Public or private? | February 22, 2008 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - February 22, 2008

Public or private?

Why some choose schools outside of Pleasanton's acclaimed school district

by story and photos Emily Atwood

Pleasanton's public schools are often a major factor in why people move to this part of the Tri-Valley. The Pleasanton Unified School District has a track record of being one of the top in the county and has received regional, state and federal attention.

Academic Performance Index (API) rates Pleasanton district schools as above average across the board. On a scale of 200 to 1,000--with 800 considered exemplary--Pleasanton Unified School District's 2006 API base score was 881. Comparatively, Dublin Unified has a score of 827, Livermore Valley Joint Unified has a score of 792 and nearby Castro Valley Unified has 826 points and Hayward Unified has 681 points.

Superintendent John Casey lists the district's attractive offerings as outstanding AP (advanced placement) courses and a variety of electives in staples like senior English and civics, not to mention the vast number of clubs and extracurricular activities offered as well as competitive varsity sports. Combine these with the Community of Character educational program, the district is on a mission to produce well-rounded, educated students.

Yet many families in Pleasanton find the school district's offerings are not enough. With public schools expected to experience major state budget cuts this fiscal year which ends June 30 and fiscal year 2008-09, private schools will be unaffected. Tuition can be a hefty price to pay, but many families look to local private schools to educate their children.

One of the main reasons Kim Gray, a parent of a fourth-grader and second-grader, chose Hacienda School was because of its year-round schedule that follows a business calendar. It doesn't just help the family's schedules, Gray said she prefers that the educational flow go without large chunks of vacation time.

"The public schools have way too much time off," she said. "They have to make up all that extra time in homework, so they're not learning as much in the classroom. The philosophy of the school is that school is meant for doing educational work and home time is meant for family time."

Hacienda School is a Montessori-based program located at 3800 Stoneridge Drive. It serves kids from first through eighth grade. Its nearby sister campus, at 4671 Chabot Ave., is for birth through kindergarten. Currently there are 62 students in the elementary and middle school campus and 180 at the Chabot Avenue location.

Student-to-teacher ratios are also very important to parents of private school children. Hacienda School boasts 12:1 for elementary and middle school, 10:1 for preschool and kindergarten, 8:1 for 2-year-olds and 3:1 for toddlers and infants.

Tuition for Hacienda elementary and middle school is $1,355 and $1,495 per month, respectively.

"Our students have many classes with specialists, such as music, Mandarin, Spanish, daily P.E. and art," Jo Anne Camara, school director, said.

Visiting the campus, you'll find students working in small groups with a teacher or sprawled on the floor. Some students even helped themselves to a bowl of cereal.

Gray said she and her husband weighed the cost of private school and determined that it was worth it.

"I'm going to have to end up paying for an after-school program and some kind of summer program," she said of putting her children in public school. "When I started to add up the cost for all of that, it was a lot closer [to tuition] than I expected it to be."

As her daughter gets closer to middle school, Gray said she is unsure if she will continue with private or go to public school. As for for high school, they have already decided.

"One drawback [to private school] is that it's so small and they're isolated from different things that go on in the world," she said. "At least for high school, they will most likely go to public high school. When they're older, it's more important that they interact more and learn how to cope with the world."

Michelle Brinnon likes Valley Christian's high school because it is similar to the "real thing." Brinnon, the junior high and senior high school assistant principal, and a parent of two in the school system, said there are still things like prom and homecoming dances in private school, but there are boundaries to guide the students.

The school system runs from preschool to high school and is located atop a Dublin hillside at 7500 Inspiration Drive. With many students staying in the system all the way through, Principal Jane Kitchen said it fosters relationships that other schools can't.

There is also a student-run chapel once a week complete with a full student band and different speakers each week.

Gary and Phoebe Schwaegerle have four boys in Valley Christian schools and said they chose the schools because it aligned with their religious views.

"For our children, it reflects our faith," she said. "It's upheld in the classroom and it's very important to us that the teachers had same faith as we do."

Both parents are products of public schools--Gary Schwaegerle graduated from Foothill in 1979--and said they think Pleasanton's public schools are excellent. They just wanted their children's education to reflect what they believe.

"The Bible program is a part of our core curriculum through senior year in high school," Brinnon said. "We also have an aggressive academic program that is U.C.-approved and dually accredited."

Valley Christian's junior and senior high classroom ratio is about 22:1 and 18:1, respectively, and about 23 percent of students are from Pleasanton. Tuition for elementary through senior high school ranges from $7,600 to $10,000 per year. There are 11 AP courses, a U.C. Berkeley professor on staff and several science offerings including marine biology. Their five pillars of excellence are: academic excellence, spiritual development, creative expression, athletic distinction and servant leadership.

A big draw for preschool and elementary private school education is the vast integration of language and technology. Carden West, located at 4576 Willow Road, starts teaching Spanish to 3-year-olds, American Sign Language (ASL) to pre-kindergarteners, and in kindergarten, students can choose to learn French or Mandarin.

Upon completing fifth grade, students are proficient in Microsoft Office. PowerPoint instruction begins in kindergarten and as they progress, they learn Excel, Access and other computer programs.

Carden West serves preschool through fifth grade, is non-sectarian and governed by a volunteer board of directors. The board is comprised of parents and a former principal. Tuition ranges from $7,400 to $15,225 annually. Eventually the school plans to expand to offer a middle school program.

Another attraction, beyond small class sizes, is that they are open until 6 p.m. with homework and activity clubs.

"In every one of our classes we cater to the gifted and talented students and those who need extra support," Principal Peter Van Court said. "We extend the curriculum beyond the grade level, which you can't do with larger class sizes. All the other offerings we have just aren't available in public school."

Some families are willing to travel to secure a private education for their children.

Athenian School is located near Mount Diablo State Park in Danville. The independent and WASC-accredited school teaches middle- and high school-aged kids, some of whom board there.

Christopher Beeson, Athenian's director of admission and financial aid, said the education features rigorous academics as well as service learning. The school's boundaries extend beyond the 75-acre campus, as juniors are required to complete a 26-day wilderness experience and students regularly take part in exchanges and service projects abroad.

"Athenian goes far beyond academics to educate students for lives of meaning and purpose," he said. "They are taught to be citizens of the world with the goal of having a positive impact on our future."

Class sizes range from 9:1 to 15:1, with annual middle and high school tuition at $29,015 and $27,520, respectively.

Carondelet and De La Salle are Catholic high schools located in Concord. Matt Guarino, director of communications at De La Salle, said Lasallian service to the poor is one of their first priorities along with quality academics.

"At De La Salle, we educate students with an emphasis on developing men of faith," he said.

The young men work with a campus ministry department that organizes retreats and service learning projects.

De La Salle's tuition is around $12,000 per year and the student population is 1,000. While the two schools are separate institutions, Guarino said that the two high schools share some classes. The school also embraces diversity, with students coming from all over the Bay Area, including Alamo, Antioch and Richmond.

There are several Web sites to learn more about private schools, including, which allows you to compare and find the many other private schools in the area.


Posted by Public, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2008 at 1:48 pm

In every school district across this nation there is a wealth of families willing to pay for a private education for a sundry of reasons. Most of these families have only good intentions to improve their child’s opportunities and to experience the joy in learning.

The twist is as these families leave the ‘system’ we see deterioration in the public education sector, driving even more families to the private educator. Families that would bring positive energy and the love for education and change continue to diminish. We need this demographic in our public schools.

The solution:
The States must stop this flood of resources leaving the public system and bring everybody together to make sure every generation has the chance at a superior education. I propose making public school mandatory Monday through Thursday. Fridays, holidays, and breaks can be filled with private sector education, from religious to field trips to the mountains. The public schools would remain open on Fridays for those who wish to attend the program/s offered.

Yes it is all about the kids not the money.

Just an idea, that’s all it takes for change to start…

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Feb 22, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Good idea.

I have no opinion on it but we do need people like you to think "outside the box" on this issue.

Maybe it will gain traction. Or, it may provoke someone to come up with some offshoot of this idea which does.

Posted by PToWN94566, a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Feb 24, 2008 at 6:01 pm

I attended Sonoma State Univeristy and was studying in the educational program there called Hutchins. A big thing I noticed in this program was being in small groups and having seminar based classed. One of the classes I was required to take involved going to an elementary school and leading the reading lesson of the day. In doing so, the lessons were seminar based- children would break off itno small groups and do work together. While group work does happen in public schools, the seminar based is a bit different; exploring happens more and I have seen children love the rewards for finding out something on their own. This is a bit different than the typical public, lecture lesson, small group/worksheet papers etc.

Personally, the public educational system needs to lighten up on homework. The standards teachers have to follow can be a bit much but since it's the state who funds us, we have to do what we are told. I like that idea above of having school Monday through Thursday. But I would still make Fridays mandatory, but have it be a day field trips, or religious activities, or homework help/catch up work etc. Children don't need a 3 day weekend every week- but having some kind of day where it's more open for choice would be great

Posted by Cassaundra, a resident of Stoneridge
on Apr 14, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Oh my God! 1984 is coming at last. That's great. The government schools don't perform so here's a great idea to fix it, lets make everyone attend the government schools. Complete lack of competition is such a practical solution. Just look what it did for the Soviet Union. Let's not give parents a choice in how to educate their children. Only Big Brother knows how to educate your children. And why stop there, Lets ban all those pesky private colleges that are ruining our state college and university systems. Stanford, USC, Mills College, Oberlin, Harvard, MIT, Who needs 'em? We must stop this drain of resources leaving the governments system. Shut 'em down and improve the quality of higher education for all.