Top Bay Area
Public schools for
Underserved students


Each year, Innovate Public Schools celebrates the Bay Area public schools achieving excellent results for low-income Latino and low-income African American students.

There’s no question that every student deserves a high quality education that prepares them for college. As parents and educators know, what happens early on in a student’s education can determine whether college remains a possibility.*

94% of students see college in their future, but only half of students across the state graduate meeting the entrance requirements for a public state university. In the Bay Area, the odds are low that low-income Latino and African American students get to attend a school that truly unlocks their potential.

Our annual Top Public Schools report examines how well schools in the Bay Area are preparing low-income Black and Latino students for the futures they choose. To qualify, schools must beat the statewide average in one or more factors including math and reading scores, and college eligibility rates, while maintaining low suspension rates. We are proud to highlight the schools leading the way and showing what is possible.

1National Research Council, “High School Dropout, Graduation, and Completion Rates: Better Data, Better Measures, Better Decisions,” 2011

Low-income Latino
There are


Bay Area schools


serve a significant
number of low-income
Latino students*


of them
are Top Public Schools
Source: California Department of Education, 2017-18 Enrollment files
*Schools were considered in this analysis if they had at least 20 low-income Latino students and this sub-group comprises 14% or more of the school's overall enrollment.
Low-income African American
There are


Bay Area schools


serve at least 20
low-income African
American students


of them
are Top Public Schools
Source: California Department of Education, 2017-18 Enrollment files


“I want my children to have a bright future, and I count on their schools to ensure that they have all the options they deserve.”

My prayer for my three children is that they are learning in school what they need to pursue their passions later in life. But since moving to the Bay Area over 20 years ago, we’ve struggled to get that for our kids. We’ve moved them between district, charter, and parochial schools, making at least five different moves in search of schools that provide a supportive and structured community where they will thrive.

The schools my children got into were chaotic. We wanted them to be focused on learning and that wasn’t happening. I want my children to develop a strong sense of what they’re passionate about and what’s important to them. They should be able to read and write well, articulate, problem-solve, explore teamwork and take on positions of leadership.

My oldest son went off to college this year at San Francisco State University. I am worried that he’s not as prepared for success in college as he could be. Even though he got good grades in high school and his teachers were very impressed with his writing, I never felt like he was being asked to dig as deeply as he could. It was not the same level of excellence that I had growing up. It seems like the expectations for him have been lower.

After just one semester of college, five of his friends have already dropped out and returned home. There are adults I know today who grew up in my community who have the same story — many went off to college but never finished and to this day they still don’t have a degree. It doesn’t make sense that we have a school system that allows this to happen generation after generation.

– Lisa Reece, San Francisco resident, mother of three


Unequal Resources; Unequal Results

Student outcomes vary widely by race and income, but it’s unfair to say that low-income students of color are just achieving less when we know they are being given less. These students are more likely to attend schools with lower expectations and fewer resources, have less access to grade-level content, and are more likely to be over-disciplined.2 This “resource gap” is not accidental; it is the result of systemically racist policies.

Decades of housing discrimination, unequal access to healthcare, and a generational wealth gap push low-income Black and Latino communities further and further behind.3

Unfortunately, in the Bay Area, public schools have not been the equalizing force they should be.

2Yes We Can: Telling Truths and Dispelling Myths About Race and Education in America. Washington, DC: The Education Trust, 2006. Accessed April 2, 2018. https://1k9gl1yevnfp2lpq1dhrqe17-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/YesWeCan.pdf; Anne Gregory, Russell J. Skiba, and Pedro A. Noguera. The Achievement Gap and the Discipline Gap: Two Sides of the Same Coin?. Educational Researcher, 2010 Vol 39: pg 59

3Janie Boschma and Ronald Brownstein, “The Concentration of Poverty in American Schools,” The Atlantic, February 29, ,2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/02/concentration-poverty-american-schools/471414/ ; “Mind the (achievement) gap,” LA Times, November 26, 2007, http://www.latimes.com/la-op-dustup26nov26-story.html



There isn’t one single program or model that leads to the remarkable results these schools have accomplished. Innovate Public Schools has studied high-performing schools across the country and found that they are as diverse as the communities they serve. However, we found that many of them do share certain core school-wide practices and beliefs that distinguish them from other schools in the Bay Area. Our World-class Schools Framework outlines these practices. Below we highlight four schools from this year’s Top Schools list that show what these practices look like in action:

Spotlight: Life Academy

Life Academy of Health and Bioscience is a small district middle and high school in the Oakland Unified School District whose aim is to prepare students to become future health professionals. Students at Life Academy take more than twice as many science courses than are required, and every student completes an internship in the health or biomedical field. While the school’s identity is deeply tied to health and medicine, principal Aryn Bowman credits much of the school’s success to its deep focus on literacy.

Our entire team is deeply committed to seeing our students develop the skills they need to be college-ready. We focus on literacy across the curriculum. I deeply believe that if we are not graduating kids who are reading on grade-level after seven years, then we are absolutely failing. I have come to the idea that, if kids can read really well and comprehend what they are reading, then they will be successful. That is what I deeply feel is social justice: that all kids can read.

— Aryn Bowman, Principal

Spotlight: Leadership Public Schools Hayward

The majority of students at Leadership Public Schools Hayward will be the first in their families to attend college. Low-income Latino students make up over half of the student body. Nine out of 10 of these students graduate eligible for a UC/CSU, compared to the Hayward Unified district average of three out of 10. College counselors at LPS Hayward create a college-going culture by systematically removing many of the academic, cultural, and financial barriers that typically hold students back.

“I expect that each counselor can tell me with 100% certainty which of their students has completed the financial aid form, which application was submitted, who has registered for the SAT — everything. When you see the schools our kids are getting into and the experiences they’re having, that’s not an accident. It’s a result of the high expectations and the meticulous case management that we have for all of our students from day one.”

— Claudia Aguilar, Dean of Counseling

Spotlight: Greenleaf K-8

Middle schoolers at Greenleaf (79% of whom are low-income and Latino) are posting some of the strongest results in the district. Their team has developed a clear understanding of what it takes to make sure every middle schooler is ready academically, socially, and emotionally to take on the rigor of high school.

We have a community of really dedicated teachers who know that our students’ chances for future success are so much greater if they are on grade-level by the end of the year. We can’t make that happen unless we know at regular intervals where our students are at. We survey students regularly. We don’t just look at literacy and math data, but we also look at “school culture” indicators: do students feel like they are a part of the school community? Do they have a trusted adult on campus? Data is at the center of our vision and mission and we use it to galvanize our staff to address issues of equity.

— Romy Trigg Smith, Principal

Spotlight: Rocketship Discovery Prep

At Rocketship Discovery Prep, a K-5 charter school in San Jose, almost seven out of 10 students are low-income and Latino. The school has seen a steady increase in learning for these students over the past three years. By focusing on a culture of joyful learning, high expectations, and a deep sense of belonging for all students, parents, and staff, the school has pushed students to higher levels of rigor.

We’re building an authentically happy community and experience for kids. This is a school where we celebrate and we have fun, but we also push. We’ve cut down on how much we’re doing: We’ve gone for depth over breadth. We’re placing the emphasis on whether or not kids are doing the thinking– not whether or not they complete a packet or a worksheet. If you’ve been at Rocketship for multiple years, you feel the difference.

— Chaka Hajji, Principal


How do we identify Top High Schools

This year, we strengthened the way we identify Top Schools at the high school level by looking at multiple measures of success. To make our list, a high school had to demonstrate that it is closing the achievement gap for low-income Latino or African American students in three ways:

  • Graduation rates for low-income Latino or African American students had to be at or above the state rate for all students.
  • UC/CSU eligibility rates for low-income Latino or African American students had to be at or above the state rate for all students.
  • Proficiency rates for low-income Latino or African American students had to exceed the overall state rate in English or math and meet a minimum bar in the other subject.

Out of over 200 high schools in the Bay Area, only eight met this new criteria for low-income Latino students. None met this bar for low-income African American students. The list below highlights the few high schools in the region that are preparing students for college. None met this bar for low-income African American students. The list below highlights the few high schools in the region that are preparing students for college.

The 51 Top Schools span across Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties.

Hover over the map to explore their outcomes for low-income African American and Latino students.

2019 Top Bay Area Public Schools For Underserved Students

All schools in the Bay Area can achieve these same results.

At Innovate Public Schools, we are committed to supporting families and communities in the Bay Area as they work hard to grow this list of Top Public Schools. Let these Top Public Schools serve as a model for what’s possible for low-income students of color.


California has many Top Schools but very few are in the Bay Area

In California, nearly 1000 public schools met our criteria for Top Schools, but just 51 of those are in the Bay Area.

Around 14% of all low-income African American students and 8% of all low-income Latino students in California attend a public school in the Bay Area. Yet they are half as likely to attend a high-performing school as their peers elsewhere in California.*

At the high school level, college readiness rates have increased significantly across California since 2011, but not in the Bay Area. In the Bay, only 1 in 20 high school students attends a Top School.

These low numbers are shocking, given the relative wealth of this region and the large numbers of low-income students of color enrolled who deserve a high-quality school. The results across California prove that the Bay Area can do much more.

4This number was calculated using our Bay Area Top Schools methodology which has different enrollment thresholds from our Los Angeles Top Schools methodology. Schools had to meet enrollment thresholds specific to the Bay Area (see methodology) to be included in this statewide count. School counts in the Los Angeles Top Schools report will differ.