Our Experience with the Tinsley Program in East Palo Alto

My son, Mateo, graduates from La Entrada Middle School today. We are very proud parents as he wraps up middle school and prepares to enter Menlo-Atherton High School later this summer.

Mateo attended school in the Las Lomitas School District for the last 9 years via the Tinsley Program.  The Tinsley Program enables kids who are Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, or other minority groups from East Palo Alto and Belle Haven to attend school in neighboring school districts like Las Lomitas, Menlo Park, Woodside, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, and San Carlos. The Tinsley Program has been a great option for parents living in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven to send their kids to excellent public schools in surrounding communities.  Race is the only criteria for the Tinsley Program, and it is for all qualifying kids not just low income residents. One reason why you see tech worker families moving into EPA is that they know their kids can go to Palo Alto Schools with EPA housing prices.

Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program - San Mateo County Office of Education
The Voluntary Transfer Plan allows minority students in the Ravenswood City School District to transfer to either the Las Lomitas, Menlo Park City, Palo Alto Unified, Portola Valley, San Carlos, and Woodside school districts. Non-minority students in these six districts may transfer into the Ravensw…

We bought our house in EPA 15 years ago, choosing to get a great house in EPA over more run-down or poorly located (eg next to the highway) in cities with much better school districts. Honestly, school districts were not on our mind when we bought our place: we were in our 30s, no kids, and a backyard for our dog was more of a priority than the quality of the school district.

This all changed when Mateo was born in 2010. By 2014 we were looking at schools and, to be honest, rather overwhelmed by the options.  Our local school district is the Ravenswood City School District. We eliminated Ravenswood Schools after touring the schools, meeting with teachers and principals, speaking with alumni, and evaluating school testing data.

Aspire, the charter school literally across the street from us, had ok-ish test scores but also had a waiting list a mile long when we applied.

We had heard about the Tinsley Program and applied to it along with a few private schools in Menlo Park:  the Peninsula School and GAIS, the German Immersion School. We were rejected by the Peninsula School and accepted into GAIS. We were put on wait lists for the Tinsley Program, and had these as options:

1) Ravenswood Schools – not an option for a variety of reasons

2) German American International School – Why would we send our kid to a German immersion school when we do not speak German ourselves? Pricey! I was  strongly against this option.

3) Waitlist on Aspire – we were #55 on the list if I remember this correctly

4) Waitlist on Tinsley

5) Move out of EPA to another city with a better school district

Fortunately, amid my wife and I discussing Mateo’s education, we got a call from the Tinsley office with good news: Mateo had been moved from the waiting list to being accepted at Portola Valley, Woodside, and Las Lomitas. We were concerned about the distance to Portola Valley and Woodside Schools, but it turned out that we could get to Las Lomitas in about 25 minutes, and that was within our acceptable driving range. School proximity was not only an issue for school drop-offs and pickups, but we were also concerned about after school activities, school friends, and extracurricular activities like sports, band, and other activities.

We crossed our fingers, hoped for the best, and sent Mateo off to Las Lomitas for kindergarten in 2015.

Overall, we have been happy with Mateo’s education in the Las Lomitas School District. He attended Las Lomitas Elementary from kindergarten to grade 4, and entered La Entrada Middle School in fifth grade.

Education – Las Lomitas is an excellent, well funded school district with high test scores. Mateo has consistently liked most of his teachers. His teachers have been professional, generally nice people, and given our kid a solid education. The state tests have reflected this, and he is “above grade level” on all subjects and seems ready to enter high school. He has been challenged by school in a good way, and has spent 1-2 hours per day on homework in 7th and 8thgrade. He has worked hard at school and received good grades. He has been challenged by other strong students and highly motivated to keep up with their high levels in math, science, and language arts. We feel that he is very prepared for high school and has received an appropriately rigorous education.

La Entrada's School Testing Data

Social – Mateo has a good group of friends and has never felt excluded due to coming over from EPA. He regularly hosts friends from school at home for movie nights, parties, music, and other social events. We have gone on many camping and ski trips to Tahoe with friends from school.  His friend group reflects Silicon Valley, and includes kids of every race. La Entrada has a lot of white and Asian kids, but has a decently diverse student body. Las Lomitas School District has placed an emphasis on welcoming diversity, and Mateo never felt unwelcome.

Commute – Honestly, it would be a dream for Mateo to attend a great local school in EPA. The drop-offs and pickups are SO TIME CONSUMING. We easily spend two hours a day driving him over and picking him up at night. We vetoed the idea of him taking the bus due to the early time (7am versus 7:45 driving) and long, meandering bus ride.  We carpooled with other families occasionally and frequently gave rides to other kids for after hour activities like band, which ended at around 5pm. Driving was a definite negative for me, but I also realize that if we sent Mateo to a private school (something our neighbors do), even more driving could be involved.

Extracurricular Activities -  Las Lomitas and La Entrada have extensive offerings for students: sports, art, music, chess, and many other activities. Mateo discovered music and is an enthusiastic member of concert band and jazz band. He has done well as a drummer in both, and received an excellent education from his music teacher, Tony Lanzino. Mateo tried out a few different sports but ended up gravitating towards music.

I am very grateful that Mateo was able to attend the Tinsley Program. While there were a few drawbacks, it was an overall great experience for Mateo. Primarily, he received an excellent education and is ready in every way to attend high school. We saved an absolute ton of money on schooling compared to private school, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition and expenses. I do not know if the Tinsley Program is right for every kid in EPA, but in our case it worked out tremendously well. Every parent who values education wants to do the best for their kid and I think we did so with the Tinsley Program.

Share this article: Link copied to clipboard!