we first enrolled in OUSD was very different from the Claremont of today--like I said, I had totally written it off. So I would encourage you to remain open-minded about OUSD middle school and high school. At least one of our 5th graders is heading on to Montera in the fall, feeling like it's a solid choice. Other students from our elementary are there now and are very happy. There is a HUGE amount of peer pressure among middle-class parents in Oakland when it comes to middle school. I'm trying to teach my kids how to stand up to peer pressure, so I guess I had better walk the walk! Be brave, be open-minded, think for yourself! And BTW, why Orinda? That's a whole other topic that I won't get into here. OUSD mom x3
We are having the same dilemma. We are in a rental in Montclair while we sell our home in a different part of Oakland, to start the process of either buy in Montclair or through the tunnel within the next 8 months or so. Like you I have reservations about going to ''the other side''. My heart is here in Oakland. My community is here. My son is already in a great Montclair Elementary School that he LOVES. I have reached out to a couple friends who are now in Orinda or Moraga after making this same decision. I would be happy to forward their emails to you if you would like. And I would love to chat with you more via email. In my ideal world- you would stay, I would stay, all those considering would stay and make all the effort in the world to make the public high school better when we get to that point w/ our kids. I work in a public school (different district)- and I know there is only so much parents can do... but if there was a way to guarantee we have enough of us willing to make the effort- I would be all for it. BUT- I flip flop every couple days about which way we should go with our next home purchase. :/ I feel your pain. Please feel free to email me directly. kellita71 at yahoo. still debating too
Never again will we ever move to Orinda. I read your message and had the exact same thoughts in 2010. At the time I had a 3 yr old and 5 year old. We own our home in Montclair. We decided to rent out our home and rent in Orinda for awhile and once we found a place we liked would consider selling our home and buying out there. My boys were the only black boys in their classes. None of the neighbors came to met us. We had used a real estate agent to find our rental so all of our paperwork went through her. My husband and I are both professionals with good jobs. On paper you can not tell the color of our skin. After we moved in and met the landlord, she told the real estate agent that she regretted leasing to us. She constantly harassed us. We had an extremely unpleasant experience in Orinda. It is white and from my experience is not welcoming to others that are different. We are thankful to still own our home in Oakland and would rather pay for private school than live in a hurtful homogenous community. Glad to be out of Orinda
I'm the mother of a 6th grader at Montera this year. I just want to add some recent ''numbers'' to the discussion about OUSD middle schools because I think these have either dramatically changed over the past 5 years or the rumors of flight from OUSD middle schools have been exaggerated. Of the 60 fifth graders at Montclair Elementary School in 2011-2012, only 2 went on to private schools, one moved (not to Piedmont or Orinda or Marin, by the way), 4 went to other OUSD schools (e.g., art and performance), and the rest all went to Montera. So only ~3 out of ~60 Montclair Elementary families made the decision to leave OUSD at the middle school level. This means that in the the transition to the larger middle school, the children have a significant cohort of friends, and a lot of the parents already know each other, facilitating building community at the middle school level overall. Montera mom
please help, this is time sensitive. my 12, almost 13 year old son is extremely smart, has the TAG/GATE award, and has always attended the best school we can find for him. we recently moved back to the bay from hawaii, and due to our financial circumstances, have taken a room in west oakland. we have no car and shoddy bikes. i have called OUSD, i have called every charter school in range, and i have looked into online education. i applied him to stanford online but it is financial aid for one course at a time, and books are $500-600/per. he gets excellent grades, loves to learn, and works very hard. we have made huge sacrifices for his education, and this is the first time we have just hit a wall. i have been all over the BPN (was a member before) and not found much current info addressing this issue. my stress level is through the roof.
can anyone PLEASE refer us to at least a decent online school for the remainder of his 7th grade? he is highly motivated. we have gone with a K12 online before and it was awful, he needs challenge. the charters may or may not have room next year. at this point all i can think to do is to homeschool and have him test out at the end of the year, but neither of us want to do this, he wants to be in school.
intense frustration that there are so many kids who DON'T want to learn taking class space away from kids who DO. repeat: transportation an issue. please do not advise we move to alameda or albany, we do not have the luxury of choice. thank you in advance for considerate advisement. frustrated in west oakland
You have a few options, other than online school, which I don't believe is the best option. There is a KIPP middle school in West Oakland which is highly regarded. You can try contacting them and explaining your circumstances. Also, for the remainder of 7th grade, try to apply for an inter-district transfer to Hayward or San Leandro. I know many students from Oakland who attend public schools in these cities without any problems with district boundaries. There is also a Montessori charter school in Hayward that has high test scores, I believe it's called Golden Oak Montessori. If you contact any of these schools/districts and explain your situation, they should be very helpful.
Finally, try and contact some private and parochial schools. They may have scholarship and financial aid money. I did a quick search and also found a website that gives scholarship funds to kids who want to attend private schools. http://www.independent.org/newsroom/news_detail.asp?newsID=112
Good luck. Tenacity and persistence will pay off in the end. Your child will have a school to attend! anon
It sounds like you are open to homeschooling. Hickman is a homeschooling charter. They have a library and materials available and will pay for some classes. They also offer classes on Wednesday in Berkeley.
Hickman Charter Annex 546 9th Street, Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 893-1011 hickman.k12.ca.us
EPGY math and language are inexpensive if you do it through open enrollment (around $125 for a year). Also, Kahn academy is completely free. As are many college level classes on OpenCourseWare. http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Another option that may be close to you is the Oakland Math Circle. http://oebmc.mathcircles.org/
If you are BART accessible you can easily get your child to Quantum Camp classes in downtown Berkeley. I believe they offer financial aid.
You can always file a private school affidavit and homeschool your child and put together your own curriculum . You don't have to have him enrolled in any online school.
If you decide to homeschool AOHL (alameda oakland home learners) has parkdays on Thursdays. You can meet people and get a lot of info on resources.
Also,have you looked at American Indian Charter? They have a remarkable number of kids scoring very high on SAT talent searches. good luck
Dear stuck, I understand your frustration. I don't have any good suggestions for you for an online school, but there is a charter school you should look into called COVA . If you can't start there this spring, think about it for next fall. You could get there from West Oakland by taking BART to Fruitvale station and then a bus runs from there up to Redwood Road. The reason I think COVA would be good for your son is because it is able to accommodate very gifted kids through a partnership with the Peralta junior college system. COVA kids go to Merritt College and take some classes there, receiving both high school and college credit for them. The director of the school is committed to getting kids an education that is at the right level for them. To succeed in it, your son should have the maturity level to handle self-directed work. Kids who take classes at Merritt still participate in regular school activities, particularly music and enrichment classes, so this would also fit your son's desire to attend school with his peers. Just a suggestion, take a look at it: covaconservatory.org Good luck!
AC Transit's 62 bus route runs from the West Oakland BART station and passes within a few blocks of two OUSD middle schools: Edna Brewer and Roosevelt. Both have better test scores than West Oakland Middle School (FWIW), with Edna Brewer far and away the best of the 3. Edna Brewer is our local middle school and I have heard positive things about it, relative to other Oakland middle schools. My daughter has a few years to go before middle school, so no personal experience, but you can find reviews on BPN. Carrie
I teach at St. Martin de Porres Middle School on Peralta and 10th. Nearly every child in the school (something like 90%) get financial aid of some sort or another - BASIC, FACE or school aid. We are a Catholic school, though most of our students are not Catholic. 40% of our students are Latino/a and 60% African American.
The school is fairly structured, and I would say traditional and effective. Kids typically graduate from SMDP and go to various Catholic High Schools in the area (St. Mary's, Bishop O'Dowd, Salesian, St. Liz)
It's worth taking a look and seeing if it is a good fit. The academics are solid, and the school is a warm, nurturing, safe place.
In any case, take a look at the website http://www.stmdp.org/ and call for a tour if interested. Myriam