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Need advice: Thinking of moving to PA for the schools

Original post made by Redwood Shores mom on Dec 24, 2009

Hi, as the mom of a 3 year old and a kindergartner, I could use some advice. We're considering a move from Redwood Shores to Palo Alto, mainly for the schools. Our public elementary and middle school API scores are comparable to that of PA schools. Our high school is in the mid 800's..not as good as the Palo Alto schools, but not terrible. So here are my questions:

- I know scores are not everything. Are there other factors that make the Palo Alto schools great (especially compared to similar scoring schools outside the district)?

- I've read a lot about the "pressure cooker" atmosphere at the high schools. For parents/students who have gone through Paly/ retrospect, do you think it's better to be a small fish in a big pond (i.e. struggle to compete in an excellent high school), or a big fish in a small pond (be a top student in an above average high school)?

Given how much more expensive Palo Alto is than Redwood Shores, I can't help but wonder whether the move is worth it. Greatly appreciate the feedback!

Comments (118)

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2009 at 10:56 am

Elementary schools are pretty good, middle school a waste of precious time, and high school is ultra-competitive, with many teachers egging on the competition. If that appeals to you, go for it. I regret my decision to send my high-schoolers to Gunn. If private schools are an option for you, find nice, medium-size private schools where people care about each other and value education for its own sake, not just as a competitive game.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 25, 2009 at 12:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I sent my kids through Palo Alto schools, k-12. They were average students. I never pressured them about grades. They were not tutored, and I never helped them with their homework. I went to Stanford, and scored 1560 on my SAT. I was self-motivated. My kids were more into their friends, and school activities. They scored about 1200 on their SATs. They did not go to Stanford, and I could care less. They (all three of them) graduated public college in four years, and they all have jobs in Silicon Valley, while many of their friends cannot find a job.

The one thing that I did insist upon is that they earn their own way, period. I never gave them spending money, they had to do babysitting and yard jobs to get that. One of my sons gravitated towards rich buddies. He could not keep up, but they tended to 'carry' him (expensive ski trips, etc.). However, he never complained to me about it. None of his friends currently have jobs, but he does. The old work ethic still works!

PA shools are what you make of them.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2009 at 2:13 pm

I agree that PA schools are what you make of them. Fairly easy to coast through with B's and C's. But for A's the effort, organizational skills, and sleep deprivation jumps considerably. The distractions (texting, Facebook, video games) are a problem for many teenagers everywhere. PAUSD does have their well-know reputation. People do move to Palo Alto for the schools so there is going to be more academic competition than other districts.

Redwood Shores feeds into Carlmont High, which is a decent school. You probably have a larger house there than you could buy in Palo Alto for the same price.

Besides just schools, the people and community should be a consideration too.

Your children are so young that you could even decide to move when they are in 3rd/4th grade and they would adjust fine. After all, there is only so much children can learn in elementary school and the elementaries here keep up with normal pace as opposed to some highly academic private schools such as Challenger, which teach them to be a year ahead of public schools.

If you do decide to move, different areas of PA have their different reputations and elementaries have their different reputations so that not all of Palo Alto is the same.

Posted by Former RWS Resident, a resident of Southgate
on Dec 25, 2009 at 4:07 pm

My children went to Sandpiper and loved it. They have a great staff with a great principal and lots of support. Middle school at Ralston was slightly harder socially but went well. Very positive experiences.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 25, 2009 at 6:04 pm

From having children go through Palo Alto schools throughout, including high school, and then on to college, in my mind the biggest advantage of going through our competitive high schools is that my children were more than ready for college. After high school here they found college (UC) to be relatively easy to handle, while they had college classmates who came from "easier" school districts, with good grades in those districts, but who struggled to keep up in college.

In other words, Palo Alto high schools are an excellent preparation for college, including for those students, like mine, who refuse to be ultra-competitive. It's just that the overall educational level here is such that after high school in Palo Alto, our students do well in college.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 25, 2009 at 6:14 pm

The chance of your child getting a scholarship to top colleges from the 2 public Palo High Schools is Zero.

So unless you are very wealthy, and one parent is an alumni/a of a top university, your best bet, if you have high IQ kids, is another school district with tutors or a private school if you can afford it.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2009 at 12:22 am

Sharon, what are you talking about? The very top schools (Harvard, etc.) give need-based scholarships, and getting in from Gunn/Paly is about the same chances as other schools, depending on the kid. Besides, they want kids with passion and drive, not just high grades.

To the original poster, what you are getting in PA is less about great schools and more a great community, which includes the kids/families in the schools. Since many people move here to be close to Stanford, the hospital, the law firms, etc., as well as the schools, you get a community of highly educated people who care about education - probably more on average than most other communities, similar to other college towns. I would say the kids are not any smarter, or the teachers materially better, than many other good schools. But the families do care a lot about education. There are downsides to that - the competitiveness that people complain about is somewhat real - but if that's what you are looking for, PA has it, more so than in most towns in my experience.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

Cupertino has better public schools than Palo Alto. Look it up at betterschools and talk to some parents.

Posted by pamom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 26, 2009 at 11:44 am

We were like you and moved here for the schools. I agree with anon: excellent elementary schools but middle schools leave a lot to be desired. Some of the extra curricular activities are very good at the middle school level, but what is lacking is rigorous academics. Three years of very light work in math, English, and social studies is really shameful and dulls students abilities. High schools can be very good depending on the teacher. There are some problems with it being very competitive. There are some teachers who expect students to teach themselves in some of the very tough courses which is not good, and tutoring really is the only way to deal with this which adds stress to the students. Our high schools are too crowded.

If you do move, best to make the move sooner because you form long friendships. But frankly, if I were thinking about this now, I'd would have stayed in San Jose and sent my kids to private schools.

Posted by In the middle, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm

My son is in middle school in Palo Alto, and interestingly, it's where he's really hitting his stride. He is fairly self-motivated, is doing good academic work, and appreciates the improved extracurricular opportunities that come with middle school age. I can't yet comment on high school. Wherever you are, though, it really depends on what you make of it. In elementary school, we really appreciated having resident access to the Palo Alto Junior Museum classes and camps, and being close to the Community School of Music and Art. I love that my son runs into tons of kids he knows on halloween night; that kind of neighborhood engagement is one of the perks of public school.

I strongly recommend spending some time in different Palo Alto neighborhoods to get a feel for them. If you find a place where you feel "at home", then your decision will become easier.

Posted by Jill, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 26, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Anon and P.A. mom. We moved here when my daughter was going to start kindergarten, based on the fantastic reputation of the schools. My daughter is now a senior, and I've often regretted the move to P.A. for a number of reasons.
First of all, the elementary school was okay but not outstanding, a little bit of a letdown actually, considering the rave reviews that PAUSD receives. However, she had two excellent teachers to whom we will always be thankful. Not hearing especially good things about JLS and thinking that we could do better, we sent my daughter to private school for 6th-8th. For high school she wanted to return to public school. Since we had heard that both Gunn and Paly were excellent, we figured either would be fine. Wrong choice! While many students seem to thrive at the local high schools, I have been unimpressed for the most part. Since the students generally come from families that support education and assume their sons/daughters will go to college, one positive is that the motivation to do well in school is high. Unlike some other high schools in the area, there is not a large group of students who don't care about academics. Unfortunately, many here care about grades and getting into high-status colleges more than they value learning. There's a lot of competition, which leads to a fair amount of cheating and some cynicism. ("Half the class didn't even read the book; they read the Spark notes online.") Students feel the pressure, some more than others. Some of her friends seem to have gotten through it okay, except for the sleep deprivation and level of stress mentioned by a previous poster. In my daughter's case, the competitive atmosphere and pressure have taken their toll on her in terms of self-esteem and belief in her own academic ability. What makes me sad is that she entered high school with much more confidence and excitement about learning than she's leaving it with. It's impossible to know how different this might have been at other high schools, but since I've taught at the secondary level for many years myself, I can say that many of the teachers at Paly put less into teaching, grading and supporting students after class than at some other schools. I attribute this to the fact that so many students at the school (and I would assume Gunn is similar in this way) can afford to have tutoring, so it takes the pressure off the teachers to teach well. Also, because the test scores are high, due to numerous factors including the socio-cultural status of the majority of students, the staff doesn't strive as hard as they might to improve. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions; my daughter has a couple of wonderful, helpful teachers this year who genuinely seem to care.
You didn't mention whether you would be renting here or be able to afford a nice (i.e.,expensive) home in P.A. You should also be aware that many Palo Altans are very conscious of social status. If you rent a home or own a condo, your child may sometimes be made to feel inferior to friends whose families own very nice homes. In the teen years the focus, of course, is more on clothes, cars and expensive trips. As P.A. mom suggested, you may want to think about the social aspects of the move also. These can have an effect on academics and personal growth.
The social status of students and their parents also comes into play sometimes at school sites in ways that have surprised me. At the elementary schools the influence seems to be more on a personal level. At the high school level family influence is often felt through monetary contributions, and some donate large amounts of money (to athletics, for example). It's often obvious that administrators, both at the district and school sites, pay more attention to the opinions and wishes of wealthy parents. I guess, given the financial situation of California public schools, this is not too surprising, but it bothers me since these are public, not private, schools.
So, back to your question...if I were making the decision again, I would choose a less affluent community which I feel is a great place for children to grow up. I would then check out private schools, hoping to find one that values diversity and creativity and which instills excitement about learning, reading and writing. If I didn't find one that I could afford or felt really good about, I would stick with the public school and make sure that my child got what they needed at every step, through tutoring, art lessons, etc. I would be especially mindful of what happens at the middle school level because, in my experience, this is where some students start to go the wrong direction, often due to peer influence.
Good luck with your decision! It's an important one.

Posted by Grandma, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Parents of new students entering the Palo Alto School District should bear in mind that the School District must educate your children somewhere; that may not mean you will get a place at your local neighborhood elementary school. Local Kindergarten classes may be full, if that is so your child may be placed in a class across town.

Moving to Palo Alto from Redwood City just for the schools is probably a waste of money. Both School District were defendants in the Tinsley case which has integrated both school districts with the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto.

Sometimes I wonder just how Palo Alto got the good reputation it did. If I was looking for the best school district on the peninsula, I'd pick Cupertino Elementary School District. Having said that my children did great in the PAUSD.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Grandma, wonder no more. Back in the 80's, before the schools were not crowded by newcomers, they were indeed very good .
Palo Alto allowed changes of zoning in order to build too many single family
houses and even allowed schools with considerable acreage to become construction sites (for example the school on Seal Park, which was a daycare when it was demolished ). I asked a member of the Board of Ed in the 80's what would the situation be if enrollment changed and we needed the schools we were selling to the developers. Her answer was that we would cross that bridge when we come to it.
As I see it if the student is applying to competitive colleges it is indeed better to stay in Redwood City. Sequoia HS is a very good school specially for the motivated and its applicants don't have as much competition to deal with as in PA , and therefore stand a better chance with colleges.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 26, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I have a senior and a freshman at Gunn. Senior hated it. I'm looking to move this summer to save my freshman.

DO NOT come to Palo Alto for the schools. The pressure is insane and there is NO check on teacher quality. There are teachers teaching at Gunn that *everyone* knows should not be teaching, but they have tenure so the kids are screwed. Blatant examples like assignments lost again and again, forgetting to GIVE the tests to one section or the review to another, totally unfair curves, etc. I am not making these things up, but the school does NOTHING (except in one case, allowed kids to drop without the completely screwed up course showing up on their record. But that's it, no disciplinary action or anything). These completely incompetent individuals are allowed to totally mess up kids' lives and nothing is done.

Like Jill, my child has been forever scarred by high school in Palo Alto. Do your kids a favor, stay away.

Posted by HPA, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 26, 2009 at 8:50 pm

One thing to consider is how much stress you will be under if you move hear. If coming hear causes you or your spouse to have to drive long distances or take on additional work, I would think twice.

I only have experience with the elementary schools. The one we go to is full of very nice people who care a great deal. All the teachers work very hard to bring something special to the class. It is amazing how hard they work. My kids go on more field trips and have more fun in school then I ever thought possible. However, enrichment/field trips assumes that everyone has the basics. This is not the case. Look at the STAR scores. This is not a sucess for all situation.

The Palo Alto Unified "system" of education is not really a system at all. PAUSD is not designed to for kids who need to have all their educational needs met by the school. The schools assume that parents will provide the foundation and fill in the blanks. No one discusses this. Many people work with their kids at home ten to fifteen minutes a day on this or that. I do it with my kids. The extra ten minutes usually goes into math, but some/many parents also do language arts. These parents are not obsessive compulsive freaks. They are just parents who wake up one day to the sad fact that their third grader still can't spell basic words and/or doesn't know their times tables. Other people just love teaching their kids.

The problem comes when it just isn't fun anymore (ie when you are under stress in other ways and just can't pitch in to make the learning magic happen). The problem also comes if a child does have a learning difference. The school will go to a great deal of trouble to "help" but all the great extras in the class room mean that less time is spent drilling the basics.

Compare this to schools/districts where they have a system for teaching everything. The system is designed to work for kids that know nothing and get no help at home. There is a revolotion going on at charter schools where the "state of the art" in teaching the basics is advancing by leaps and bounds. PAUSD is not focused in this way.

Therefore, it all depends on what you want or need. The people are nice/try hard, but Palo Alto is not a category killer when it comes to education. I have known more than a few people who have made great sacrifices to move here thinking that this was all they needed to do. They didn't have fifteen to thirty minutes a day to play teacher. They were disappointed when their kids had lots of trouble meeting grade level expectations. There kids went to summer school year after year.

Many parents are also shocked to find out how much time and effort they needed to put in to sort out problems that came up. This is all fine if you have the time (and want/need to be here).

I have also known more than a few kids who have transferred in only to find that they don't catch up or keep up with grade level. Eventually, most of these people figure out the problem. It's not race. It's not culture. It's just that ten to fifteen minutes a day that they didn't/couldn't put in, because they thought the great PAUSD would take care of it. Over the years it, adds up.

This is why my advice to you would be not to make the move unless it can be done without creating additional stress. There are pros and cons to every system, but nothing is worse than getting into a situation where one is struggling to make ends meet (especially in a place where more than a few folks are almost living a retired lifestyle).

I would also suggest looking for charter school options where you are before deciding to move. If you move to Palo Alto also consider "choice" programs. For all of this negative talk, I must say that my kids are happy. If you want to join us, just be prepared to put in your ten to fifteen minutes a day. Also, get ready advocate for your child if there are special needs/learning differences.

One more thing. Some people think that all PAUSD schools are the same. They are not. There is no real "system" here. Even schools that are within a short distrance of eachother can be very different. If you do move, look before you leap. There are real differences between neighborhoods. They are all good in there way but it is a question of apples and oranges (and which you like best).

I hope this helps.

Posted by Another Point of View, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 26, 2009 at 8:54 pm

We moved to Palo Alto about 20 years ago while we toddler, when the high schools were not too big and the elementary schools were fairly small. We liked the feel of Palo Alto and the community around. It has changed a great deal in this period of time and I would not make the same decision now. When our first was in elementary school the class sizes hovered around 30, but kindergarten was very low key. As soon as the elementary classes were made smaller, the expectations at every grade level - kindergarten in particular, changed dramatically.

By the time our first was in high school, the high schools appeared overcrowded and the stress levels were enormous. Coupled with that was the amount of materialism invading the lives of our teens. In particular, the savvy kids of divorced parents who played each parent and set of grandparents against the other and ended up with enormous amounts of spending money and the latest high tech gadgets or cars.

At that stage, the teachers were dealing with kids who were learning the curriculum for the first time as well as kids who had been tutored and were reviewing the material in class rather than learning. My kids started to feel that they were quite dumb and although they worked hard, their grades were very up and down. Getting into UCs were difficult so we opted for transfer route. However, once we got into a UC, we found that the attitude towards the studies from what had been experienced here made an easy adjustment to college level work and we did once again feel smart.

The bottom line is that Palo Alto is hard for teenagers regardless of how smart they are as the pressures from their peers is enormous. Some of the families put enormous pressure on their kids. Many kids are not available even over winter break because of extra tutoring classes in the high pressured group, or spending time away with the parent they don't live with or on expensive vacations in exotic locations for others.

However, from my own kids' experience, it remains to be seen how they will look back on their Palo Alto education and the attitudes it has brought them. Unless you are willing to push your kids, it is possible that you may regret moving here.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2009 at 8:55 pm

After reading all the above comments, posted by parents whose kids have not entered college yet, I feel I should insist that your kids will be grateful they attended high school in Palo Alto once they are in college because they'll then realize than they are much better prepared for college than students who attended many other bay area school districts. I know it from experience.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Southgate
on Dec 26, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Don't do it. We regret it and we're leaving. Stay Away!!

The schools have a good reputation. But, it's more that the parents are educated and have the money to pay for their children to succeed. Thus, the tutoring, extra after school classes etc. I don't find the schools here to be better, just that the kids are coming from well-educated families. In fact, I'd say the schools are average. I don't see anything innovative or extraordinary about them at all. On the negative side, there are some really awful teachers here who will harm your children and if you aren't wealthy or connected, those are the teachers you are going to get. You'll have to push your child and pay for all the extras - tutoring, after school classes and activities - otherwise your child won't get into the best colleges because they won't be able to compete with the super competitive families here.

On the social side, there are many cliques of parents who won't let your child play with theirs. Your child could end up being the only one not invited to a party or on play dates because the other parents don't want to socialize with you!! Believe me, they will let your child know he or she isn't acceptable. Even if your child is the popular one, do you want to be part of this? PTA presidents won't even say hi to some parents. Minorities don't fare well in some schools and are treated as if they are from East Palo Alto or renters even if their parents are wealthy and own homes in Palo Alto. We've had several minority families leave due to the prejudice. And what does that teach children?

Do your children a favour, find a good, safe school district or put them in private schools but don't waste your money or sacrifice the mental well-being of your children by coming to Palo Alto!!

Posted by Jill, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I liked many of the things that HPA said, but I would add that once the students are taking courses like Chemistry and Pre-calculus, it takes a lot more than 10-15 minutes of parental support in the evenings to help them unless they are gifted in math and science. We've had to pay money regularly for tutoring that we needed to save for college tuition. The students whose families really can't find the money to pay for tutoring are at a dis-advantage.

Posted by pamom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 27, 2009 at 10:03 am

One more thought. If you do decide to go with a private, check it out carefully. Some of the privates are also into the same type of education style that is having so much influence in Palo Alto -- teach yourself -- whether in grade school where the multiplication tables are not taught and the basics are glossed over -- or in high school calculus, chemistry, etc. In elementary, it can be fun to go on a lot of field trips. Making learning fun is great, that is why I like the elementary schools here. But to gloss over basics really does become a problem (that's why the parent who advises the 10-15 minutes a day really helps and that's what we did.) Just be aware that some privates are also into this "teach yourself" methods which may or may not work for your children.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 27, 2009 at 10:16 am

My two cents worth. I'll not address the PA schools specifically, just the whole "moving to Palo Alto for the schools" concept.

If you do move here I assume you will be going through the usual hassle of moving. And I also assume that either your property taxes will rise, or rental costs will go up.

This will mean that you are "invested" or perhaps feel "entitled" to more input than, for instance, an academic person who has been stationed here, or someone transferred due to job relocation---nothing to do with the schools per se though they may have been advertised as stellar.

I am just envisioning sitting in a PTA meeting years from now as you get up to speak and preface each with "we moved here for the schools and now....."

Posted by mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2009 at 10:29 am

the schools alone should not drive your decision. Formula here is parents account for maybe 80% of the results?

If you are a working parent, even more difficult to provide the support kids need in this community. Once you get to Middle and High School, your kids can get lost, class sizes bigger, if you are comfortable with learning to work you way around here, Palo Alto has a lot of great things

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 27, 2009 at 11:48 am

Here's my bigtime concern, which is at the high school level: I found it disheartening so many parents pay lots of $$ to have their teens tutored ahead of the curriculum. Be clear I am not addressing remedial tutoring, which I believe is rare here. Some are secretive about this. Unless you have seen it yourself, it is hard to understand how prevalent it is and how unfair.

It wasn't always this way -

If parents feel any part of the curriculum is "slow" here, why don't they speak up at School Board meetings? - that would contribute to the betterment of the community and education here. I'll tell you why they usually don't do that - sometimes they don't REALLY feel that, in fact Math instruction is pretty good here, yes, there have been disagreements, but what I am getting at is some parents have a system to give their kids a key competitive advantage when college admissions roll around. Push your kid hard -- for years -- to always stay ahead of other local teens, via constant pressure and hand holding from costly tutors. It don't happen by is contrived in many cases. Perhaps a form of "soft cheating."

When does it "pay off?" - top college admissions. A lot of students in the community are fairly gifted and I feel it is likely they would like to progress in a challenging fashion in their education, but they are up against a fully constructed artificial "system" to package certain teens as "winners."

Prestige and bragging rights are big in Palo Alto.

How about....learning...and being able to verbally discuss a subject with enthusiasm...these are the measures I would institute to "check" that students are not just "prepped for the test." Having "orals" would go a long way here. Some families and groups save curriculum from year to year to pass along within their social group. I was shocked when I found this.

If you don't wish to manage your teen in this constant tutoring scheme or can't afford that, and you want them to learn responsibility and individual intiative and choice, and develop as unique humans, that would SEEM to be the better route for their lifelong development, but the teen may pay a price in college admissions as a Palo Alto student. (College admissions really are quite competitive currently) -- for you young parents. Colleges can't take a bunch from the same school/city/region.

With the "old time" system of teens doing school on their own, or mostly on their own, your teens do the work and learn the material as they go along (even at top honor's level), and they may at times be working hard on their own while many others coast. They may experience failure or have some experience that moves them ahead in terms of their personal interests. Sounds good, yet know they will not be receiving anywhere the same level of support as the prepped/managed teens. Are you OK with that? The prepped teens often gloat(even without intent to pressure/scare the non-prepped teens) that they already know the material.

With those top college apps, a TINY bit of difference will give those other teens key advantages that they will loudly discuss with their peers(the perfect 2400 on SATs because they took them three times with heavy tutoring, etc.) There is NO tasteful modesty here when it comes to test scores and "awards," "contests," some of which are contrived for a paper resume for college apps. I found it was sometimes disingenous. Parents have the textbooks on hand. How about the kid getting the text when they go to take the class?

Some might say it is just a high level of awareness of certain parents to prep their kids this way, but I would say it is a scheme to ensure "success" of their youth at the expense of others and I am VERY unsure of the basis of this "success." We hear of some universities starting to "see through" packaged applicants -- some of whom have been prepped for YEARS in a highly sophisticated fashion. An increase in college interviews would do wonders in determining the real knowledge, accomplishments, interests, capabilities, etc. of certain youth.

Be aware of the status attached to being placed one year ahead in Math courses (top honor's level) here. I attribute a LOT of this to the careful preparation/tutoring rather than individual initiative and talent and interest. Yes, there are some very talented Math students here. There are some who are modest and some who proclaim it on a daily basis. But skipping entire courses/topics is unlikely to occur without careful parental management and paid education somewhere; it is clear there are very strong parental pressures to "perform" in the Math arena here. Not a drawback for the community, but often artificial. I regret that this system is fostered here, and the high schools love it, because they want to report high scores (SATs, APs, contests, etc.)
Look for a place with integrity and where students do their own work, don't cheat or plagiarize. I am still slightly embarrassed that Paly had a student graduation speaker recently(school body president) who plagiarized his speech and then went on to Stanford. It's sad people operate this way here. My standards are: NEVER cheat and NEVER plagiarize, I don't care what the "cost" is in terms of grades or status, cheating is never justified.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 27, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Former Paly Parent,

You are mentioning only a small portion of the students at Paly. Thank you for all the great tips on competition! Remember that those who can afford to live here are familiar with competition. Moving to the midwest would suit a person well if they prefer complacency and no competition.

What I enjoy about Palo Alto is the modesty of the parents. You must have hung out with the obnoxious crowd.Most parents here are understated. It's only when one goes home and Googles them that they find out what a big wig they are. Most parents wear casual clothing - primarily jeans.

Re approaching the School Board or Superintendent, parents here know it's a waste of time so they find other routes to help their children. The uproar of adopting Everyday Math when so many parents opposed it proves that politics in PA are powerful, as well as the fact that City Council has continually approved more residential housing when our schools are already overcrowded.

Kids aren't all tutored. Most parents have the educational background to help their children if they have questions.The ones who are tutored are probably in a higher laned class than they should be in.

Posted by parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I agree with most posts and I would not move just for the schools. You could use private schools if school is your main concern. We moved to Palo Alto (before my kids entered grade school) because it was near my work (I did not expect to be changing work locations). I could be with my kids within minutes if needed and they could be with me at work if needed. Private schools in Palo Alto were limited 10years ago, so that was not a "for sure" option. Now there are less expensive private options in Palo Alto. The palo alto schools are good, however we still went to private school for middle school. Over all happy with the high schools as most private high school would also be too expensive. The high schools can be very difficult--too difficult because many teachers do not teach, that's why you need tutors or a "expert" parent. However the kids will be ready for college.

Posted by paparent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Former Paly parent, you paint a very negative picture of Paly parents. To some extent I do agree that this goes on. But I think most parents hire tutors when their children are falling behind or when they have a teacher who doesn't really teach and this happens too often at the high school level. But you are right about the competition and students trying to position themselves for top schools. The pressure seems to be getting worse too, maybe because our high schools are so crowded. A lot of this pressure comes from the universities, both privates and UC's. If we really want to alleviate this, the only way I can think of is to have some kind of acceptance process that requires a certain standard. Students who meet that standard are then placed in the pool for a lottery. I think this would go a long ways in helping students to know, yes, they were good enough, but the university is too full to accept all applicants. Instead, students are left to feel miserable that they missed something and don't know what. There's a lot of stress caused by the admission process, and it's not just the elite privates but also the UC's.

Posted by Paly student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2009 at 3:34 am

I am currently a student at Palo Alto High School and am shocked by many of the above unfounded assertions. Although the work is significant in classes such as AP US History and AP Chemistry, most of the classes are not too imposing and manageable. I know very few people who have ever had tutors outside of school as most students ask for academic abeyance from other students in the Academic Resource Center or from teachers (i.e. Analysis H, BC calc, and several other classes have weekly study sessions).

I would like to point out that high school is in very few ways "too difficult". People have a choice as to what classes they would like to attend, whether it be focusing on arts, sports, or taking 5 (or even 6) APs junior year. I am annoyed that all these parents are talking about stress and about supercilious and pompous behavior on the part of the community and its students. I do know more than one person who has gotten a 2400 on the SAT (without taking three courses and intensive tutoring) and would like to say that the people who get high scores on the SAT or PSAT and who take 10+ APs throughout high school are in fact some of the most modest people at the entire school. People with SAT scores over 2350 rarely want to divulge what they got, and will be very annoyed if others find out that they got a 2390 or 2400. The people who brag about their scores are often the rich kids with legacy and the more social ones who somehow get "good" (2100s=) SAT scores while being somewhat obtuse in most of their classes. Rich does not equal smart. Sorry if this is a bit harsh, but I had to say it...


Although there are some teachers that I deem incompetent (2 or 3), most of the teachers are excellent, engaging, erudite, and interesting. Although most of these teachers teach AP courses and are older, there are still many great young teachers at Paly. Many of my teachers have taught college courses in the past, were very good students themselves, are extremely excited about the subjects they teach (to the point that they read 1+ new books a week about the subject), and mangage to keep their classes quiet and productive simply by their presence (and serious but sometimes playful demeanor).

Additionally, I am also disturbed by comments such as "PAUSD is only good since the parents in the district are well-off and smart" and "you shouldn't send your kids there because the community is good but schools are only average". Maybe they are, but so what? What make Palo Alto high good are not the schools themselves, but the communities that surround them. People should accept the fact, and be happy that their kids are on a quotidian basis in the presence of other driven and academically driven people. The fact that Palo Alto is an academically-driven community encourages students (even less driven ones and those from less affluent or educated families) to try harder. In fact, most of the educated and esoteric classmates of mine come from average households with average incomes as opposed to many of the wealthier students from more educated households who end up in lower math lanes and at parties instead of math club meetings, weekly community service events, and so on.... (I'm not trying to be stereotypical; this is simply the truth that I have observed around me).

What matters in the end, is who one's kids hang out with. Although there are no social "cliques" so as to say, there are some kids that are more academically driven (20%) than others and some that are true delinquents (50 or so out of 1700). Most kids (50 percent or so) are just normal, take one or 2 APs, manage to have fun, and do a sport. Who one hangs out with in high school is of paramount importance. Though I do not want to sound sardonic or cynical, in the end it all comes down to the indirect influences of one's friends. As a junior taking several advanced placement courses, I am blessed that many of my friends also take 3-6 AP classes and challenge themselves as much as they can. Although there is competition and some stress, it does pay off in the end for without the competition, stress, and driven people I know, I probably wouldn't be as passionated about learning as I am. In the end, the reason why many people are not successful in the end, just as in all schools, is not their lack of knowledge nor the school's incompetence, but the students' lack of determination. It is therefore crucial that one hang out with knowledgeable people in order to want to succeed and actually be successful. Studying has to be "cool" or "in" amongst a group to be effective and practical just as a sport or hobby would be.

I must add that I am not trying to sound harsh or somewhat elitist. As a matter of fact, I often tutor other students at school, and have learned through this act about the lack of dedication for education and not the dearth of wit that many students possess as a consequence of their social lifestyles.

To conclude, Palo Alto schools are splendid. They allow students extraordinary academic possibilities such as taking calculus as a freshman in HS, taking countless challenging classes, or taking math classes at Stanford as a sophomore, junior, or senior in HS, and encourage kids to excel in sports, fine arts, and performing arts. In the end, what one puts into the system is what one gets out of it. If one is not willing to try hard, the system will be forgiving but not generous, but if one puts in all his/her effort, the system is extremely generous and can match the student's effort in ways that most school districts cannot. Children are truly reflections of their parents, and a good parent will consistently encourage his or her kids to study and restrain his- or herself from inappropriate behavior, while at the same time leaving the kid room to work alone, creatively (without a tutor), and independently (i.e. a good parent lets his or her kid cope with failure instead of driving to school during work hours to bring the essay the student forgot on the kitchen countertop).

With all due respect,

Paly Junior

PS. I have been to many private schools in the past and can firmly state that I am learning far more than I would ever have had I gone to a private school such as Menlo, SHP, or Saint Francis. Unlike private schools which often water down their advanced courses so that more people will take them, AP courses such as APUSH at Paly are treated far more seriously though they involve much more work (APUSH alone consisted of 5 books to read, 2 essays to write, 2 chapters of textbook reading, 2 chapters of supplemental textbook reading, a personal biography (4 pages-ish), typed notes for both the textbook readings and supplemental textbook readings, a map to fill in and color and to memorize for a quiz on the first day of school, and a book report as summer homework!)

Posted by impressive, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 28, 2009 at 7:13 am

Well said, Paly Junior.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2009 at 8:38 am

What has surprised me a lot in the last 5 years is the number of unhappy people who run down the town and the schools. It is a minority and maybe the internet brings them out, since I don't seem to meet many in person. But man, they are a vocal minority and certain that the grass is greener on the other side.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2009 at 9:08 am

Me Too says:
"What has surprised me a lot in the last 5 years is the number of unhappy people who run down the town and the schools"

Maybe it's because some of us remember when schools were much better than they are now and were not crowed courtesy of the construction boom. We also remember when our children would attend neighborhood schools and walk to school giving a community feeling of togetherness for the young and all others.
What is so extraordinary about the PA schools? Nothing but parental education and income. Statistically, compared with similar composition school districts PAUSD is nothing to brag about.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2009 at 9:58 am

Paly student - that was very well put, you are a well spoken person. In PAUSD (and all schools) self-motivated students like you will do well. Your comment about the rigor of AP classes in PAUSD is on target, you probably learn more and are challenged more than students in other districts. Unfortunately, that can have a negative affect on your GPA and competition to get into a college. (Kids getting better grades for the "same" class in other districts). College itself will be easier - getting into it will not be.

My concern is with the students who are not self motivated and have not gotten that "passion" for learning yet. While we have some great teachers, most of the inspiring teachers in HS teach the higher level classes. My kids have encountered WAY too many teachers who do not really instruct (which seems to be an ongoing theme in many of these threads.)

I would like to see more teachers motivate their students.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2009 at 10:18 am

Narnia, you might be right, but I'm not sure why or how the schools have gotten a lot worse in the last several years. My children and the vast majority of PAUSD elementary students still live within walking or biking distance from their schools (though I'm always taken aback at how many are driven to school anyway). And the elementary classes are, I believe, less crowded that they once were, as one above poster points out. Some people are assigned to non-neighborhood schools, and I'm sure that's inconvenient, but it is a small minority.

The high schools have grown, that's for sure - but as a parent with a kid in high school, I don't see the impact.

The joke educators make is that all school API scores really measure is the size (or value) of the houses nearby. That's probably more true than not. But it also measures how much the community values education, and picking like-minded neighbors is a key consideration if you are going the public-school route. Maybe things were better in "the good old days" but I have gotten what I expected in the current PAUSD community.

Posted by Suzanne, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 28, 2009 at 10:45 am

Don't move.....please don't move....
Palo Alto in the middle '60's was a great place to raise children and to send them to school. It is NOT a great place now and the schools are terrible.
Please don't move.

Posted by teacher, a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 28, 2009 at 10:47 am

DON'T DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by paly mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:00 am

Do it! I moved into a rental in Palo Alto for the schools and will be eternally grateful.

The academics are strong and - with hard work - my daughter was accepted at Duke, as well as UCLA, UVA, Tufts, etc. (Her only regret, not a small one, is that Paly's AP English classes race through great literature and teach to the test, rather than learning to love to read and savoring literature, slowly.)

This is equally important: It is safe and a child-friendly town. I loved knowing that she was a bike ride away from all of her friends. She could walk downtown on her own; it was safe enough for complete independence/autonomy. And as a new driver, she visited friends within 10-12 blocks away, on flat streets with stop signs everywhere. Too many kids from Los Gatos, Saratoga, Woodside, etc. end up wrapped around trees.

Good luck!

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:03 am

I wanted to go to Paly when I was young, Menlo Atherton was not a good school at the time, now I think standards have changed. I think it depends on your kids motivation levels, do you want them in a competitive environment or not. I would worry about the cost of living and quality of life as well.

Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:05 am

My kids went to Palo Alto Schools from pre school through High School. Elementary School was good, middle school at JLS a waste of time, and as others have said, Gunn HS was a very bad experience. They both had friends, sports, music, etc, but that did not make the competitiveness and pressure less so. In retrospect, I wish I had sent my kids to either a small private school or a public school in a less competitive district. Gunn and Paly indeed have the best and the brightest, if that is what you are looking for, but the price that is paid by the students to achieve that accolade is far too high.

Posted by Erin Mershon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:08 am

Redwood Shores Mom,
As you read these comments keep in mind that most feedback given for anything is usually negative. People rarely write in to give positive feedback, whether it's for good service at a restaurant, great customer service at a clothing store, or a nice thing a teacher did for their child that day. You're seeing the same thing here. The 98% who are happy with the school district won't be writing their comments in this post for you.

I am a former student of PAUSD. I attended Palo Verde, Fairmeadow, JLS, and Gunn. I am now back with my oldest child in Kindergarten at Walter Hays. Maybe things have changed a bit since I graduated in the mid-90s but I know many other parents who also went through the Palo Altos schools and I think it's a true testament that former students come back to raise their children here.

I am so glad one of the students posted. It's so nice to hear from them.

One poster spoke of the neighborhood school overflow issue. Overflows do happen here but mostly in Kindergarten and only if you don't make the February registration date. The overflow issue was not as bad last year because they increased class sizes by a few students. I would not let that deter you from making your decision.

Good luck with your decision. I'm sure it's not an easy one.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:11 am

I moved from Menlo Park to Palo Alto when my son was in middle school (not for the schools) ...and immediately found a much better environment for my son in the schools.

Menlo Park's extremely traditional teaching style did nothing for this very bright, non-traditional individual.

MP teachers would ask me what I wanted them to do...hello! I don't have a degree in early childhood education!

My son seemed more at ease in Palo Alto schools, and while grades seemed less important to him than the information he acquired, he found his niche in Palo Alto and after a couple years at PALY we opted for the Middle College program which allowed him to attend his core high school classes at Foothill College and to flush out his schedule with college classes.

He'll never be an academic, but he has developed a good brain, strong social skills and respect in the community. He could admittedly do more with his potential, but he's happy and that seems a rare trait these days.

I'm grateful that I moved to Palo Alto and more so that my intuition guided me to enroll him in PALY rather than GUNN.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:11 am

I have to say one thing about middle school. Everyone keeps saying that it's a waste of time. If you ask most educators they'll tell you that middle schoolers are the absolute toughest age to teach. It's going to be a waste of time almost anywhere. It's a really special kid who gets much out of middle schoool.

Posted by Palo Alto mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

You asked about what is unique about the PA schools ... #1: students who excel in literally hundreds of DIFFERENT ways ... sports both in school and out, math, music, science, glass-blowing, journalism (I LOVE reading the various Paly publications ... check them out yourself) and it's "cool" to do just about anything. But the facilities are really pretty tacky ... which is just fine...leading to less entitlement in my mind. Here's a perspective from a student who graduated 3 1/2 years ago:

posted June 15, 2006
by Verde staff of Verde
As I went to visit two fine institutions of higher learning to make the inevitable, impossible decision between them, I became acutely aware of how little time we have left. We have 31 days, 19 hours, and 11 minutes left to be exact. My rapidly ending high school career forces me to reflect on my experiences here; perhaps I organize my thoughts so I will not forget.

I said that I had been visiting two fine institutions of higher learning, and I learned by choosing between them that a school is not made up of buildings and faculty, but of students. Fellow impossible decision-makers flocked to the visitation programs with me and from them I was able to gain insight into the nature of other high schools.

There are two sorts of high schools. One is the affluent private school with a graduating class with fewer people than are in my AP Psych class. The other is the public school with no soul, thousands of students, and few students that care about education or achievement. Most of these kids eagerly leave high school. One student confided in me that he was glad no one else from his high school was attending his institution of higher education because they were either uninteresting or smart and arrogant.

Paly is unique. Not only does Paly have a soul and a reasonably sized graduating class, but the students are special. Our classmates make up Paly and they make it rock. We have an appreciation for achievements and we tend to achieve. No other class described to me could match our breadth and depth of achievements. Most importantly, we respect each other's achievements. There was a sad time a few years back known as middle school. It did not rock. Instead of glorifying each other's achievements, some ridiculed each other or hid their talents. Fortunately, we have grown up. We are free to display our talents and are encouraged by an appreciative student body.

During my visits to the two institutions of higher learning, we talked of what college held in store for us. We looked forward to having an interesting group of friends who had broad talents and respect for talent. I looked back at Paly and saw what my future classmates were yearning for. Cherish one other, Paly.

Posted by Look at the actual numbers, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:38 am

"What is so extraordinary about the PA schools? Nothing but parental education and income. Statistically, compared with similar composition school districts PAUSD is nothing to brag about."

Not according to the API scores. A few of the elementary schools don't match up in the "similar schools" category, but all the junior high and high schools rank among the top even compared with similar districts.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:41 am

I read the comments and not the article...... If your kids are 3 and kindergarten, then I wouldnt worry about moving to Palo Alto. I would worry about enrichment at home and making sure your kids are stimulated and socialized. Read some books on child enrichment and make sure that your kids are learning to be engaged and inquisitive. Make sure they are eating well, keep them off the TV, Think about a healthy level of competition and positive reinforcement.

Posted by Not from PA, a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I am a first generation college student from Redwood City and so I will speak on behalf of my experience there. I went to a mediocre elementary/middle school and a decent high school (Sequoia HS). I took some AP courses, worked part time throughout most of my high school years and had extracurricular activities. I got accepted into UC Berkeley (with a full ride scholarship), UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, etc etc and Santa Clara University and was a recepient pf at least 10 different grants/scholarships. I chose to go to Santa Clara University and I am happy with my decision. Now as a recent grad and employee of "some place" in Palo Alto, I can say this: the city, community, and schools do not make the student, the student makes him/herself.

Bottom line: your child will succeed if he/she wants to and if he/she has the support of his parents.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

You need to consider, in addition to how stressed many of the students are, that the schools are already so overpacked that it's highly likely, even if you move across the street from your local elementary school, that your children will be "overflowed" to another school a mile or two away. I've also heard of five incidents where the superintendent overlooked incompetent actions of school staff that hurt kids and their families. No, I can't give examples because of confidentiality. My point is that Palo Alto is filled with human beings like people anywhere who are not perfect and make mistakes. My kids had some teachers and principals who were gems, who worked well for them and our family, as well as some who didn't. Many have moved here because of the schools, and as a result the city has become overcrowded.

You also need to consider other aspects of living in Palo Alto, which has it's pros and cons. It's not just about the schools. I grew up in PA and have lived in this area most of my life, and I and my social circles notice a "package personality" (highly educated, computer whiz, high achiever, wealthy, Christian or Jewish, into physical fitness, mainstream, progressive, pretentious, usually caucasian, perfectly manicured front yards) that describes many Palo Altans. Yes, it's a stereotype, but if you fit the mold you're better accepted than if you don't. Accept for the pretentiousness I and many I've spoken with have noticed, it's not necessarily negative, although I've heard people who are fat, non-white, non-mainstream, republican, or who have other religions complain about how they feel like minorities in Palo Alto. It can feel like living in a bubble.

I like Palo Alto because it's home, and also because of it's gas-powered leaf blower ban, which gives people who work at home and so forth a legal recourse so they're not subjected to hours of prolonged noise, fumes, and dust pollution.

Posted by parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm

I grew up on the standford campus,went to terman middle school and loved it!! went to Gunn and loved it!! My older daughter graduated 2 years ago and loved Gunn, Now at away at Collage, my 15 year old is still at Gunn plays lots of sports, I asked her do you think Gunn is as BAD as these parents are making it out to be? she says heck no!! the pressure my daughter says comes from the PARENTS! and that is what she says her friends say on their kids. She loves Gunn! and says you get what you put in or don't!! So the parents that don't like the way that Gunn is running it's school, then by all means move on. It's not even about the schools really! What is going on with Parents these days?????

Posted by paparent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 28, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Some have complained that the negative comments are undeserved. The point was to answer the initial posting, is it worth it to move here for the schools. And I think it is legitimate for some people to express they after moving here for the schools, they were surprised to find out that the schools might not be as good as the reputation.

I disagree about the middle schools are like this everywhere because students can't learn at that age. Nonsense. The curriculum is dumbed down. Look at it and compare to some of the good private schools.

The high schools do have some very good teachers and very good classes. But if your student isn't prepared in middle school, he/she may be left out.

There are real problems with overcrowding and competition at the high schools. How students get graded can be a real problem too. Get rid of the curve for grades in high school and base grades on material learned. Some teachers make it very difficult to get good grades compared to many other high schools, and that matters a lot when applying to colleges. Here is a mission statement from a private school about dealing with competition, and it makes a lot of sense.

this is from a private school's mission statement:

"Competition, in a great many areas, is an important and generally good thing. But equally important is to decide just who are the competitors.

Too often, students with vastly different ambitions and abilities are pitted against each other, with results that are both predictable and frustrating. Although we must set and maintain high standards of literacy and competency in many academic and extracurricular fields, the fact is that each of us is an individual--with individual abilities, hopes, dreams, and drives. And to ignore that individuality is to ignore one of the most important aspects of education itself.

Just as it would be foolish for a Winston Churchill to compete academically in some way against an Albert Einstein, it is equally foolish for a student with unusual literary abilities to compete directly against someone with unusual mathematical abilities. Far better would be the literary student writing in competition with what he or she might become--a future poet, critic, novelist, teacher--than against someone else who has little interest or ability in these areas."

Posted by Mary, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 28, 2009 at 1:09 pm

STAY PUT! The scores are VERY close for the schools in your current location to those in PA. As a PAUSD teacher for more than 12 years, I say stay where you are now. We have had 4 suicide by train in the pass six months and several unsuccessful attempts. Why don't the kids in Redwood City or Belmont throw themselves in front of trains? They are NOT in the pressure cooker that the PA kids are in now. Keep your kids where you are now. Save yourself asnd your darlings children a ton of grief in the long run.

Happy New Year

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I don't know what the schools are like in your community. I know what the scores are in PA and, equally important, the social environment here.

My kids have been raised to be trustworthy, hard-working, kind and loyal friends and community contributors. We have enjoyed our journey through Fairmeadow Elementary and JLS Middle School in PAUSD so far. We are fortunate that our children have found wonderful friends whose families' values mirror our own. I think that wherever you are, you get what you give. That is as true here as anywhere.

I am a former teacher. I can tell you that the teachers in PA are about the same as those anywhere. Some are really good. Some less so. We have had only one who was a problem for us...and we have had a lot of teachers over the years.

PAUSD gets a LOT of community support. This is a community that puts a high value on education...and that makes a big difference. When my child goes to a friend's house to play after school, I know that homework will get done first...and it will be checked by the attending parent. I do the same when we have play dates at our house. Know your child's friends and their parents (wherever you go to school), get involved. Support your child in his work. That makes all the difference.

Be a balanced parent. There is a lot of neurosis expressed in the thread above about grades. While I put a high value on learning, I am skeptical about tactics described above that are designed to enhance academic grade "performance." Unless this is wanted by the student, I don't imagine it would be a very successful strategy to promote lifetime learning.

My kids are good students--mostly As and some Bs. One of them has a learning disability that we manage with the help of really good psychiactric support. They are above average intelligence, but not brilliant. They work hard, but they play and relax, too. They both enjoy school, extracurricular activities and SOLID, stable, loving friendships and family relationships.

Successful kids internalize a values structure that makes them want to learn, to be productive, to be trustworthy, to be contributors. They learn all of that at home. You are your child's best teacher. If moving to Palo Alto will put stress on your family time or finances, it is more important to give your time and energy to your kids than to be in a competitive school district. I think it's all about balance.

Best wishes...whatever you choose.

Posted by Jon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Well, Redwood Shores Mom, you're getting a lot of input so here's mine: it depends on what your objectives are. PAUSD is, I think, more competitive. Some children thrive in that environment. Some keep up with their peers and so do better than would have done elsewhere. Some don't do well and in which case private schools are an option if you did move. But you get bad teachers in private schools too. The extra-currculars are very good here: sports, theatre, journalism, robotics. And there is a community here as evidenced by this being the 48th post :-)

Posted by Menlo mom, a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 28, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I have had a child graduate from Paly and another from M-A, and in almost every way, the M-A experience was better, with instructors who seemed more enthusiastic and better qualified than those at Paly. M-A also offers a multi-cultural real world environment, unlike the PA schools. Our elementary schools are good, and our middle school is superb (apparently not the case in the PAUSD). I moved from Palo Alto to Menlo Park and have never really understood why people seem to think the schools are so great.

I daresay that a child can receive a good quality education in just about every district on the peninsula. My M-A student had plenty of Redwood City classmates in her AP courses, and from all accounts they had ample educational opportunities in that district. In many ways, Redwood City is a more vibrant community than Palo Alto. I sure wouldn't move just because of the schools.

Also, I would look beyond the API scores when comparing schools. The high schools in the Sequoia HS district have much greater socioeconomic diversity than the Palo Alto schools do, so their API scores tend to be lower. But the students in those schools still have their choice of excellent AP courses and the high achievers get accepted into top colleges at the same rate the Palo Alto HS students do. I would suggest comparing the academic offerings, the extracurricular opportunities, and the post-high school trajectories for each school; that will tell you a lot more than test scores can.

Posted by Jon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2009 at 1:57 pm

PS I agree with everything PA parent just wrote which I hadn't seen

Posted by Gunn and Menlo Mom, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 28, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I love Redwood Shores, but would choose, for the thirteen years of undergraduate schooling, to live in Palo Alto. Esentially, school is what the parents and kids make of it. Our daughter is dyslexic and wanted to go to Menlo School for the extra attention. She received it and is now a successful Investment Councilor in the area. My son went to Gunn and enjoyed the school work and outside activities. He is a chef. Both graduated from colleges of their choice and, aside from referring to Palo Alto as "shallow alto", wouldn't trade their experiences growing up here. They are happy to come home and exchange experiences with their life long friends made in school.

Posted by Mir, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2009 at 2:47 pm

If your kids are comfortable in an ultra competitive environment, then a Palo Alto high school experience might be beneficial, because just about any college would be a cake walk afterward. Many PA parents are down to earth, friendly and understated, but far too many are snobbish, insufferably cliquish and unfriendly to those they deem inferior, attitude that are often picked up by their kids, so if your family and your kids don't "fit" their "standards, prepare to be shunned by them, something to consider. One last suggestion, make sure your kids don't attend any PA middle school, even if you do move to Palo Alto-try to have them attend a private middle school with a nurturing, supportive environment, if you can afford it, and then send them to a PA high school.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Our experience at PAUSD -

Elementary school - great, supportive, enthusiastic teachers, wonderful parent community

Jordan Middle School - with the new principal, Jordan has been a good experience, my kids learned a lot and received a good amount of attention and support

Paly - a great group of students, nice parents, but a real mix of teachers from terrific to terrible, MUCH less actual teaching than I would expect. Kind-of a sink-or-swim place (unless you are a real special ed kid, then you get support)

Posted by JLS Mom, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Just have to say that I disagree with the comments on the PA middle schools. JLS offers a smooth transition from elementary school with Panther Camp and a supportive staff. Academics are developmentally appropriate. So far, so good. My observation is kids who do well at JLS are well prepared for Gunn. We have found a supportive environment at JLS.

I always find it fascinating that everyone thinks the school their achild attends is the best one. What this says to me is that every child is different and each responds to each environment differently. It's really what the child and parent do in that environment that makes the difference.

Posted by different opinion, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I don't usually contribute but I wanted to share my thoughts here. I have experiences with both private and PA public schools. What I have learned is that home is where children's education primarily happens. Their schools are a distant second in teaching and grooming your children. Talk to them, read with them and spend time with them - that will build confidence, motivation and life time passion.

PA schools are very academic because of the nature of our community. My children had good and not so good teachers. I believe experiences like that will be beneficial to them. I don't regret living in PA because it is NOT only about schools but the whole community. We have a great community cultural center, great summer programs, close proximity to Stanford, etc... I love being in PA!

Posted by mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm

the word I keep hearing is competitive, competitive, competitive, competitive, and competitive.

it could be great, but all the more reason for major parental support.

Posted by Various Standards, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 28, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Well, you've seen that someone who is "skeptical about tactics [...] designed to enhance academic grade 'performance.'" wants supervising parents of playdates to check homework.

In some places, teachers check homework, or students check it themselves.

I think this says a lot about the expectations in Palo Alto. Despite the specific experiences articulated by the high school junior, in general PA parents do a lot directly and indirectly to help kids learn - including efforts to help kids learn the basics. They have to. I think this reflects poorly on the schools and belies their reputation.

The schools are more like filters than teaching places. They filter for academic performance rather than independence, responsibliity, integrity, character or ethical standards.

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Well, you've certainly gotten an earful about the schools.

If you are still considering moving to Palo Alto, may I suggest you post another article asking for comments about the Palo Alto citizenry and local politics/government.

Posted by Member, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2009 at 8:33 am

We have three children, two of whom are now in college. Our children are very good students, and we have had children attend PAUSD at elementary, middle and high school level. We have twice made the decision to move one of our kids to a school outside PAUSD, and had a much better experience outside the district both times. This includes a PUBLIC school in another district. Some of the teachers are fantastic here, but that is true at other schools too. It is all about a big power struggle, and very difficult to forge a partnership, or even communicate. I would not move here if I had to make the decision again. The community supports the schools, which is great, but the schools are just OK, and for many students the hit they take on self-esteem is devastating.

Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2009 at 9:46 am

Both of my kids went through Palo Alto schools from kindergarten through Gunn. Ohlone was an amazing experience but after that everything went downhill. Stress and competition at Gunn really turned off both of my kids although both were smart and made all "A's." Both of them ended up at UC's and found them easy but the environment in the high schools (we have many friends at Paly) is awful. If it weren't for a great set of friends I don't think my kids would have survived. If I had the $$$$ I would have sent them to St. Francis in Mountain View. Both high schools are way too big and impersonal. Academics are good but teenagers need much more than academics - activities, friends, a nurturing environment and a sense of belonging. The high schools here cannot offer that and are not interested. All they are interested in are the brilliant students with good test scores (that way they will be listed in Newsweeks's list of best 100 high schools). I would think twice about moving here. My childrens' friends have committed suicide, done drugs, "dropped out" and worse. Is it worth it?

Posted by cblasey, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

We moved here a couple of years ago from a large estated Portola Valley, and purposefully chose the south end of town where status seems to be less important. There are a lot of really great people here, and we find each other, and we will find you and welcome you should you decide to move here!! Best of luck with your decision.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

Laura said it well, what is missing in the PA High schools is "a nurturing environment and a sense of belonging".

This is partly a because of size, but more because too many of the adults at Paly are the opposite of nurturing. (I don't have experience with Gunn). Some of the staff/teachers seem to confuse a building a caring environment with hand holding. They feel they need to "toughen" the kids up for college. These same kids go off to college and find that college is an infinitely more nurturing environment - even with substantially more students.

Posted by voter, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 29, 2009 at 10:33 am

My children were born and raised in Palo Alto. They had a good elementary school but the middle school is a weak link. They went to private schools for middle and high school and college at Harvard. To go to a top ranked college your kids will have to be smart, highly motivated and talented, that's just the way it is, no matter where they go to secondary school.

Posted by Catherine Marcus, a resident of Atherton
on Dec 29, 2009 at 10:38 am

You should also consider moving to the Los Lomitas School District in Menlo Park, they just placed 1st in the State.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2009 at 10:49 am

I and one other parent wrote about how snobby, pretentious, and cliquish many PA parents can be. This is something that has bothered me for years. When I posted my comments, I thought I might get some angry responses in disagreement, but I didn't.

Parents, do you snub other parents because they are of a different religion, or ethnic background, or because they eat or dress differently than you, or have disabilities, or because they don't excel at the same things as you, or because they are more or less protective of their kids than you in certain ways, or for other reasons that make them appear different to you? If so, Why? How do you think that makes them feel? How would you feel if you were them? What can you do to open your mind to accept people who are different from you, and to compromise and find common ground?

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2009 at 10:49 am

I and one other parent wrote about how snobby, pretentious, and cliquish many PA parents can be. This is something that has bothered me for years. When I posted my comments, I thought I might get some angry responses in disagreement, but I didn't.

Parents, do you snub other parents because they are of a different religion, or ethnic background, or because they eat or dress differently than you, or have disabilities, or because they don't excel at the same things as you, or because they are more or less protective of their kids than you in certain ways, or for other reasons that make them appear different to you? If so, Why? How do you think that makes them feel? How would you feel if you were them? What can you do to open your mind to accept people who are different from you, and to compromise and find common ground?

Posted by Responding, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2009 at 11:15 am

PA Mom -

How can you possibly make broad-brush generalizations like that about other parents in Palo Alto? There are ALWAYS a few snobby, pretentious people in EVERY TOWN, but to imply that your characterization is a fair representation of "many" (your own words) Palo Alto parents is wildly naive at best.

Do you genuinely believe what you wrote here, or are you (as I suspect) simply posting and re-posting to draw attention to yourself on this forum?

Posted by Walter Cohen, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 29, 2009 at 1:33 pm

It would be nice to pretend that the overbearing, snobbish and cliquish Palo Alto parents are just a handful of insufferable jerks, but, sadly, there are far too many of them. I don't believe they are a majority, and there are certainly many Palo Altans with school age children who are modest, inclusive, friendly, considerate and understated despite the fact that some of them are highly educated hardworking overachievers who have accumulated great wealth in the Valley. it's important not to take the snobs too seriously. Ignoring them is the best approach, and there are far fewer of them in the south part of town, in case you end up moving to Palo Alto.

Posted by BRT, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2009 at 2:29 pm

My kids are not in high school yet, so I have no information to add there.

The elementary schools are pretty good, but this depends a great deal on which teacher your child gets. Middle schools are a very mixed bag, and they have fewer good teachers. The schools seem to depend heavily on kids being well prepared at home, whether for math or English. Middle schools have specialized classes/teachers for kids who lag in reading or math, though I don't know how successful they are in raising scores. Lots of middle-level kids do well in the system, but it's hard to know if this is the result of home/tutoring or pausd. (My daughter's middle school math teacher said something like 70% of her peers have tutoring.) If your kid is advanced, you should run from this district.

Oh, and you should know that the district is very much a little kingdom unto its own. If you ever run into a problem (bullying, anything), you can have no confidence that the system will address it. It might, but it might not. In the end, it seems set up for the convenience of teachers and staff, not the welfare of the students.

As for parents, I agree that there is a high snotty factor, but I wouldn't worry about it. Just ignore those people--after all, it's your kid whose well-being is at stake.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Look at the actual numbers,

I did look at the actual numbers. As I pointed out in another post Jefferson High in Alexandria VA has been rated #1 in the US News ranking for a long time*. In Alexandria Va, just outside Washington D C, the majority of students come from the same socio economic, educated parents stock as Palo Alto students. However, there are always 60 some points between them and Gunn High. Why? I am not even speaking about other schools whose many disadvantaged background students always score higher than Gunn in the comparable measurements. PA much better than all others? No! Do they and their parents make up for the difference in arrogance and sense of entitlement? Mostly, yes.
Are the top institutions of higher learning chock full of PA students ? And in college, what's their performance?

* in fairness I have to say that one of my children live in Alexandria, VA .

Another poster mentioned factors about the number of children and she is right, of course, by itself that isn't the only factor, but it's a heavy one. Another one might be that at elementary level at least, teachers in Palo alto are not decently payed in my view. That's bound to affect quality and morale in the long run.

Posted by Teacher Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I look at the PAUSD from two perspectives, that of a teacher and that of a parent.

I teach at the elementary level in a different district. I can appreciate the resources that my three children have received at the elementary level, but after that It's a wash. I think my kids have a good foundation, but once they hit high school I feel like everyone forgets that they're just kids. There are kids who are highly motivated and welcome the academic challenge and these are the kids that would do well anywhere. Remember not everyone in the top schools grew up in Palo Alto. The kids in the top schools are highly motivated and will rise to the top anywhere. But, I feel the majority of kids do not know what they want to do, yet they feel a tremendous pressure to decide right now and every mistake they make will somehow destroy their future. This is the time in their lives that they should feel the freedom to mess up, learn, and recover. There is no doubt that my kids will be well prepared for college, but at what expense? I have a tenth grader who has a learning disability and the support received at Paly is a joke. His resource teacher basically knows nothing about him and I'm treated as if I don't have any rights to my child's education. So many parents are hyper vigilant and hovering, so when a parent like me has a legitimate complaint, you're not taken seriously, therefore you have to start getting pushy and demanding to get what's best for your kid. Your also paying enormous property taxes to have your child in classes that are overcrowded and to have teachers pay other people to grade their papers. Intelligence comes in many forms, but a multiple intelligence model is not used in PAUSD. So if your kids happens to be bright, but shy or unmotivated this may not be the right district for you. There have been several teachers throughout the years that have been fabulous, but there are fabulous teachers in all schools. As teachers, we all go to the same schools and get similar training. Education doesn't make a great teacher, heart and dedication are what separate the good from the great.

As a parent I've tried to keep the lives of my children as balanced as possible and realize that what the majority of the parents do in this town is not normal or healthy. So now I have three well adjusted and well balanced kids who are average students, yet they are left to feel "less than" because they're not going to a UC or an ivy league school. Note: Is it smart to rack up or spend $80,000-$100,000 in student loans for a BA? Majority of money in the UC system goes to research and grad programs and not to the undergrad program. If you're going to spend a lot of money on education, let it be grad school in a concentration that you feel passionate about.

I volunteer frequently at the Second Harvest Food Bank in San Carlos and meet a lot of teens form Carlmont High School. These kids are just as smart and capable as the kids in Palo Alto and their parents are really friendly and kind. Redwood shores is a nice place to live. The only reason we have stayed as long as we have is because my kids have great friends. The kids are really awesome in this town. If you move here for anything, let it be for the terrific kids not for the mediocre schools.

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I've tracked this forum almost daily for over a year and am familiar with the aliases, the trolls, the negative attitudes by many. There are also humorous, intellectual, level-headed postings but oftentimes there are the same posters venting disdain for Palo Altans. Those miserable posters ought to consider moving away where they can find happiness, if possible for them.

I grew up here and graduated in the early 80s and while I agree that academics are much more rigorous now and miss the extra free time we used to have, it is what it is and those who can't take the heat should get out of the kitchen. Palo Alto still has the modest people it always has had, except there are more high-powered careers now. There has always been some of the North PA elitists but most Palo Altans are friendly and casual. Academics has always been important here and when I graduated, the majority went to 4-year colleges or universities - that was the mindset.

Note that downtown PA and Stanford Shopping Center have a lot of people who are not Palo Altans. I do encounter some snobbery in those locations.

One note: Barron Park and its elementary are not representative of the rest of PA - it's a bit more laid back.

And South PA demographics and academics are becoming similar to Cupertino in recent years. I love living in Palo Alto and meet the most amazing, accomplished, humble people here. The elitists can live their lifestyles with themselves.

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 29, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Here's an example of snobbery in Palo Alto ..... when one of my children chose UC Davis after being accepted at five other UC's also one of my neighbors told me she felt "sorry" for me since my child was not going to Berkeley or UCLA. It was my child's choice!! Only in this town would that happen!!

Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I totally agree with Laura that the high schools (Paly, at least) seem to lack a nurturing environment and need to work on helping all students feel a sense of belonging (not only related to athletics). I also have often come across the attitude which many staff members seem to have that nurturing=hand-holding. While it's true that some students need to learn to be more self-reliant and responsible (part of adolescence), many would benefit from a more nurturing, positive approach while they're learning.
To some extent this attitude affects teaching. For example, in our experience Paly English teachers offer few (if any)comments about compositions they've graded. They generally seem hesitant to take 10 or 15 minutes after class to offer individual students suggestions about how to improve, although they sometimes make negative comments about the general level of writing to upper-lane classes. This is disheartening to students who want to be better writers. How are they supposed to improve?
It might sound like I'm one of those parents who are highly critical of teachers, but I don't blame them. I see it more as a problem of school culture, which is something that can only change gradually with the leadership of the administration.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Resident, all of us are posting to get attention, but not for attention's sake; it's because we have something to say that's important to us. I and several others mentioned the judgmental, exclusionary attitude of a lot of parents in PA, so it's not just in our imaginations, or ignorance; it's an observation. It's sad, but pretending in doesn't exist won't solve the problem. Solving that problem starts with us examining our own attitudes and changing ourselves.

I agree that PAUSD, unfortunately, tends to support the staff at the expense of the students and their parents. My older child was bullied a lot because he is disabled, and one of his schools had no tolerance for the bullying and put a stop to it with strict consequences. But at my other child's school where he was bullied, the staff acted like we were trouble makers for trying to put a stop to it and were the opposite of supportive. Like BRT said, the system didn't seem set up for the welfare of the students at all.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Resident, all of us are posting to get attention, but not for attention's sake; it's because we have something to say that's important to us. I and several others mentioned the judgmental, exclusionary attitude of a lot of parents in PA, so it's not just in our imaginations, or ignorance; it's an observation. It's sad, but pretending in doesn't exist won't solve the problem. Solving that problem starts with us examining our own attitudes and changing ourselves.

I agree that PAUSD, unfortunately, tends to support the staff at the expense of the students and their parents. My older child was bullied a lot because he is disabled, and one of his schools had no tolerance for the bullying and put a stop to it with strict consequences. But at my other child's school where he was bullied, the staff acted like we were trouble makers for trying to put a stop to it and were the opposite of supportive. Like BRT said, the system didn't seem set up for the welfare of the students at all.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I fail to understand some of the complaining parents on this thread.

If you want your kids to empahsize friends and school activities and socialization, PA schools allow that, even encourage it. However, if you want your kids to be academic superstars, thus getting into the elite schools, it will take a real effort.

I think it is a big mistake to expect such things from your kids. If they don't have that particular fire in their bellies, and you push them, they will become as neurotic as you are.

It is very possible to cruise through PA schools, then accept reporting to those academic elites, in the work world. Nothing wrong with that.

There seems to be some bitterness about parents whose kids are dominating the classoom. It reminds me of parents whose kids play sports, and are not getting the playing time expected. Average kids will end up average, and that is just fine, unless their parents make them feel inferior and bitter.

Posted by formerkid, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm

I find the obsession with athletics quite ridiculous. My daughter is intelligence, funny, well read, eloquent, worldly-she has traveled to many interesting countries all over the world and is familiar with many cultures and histories, world music and world literature, but she is short and not particularly athletic, which makes her a virtual 2nd class citizen at Paly with it naturally athletic 5'10" and taller nymphs. She believes that her chances of admission to a great college are diminished because of her relative lack of athletic prowess, at least that's the Paly mentality. In my opinion, parents(not all), are excessively obsessed with their kids athletics success and the parents seem even more competitive in that regard than their kids. It's almost like we are raising a master-race of ubermenschen here and pity those who don't qualify.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2009 at 5:11 pm

"I did look at the actual numbers. As I pointed out in another post Jefferson High in Alexandria VA has been rated #1 in the US News ranking for a long time*. In Alexandria Va, just outside Washington D C, the majority of students come from the same socio economic, educated parents stock as Palo Alto students. However, there are always 60 some points between them and Gunn High."

narnia, you have got to be kidding. For one thing, Jefferson High is a merit-based application school, not open enrollment. Secondly, saying that the Palo Alto schools are vastly inferior because they "only" rank in the bottom half of the top 100 shows that you have little grasp of statistics. All schools in the top 100 are in the top 0.5% in the nation. That "60 point" difference is negligible.

Posted by Student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Something's really odd if a parent and child think that athletics is everything at Paly and that most kids are 5'10".

Posted by Paul, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 7:25 am

The poster said that there's an overemphasis and obsession with athletics, not that athletics is everything in Paly. In most other countries, kids have P.E. and those who want to do be involved in athletics can join youth teams outside of school. I wish we would have the same salutation in our high schools and do away with athletics, keeping P.E. of course. Athletics are a waste of financial resources, increase the already insane level of competitiveness and make too many kids who aren't athletically gifted feel inferior and insecure.

Posted by los altos mom, a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 30, 2009 at 8:17 am

Why not consider Los Altos? The schools there are excellent, including the middle schools, and the high schools are good too. Also there is easy access to St. Francis and a number of other private HS if you want them (Pinewood, Castilleja for girls). I would favor a move in general b/c we moved late in the game from Mtn. View to L.A. for similar reasons, and never felt quite integrated w/the community in MV b/c we chose alternative schooling for our kids to keep them out of the substandard public schools. If you stay in RWS, you may feel the same way. If you move to a place w/really to notch public schools, you'll find your kids can bike and walk to school, befriend the neighborhood kids, and you will have a lot more in common w/everyone! Many community events (fundraisers, school parties, movie nights) center around the local elementary, as do soccer teams and so on and you can then carpool and have playdates easily and locally. The amount of driving I have done is PHENOMENAL. If you choose to stay, and do private in San Mateo or something, your kids' friends could be as far away as SF!! Trust me I've been there, and although PA schools are not perfect, I envy those community relationships and friendships those people had since their kids were 4 or 5 years old. That is the true value of the move. I can also recommend LA for similar high quality schools and local involvement. Good luck!

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

Athletics is emphasized by some parents because it's an area where their kid has talent and it's a way for non-academic superstars to stand out.

Basically, at any of the schools, about 85 percent of the parents are great and the remaining 15 percent cause problems--what those problems are varies from school to school. Your nutty Ohlone parent isn't your nutty Walter Hays parent.

The high schools are too big and overcrowding combined with some extreme competitiveness does create some issues here. Be prepared for it.

That said, there are some great opportunities here and people care about their schools here. You don't run into the issue of voters failing to fund the schools.

Basically, Palo Alto's a bit of a victim of its own success--there was a longstanding tradition of building a community when I got here 20-odd years ago--but that and the dot-com boom started to emphasize a certain cliquishness as long-time residents began to feel squeezed (and realized their kids couldn't afford to live near them). In some ways, these threads are a manifestation of an ongoing cultural battle to define what Palo Alto is.

Personally, I'm with Wow regarding the school's ranking--top 100 high schools really is good enough without fretting over not being no. 1 in the nation. But it's indicative of the type-A mentality you see around here that people really do fuss about such things--and your kid will go to school with the children of people who do think like that--so be prepared for that attitude and how it plays out if you come here.

On the plus side, if you do have a very bright child--he or she will not feel like a fish out of water. It's a great place for young math geeks and if you hit the right schools and teachers for self-learners with a passion for something. There are very real opportunities here--but be prepared. There are a lot of kids who would be academic stars nearly anywhere else, but aren't here.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2009 at 9:35 am

Wow says,
"narnia, you have got to be kidding. For one thing, Jefferson High is a merit-based application school, not open enrollment. Secondly, saying that the Palo Alto schools are vastly inferior because they "only" rank in the bottom half of the top 100 shows that you have little grasp of statistics. All schools in the top 100 are in the top 0.5% in the nation. That "60 point" difference is negligible."

Gunn High is statistically in comparable with Jefferson High (a regional school). Gunn High the best high school in a small town (PA) is where the best student body is. That is statistically a merit school, whether or not there is a declared restricted admission.

I have never said Palo Alto schools are vastly inferior. What I said was that the consistent 60 point difference with similar student body is meaningful, because it's consistent and because the schools should rank in the same range . The top 0.05% ( sorry, but I am a math graduate and therefore 0.45% is not insignificant ) surely should be the on top 0.05% of the rankings for comparable schools. It's not. When you compare, you should compare apples with apples . Under that assumption a school whose student body is taken from a median income* of about $119,046 (PA), should surely have better ranking schools than one with a median income of about $94,610 (fairfax county, VA). What do you say about other better ranked schools many with it's student body coming from disadvantaged backgrounds?
If you never admit that there is something to be improved, you will never improve. That seems to be the case with palo altans insistence that Gunn High rankings are where they should be.


Posted by Wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 10:31 am

I think we are looking at this the wrong way. Your initial assertion was "Statistically, compared with similar composition school districts PAUSD is nothing to brag about. " What does that mean exactly? That compared with similar schools, the PAUSD schools are in the bottom half? That's probably too severe. I am guessing that a top 10% of "similar schools" would constitute something to brag about, maybe even top 20%. So, the real measure isn't PAUSD against the best school out there, but rather how it falls in comparison to ALL similar districts.

So, the real question (if you want to use the US News Rankings for comparison), is how many districts are similar to PAUSD and how many of them are in the top 100 and how many are not. As for the disadvantaged districts that rank higher, good for them. Education is not a zero sum game.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2009 at 10:50 am

Wow says:
"What does that mean exactly? That compared with similar schools, the PAUSD schools are in the bottom half? That's probably too severe.."

Let's review the Math before we reason about this matter: 0.5% (the figure you quoted) it's 50% . Did you mean 0.05%? 0.05 is 5% not 50%.
But you are right about "So, the real measure isn't PAUSD against the best school out there, but rather how it falls in comparison to ALL similar districts.", but it's not a matter of failing, it's a matter of not being good enough given the raw material.

Posted by BRT, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 11:00 am


"On the plus side, if you do have a very bright child--he or she will not feel like a fish out of water."

You clearly have no experience beyond your elementary. This group, whether math- or English-oriented, is the worst-served in the district.

"It's a great place for young math geeks and if you hit the right schools and teachers for self-learners with a passion for something." Not by a long shot. There are some good teachers in elementary, but the entire system is problematic for "math geeks," particularly from middle school on. Cupertino, for instance, is a much better place for them.

Differentiated instruction and GATE enrichment are non-existent.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 3:13 pm

"Let's review the Math before we reason about this matter: 0.5% (the figure you quoted) it's 50% . Did you mean 0.05%? 0.05 is 5% not 50%."

Sorry if I confused you. The 0.5% value was taken directly from the US News site explaining the significance of the top 100 list. That means that the top 100 is out of 20,000 schools.

My last post is in comparison with "similar schools". I have no idea how many similar schools there are in the country, 100? 1000? Out of those schools, how high would PAUSD have to rank in order to brag about it? That's where I'd say top 10%. That seems pretty elite to me. But honestly, if all "similar schools" are as academically oriented as PAUSD (hence the phrase, "similar schools"), then wouldn't just being in the top half of that elite group be the mark of a pretty damn good school district?

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Again, Barron Park is not like living in the rest of PA and is the least desireble part of PA. Barron Park Elementary has a lot of school issues along with a controversial principal.

Actually, for math geeks, there is plenty available to them beginning in middle school.

I agree with Ohlone that bright kids fit in fine in PA. It's always been that way where it's okay to be smart and earn good grades.

Posted by BRT, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Barron Park is beside the point.

"Actually, for math geeks, there is plenty available to them beginning in middle school." Not in PAUSD middle schools. Students in PAUSD lag Cupertino kids by 1-2 years in middle school math.

"I agree with Ohlone that bright kids fit in fine in PA." If by bright you mean average to slightly above average, sure. The district specializes in moving average and above average kids up a notch. As for gifted kids, it's a bad, bad fit with no challenges until graduation ... and that's a long wait.

Posted by mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm


I agree athletics take a huge amount of resources out of the system, and also give back - the question is how many are being served.

If it's marginal, more effort should go to support P.E. and outside leagues. Any guess on what percentage of students are served by competitive Athletics compared to PE or other Health programs - are there any other Health programs?

Posted by We Love It So Far, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 30, 2009 at 8:34 pm

We moved down here recently after living in Belmont/San Carlos for many years so that our pre-schoolers could enter PAUSD for Kindergarten.

Many here describe the high school experience in PA as horrific. I can't comment on that since my kids are not even close to that age. What I can say is that we are thrilled with what we've experienced here so far.

We wanted a neighborly place with a sense of community, as opposed to the more isolated environment of places like Hillsborough/Atherton/LAH. We also purposely moved to the south part of town, figuring that there would be fewer billionaires living amongst us and less unhealthy peer pressure to compete with kids whose families took their private jets to Vail for holidays, and other "OC"-esque ridiculousness.

However, I'm not ashamed to say that we also wanted to be in a well-educated community surrounded by people who we had more in common with. Don't get me wrong, Belmont/San Carlos are nice enough. But the environment there is not the same as PA. One metric: on our old block up there we had several NRA members, two pit bull owners, and almost no advanced degree holders. On our new block we have none of those, but have several WSJ/NYT/FT subscribers, and multiple PhD/MD holders, all of which were non-existent in our old neighborhood. We lived in a decent part of town, too.

Oh boy, this guy's a real elitist snob, you're thinking. But come on, those of you who tend more toward WSJ/NYT/FT and less toward NRA/pit bull, please tell me what your close friends are like. Don't they share your educational background and values? Actually, isn't that true of most people? I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to live around people who you're more likely to get along with, and we've found that by moving down here.

Now I know that the academic pressure at places like Gunn is real. My neighbors with kids in high school have confirmed this to me. But I'm not convinced that the alternative is so hot either. I went to a good East Coast public high school where the top 10% of the class was stellar and the bottom 50% were, let's just say, not too academically oriented. Smart kids often were made to feel uncool and were harassed by kids from working class backgrounds who listened to Iron Maiden, lifted lots of weights, and took steroids. These people had a gravely negative influence on the environment at my high school.

In my darker moments, I often thought how much nicer the learning environment would be in our school if the guy (whose father was allegedly part of the Mob) who poured a cup of chicken soup on my friend's head and just magically disappeared along with the rest of his friends.

Our children would have gone to Carlmont had we stayed at our old house. I've seen the Carlmont kids hanging around the libraries, shops and other places around town, and I've also seen the Gunn and Paly kids hanging around town here in PA. It's quite different, actually. To put it bluntly, many of the Carlmont kids give off a lot more of the bad vibe I got from those kids in my high school, and the Gunn/Paly kids are more like the products of affluent, well-educated families that they are.

Yeah, I know this again sounds elitist, perhaps despicably so to some of you. But having lived through 4 years surrounded by a lot of un-academically-oriented trouble-makers, I know that if you're a smart kid, it's often a lot more fun to be around others who don't toss around the term "brain" as an epithet and who don't think it's un-cool to talk about anything with an intellectual bent.

It does sound like PA high schools are pressure-filled and that college admissions are extremely competitive. But is this any different from any other place where you have a community with the demographics that we have here? Is there some magical high school out there filled with kids who just love learning, would like to get into good colleges, but never feel academic pressure or a sense of competition with their peers? Please tell me the name of this school if it exists!

So to the original poster, I would really urge you to consider checking out PA for yourself. Some of the materialist-based snobbery that people describe here are more prevalent in some parts of towns than others. I certainly haven't felt anything like that in my neighborhood. Priuses outnumber BMWs by a wide margin. A high Prius penetration rate probably is indicative of something else that others may associate with another brand of snobbery, but that kind of snobbery is something I'm perfectly happy with.

Posted by Ohlone Alum, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Get your kids to Ohlone, and make sure they learn the Ohlone way. Then they're set for life.

Posted by Ted, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2009 at 12:20 am

BRT: Cupertino schools are insane academically. Perhaps move there since you prefer their academics.

Jordan offers a zero period for gifted math students and 8th graders are welcome to take their math at Paly.

The typical Palo Alto student is way above average intelligence compared to children nationwide.Most PA students would be considered gifted elsewhere.

As far as offerings for the extra bright, AP chemistry, AP physics, AP math, to name a few.

We Love It: thanks for the informative posting.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2009 at 8:35 am


I am sorry to insist on this point but,
100 out of 20,000 is 0.005 that (5 in 1,000). I don't know where you got 0.5 from the us news ranking but in any case you really should refresh your elementary math knowledge.

gifted doesn't mean more capable of reasoning . It just means that you are ahead in the curriculum which is not surprising, given parental pushing. My children were in gifted programs (including the Center for Talented Youth at Hopkins) and my recollection is that
I saw no great minds, only a lot of being ahead courtesy of family input.

Palo Alto is a really parochial place. People are not aware of what's going on even in their backyard (the Cupertino and Los Altos, better-than-Palo Alto schools for example) and think of themselves extra everything. PA is a lake Wobegon in that respect - all children are above average ( pets and cars too, of course).

Posted by Angie, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2009 at 8:41 am

We moved from Fremont to Palo Alto 5 years ago. My kids were entering 4th and 1st grade at the time. At first I was not impressed with the academics at the elementary school. But I later found somehow the school did prep the kids enough for the middle school. Jordan Middle school is a great school. The academics certainly turned up. My son is a Freshman at Paly now. I was impressed with the teachers' credentials at Back to School night. My son is somewhat lazy and not that great at acadamics. Both my husband and I have graduate degrees from Stanford. I don't expect my son will but I think he will find his own way at something somehow.
My advice: drive to the high schools and check out the appearances of the kids. Check out not their cloth or cars but their face, body, and posture. Intellegence, knowledge, behavior and drive show through a person. If you find the kids at Redwood Shores look just the same at Paly or Gunn, then you have no need to move.

Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 31, 2009 at 9:06 am

In defense of the high schools I find that even though both are large there is a "group" for every type of student. Your child may be into robotics, theatre, chorus, swimming, water polo, tennis, badminton, soccer, baseball, etc. - he/she will definitely find a niche. My sister's kids attend a small high school (300 students total) in another state and kids that are "odd" in the least way are ostracized. That is less likely to happen in Palo Alto. Parents here are extremely involved in the booster clubs for sports, music, etc. and fundraising is a big part. Fortunately we have parents in this town willing to devote large amounts of time to such things as well as vote for school bonds.

Posted by BRT, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 31, 2009 at 9:11 am


Love it or leave it, huh? Wow, really right wing.

Cupertino is not nearly as pressurized as pausd.

As for pausd math, the middle schools offer nothing for gifted kids. You're right that they offer some acceleration, but it involves massive amounts of extra work. This can help brighter-than-average kids (or the subset of them who are being pushed by family) to jump through the curriculum more quickly (although most of them are being tutored already), but as narnia noted this just isn't a solution for gifted kids.

And yes, in high school, there are more opportunities for the brighter-than-average to overachieve, but again nothing for the gifted.

"The typical Palo Alto student is way above average intelligence compared to children nationwide." You crack me up. The typical kid may score higher on an IQ test, but that is meaningless for comparing kids from different areas. (You are aware that the best correlation for IQ is income, right?)

The comparison to Lake Woebegone hubris is dead on, though I'd modify it: In the wishful view of some PA parents, all the kids in Palo Alto are gifted.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 31, 2009 at 9:48 am


0.5%=0.005. Did I forget to add the "%" before?

Posted by Mom, a resident of Ventura
on Dec 31, 2009 at 11:38 am

Everyone seems to be assuming that the original poster from Redwood Shores is white or Asian-American. If the family is Latino or African-American, they might want to take the achievement gap into consideration since the test scores indicate these students don't do nearly as well in P.A. schools. The assumption, of course, seems to be that it's because they're all from EPA and come from "disadvantaged" families (more than a little racism in that assumption) when the majority of Latinos at Paly actually have addresses in Palo Alto. From what I've seen, the expectations for Latino and African American students are not as high at the school, and this is an issue that the administration and other staff members are not dealing with in any substantive way.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 31, 2009 at 1:05 pm


You misunderstood what I was getting at. It wasn't about the quality of GATE instruction (and Narnia, better reasoning is *exactly* the sort of thing "gifted" is supposed to indicate.)

Anyway, very bright kids are likely to find other very bright kids who share their interests. Being very bright around here doesn't make them freakish. It is socially acceptable to be interested in academics and to be a math geek.

Narnia, you may have a math degree, but you're playing with numbers here in a way that's distorting the picture. The demographics of Gunn and the Virginia school may be similar, but there's a basic difference between an application merit-based enrollment and an open enrollment. Gunn's scores are going to be pulled down by the small percentage of kids who don't take APs and aren't academically motivated. A high school with selective enrollment will weed those kids out. It doesn't take many disinterested kids to create a consistent, though relatively small difference in scores.

Also at work, of course, are the means used to determine what makes a "Great" high school. The number of AP tests students average has been a big factor--again, that number is going to be affected by student motivation--so the self-selection issue of a merit-based school will be in play.

So can Gunn be improved? Sure, why not? But so can the ranking system and intelligent interpretation of its results. Will Gunn really be a better high school if more students take more AP classes? If they average six APs instead of five? And even if you say, yes, it will, does that mean Gunn will have become a better school for a particular child?

Now, I'm an Ohlone parent, so it's clear that I have some views on education. Ohlone's been a great fit for us--and is, I think, for self-directed learners. But it's not a great fit for everyone (kids who need a lot of external structure for example)--the great school for my child may not be the great school for your child.

STAR scores and the like are a fairly imprecise measurement of this. Gunn (and Paly) have good scores, but as is clear from this thread kids have dramatically different experiences at the schools.

Posted by pamom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 1, 2010 at 10:34 am

mom wrote:

Posted by Mom, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, 22 hours ago

"Everyone seems to be assuming that the original poster from Redwood Shores is white or Asian-American. If the family is Latino or African-American, they might want to take the achievement gap into consideration since the test scores indicate these students don't do nearly as well in P.A. schools."

Actually, I think that most posters didn't focus on race and you are turning this into a race problem. You are making it sound like PAUSD is not supportive of minority students and I couldn't disagree more. Anyway, we need to stop counting people by color because that doesn't matter. There are some Asians who have very dark skin color but they are counted as Asians. Maybe they are from India, but should the statistics count them as blacks or as disadvantaged? We are so diverse that it is really time to stop seeing racial bias at every turn. Poverty is a better indicator of gaps, and we need to focus on how to provide an enriched and supportive education for all students.

Posted by Paly Senior, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 1, 2010 at 10:42 pm

As a current Paly senior, I disagree with many of the parents' negative remarks about palo alto and Paly. Paly parents don't go to Paly.

Paly high school has been a great experience for me. It's how you make the most of it. Everyone finds his or her place. Students are competitive, but they don't go around flaunting or bragging about their scores. Other students usually ask, and then tell other people, which is how people figure out other peoples' grades. Also, many of the good students work hard and motivate themselves to do well. The others who slack off and don't have any motivation obviously don't do well.

I feel like Paly parents are very competitive with each other when it comes to their kids and how well they're doing. My parents have gotten a lot of unnecessary test score information and bragging from other parents. It is so bad that they didn't tell and didn't want me to tell other parents what my early decision choice of school was to people because they didn't want to deal with their reactions if I got rejected. I obviously did not care if people knew about my early decision school, but my parents fought with me not to tell people. It was ridiculous. I feel like parents create that suffocating competitiveness. Like I said before, Paly students are very competitive, but they don't brag about it. They do well because they want to do well.

Almost everyone has a tutor at Paly. It helps to have money, but Paly does offer students of their own to tutor students who need help.

Paly has a positive community. Yeah some cheat and some look at others' answers but it happens at every school. Facebook and sparknotes are not viewed as a negative things among students because everyone uses them. Students don't care what other students do to get a good grade. In my past classes, if we all had difficulty and the teacher would not help us, we would help each other understand.

Paly is a difficult school. The amount of studying, time, and work to get that A is sometimes brutal. Also, the amount of work depends on the teacher you get. I have had to study late into the night and suffer those all nighters, but everyone goes through the rough times together. People will have conversations like, "oh i stayed up to 3," " I went to bed at 5".

Also, Paly has many clubs ranging from those that support good causes to the most random. Paly holds activities such as field day, where giant blown up slides and bounce houses are scattered on the field, and spirit week, where each grade competes with one another by dressing up in themes and holding cheers. Also, Paly is an open campus, so for lunch, students can walk across the street to get sandwiches, wraps, sushi, etc. or drive to starbucks or whole foods.

Schedules are also flexible and there are a broad range of classes. There are requirements, but with the amount of different classes one could take, a student could really make her schedule fit with what she wants or likes to do. There is a cooking class, a glass blowing class, an auto class, drama classes, film classes, journalism classes, music classes, and so much more. For example, students who are part of the newspaper Campanile get to go to New York City at one point in year, and visit major publications such as New York times.

And I also support Paly Junior's comments 100%.

Posted by Ada, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I'd say you have plenty of time. Elementary schools are all generally good.
It is middle and high school that you have to choose carefully.
It will all depend on your own child, how competitive he or she is.
Depending on that, you choose a big pond where competition is fierce or a small pond where it is easier to shine.

Posted by MP, a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Wow. If I ever had any desire to move to PA, it's gone now.

Posted by Bostonsearcher, a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2010 at 10:11 am

Since the responses seem to be raging on this board and we are relocating from Boston with a kid who will be starting K in Sept, I'll ask this big question:

Outside of the API scores, what are the differences among the various elementary schools?


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2010 at 11:40 am

My kids are older - out of HS. I would say, with this seasoned perspective, that nothing is guaranteed because things change!
Some of my comments are general, some relate to California, and some to Palo Alto in particular. So - if someone tells you a particular school is the "best" elementary in PA, then be aware that is not engraved in stone.
We know a lot of schools, here and elsewhere. In California, schools seem to fluctuate depending on various factors.
Sometimes schools are opened or closed. We lived in another city when the closest school was leased out to a private school and we then had to travel an inconvenient distance. Sometimes attendance boundaries are changes (or are slated to likely change in future - check carefully if you will live ON a current boundary or odd catchment area). Example: Los Altos Elem. District (an excellent district, but with a LOT of flux of attendance areas over the years.)
My advice is I would not put all your eggs in published scores.
I WOULD visit potential schools and find out about the principals. Do your own personal research.
I have come to the conclusion that leadership (...the principal...) is a crucial factor in the "tone" or environment at a school. And - principals can move/leave - so any advance knowledge about that could help you.
Every stage of the education is important, from elem, through middle, and high school.
I would check out planned renovations so you will know if your kid will spend many years in portables, with dust and remodelling. Some kids seem to hit certain places at certain times, to get too much of this in their school years. Personally, I always hated portables, felt ill from the odd air conditioning.

Posted by Moira, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2010 at 9:50 am

There are many positive things about Palo Alto, but I think it is overrated in terms of current home prices. I bought here many years ago for the proximity to work and yes for the schools, although I never believed that PA schools or any school is "magical". My teens have grown up here and will finish HS here. I loved their elementary school, middle school was fine and so far Gunn is fine ( I am vigilant about discussing the academic pressure and to let them know I only expect them to try their best and I know they'll get into college-I never tell them they must attend a specific school). I really liked the libraries, parks and zoo when they were younger and the variety of summer camps. However, I believe there are many fine schools all over the area from San Jose up the Peninsula. I often feel that my kids live in a bubble and don't have a perspective of how the rest of the state/country lives. Only 20% of US adults have college degrees, but in PA both parents often have graduate degrees. Then there is the expectation that you go to Hawaii for the 4 day week-ends, have a vacation home and every kid must have an I-phone, etc.

I also concur with those who have been bothered by the number of intense, status conscious parents. You know the type: obsessed with what teacher the kids gets in first grade and goes to the principal to force a change, wants to talk about the 5th grade science project as if it were her own (and by the looks of many reports and projects, they're clearly done by adults.) I learned early in elementary school to simply avoid interacting with those neurotic moms and found a group of women who actually had a sense of humor about raising kids in this pressure cooker.

I am now a single parent, with money from a divorce to decide where to buy again. I've decided that PA doesn't make financial sense and I'm also ready for a change. Here is what I know from life experience: As long as you're not being shot at or beat-up, you can succeed in school if you have a family that supports education. My dad was a high school and college teacher and told me if boiled down to the family, did they read, discuss ideas, make it known children must do homework, etc. I went to a decent high school, but much more diverse than in PA (blue collar parents mixed with professionals) and I got into Berkeley. I would guess that only 50% of my class went to 4 year colleges after graduation. The students who were motivated to go to college took the necessary classes, the rest often took vocational/work study classes. I'm glad I got to know a variety of families to know that a plumber deserves the same respect as a cardiologist. If you're a good parent, a good neighbor and friend, you're a success.

Raising children to feel that only 10 colleges in the ENTIRE country are acceptable is unrealistic and ridiculous. There just aren't that many slots for all these kids from similar schools around the US. Besides, once in the work force, noone cares anymore where you went to college, only that you can perform. Do you like what you do, does it match your skills and most importantly, your values? An artistic kid forced to go to Princeton and study business, I will guarantee will have an identity crisis at some point.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm


Kinder registration ends soon and there are a lot of kinder meetings this month which you can attend for some idea of the differences between schools and parents: Web Link

Oregon Expressway is the dividing line between North and South Palo Alto. North is known to have more expensive houses and South complains that North has the elitists. While Old PA is in North, the elitists are the minority despite what the angry posters have shared. Visit parent info nights and people are dressed in REI, jeans, casual clothing. I am impressed with the modesty of so many Palo Altans. Many wealthy people walking around, blending into crowds. I have lived in both the North and South and have found in general that the North kids engage in more extracurriculars.

North elementaries usually have overflows (not enough space so children have to temporarily attend another school). This is the first year where South has overflowed to North, perhaps due to the economy and the overbuilding townhomes in South. Palo Verde is now overflowing to Duveneck and other North schools.

A lot of Asian immigrants are attracted to South so their children can attend Gunn High, which scores high on Newsweek's "Best Schools" list, usually higher than Paly but is based on how many students take AP classes. Their API scores are almost the same, with Gunn being a few points higher, but enough to tip the scales for some. Paly always has the better sports teams.

Besides the neighborhood schools, there are "choice schools" such as Ohlone (liberal), Spanish & Mandarin immersion, Hoover (structured).

Barron Park elementary has the worst reputation and the controversial principal.

There was a lot of parent opposition last year about the Everyday Math program which began this academic year and was lead by the Barron Park Elementary principal: Web Link

Be sure to check the boundaries. South PA has an area near Oregon Ex where kids attend elementary, middle, then instead of attending Gunn with their friends, they are sent to Paly.

I recommend joining PAMP (Palo Alto/Menlo Park Parents Group) for questions on settling into this area.There are 2500 members and people who post on the forum are very helpful: Web Link

I'm sure there will be plenty of posters denying my statements, but they are generalizations and stereotypes we all know of but don't mention. And I emphasize GENERALIZATIONS.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm


You mean the elementaries in PAUSD?

Here's a rough run-down:

Hoover and Ohlone are choice schools--you get in through a lottery. Hoover is direct instruction, Ohlone is project-based. In addition, Ohlone has a controversial Mandarin-Immersion program on a trial basis--i.e. not sure where it will land long-term.

Escondido is a hybrid school--partly regular neighborhood school, partly Spanish immersion.

Outside of that, the schools are reasonably traditional. All the schools share a district curriculum. There are three clusters--north/downtown--Addison, Walter Hays, Duveneck; south--Fairmeadow, El Carmelo, Palo Verde; and west--Escondido, Juana Briones, Barron Park and Nixon.

The schools in the north and the south have been facing overcrowding issues, which means kids get bumped. It also means some schools--Walter Hays, Ohlone, Escondido have become huge--more than 500 kids.

The west cluster has, historically, had the weakest schools scorewise--not Nixon, which does very well, but Barron Park, Juana Briones and Escondido. That said, ALL Palo Alto schools score well--Juana Briones, in particular, seems to have been on a solid upward streak and its parents love it. Barron Park seems to have the most grumbling.

Historically, the north cluster has had the highest neighborhood school scores, with the exception of Nixon. Addison is the most economically diverse, Walter Hays is traditionally gung-ho and Addison the most relaxed. It's all relative though--all three schools pull partially from ritzy Crescent Park and Green Gables. So some very, very well-off parents at these schools.

The south cluster has been seeing a lot of growth in recent years as there's been a lot of housing projects approved in recent years. Scores at all these schools have been going up--this is also where there's been the most influx of Asian families--these schools fall into the Gunn High boundaries and Gunn's considered more desirable than Paly academically among many Asian immigrant families.

ALL of the schools are good--and I'd say 85 percent of the parents at any school are great. To me, it comes down to which kind of crazy parent can you tolerate? And that does differ--Ohlone doesn't get the families obsessed with test scores. Hoover does. Palo Verde won't have the snob factor you hit at Duveneck, but it also won't have the same amount of money.

I'd say they're all more alike than they are different though. Even the relaxed schools, like Ohlone, have parents very concerned about their children's education. In that sense, it's very much a college town.

Posted by parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Escondido is part of the north cluster of schools. Remember, you are reading parent's opinions, often based on nothing but gossip, so it's best to talk to the parents at a particular school. Every parent I have met in this district has loved their elementary school, including Barron Park. A lot of parents in the district seem to resent that school since its scores, while high in California, do not match up to the "perfection" of the other schools. If you are involved with your child's education, your child will do well anywhere in his district.

Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Look at today's news before you make a decision. Another Gunn student was save from going into the tracks, and was sent to Stanford. I would not move here if I knew this before. High school students are under a lot of stress.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Barron Park Parent- Where did you see this in the news?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Barron Park Parent - I can't find it on the news, what happened?

Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

It was at the Daily Post on Saturday. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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