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Threatened 32% Increase in Hillbrook Enrollment Worries Los Gatos Neighborhood

Guest article by Barbara Dodson, resident of Marchmont Drive in Los Gatos

Comlaints regarding traffic at Hillbrook School in Los Gatos.People in the neighborhood around Hillbrook School are worried.  And with good reason. Hillbrook, a private school at the end of Marchmont Drive, will be asking the Town to allow an almost 32% increase in its enrollment—from 315 to 414 students. Most of the increase would occur in the middle school.

Hillbrook has created traffic problems in the neighborhood for years. Local streets, which include upper and lower Marchmont,  Hilow, Topping, Cardinal, Robin, Stonybrook, Englewood, Shannon, and Kennedy, already face serious traffic problems, a large number of them generated by Hillbrook. And traffic is worst just when everyone is going to school—Hillbrook children heading to and from Hillbrook and neighborhood children walking and biking to and from Blossom Hill Elementary, Van Meter Elementary, and Fisher Middle School.  Add to this the fact that none of the streets have sidewalks or bike lanes and some have blind curves and you have a recipe for disaster.

We are very concerned about the safety of our children. Hillbrook has no response to this, and what response could they have? Over the years, we have asked for reductions in traffic. Hillbrook’s answer is this increase.

Hillbrook’s planned expansion is part of a five-year strategic plan, which has been approached as if the school exists in a vacuum and can do anything it wants. In fact, the school is tucked into a residential community with only one access road in and out. The only way for parents to take their children to Hillbrook is through our completely residential neighborhood with streets all flowing into this single access road. There is no access from the main streets of Kennedy and Shannon. The lack of access provides an obvious limit to growth.

Hillbrook claims it needs to expand so it can offer more sports programs and other activities. But there are innumerable opportunities for Hillbrook students to play almost any sport you can imagine. Hillbrook students have done this for decades, and thrived.

Here are some additional thoughts on this issue:

·     The Hillbrook expansion has no benefits for the town. Hillbrook is a nonprofit, and, thus , pays no taxes. There is no upside for Los Gatos residents. All we get is traffic, noise, pollution, and dangerous conditions for our children.

·  Hillbrook enlarged its facilities under a 2001 Conditional Use Permit (CUP). In 2001, neighbors worried the school was seeking to enlarging the campus so that it could have more students. Time after time, the Head of School insisted that the school had never asked for an increase beyond 315 students. Permission to increase facilities was contingent on no enrollment increase. Hillbrook’s current actions amount to a breach of faith.

·  Hillbrook is proposing most of its growth for its middle school. An increase at the middle school level will bring not only an increase in the number of cars dropping off and picking up children. It will also create more traffic with after-school and evening events.

·  Hillbrook continually indicates that it encourages carpooling, and we can see some carpooling. However, this has not solved the problem in the past. There is no reason to expect it will solve the problem in the future.

·  Most of Hillbrook’s students do not live in Los Gatos. Cars come from out of town, adding to the town’s overall traffic problems.

·  Hillbrook has frequently violated the current CUP. For example, last summer Hillbrook allowed a private camp to use its facilities. The head of school said that at least 900 children were enrolled in summer programs. Under the CUP, Hillbrook is not allowed to rent or lease its facilities, nor can it have more than 315 children on site. Given this and other violations, there is no reason to trust that Hillbrook will adhere to a new CUP.


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What is the school of attendance for homes in Los Gatos and Monte Sereno?

In the past, home buyers wanting to know about the elementary, middle and high schools and their boundaries had to visit a couple of sites to track down the attendance area (or in some cases, phone the district) and do a separate search to find out the API scores for each one. Particularly for folks interested in purchasing a house, townhouse or condo in Los Gatos, the school boundaries can be confusing and it may be unclear whether the property is in the Los Gatos Union School District, the Union School District, the Campbell Union High School District etc.


No more - enter SchoolAndHousing.com, a new website that mashes up the school boundaries and API scores so you only need to visit this one website, enter an address and get the information.  Alternatively, you can search listed homes for sale (where the seller and broker have permitted IDX searches on non-MLS websites) either by API score or by school boundary.  This is primarily for Silicon Valley and areas nearby, but it's growing.

SchoolAndHousing.com - search homes for sale by API score

Check it out - play with the various features - you don't have to register and you don't have to pay to use it. 

They are adding more features to the site and improving it all the time and recently have included private schools (sorry, no scores - there isn't an easy way to score them), daycare etc.  SchoolAndHousing also has their own scoring system, on a scale of 1 to 10, to locate a residence. Another neat feature they've added recently is a "compare houses" page too. Pull it up on your cell or mobile device and learn about the schools for a house you're at right then and there with the "current location" button after you select public schools (this works for most cell phones). Right now the listings feed comes from Oodle.com but it's hoped to pull directly from our MLS soon.

Disclaimer: I like this site well enough that I'm advertising for several zip codes, which is something I seldom do as most of my web traffic is organic, meaning it's generated not by ads but by the content I write myself on my various blogs and websites.

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Saratoga High School & Los Gatos High School Enjoy Top Graduation Rates in the State of California

Students at Los Gatos High School & Saratoga High School have a fabulous graduation rate as compared to the rest of Santa Clara County and the rest of the state of California.

 LGHS = 97.4%

SHS = 98.6%

Santa Clara County = 78.3%

CA = 74.4%

Thanks to Los Gatos Patch & Sheila Sanchez for the good news of the week! See the full article here:


(Unfortunately the article did not cover Westmont or Leigh, both of which also serve a portion of LG students.)

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Oops: Los Gatos Union School District Mailing, "The Report Card", Sent to Homes in Other School Districts

I don't mind being updated on the doings of the Los Gatos Union School District, but since my family and I live in the Union School District area of Los Gatos, it was a suprise to see "The Report Card" from the LGUSD in my mailbox today. 

A quick call to the district of the mailing error led to the revelation that it was done on purpose.

Really? In these times of budget cuts and feared teacher layoffs? 

Mailers are expensive, I know, because as a Realtor in town I sometimes send postcards out - the printing, postage and handling of them can easily run .75 each.  A bigger item, like a newsletter, will cost far more.

So the question is whether there will be any return on the investment of sending these to households in other districts.  I don't think so.  Probably best not to repeat the mailing beyond the district's borders.  (Ironically, the last article in the mailer is "Going Green".)


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Transfers between Los Gatos & Saratoga High Schools

Changing from LGHS to SHS or vice versa?Today I have the pleasure of quoting a school paper where I once contributed as a student journalist: the Saratoga High School Falcon.  Roy Bisht and Dylan Jew addressed a topic which was raised to me just a week ago by some homeowners who wondered how difficult it is for kids in the Los Gatos High School area to attend the higher-ranking Saratoga High School.  Apparently, right now, it's not a problem.  But kids at SHS wanting to attend LGHS will be out of luck beginning next fall.

In their March 31st article on this topic, the writers share that   "Transferring between schools has been a part of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Unified High School District for a long time, but now the situation will change next fall when the district shuts down down the freedom for Saratoga students to transfer to Los Gatos."

They explain that the number of transferees each year is small, just 10 or 15 teens moving from one campus to the other, but Los Gatos is bursting at the seams with 1800 students while Saratoga has a more comfortable 1350.  (If I'm not mistaken, there were about 500 in my graduating class of 1977. Most everything was different then: it was smoggier, streaking was fashionable and our school computer filled the Wang Room.)

Check out their informative piece, Cutting off transfers slightly aids overpopulated Los Gatos High, as well as the other offerings online.  (Word to the Falcon staff: good job!)

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How Do the Local West Valley Public High Schools Compare?

One way that home buyers compare schools and school districts in Silicon Valley, and California as a whole, is to look at the API Scores.

What are API scores?  API means Academic Performance Index.  This is a 1000 point system, with higher numbers reflecting better performance.  The county target is 800 and anything over 900 is generally considered exceptionally good. Although there are many factors to consider, these figures are easy to view side-by-side and are probably the #1 tool used by consumers to evaluate school performance.  Needless to say, these numbers are a significant part of what drives home values in any given area!

There are many excellent grammar schools in Santa Clara County.  There are fewer equally good middle schools.  At the high school level, there are only a few which stand out with stellar scores. 

How do our local west valley high schools, those near to Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and Campbell stack up?  Here they are, with info from the 2010 results (link above to list of ALL schools in the county).

Prospect High School 775 (San Jose, Saratoga)
Westmont High School 778 (Los Gatos, Saratoga & Campbell)
Leigh High School 817 (LG, Cambrian & Almaden)
Pioneer 823 (Almaden, Cambrian areas of San Jose)
Los Altos High 854
Mountain View High 860
Los Gatos High is 873 (serves most Los Gatos students)
Leland High School 890 (Almaden area of San Jose)
Palo Alto High 896
Gunn High School 917 (Palo Alto)
Saratoga High 932 (mostly Saratoga but some LG)
Lynbrook HS 939 (Cupertino/Saratoga/San Jose)
Monte Vista HS 943 (Cupertino)

Too bad the private schools don't also use this scoring system (about 1/3 of Los Gatos kids attend private schools generally).

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Traffic Moves Too Fast in Los Gatos Along Blossom Hill Road in the School Zones

Date: Jun. 1, 2010
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Sign alerting motorists that a school zone is present and a reminder to slow to 25 mph on Blossom Hill RoadLos Gatos, it's time to slow down.  In school zones, I mean. 

Each day I travel along Blossom Hill Road at least once, if not multiple times, and along that path I traverse two school zones (Blossom Hill Elementary and Fisher Middle School).  In those areas, when kids are present, the traffic is supposed to slow to 25 mph.

What I'm seeing is that as some drivers lower their speed, others simply pass and speed up - back to the 35 or 40 they were doing prior to the school zone - even if children are out side, on the sidewalk or walking home from school. 

Most likely, the drivers speeding up do not realize that the driver ahead has slowed due to the school zone - even if the lights are blinking and the electronic sign is flashing that their speed is 35 or 40. I doubt that it's intentional, but it is happening.

What does the DMV say?

"When driving within 500 to 1,000 feet of a school while children are outside or crossing the street, the speed limit is 25 mph unless otherwise posted. Also, if the school grounds have no fence and children are outside, never drive faster than 25 mph."

School crossing signThis suggests that the speed limit of 25 only applies when students are out of doors, not inside the classroom. Unfortunately, the school zone signage and flashing lights seem to be on most the time, and that may make drivers somewhat immune to the message to slow down since it may be on when the situation doesn't apply.

We have a wonderful police department in Los Gatos and Monte Sereno, but they cannot be in every school's neighborhood all day long.  If drivers ahead of you slow in an area near a school, be extra attentive - look around to see if children are present out of doors.  If so, please slow down.

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Los Gatos Is Well Known For Great Public Schools, But 1/3 of Kids In Town Attend Private Schools!

Sign with kids crossingAmazingly, fully 1/3 of the children in the town of Los Gatos are attending private schools, according to Money Magazine. That is an incredibly high statistic! (In Saratoga, it's 11.2% who attend private schools.)

The article appeared in the "Best Places to Live" series (Los Gatos didn't make the top 100 and neither did Saratoga) and it states that 65.9% of the children in the town of Los Gatos attend public schools (which would include the Los Gatos, Moreland, and Union elementary districts) and 33.9% attend private schools. The average for the "top 100" for money magazine is 10.5% private and the rest public.

What's going on here? It would be interesting to delve deeper into this issue and I would welcome feedback on this from readers. Why go to all the effort, when the public schools range from good to great?

Part of it, I believe, is that for some people, a school affiliated with a religion will be highly important no matter how good the public schools are. That would be the case in my family.  Our kids attended the now defunct Casa Maria Montessori School (which was run by the Holy Names Sisters), St Mary's, then Bellarmine Prep and Notre Dame High School, both in San Jose.  For families like mine, the ethics and religous upbringing are central to the development of the whole person - so school is more than academics and sports, and for us, it's worth it to pay tuition and make other sacrifices to get the kids into these schools, even when the public schools are good or even excellent.

Here in town there are several religously affiliated elementary schools: St Mary of the Immaculate Conception (Catholic), Yavneh Day School (Jewish, Conservative), Los Gatos Christian School (Protestant). I've known locals to send their kids to Valley Christian, to Yavneh, and to other schools that offered a strong religious background and support for the family's values. But there are other excellent private schools that are not religiously affiliated, too, such as Hillbrook Elementary and Mulberry School, and they also draw from the town's populace.

At the high school level, kids drive much farther to get to private schools. Again, many are religious (Mitty, Bellarmine, Valley Christian, and more)  but some are secular, such as Harker and Castilleja (all girls).

It's not all about who's "in the schools" either. It would be an easy answer to say that those not in the Los Gatos School District (which has the highest scores in the town) are those who are paying tuition, but it just isn't so. Plenty of families who could send their kids to Los Gatos High don't. And it's a very high percentage. It would be interesting to see the numbers on this.

Perhaps it's the money, and the fact that folks here can afford to pay tuition and make that choice.

But whatever the cause, I'm glad to see this statistic, especially in an election year here in town. So many of the townsfolk equate the Los Gatos public schools (often neglecting Union and Moreland areas) with townlife but they forget that many of us who love living in Los Gatos are not affiliated with the local public schools directly. We want the public schools in all districts to succeed, of course, but our kids may be elsewhere, by choice and with some sacrifice. Los Gatos schools are a great part of why people love calling Los Gatos home, but clearly, for many, it's not "the" reason. 

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Some Los Gatos Mountain Kids Being Bussed to Campbell Middle School

Date: Apr. 14, 2008
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Curvy Road Sign from Quito Road in Los Gatos and Saratoga, CAThere are so many "boundary issues" around Los Gatos that it's mind boggling. For newcomers to the area, it's already diffucult to understand how the school district lines do not follow the town boundaries.

Then there's the whole issue of "mailing address" vs being "in the town". The 95033 zip code means "Los Gatos Mountains" and also means "not part of the actual Town of Los Gatos". No voting rights. No police (sheriff instead). And so on.

The Los Gatos mountain schools are highly regarded. Normally, the elementary schools feed, eventually, to Los Gatos High School. The schools are a leading guage of property values, so the question of which schools is a BIG deal physically, emotionally, and economically. The schools are a leading factor in Silicon Valley real estate values.

Just now I got a Google alert that some kids in the Lakeside Elemenary area of the Los Gatos Mountains are actually being bussed to Rolling HIlls Middle School in Campbell. Rolling HIlls is a good school but it's nowhere near downtown Los Gatos (or the mountains). Instead, it's in the area where Campbell, Los Gatos, and Saratoga meet - over near Pollard and Quito Roads.

So have a look at the Merc's article, "Mother sues Los Gatos Union to get son into Fisher Middle School" and see what you think!
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Los Gatos School District Woes

The Los Gatos Observer published an article a few hours ago that town residents, especially those "in the school district", should read: State Report Criticizes Los Gatos School District.  This article outlines a highly disturbing and extremely surprising situation involving waste and fiscal irresponsibility. Los Gatos are very involved in their schools and many donate cash as well as time. This is sure to be upsetting news.
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A blog about Los Gatos real estate, homes, houses, condos, townhomes, housing market, neightborhoods, history, events, businesses, parks, schools, photos, issues, and lifestyle by Mary Pope-Handy, town resident, enthusiast and Realtor.

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