How do I find the best school district for my daughter in the Bay Area of California (not just SanFran)?

Asked by Emily, Arkansas Wed Jan 21, 2009

My husband will be transferring for work in San Francisco, and we have a 5 year old daughter, so we are open to living anywhere in the Bay Area with a reasonable commute. Looking at all the counties and schools in the Bay Area is completely overwhelming. How can I narrow my search for the best school district, and therefore the best place to look for our home?

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Kevin Murray, , Walnut Creek, CA
Wed Jan 15, 2014
There is definitely some great advice from my colleagues above. I work closely with each client on their individual needs. Sometimes special needs make the process more complex and we need to look beyond the basics. Test scores don’t tell the full story, especially with special education requirements.

While most of the sites mentioned above are good, the best source is the state site for API results:…

This link takes you to a search by individual schools.

I have put together an online map for my clients at:…

This map shows the high schools API scores for the East Bay and Solano County. Generally the best schools are east of the Caldecott Tunnel along Highway 24 to Walnut Creek, then south along Highway 680 all the way to Freemont. Typically going north from Walnut Creek the schools are weaker, but Martinez, Pleasant Hill, and Benicia have good schools and reasonable home prices.
Parts of Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill are served by Ygnacio Valley High School which has dropped to abysmal levels.

Generally Concord and the Delta communities have weak schools, and west of the hills, along the Bay the schools are poor. Oakland and San Francisco have some extraordinary schools for the top students, but most kids get prison-level educations in the public schools.

Piedmont, Albany, Hercules, San Lorenzo, Castro Valley, and Freemont have the better scores on the west side of the hills along Highways 80, 580, and 880. Piedmont is a special case where it is a small city surrounded by Oakland, but has its own district and historically great schools.

These are generalization but there are some outstanding local elementary schools, in areas where the high schools are weak, this is definitely true in the Berkeley Hills.

Please contact me if you'd like to discuss schools and other local considerations.

Kevin Murray MBA
5 votes
Jed Lane, Agent, Petaluma, CA
Wed Jan 21, 2009
School districts do indeed vary. You should make the decision on more than where your child will go to school though. Your quality of life has more to do with the stability of your family and that is more important than which school she goes too.
Take commute time. If your husband has a bad commute and spends hours on the road in each direction he will have no time to spend with his daughter and will be tired and grumpy every evening. Time spent on the road and taken away from family dinners and his involvement in his daughters life is a very high price to pay.
Now to San Francisco's schools. I've raised two very bright young women in San Francisco. Parental involvement is one of the three key ingrediants to having a successful experience. Many of the schools in SF have enrichment programs and work to seek kids that are up to the task and parents that will support the effort of teaching the children.
I have presented programs for Realtors by a member of the school Board and the Administration. I've blogged about it on Fog City Guide (below) and you are welcome to read it.
Really Emily, I understand your question and it is typical but if you can afford to live in the areas of the Bay Area that have the best schools like Cambell and Moraga you really should ask yourself theses questions.
How far (or how long) is my husband willing to spend on commute, driving or mass transit, do we as a family prefer suburban or urban life, how much of the cultural and artistic life of San Francisco do I think is important for my daughter to experience?
My experience has shown me that kids raised in San Francisco have the opportunity to be more fully individualized than kids raised in homogenous suburbs. There is far more peer pressure in a homogenous environment and if parents are spending too much time traveling they are not as involved as they should be and the kids have more opportunity to seek thrills.
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2 votes
Lisa Cartola…, Agent, Oakland, CA
Mon Jan 26, 2009

Hi. Everyone will have a very different opinion about this one I am sure. Finding a school that is right for you child can be a time consuming and difficult process. My suggestion would be to start at Here you will get an idea of the test scores, and basic overall performance of a school. Keep in mind that schools in the Bay Area can vary WIDELY. Test scores can be an indicator of a school, but do not always provide a full picture. I have school age children and I live in Oakland. My children attend a public elementary school in Oakland (Kaiser Elementary). While I am very happy thus far with the school, there are others who have a less than favorable view of Oakland schools.... So as I said it can be a very personal choice.

Another great website to checkout is .This is a local resource for parents regarding a wide range of topics and services. There is a whole section on schools in the Bay Area and you can also sign up for the newsletter and post questions regarding specific schools and or school districts.

I have a lot of friends that have kids in other school districts in the Bay Area other than Oakland, so if you would like more specifics regarding other school districts than Oakland, you can email me and I can see about putting you in touch so you can ask specific questions regarding what you are looking for you daughter.

I hope this helps!

Lisa Cartolano
Alain Pinel Realtors
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1 vote
Christine, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jan 22, 2009
Definitely check the API scores. There are two reports you want to look at: the most recent base scores report and the 2008 growth report for each county where you would consider living (that seems like a lot, but you can get through it in an hour). The state scores each district one to ten (ten being the highest) for how that district's test scores compare to the others in the state. The other, perhaps more telling rating is the "similar schools" rating. This rating (also one to ten) tells you how well this school does when compared to other schools with similar student populations. That number comes closest to telling you how much of the achievement is from the school, and how much is from parents/community (it's not perfect, but it will help you weed through the thousands of schools). Also know that those "similar schools" numbers can change a couple of points from year to year, so don't get too hung up on a seven versus a nine. I would be less than thrilled with a three, though.

As someone who grew up attending some of California's highest-scoring schools, and now a teacher, I would strongly encourage you to visit the school and evaluate its culture. High scores often mean high pressure, lots of money and the superficiality that can accompany it, and a lack of parents at home (due to the need for two incomes and long commutes). The bay area is a big place, and the upside of that is that there are lots of places with top schools. Finding the right environment for your child will take some legwork, and the best fit may be a star school in a less than fabulous district, a charter school, or magnet. That said, the highest scoring places in the east bay (and closest to the city) are Piedmont, Orinda, Moraga, Mission San Jose in Fremont, and Bollinger Canyon in San Ramon. In the north bay, Kentfield and Ross Valley have strong scores. On the peninsula, there's Palo Alto, Woodside, Portola Valley, Las Lomitas, and Hillsborough (and more further south, though those are all closer to Silicon Valley). I hope that helps.
1 vote
Alan Tang, Agent, San Bruno, CA
Thu Jan 22, 2009
All have provided great answers, but another site I recommend is the California's Department of Education at where you can find the Academic Performance Index scores of each school:

Certainly come back and let us know if you need additional questions answered!

Have a great day!

Alan Tang, CRS, GRI
1 vote
Greg Corvi, Agent, San Ramon, CA
Wed Jan 21, 2009

Good answer and insight from all, but especially from Jed. I grew up in San Francisco and there is something to be said for that special and unique experience. I have 2 young children, one being a daughter who is your girls age. I have chosen to live in Southern Marin County for the school district and proximity to San Francisco, not to mention many other reasons like Jed stated below. Good luck with your decision, feel free to contact me with further questions, I have lived in the bay area for over 35 years.
1 vote
John Farrell, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Wed Jan 21, 2009
Hi, I recommend you check out the following two websites: and which gives you unbias opinions on schools across the nation. Once you have narrowed down your search, contact the school that interests you and schedule a tour. Be sure to try and meet with other parents in that area and get their opinions. Good luck!
1 vote
Luba Muziche…, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Wed Jan 21, 2009
Hi Emily,

One of the websites that I have referred my clients to is They list the top schools based on test scores, along with the median prices for homes in the area. Sadly, San Francisco doesn't make the grade. To go directly to the page with the top 20 SF Bay Area schools, go to

Best of luck!

Luba Muzichenko
Zephyr Real Estate
License #01768716
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1 vote
Bl Rozenboom, , North Carolina
Mon Jan 26, 2009
We lived in Mill Valley ( Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge) and LOVED the schools there. It has that small, village feel where all the kids go to the neighborhood school. Test scores were great also. We moved away from the Bay area 3 years ago, and our son still talks about that school. (Old Mill Elementary, which sits nestled by a grove of redwood trees) The commute in to San Fran was short, and a beautiful drive or ferry ride!! Corte Madera has great schools too....Good Luck!! BL:)
0 votes
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