Are Oakland’s `hills’ schools becoming more exclusive?

Last night, as school district staff announced their recommendation to shrink the boundaries of Hillcrest (see map on page 4), Oakland’s most prestigious public school, I didn’t envy many people in the room.

Not the staff delivering the news, or trying to explain the demographics over constant interruptions by stressed-out members of the crowd. Not the parents who paid a Hillcrest premium on their homes to find that they would probably be redistricted into another school zone, or those whose children might be split between elementary schools.

But those outside of Upper Rockridge will be affected by this thorny situation as well. Neighboring Chabot and Montclair schools — who learned just this week that their attendance boundaries might be expanded to include an extra 5 to 15 (formerly) Hillcrest kindergarteners each year — noted that the change would restrict their ability to educate children from less affluent areas through the Options process.  

One parent at the meeting said the decision would create a greater gulf between the `haves’ of the hills and everyone else in the city. On the other hand, school board Kerry Hamill said the new boundaries would create more certainty. (Otherwise, about one-third of Hillcrest’s neighborhood kindergarten families would be redirected to another school each year.)

The school board votes on these recommendations — yes, it’s their first major vote that’s not advisory — on Dec. 19. They will first be presented at a meeting Dec. 12.What do you think the board should do?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Joe Camel

    The problem is that OUSD and the neighborhood refuse to give up their precious middle school. It seems its better to impact 2 additional schools and re-district 30 people a year rather than take a hit to 60 kids now. Does anyone really believe that keeping Hillcrest the only K-8 school in Oakland is just?

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    I’m all for neighborhood kids attending neighborhood schools, but the Hillcrest “solutions” don’t sit well with me.

    OUSD should make Hillcrest a K-5 and parents of Hillcrest students should accept that combo classes may happen at some point. This change would probably mean that space would be available to accommodate neighborhood families at the elementary level. There are no other K-8 schools in Oakland that I’m aware of. Let’s at least level the playing field in that regard and have Hillcrest be formatting just like all the other hills schools.

    If making the K-5 change doesn’t do enough, then yes, they should redistict Hillcrest around the edges of the school. Those who are left out in the redistricting should be given the next priority to attend Hillcrest (if there are any spaces leftover) and otherwise given some favorable treatment in the lottery.

    In addition, OUSD should implement STRONG proof of residency requirements at ALL over-enrolled, in-demand schools. There is cheating going on at every hills school and it is really rampant at some of the schools. If they cracked down on residency cheating, they might solve half the problem. I don’t understand why Oakland is willing to displace neighborhood families, as they tried to do at Hillcrest and Redwood Heights this past spring, without checking to ensure that the applicants for these schools actually live within the school boundaries!

    I know I wouldn’t want to put my family through the anxiety of a lottery. I would only buy a house within the boundaries of a good school and if Oakland institutes a lottery, then Oakland won’t be an attractive place for families. Why would one take their chances here when they could simply move to Albany or Piedmont or through the tunnel to places with reliable, high-performing schools?

  • John

    Do what we did! Sell your expensive Oakland home, devalued by crime and a willingness of Oakland politicians to tax homeowners to death in exchange for little if any public services. When I purchased my home in the Oakland hills in 1990 it was comparably priced with homes in the other OUSD school district (The #1 Orinda Unified School District). Not no mo! We sold our declining value Oakland hills home to buy a condo in Orinda and a decent education for
    our daughter. It’s like living in a dormitory at Harvard with campus police who come when called. You can walk at night and home invasion robberies are not tolerated. Orinda! What a town! Oakland! What a town!

  • hills parent

    I would agree with both of you. OUSD uses a “band-aid” approach rather than a visionary one. We only have to look at our neighboring school districts to see visionary school boards, visionary district offices, and visionary site administrators. Oakland appears to be an island of its own….and this island is rapidly sinking. I would also agree with Hills Mother and ask why Hillcrest should be the only school that goes K-8, resulting in the displacement of future neighborhood students. This feels obviously self-serving.

  • Whoops

    I think the Board should spend the money to either expand Hillcrest or move the junior high portion (6-8) to another nearby location. Instead of having all of the unintended consequences of invading other nearby schools that are also near capacity, just expand Hillcrest (appears to be one of the smallest schools in the area). It seems that the school could go up another level. Upper Rockridge is a neighborhood that is not really part of Montclair or Chabot.

    Some of us have paid the extra premium for housing to buy into the Hillcrest area, only to have it changed on us without grandfathering in current residents (not just current students, but future ones living in Hillcrest). Maybe that’s the solution: OUSD should create temporary portable units (or apparently there is a house across the street for sale) to handle the current residents of Hillcrest, but not any future residents. Once that bubble of kids goes through, then it can be small again.

    I still think moving the junior high or simply adding a level to Hillcrest makes the most sense. Redistricting is too temporary becuase the other schools are also growing in the number of students.

    I’ve heard that some non-Piedmont residents attend Piedmont schools because of special things like wanting to take Latin or something not offered at their school. What if the displaced Hillcrest kids get the option of going to a Piedmont school (assuming that there is space).

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Whoops… I can’t imagine that Piedmont would willingly take Oakland residents. Those non-Piedmonters you mentioned are probably using false addresses to go to Piedmont schools.

    Other than that, I agree with much of what you wrote. There should be some special consideration given to those residents who will be excluding in the redrawing of the boundaries. And not just for this year.

    The powers that be should get rid of the Hillcrest middle school and this would provide room for the elementary school children within the current boundaries.

    If they get rid of the middle school and there are still significant problems, they they should redistrict the areas that are either not Upper Rockridge or the areas that are furthest away from the school. Anyone who can easily walk to the school should remain in the Hillcrest district.

  • Hillcrest parent

    To Hills Neighborhood Mom,

    Just to clarify a few points. Combo classes are already alive and well at Hillcrest. This year the school has a K-1, a 2-3, a 3-4 (which are due to our already crowded conditions and the huge kindergarten class this year) and the entire middle school is already a combined class. Also getting rid of the middle school would not make it possible for every neighborhood kindergartner to attend Hillcrest. There is, in fact, no scenario that exists where every child who wants to attend Hillcrest can.

    I imagine many of you calling for the closing of the middle school have very young children. Your child will be in fifth grade before you know it and possibly then you will understand why it makes sense to keep this great middle school open. There are many excellent elementary schools in Oakland, including several very near to the Hillcrest neighborhood. The same cannot be said for Oakland middle schools. Why close something that is working? (That is, in fact, the highest performing middle school in Oakland)

    Also, to Whoops…

    We cannot add another level to Hillcrest because elementary aged school children are not allowed to have classes on an upper building level. It is against regulations. The only reason they can attend classes in the second story of the new building is because it opens onto a patio. The long range planning committee looked at every possible option and building a new building or adding on is not an option. We all wish it were!

  • Jane

    I appreciate that the middle school at Hillcrest is working. I also realize that it would be extremely sad if it didn’t. 60 middle schoolers are educated at Hillcrest, compare that to the hundreds that attend other OUSD middle schools. Hillcrest is also not terribly socioeconmically diverse. Educating 60 middle schoolers from well-to-do homes quite frankly is so much easier than what other OUSD middle schools face. To compare the two is really like apples to oranges. Of course Hillcrest is the highest performing middle school in Oakland!

    I try very hard to smile at the good fortune of others, but as a hills parent of a 5th grader slated for Montera next year I would love the opportunity to give her the same opportunities that her peers at Hillcrest will get at the same cost (free). How much do others have to burden so that the fortuate 60 at Hillcrest can get more than their share?

    I agree it is time for Hillcrest to give up their middle school and solve their own overcrowding problems. I agree with Hills Neighborhood Mom, after they have given up their middle school they may still need to redistrict. Only then I will feel a little better about the burden placed on our local elementary school.

    Solving Hillcrest’s problems on the backs of Montclair and Chabot should feel wrong to everyone!

  • huh

    There are elementary schools in other districts that have two stories. Can anybody cite the regulation?

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    To Hillcrest parent, I have a school age child who is attending one of the hills schools. However, why should Hillcrest be the only K-8 in Oakland? You have something that no one else has, so i won’t feel too bad for the families if it is removed. I will, however, feel awful for the families who live within the current boundaries who won’t even have the opportunity to send their children to elementary school at Hillcrest. Making Hillcrest a K-5 DOES solve most of your overcrowding problems. Strict proof of residency requirements may solve more of the problems (yes, there are falsifiers at Hillcrest). Some amounts of re-districting around the fringes may solve the rest.

    Just because making Hillcrest a K-5 won’t solve the problem in its entirety, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done anyway!

    Anyway defending the middle school under these circumstances strikes me as self-serving. I have far more emphathy for the parents with young children who recently bought into the neighborhood thinking their kids would be eligible to go to school at Hillcrest. Those of you with middle schoolers need to do what the rest of us in Oakland do: move, go private or accept one of the other middle school alternatives.

  • unsure


    Can you tell me what it means when some comments are awaiting moderation?

  • Whoops

    I do understand that having a good middle school is a great outcome. Is it possible to move that middle school somewhere else within Upper Rockridge? That might help both Hillcrest and the middle schoolers (who might not have to participate in combo classes). I don’t know if that was looked at by the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC). Could another addition open onto a patio?

    Anyway, if there are general capacity issues in OUSD (especially in the hills schools), then shouldn’t longer term expansions be taking place at many of the schools?

    If there really are falsifiers, that should be a less expensive way to move a few students (like the city council person in SF living on the peninsula).

    It seems that a combination of demand and supply planning should be done, not just short term demand planning the moves 10-30 kids into nearby schools that will then have to move their kids (if not now, very soon).

    Is there really a reason not to have the junior high moved nearby and do some additional building at Hillcrest (if needed)?

    Parents with children who bought into Hillcrest when it was K-5 saw a huge financial gain when it became K-8 because they saved money from not having to move or go to private school at that point. Those parents who bought in at the higher priced level because Hillcrest is K-8 are now going to get a non-Hillcrest education for the Hillcrest price. That doesn’t seem right.

  • Katy Murphy

    Unsure: Each time someone posts a comment with a new IP address or a new screen name, someone (i.e. me) has to approve it before it goes through. If you post a comment under one of your other names, it should pop right up without moderation.

    While we’re on the subject, I’ve noticed that few people are using their first or first and last names these days. This humble education reporter would prefer if you did — and if you stuck to the same name.

    I think I’ll get on with my weekend now — have a good one!

  • John Garrett

    Before reaching conclusions about Hillcrest’s issues, I suggest the members of this forum read the report of the Long Range Planning Committee on the Hillcrest PTA website (http://hillcrestpta.org). I think the most interesting part of the report deals with the supply side of the enrollment issue.

    Hillcrest is a very small school with only 13 classrooms. The middle school only occupies 2 of those classrooms. Getting rid of the 68 kids currently in the middle school (that is 34 kids in each mixed 6-7-8 classroom; well in excess of the 25 per classroom recommended by the state and district) would not itself free up enough space to meet the current demand for an extra 20 kids for each grade level K-5 (120 extra kids total).

    So what about more buildings to add capacity? Portables cannot be added without violating state standards for playground space for a student body the size of Hillcrest’s. Also portables may not be approved by the fire department which collaborated on the design of the current playground so two fire engines can access it.

    As for adding a second floor to the existing building, that too was explored. In 2006 Hillcrest added a new building to replace three portables. (That was when the fire marshal helped design the playground.) Before undertaking the new building, Hillcrest had an architecture firm assess the feasibility of adding a floor to the existing building. Structurally the building will not allow it. The architects found that the existing building would have to be torn down to allow a multistory building. New school construction takes five years under the best of circumstances, and would also require an as-yet-unknown funding source.

    The truth is, because of Hillcrest’s small physical size, there is no easy way in the current regulatory scheme of things to increase the supply of classrooms.

    If the district got rid of the Hillcrest middle school program, it is likely half of the additional entering students would have to be redirected anyway. Maybe as many as 10 more students per year could be admitted. That consideration must be weighed against: 1) the elimination of a high performing program; 2) the strong reasons for a K-8 model – it puts the middle schoolers in a lower stress environment and a nurturing/modeling role for the little kids, and the little kids enjoy and look up to the older ones; 3) the neighborhood “invented” the middle school program in the years after the fire to save the school from closing due to underenrollment; and 4) the Hillcrest community consensus (and I know some people differ) is against ending the program.

    The whole logic is in the LRPC’s report which also acknowledges the fact that redrawing attendance boundaries affects neighboring schools. Please check it out.

    By the way, in my opinion there is great value in a K-8 model, and I think all the schools should be converted to it with total enrollments of 300-500. I assume it would involve building more campuses. Or failing that, as several have said, open a new middle school fed by North Oakland elementaries. Heaven knows, there’s demand.

    One last thing: Some of these posts seem to delight in the prospect of Hillcrest losing a very good program; the only one of its kind in Oakland. That’s not helpful. A number of Hillcrest families in the last three years have tried to begin a trend by sending their children on to high school at Oakland Tech’s Engineering Academy. And (only defensiveness allows me to type this) Hillcrest organizes outreach to other OUSD schools. My point is not noblesse oblige, but that the Hillcrest community – just like the rest of OUSD – wants public education to succeed in Oakland. Tearing down the only high performing middle school in the district doesn’t further those ends.

  • Whoops

    John G.,

    Thanks for the input. I still have a few questions.

    1. I didn’t see in the LRPC report an analysis of moving the middle school somewhere else (maybe within a 1000 yards). The current land is quite small and building on does appear to be only a long-run solution (and would involve not being able to use Hillcrest for a number of years). The middle school could still have the same teachers, etc., so it shouldn’t suffer. Do you know why that was not addressed?

    2. Also, I didn’t see any scenario (either in the LRPC report or in the 12/6 PowerPoint presentation) that looked into giving the two re-apportioned geographic areas any chance to get a spot at Hillcrest. It seems that families in the re-apportioned areas with kids in Hillcrest will still be able to attend Hillcrest, but families in the re-apportioned areas with pre-K kids are automatically not going to be able to attend Hillcrest. Why not do a lottery that includes all of Hillcrest area (as it is currently defined)? This makes if fair for the people who have lived in Hillcrest for a while and for those who have recently paid high housing prices to move into this district. For anyone who moves in after the date that a re-districting/apportionment is approved, they would have known about this ahead of time. They wouldn’t be in the Hillcrest school area. That’s the big problem with this is that residents of Hillcrest with pre-K kids are being treated differently when, in fact, they are all the same being current residents of Hillcrest. A lottery at least makes it fair and is a way to grandfather all of Hillcrest residents into the system. The re-districting scenario only grandfathers in some families, and kicks others out. Do you know if this idea was ever considered?

    The fact is that we moved into Hillcrest area in order to go to this school. After we made the decision to move, the rules have changed. Shouldn’t the changed rules apply to future residents who would then know what the new rules are? Everyone else in Hillcrest ought to be treated equally. A lottery is at least fair (ex ante).

  • John

    An earlier post admonishes Oakland hills parents in response to expressed concerned about issues affecting their children’s education. The admonisher suggests these parents are too focused on the educational needs of their children not empathetic to the plight of parent(s) in other parts of Oakland’ who lack hill parent resources but also want a quality education for their children. This attitude is well represented by a majority of folks in other areas of Oakland’s, and some in the hills. In 2004 there was meeting between Oakland hills residents and several members of the city council pertaining to the enactment of fire protection assessment district for Oakland hills homeowners. One homeowner observed that his neighborhood’s fire protection cost burden should be shared by tax payers throughout the city, just as hill neighborhood residents share the cost burden for the needs of other Oakland communities (more police services, social programs, Lake Merritt maintenance, etc.). One city council person responded that this attitude is NOT shared by those in other areas of the city. When a ballot measure was later established to fund more police and social programs for Oakland’s high crime areas some community members in these other areas protested that hill area residents should be paying more to fund interventions in their hoods because they could better afford it. This attitude is well represented in the Oakland Unified(?) School District. A hill area parent recently commented that the ongoing deterioration of quality education in hill area schools will cause families to move out of Oakland or place their children in private schools. Unfortunately city and school district politics are NOT concerned about issues affecting quality education in the Oakland hills. Hill area students are considered members of Oakland’s “fortunate” class who are blessed with parents who have the means to insure THEM a quality education. I’ve read the comments of well intentioned hill area parents who want to work with the school district to achieve XYZ in their hill neighborhood school. It is important however to keep in mind that Oakland politics do NOT favor, and are contrary to, the interests of “those fortunate families” in the hills. There is little, if any, penalty for city and school board politicians who ignore the needs or protests of hill area school communities. To the contrary there may well be some political benefit to ignoring or being dismissive of this constituency, unless of course it is being asked to open its wallets and give generously to other neighborhoods with lesser resources. Perhaps Oakland hills residents, especially those with school age children, are better off moving to a municipality where the majority has the means to “help itself.” These expatriates could then voluntarily send their donations to Oakland in the form of tax deductible contributions as opposed to the forced contributions demanded by Oakland’s high taxes and special fees for deteriorating services, apathy, and insults. But of course this is just one man’s misguided opinion as any Oakland city council or school board politician will passionately tell you.

  • left oakland

    It would seem the situation were well-nigh hopeless… perhaps the hills should secede from Oakland proper and incorporate to form their own city or… annex to Piedmont. Seems such is the desire anyway.

  • John

    Left oakland! Great (tongue in cheek) idea! Except Oakland’s City father and mothers would never agree to letting go of their hillside homeowner piggy banks! Also, if you know anything about California law applicable to a community separating itself from municipal governance to form a own more and perfect egalitarian union then you know your suggestion is truly tongue in cheek.

  • left oakland

    Twas meant to be!

  • K-8 Supporter

    Hillcrest is NOT the only K-8 model in the OUSD. ASCEND is another K-8 model, sarted in 2001, that is also proving to be highly succesful. ASCEND is located in the Fruitvale District of Oakland, a very different neighborhood from Upper Rockridge. Communites across the country are moving to K-8 and small school models because, when they are done right, they provide a compasionate, caring and qualtiy education to our children.

    What I don’t understand is why so many people want to destroy the K-8 model at Hillcrest. It works. So instead of killing it why not grow the concept of small K-8 models in other communities around Oakland. Why aren’t we clamoring to have more Hillcrests and more ASCENDS and more quality options for our children? It takes a lot of hard work to create. It takes a lot less energy to tear a school down then to build it up. But what does it leave us at the end of the daywhen all or energy is focused on the negative? And more importantly, what are the lessons we are teaching our children?

  • Joe Camel


    Sevaral points:

    1) I don’t believe anyone is suggesting simply closing the middle school as a suggestion. We all know that won’t solve the problem by itself. It needs to be done in conjunction with re-drawing of the boundaries.

    2) People tend to forget that you must enroll your children into Hillcrest by Kindergarten. What about all the parents who move into the neighborhood with older children? Why is it that they are not allowed to become part of the community? I tend to think that drawing the boundaries to achieve around 40 K’s a year is appropriate. But the middle school needs to go to truly give the school any flexibility for letting others in.

    3) I hear a lot of arguments about how the K-8 model is so great. That the middle school kid at Hillcrest are sooo high testing. Does anyone really believe that the kids of multi-grad degree parents would do any less well somewhere else? Its not the Hillcrest middle school, its the parents making their kids study and spending time with them. The argument is played out.

    4) If the OUSD board and the communities really think that K-8 model is so great and much be saved at all cost, then make Montclair and Chabot K-8. Oh, you can’t do that. Because the schools would be come to crowded and kids would have to be redirected. sound familiar. But if its good enough for Hillcrest it must be good enough for Chabot/Montclair, right? I can just ee a few years from now when the Chabot/Montclair LRPC suggests capping the incoming K’s and re-drawing the boundaries to send them over to Hillcrest. Wonder how that would go over?

    FYI, I fully support taking the Hills away from Oakland. Time to incorporate. It is very possible and cities do it all the time in California.

    Happy Holidays

  • John Garrett

    Whoops, thanks for your post. You put a lot of thought into your comments.

    The LRPC did explore satellite locations for the middle school with OUSD, but didn’t identify a workable site. The campus of Far West School, a charter school just down Broadway Terrace from Hillcrest, was discussed with the district. However, that campus is dedicated to Far West for the foreseeable future and is unavailable. The other nearby district properties are Chabot and Montclair. These discussions are not reflected in the LRPC report. I think it is because a relocation of the middle school would have the same impact on Hillcrest enrollment as doing away with the middle school, and that latter scenario IS addressed in the report.

    You also questioned whether classrooms could be created in a house across the street from Hillcrest. Honestly, I don’t know if that occurred to anyone or if the state even allows solutions like that. If the state does allow it, and if the house is for sale (there’s no sign and it isn’t on MLS), and the district could purchase it, I think the cost of acquiring the property and renovating it to meet educational requirements and code would be at least a million dollars, probably more.

    Which brings us to what may be the most important aspect of this issue. OUSD will never spend unbudgeted thousands or millions increasing capacity at Hillcrest when Chabot and Montclair enroll 57% and 39% respectively of their students from areas outside their attendance zones. In other words there is a lot of unused enrollment capacity for hills neighborhood kids. Just not at Hillcrest.

    So for the reasons I’ve described there is not going to be an expansion of supply (more classrooms) at Hillcrest. There isn’t a district will to do so. There isn’t money. There isn’t space. There are fire safety, structural, pedagogical and best practices limitations.

    Then the question becomes how to allocate the supply fairly, and everyone has their own point of view. Should the boundaries be changed or should everyone in the current boundary be subject to lottery? Should the middle school be given up to allow about 10 more kids per year to attend K-5? Or should the middle school be kept and those 10 additional kids redirected to Chabot or Montclair given those schools’ capacity to enroll many more neighborhood kids?

    At the Hillcrest meeting Thursday district staff indicated their preference is to redraw attendance boundaries and keep the middle school. Families drawn out of the new boundary would have siblings grandfathered next year only.

    I think the reason they suggest redrawing the boundaries instead of instituting a lottery among everyone in the old boundary is to address the demand/supply imbalance but also to allow families to have more certainty about their status at their attendance area school. The redistricted families would have more certainty they would get into Chabot and Montclair. The families not redistricted would have more certainty they would get into Hillcrest.

    My last comment is about your question concerning the fairness of redistricting. My personal belief is this situation is unfortunate for everyone involved. Hillcrest will lose strong contributors and volunteers and people with character and ability who believe in public education. Those families drawn out of the attendance area will lose a chance to be part of the school and in some cases may not have younger siblings grandfathered into Hillcrest. Those families like yours who invested heavily and purposefully to be in the Hillcrest community, but are denied lose some of your faith in the system. Beverly Rothenberg, the principal at Hillcrest, has lost more sleep I think and has more gray hairs (sorry, Beverly, if you ever read this) than she deserves to because upset people yell at her about the issues as if she caused them.

    It’s unfortunate for everyone, but it isn’t tragic. The hills public schools can continue to be strong, can be great if we keep faith in them.

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    The School Board report includes pages of documents about the Hillcrest boundary shift, but almost nothing about the changes which will affect Bret Harte Middle School. If I am reading the report correctly many families will be shifted from the Bret Harte attendance area to Montera. If that is the case, what effect will that have on efforts to improve Bret Harte and the availability of space for others at Montera? Can anyone familiar with the report or those schools enlighten me?

  • Candace

    This decision was made in the absence of any input or specific demographic analysis of Montclair or Chabot’s incoming kindergartners and preK population. Hillcrest is NOT the only neighborhood that’s growing.

    There was also no analysis of increasing the number of incoming kindergartners to 50 and eventually eliminating the middle school. Those 60 middle school slots only serve kids for three years. If they were elementary slots, they would serve kids for six years. Hillcrest deserves stability, but Chabot and Montclair AND THE REST OF OAKLAND deserve their ability to continue to serve disadvantaged kids that need the academic support they can get at these schools. Hillcrest serves Hillcrest. Chabot serves Oakland and Chabot. Boundary changes are necessary and inevitable, but they are easier to digest when they serve everyone, not just a small group of privileged and fortunate people who bought at the right time.

  • Roger Thompson

    2 points:

    The reason the Hillcrest middle school program is high-performing is because the kids (and the families driving them) are high-performing. Put underachieving students into Hillcrest (or Piedmont, for that matter) and see what would happen to test scores. So, there is nothing special about the Hillcrest middle School program. If there was, then there would be a groundswell to bottle it and bring Montera and Bret Harte to the same level.

    Instead of Hillcrest keeping its middle school and/or having the other hills schools each build their own mini-middle-school programs on their sites, the OUSD needs to open a new middle school that hills kids can feed into. The amount of funding the district would receive by capturing more student attendance (instead of them attending private schools or moving to Orinda) would be huge. Alternatively, the Hillcrest middle school should be moved to the Montera campus. That helps improve the student balance there and raise achievement.

    I am forming a steering committee to explore options on incorporating the hills into their own municipality. Just the publicity from this should start to pressure Oakland into allocating more resources to the hills, so we can get the middle and high schools our children deserve (not to mention protection from the rampant crime we are all experiencing).

  • John

    Roger: Perhaps a review of the process of separating from a municipality and incorporating an area (the hills) into its own municipality will give you a lot of discouragement and City of Oakland politicians a lot of confidence. Our City Fathers and Mothers are forever gettting golden eggs (revenue) from their Golden Goose (hill communities) while treating their goose like a cooked goose. All the Goose can do is complain about the heat. but can do nothing about extracating himself from the oven. That said, I wish you every success and hope your steering committee has a solid rudder. If it can be done, it should be done! Things will continue going from bad to worse to intolerable. I grew up in the Oakland hills and attended hill schools and have taught in the Oakland “flat land” Schools for 25 years. I am less than optomistic about the maintenance of quality education in the hills or establishing quality city (police, etc.) services there unless hill area communities have jurisdiction over themselves. I have long been vocal about issues affecting life in the hills under Oakland municipal rule. I came to the conclusion, predicated on a lot of experience, that I needed to sell my declining value Oakland hills hills home and buy a condo in Orinda where my young daughter can receive a quality education and enjoy after school activities absent the increasing threat in Oakland’s hill communities of becoming an after, or during, school crime victim.

  • another hills parent


    As an educator watching the decline of Oakland schools I have also reached the same conclusion–that it is time to move. I have voted for all school and police bonds for the past 15 years, only to watch crime escalate in the hills and the test scores at my “hills” school decline. I have tried to stick it out, but my children’s education is more important than that I remain in this diverse community.

  • J Smith

    Agree with the assessments about the city taking advantage of the hill’s tax dollars. My husband and I were both employed within the city of Oakland and as well residents for the past few years. Now we have both found other jobs outside of Oakland city and decided to leave the hills. We are simply fed up with the lack of public services, dirty and old children parks and now, can’t even send my children to the school district that we worked hard to live at. So much for the American dream – where is my equality?

    It’s too bad. Similar to many of you out there, we all believe in the Oakland hills and its great potential. Look around the bay area, there are many fine examples of “hill” towns thriving and attracting people to live at (Los Gatos/Saratoga, Orinda/Moraga, Marin). We saw a bright future for Oakland hills, but ended up with disappointments. Like many of you, we decided not to put our kids’ future at the hands of the Oakland city politicians – whose lack of ability to manage this city is the root cause of the Hillcrest’s enrollment fiasco.

    150% applauding for the effort of incorporating the hills into its own municipality. Best of luck ripping off the Band-Aid with the Oakland city council.

  • Jose

    The K-8 supporter has the nerve to sujest that ASEND in the flatlands is a good school. Do you think some of us live under a rock. My brother sent his son to that school for a week. It is a joke. Don’t belive me, just visit to school and look at their test scores. Mario said they didn’t give any homework and his son Edwardo got beat up. All in one week.

    This person must be an OUSD employee or a joker who make such a statement. We all know why Hillcrest is a good school. Do you think the parents at Hillcrest will allow the nonsens that occurs at ASEND and other Flatland schools to occur at their school? I believe the Hillcrest parents can put some fear into the OUSD administration which is controled by the state poloticans. Election time is close and the OUSD board needs the voters to support them for more money. What would happen if the people in the Hills and Flatlands said NO MORE MONEY/

  • City Transplant

    Joe Camel (is that your real name, btw?), I couldn’t agree with your comments more.

    As a new Upper Rockridge resident with a toddler, the news of this all hit me only last week. I kept being told by neighbors that it would all be figured out by the time my child would go to Kindergarten–but never did I think it would be to our potential detriment. How can anyone argue with the fact that anyone buying recently in this neighborhood went into it with expectations that their kids would be educated at Hillcrest. This means not having to worry about upper grades until high school. Now, if we’re forced into Montclair, we will be looking at private schools or to move before 6th grade. And what happens with the value of our house?

    There are only two fair options:

    1) Make every elementary school in Oakland the same: K-5 (or K-6). That way, with some hope, these “fortunate” children will feed into middle schools and hopefully improve those cultures. YES, it starts at home, people. It’s not about the school but the PARENTING.

    2) Allow those residents of the Hillcrest district who purchased homes before Dec. 19, 2007, to go to Hillcrest. Set up bungalows, lease land from the private girls’ high school across the street, add on–just anything to accommodate those of us who bought under certain assumptions the right to attend our school, whether K-5 or K-8. We should all be grandfathered. Then, anyone who buys in 2008 and beyond can deal with the rezoning. The neighborhood is obviously going through a renaissance, so the numbers will fluctuate anyway. Do they really think 5 kindergartners will make that huge of a difference? These are all estimates.

    I am sick over this and would never have moved to Oakland had I known this. We left the City in order to not get caught in the lottery mess, and now we have an equally irritating and unfair situation on our hands.

    Lastly, I’d LOVE to be a resident of the newly formed town/city of Rockridge, so SIGN ME UP for that Steering Committee!!

    OUSD and Hillcrest School: play fair with your (next door) neighbors. Otherwise, you could find yourselves without people that DO care.

  • judith tidrick

    Thank you, John Garrett, for your insightful view into the total picture for the future of Oakland schools and the children of Oakland. It is unfortunate that the Montclarion newspaper does not include the most important information of all, the proposed boundary changes for Hillcrest enrollment. I will continue to search for it them on the OPS website, but I doubt that the information is readily available. Since I admit that I do not know the proposal, but I do now currently live in the Hillcrest boundaries, I believe that I can remain nonpartisan. What seems to be clear is that the school always has been, and always will be, a small neighborhood school. Yes, I believe that walking distance to school is an important factor for families with children. When we purchased our home in 1969, without children, it was not considered THE place to buy. College Avenue was a blight on the landscape, and Montclair Village was overpriced for our budget! Therefore we bought a lovely home in the not so popular Rockridge. It was many years before it changed. This is the way markets and neighborhoods evolve:by young families taking chances by buying into non trendy, affordable neighborhoods and working within their new communities to improve the schools. This is what my husband and I did thirty-eight years ago. We sent our son and daughter to Hillcrest and supported the school when there were only 90 students there in a K-6 configuration. It was not a school in the city, and many times we had to fight just to keep the board from closing it altogether! Yes, we lost our home in the firestorm. Yes, we have lived through sixteen years of constant construction and change. New residents cannot begin to imagine what those years have been like. Very few of us remain in our beautiful neighborhood, new but not different. The spirit of community involvement remains the same.
    To the School Board of Oakland, please do not change our boundaries. Many people have strived for many, many years to improve our neighborhood schools, and Hillcrest is a success story. Do not attempt to fix what is not broken. Build new and beautiful schools for the new babies being born in Oakland. Welcome their families, and give to them the opportunity to succeed in a similar environment of nurturing and learning. Only then can Oakland schools be a welcoming factor for new people moving into our city.

  • judith tidrick

    Correction, Hillcrest in the early 1970s was not a popular school in Oakland. We loved it, however, and it was, foremost, a diverse neighborhood school with an involved community based parent population. This support for the school has never wavered.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for the historical perspective, Judith. The Tribune published a map with the boundary changes twice this week. I’m not sure why it didn’t appear in the Montclarion.

    I’ve updated the link on this blog post. You can find the map on page 4 of the school district report.

  • Joaquin Miller Parent

    You made a comment about adding underachieving students to Piedmont or Hillcrest and see what the scores do. Well, here’s how both Piedmont and Orinda deal with that issue. My daughter has friends in both school districts. I am not sure what Hillcrest does with their under-achieving students.

    If a child is behind both districts make sure there are no eye, eye tracking (eyes following the lines of text on the page), hearing, learning or developmental issues. Then the teacher talks to the parents and gives them a list of private tutors that are used by other parents at the school.

    I do know that in Orinda, when the family said they couldn’t afford a tutor, a parent of a different student was assigned two afternoons per week (after school) to work with the student in the library. But in Piedmont, the expectation is that you will get help for your child, on your own time – using your own money. How the public school can legally do this, I’m not sure.

    I think it would be interesting if a section of each child’s report card rated parent participation and support of learning. I think we would probably see a correlation between student achievement and parental support.

  • Jane

    We are the parents of a toddler and recently bought a house in Upper Rockridge in the area that is proposed to be redistricted even though we are walking distance to Hillcrest and a considerable distance away from Chabot.

    While Chabot is good school, we purchased our property with the expectation that we would attend Hillcrest from K-8. We paid the Hillcrest premium and now feel that the rug has been pulled out from under us.

    Some of our neighbors have talked about taking legal action since their property values are being negatively impacted by OUSD’s short-sighted plans. I am about ready to join that bandwagon since I have little choice.

    I understand that the school board decided to delay their vote on the Hillcrest matter because it has garnered so much attention and caused such controversy.
    Perhaps the school board should consider solutions that would minimize the risk of litigation. One such solution would be to grandfather residents that purchased their homes prior to a certain date. That should limit and reduce the number of future kindergardeners and be fair to those of us who bought into the neighborhood expecting to attend Hillcrest.

    Secondly, the board should step up their residency enforcement to deter cheaters. Thirdly, the middle school should be moved out of the Hillcrest campus and its enrollment increased to accommodate demand from the nearby areas.

    Redistricting students to Montclair and Chabot is NOT the long-range solution. As indicated before, it just puts a temporary band-aid on the enrollment problem since Montclair will likely reach its maximum capacity within the next few years. What will happen then – will the lines be redrawn yet again?

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Jane, I feel for you and all the other parents of preschoolers and toddlers, especially those who recently (last 5 years) moved in and really paid a premium for your places. I agree with all your solutions.

    In reading through info on the Hillcrest website, I don’t recall seeing anything on cracking down on residency cheaters. This exists at every good school and I have now heard of several people who have falsified their documents to pass themselves off as residents within the Hillcrest district.

    Falsifying documents has been a huge problem at the hills school for which we are zoned. I’m concerned that this activity, largely condoned in the past by OUSD and the school itself, will displace actual residents in the future. OUSD needs to do a complete crackdown on cheating by implementing an effective, independent verification process – including things like computer checks, home visits, hotlines to report cheaters – that is similar to what is done in other districts.

    I have no idea why OUSD hasn’t done this yet to reduce overcrowding and maintain capacity for neighborhood children. This seems like the easiest of all the solutions suggested. It might not solve the problem, but it will help.

  • John

    A previous comment that, “it’s against regulations to add another level to Hillcrest” doesn’t jive with my experience at another Oakland school with second floor classrooms (appropriately) designated for the upper elementary grades.

    Regulations aside, it just makes good developmental sense to give accommodation priority to the younger students. In the larger SCHEME of things why should a four year old have to attend school farther away from home so twelve to fourteen year olds can attend school close to home!?

    The early childhood years are challenging enough without requiring little kids to attend school farther away than necessary from mommy, daddy, and home sweet home. I’ve seen a lot of little kids make their first entry into a classroom and don’t believe their front door should be unnecessarily far from their classroom door.

    Unfortunately, what adults want and what’s best for kids is too often NOT one and the same. Perhaps some of the adults engaged in the Hillcrest boundaries dispute could benefit from the services of a developmental child psychologist?

    Perhaps the twelve to fourteen year old Hillcrest students would do better making their future high school friends in a non-OPS middle school now instead of a non-OPS high school later?

    Shhhh! Do you hear it? It’s the wee voice of one crying in the wilderness, or is it coming from a classroom unnecessarily far from this wee ones home? She’s not feeling well and wants her mommy. Although she’s been waiting quite awhile she must yet wait awhile longer. Too bad she can’t attend the neighborhood school near her house, the same one attended by her teenage neighbor.

    But don’t mind me. I’m just an old developmental minded sentimentalist.

  • JM Parent

    I’m late to the discussion, but nonetheless…there are a few things that contribute most to the educational experience your children have – family background, the individual teachers your children end up with, and the general strength of the academic program at the school. Any of the hills schools has a chance to be as good or better than Hillcrest. To assume that your Hillcrest child will come out of fifth grade better-prepared for middle school than a Chabot or Montclair or Joaquin Miller child is ridiculous. What matters is what you give the teacher to work with and the competency and skills of the teachers.

    Montera could be a great middle school – if the families in its attendance area actually sent their children there and set expectations for high standards. But they don’t, so the school ends up with kids from families that are less well-off and less-educated. And the school becomes less appealing to experienced, creative teachers (who have transfer rights). And then everyone bitches that the school is mediocre. They exit the system – skimming the cream off the top – and flee to the private schools. It’s a downward spiral.

    Everybody has a role to play in this.

  • another hills parent

    I agree with JM Parent. This is just another reason that the school board needs to support the middle school boundary changes that will allow Redwood Heights children to attend Montera. This may very well create a situation in which more hills families remain in OUSD…not to mention the wonderfully supportive parent group that would accompany their children.

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    There seems to be a thread of concern running through many of these postings that parents who send their children to Oakland schools with a diverse student body and lower overall test scores are hurting their children. The test scores posted on the CDE website do not show much evidence, if any, of such an effect. The state does not list scores separately for students living within an attendance area and those outside the area, and it does not separate upper middle class students from moderate income students, but it does give separate results by ethnic group. Comparing the scores of white students on the sixth grade English test we find that the scores for these students are high wherever they attend school. The percent Proficient or Advanced is 91% at Hillcrest, 89% at Claremont, 88% at Piedmont Middle, 81% at Montera, 77% at Brewer, and 74% at Bret Harte. The percent of white students who complete Geometry in 8th grade (one year ahead of the normal college prep timeline) is 50% at Claremont, 40% at Bret Harte, 36% at Montera, 5% at Piedmont Middle. (Hillcrest and Brewer did not offer Geometry last year). Parents may chose to send their children to whatever schools they prefer, but they should not try to justify their choices by claiming that similar children are not getting a quality education in Oakland schools.

  • Pingback: Hillcrest’s middle school is back on the table - The Education Report - Katy Murphy covers what’s going on in the Oakland schools()