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The Water is Fine! Insight into San Rafael Schools...

As a dedicated mother of an only child I understand the intense desire to give that child the very best that life, and we—within our means—can give her.  So it is interesting to me that, given the choice between going to Marin Catholic or San Rafael High, she chose SR.  This was the culmination of 8 years of extremely positive experiences in the San Rafael School District, and I am here to tell you that the water is just fine.  In fact, an argument can be built supporting the idea that the San Rafael schools are superior to other districts—but don’t get me started.   Okay, get me started.  The demographics of the central San Rafael schools are realistic, in line with the outside world.  Learning to thrive in that environment is priceless.

The first place folks go to try and understand the merits of a school are to the famed API scores.  These scores, however, do not represent apples to apples from school to school.  Consider, for example, that 64% of the students at Davidson Middle school are Hispanic, most of whom have Spanish as the primary language spoken in the home. 61% are Hispanic at San Rafael high.  7.7% at Drake High in San Anselmo, 8.9% at Redwood High in Larkspur and 9.7% at Tamalpais High in Mill Valley.  It should be evident that kids who are testing in their secondary language cannot be compared with those testing in their primary language.  If you contact Davidson Middle or San Rafael High you can get the API scores broken out showing a more realistic picture of the results the kids are getting based on the demographics.  You will be surprised to see that Davidson and SR are among the very top schools in the county from this perspective.  Here is the best website I have found for comparing factoids about the schools:, though not if you are only seeking scores.

One of the things I loved about my daughter’s attendance at Davidson was the keen attention to sensitivity training, due to the cultural diversity, and the outstanding non-bullying programs.  Though all middle schools will have rivalry and boundary testing among the students, the incidences were rare and always handled with the greatest of respect to the students.  Principal Harriet MacLean recently won the award for American Association of School Administrators’ 2013 Women in School Leadership Award.  Having worked closely with Dr. MacLean, as a Co-President of the PTA, I have joked that she reminds me of an Avatar with the kids, the way she SEES them all equally and full of potential.  In addition to a diverse academic program with excellent teachers, Davidson also has an excellent music department, a fine physical education program and one of the best gyms in the county, where other schools come for competitions due to the great accommodations.

My daughter is now a sophomore at San Rafael High.  She has a 4.43 GPG, plays the saxophone, takes AP Chemistry, AP Algebra II and AP English.  San Rafael High has an amazing and inspiring Physics Academy with a 3D printer, a Media Academy with their own radio station, one of the only football fields with lighting, a really fantastic PE program including night PE, with options for sailing, mountain biking and hiking—and an adventure room with climbing walls and ropes courses to teach the kids self- confidence and team building.  Their music program wins awards year after year.  AND they have academic programs to accommodate the widely diverse population of the school.  If we don’t have great results in our competitive sports programs, perhaps it is because too many parents pull their kids out of the district and put them into Redwood or other schools, rather than letting them go to school where they live, and investing in our community.  And, ironically, many of those kids have to sit on the bench, or give up playing altogether because there are 100 good athletes all vying for the same spot. I have heard that true story too many times! At SR, the kids have a much better chance at time on the courts.

I can go on and on.  I would like to add that we have friends who have moved their kids to SR from Brandeis, Marin Country Day and Marin Catholic.

If you would like to speak to me, about our experience, or to request referrals to parents who have made the decision to move their kids over from private school, feel free to call me.  Again, with all of my conviction I believe there is nothing to fear about moving to San Rafael and having your child(ren) go through the system.  Caring parents, committed alumni and involved families combine to continually evolve the schools in a very positive direction.  The water is indeed fine!

Muriel Ballard 


#1 By Annalise at 7/18/2019 3:58 AM

Muriel, thank you for your thoughtful insight into the San Rafael schools. I drank the water all they way until 1980, and everything is just fine with me. I think.

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