Foster City High School…Not

As I’ve said before on this Blog, my family’s been in Foster City for over 40 years and I’ve been in the Bay Area since 1990…moving here from Colorado. I don’t think there’s any subject that I’ve heard discussed more often and with more passion in Foster City than the subject of a High School in this community. I remember discussions about it when I visited in 1978 when I was a sophomore in college and there were high hopes for it’s apparently inevitable construction in the area that will now be home to Parkview Plaza (the new name given to the 15 acre site, in case you hadn’t heard). I know that for a long, long time many very passionate people have tried to bring a High School to this town and it finally appears that, after all is said and done, it’s never going to happen.

I’m not sure if it’s a distant memory or it’s family folklore but, as I recall, the topic of a High School was voted on here on more than one occasion over the years and didn’t pass. If memory serves there were those that didn’t want additional taxes to be levied as well as the fact that creation of a High School meant separation from the San Mateo school district…and our brothers and sisters in San Mateo were not too crazy about losing that revenue. They fought it successfully. Ultimately in 1999 the City Council amended the land use designation of the 27 acre site from high school to public/semi-public development of the Civic Center Master Plan. Then in 2002 the Peninsula Jewish Community Center was granted a lease for 12 acres, the other 15 acres was leased to a private Episcopal High School venture. They couldn’t raise the necessary funds to build and thus the land became available again. In 2003 the plan changed into a Charter High School concept that was approved by the City Council as well as the San Mateo School Board. Unfortunately funding for this concept was never completely ironed out and it ultimately became clear that the City could produce significantly more revenue going forward by using the 15 acre site for something other than a High School. It was far more important as a revenue source for the future as a commercial and residential development than it would be as a school so 11 acres were carved out for Parkview Plaza and the remaining 4 acres were then to be used as a Charter High School.

Even more trouble brewed last fall when it became apparent that only a relatively small number of Foster City kids would use the school at all….possibly as low as 200 out of a total number of 1200 High School aged kids in town while the rest would be at the discretion of the San Mateo school board. It also didn’t help that the charter petition had changed the name of the school to the Arts and Technology High School of San Mateo. That didn’t go over real well at a City Council meeting last fall.

So last week it seemed that a white towel finally got thrown into the ring when a newsletter was sent to supporters asking for more leaders to step up or the group might have to disband. It’s become very, very hard to generate excitement and financial support for this 4 acre, scaled down school. Don’t expect to see a photo of a Foster City High School…like the one above, I’m betting it’ll never happen. I’m sure there’s plenty of passions on all sides of this issue, so don’t hesitate to comment and express your point of view.  Here’s a link to a San Mateo Times story on this issue:




  1. I seem to remember that the San Mateo Board spent alot of money getting the vote out in San Mateo itself to keep the district from separating and thus losing Foster City’s tax dollars. That was at least 10 years ago, too bad it didn’t pass then.

  2. Christine says:

    So where do all these kids go to High School?

  3. They go to San Mateo schools. I had a cousin that graduated from San Mateo High and I know of other kids that went to Hillsdale and Aragon.

  4. I’m disappointed to hear this. I feel like a great public high school, more so than anything else, would increase real estate value even more in Foster City. I’m almost positive it would more than compensate for any additional taxes levied on residents. It’s no mystery why places like Palo Alto, Cupertino, and Los Altos continuously attract new families and the real estate prices soar. Is there anything we can do to petition for a school to accomodate all of FS?

  5. It’s too bad that this has been such a challenge to make work. Foster City High School could have been such a great place for our local kids to get an education.

  6. Jen, I agree with you about property values increasing via a great High School. The other schools rank extremely high in the State API scores every year and a High School that ranked that well would put FC on par with the other communities you mention. The problem is there’s nowhere to put it now, the Parkview Plaza project will occupy that land, and the San Mateo issue never was able to be resolved anyway. There’s no turning back on Parkview Plaza, and frankly, it’ll be a great thing for FC too. FC desparately needs a downtown area and that’ll be it. The 4 acre charter school/art & tech high was really problematic and wouldn’t serve many local kids anyway, I never liked it. It really is a tough one, huh?

  7. Has people been getting power outages here in FC? It’s happened twice to us in the last 2 days.

  8. Turns out that the outages in Neighborhood’s 1 & 2 yesterday were caused by someone ramming the transformer over on Swordfish.

    Remember when this was a much bigger problem a few years ago? PG&E supposedly resolved that..who know what the issue was a few nights ago.

  9. I started thinking again about schools, property values and the High School. The truth is that San Carlos is sort of in the same boat…except that they lost their High School entirely. All those kids either go to Sequoia or Carlmont, which are in Redwood City & Belmont. The elementary & Jr High’s are good, although not as good as Foster City, and the real estate economy is still outstanding. It’s as hard to say what the inclusion of a High School would mean to values there…just like here. Both are dynamic markets.

  10. Jim- Thanks for your insightful comments. I think the difference between San Carlos and Foster City is that there is the option to go to Carlmont which has a good reputation compared to Sequoia or the San Mateo High Schools. We actually considered buying in San Carlos for that reason. Ultimately even without a high school we ended up buying in FS and enjoy living here, but we certainly hope a something happens so we don’t have to move again when our kids reach high school age.

  11. I’m very sad about a high school fall out. In the long run, Foster city clearly needs its owe high school. The demographic of the city has changed so much in the last decade. It’s becoming a community that attracts so many young families with children on the peninsula.

    When the bubble of the kids reach the high school age, it will either generate a lot of traffic and pollution in order to transport such bulk of children to san mateo, or the house market will suffer as people move out of the city for other high schools.

    When there was hope for high school, young families are more likely to buy properties in Foster city. We were one of those families who bought a house and moved to foster city 5 years ago. If such hope is completed gone, foster city would be much less attractive. I know we would have moved elsewhere 5 years ago. Now, we are playing by ear. I couldn’t care less about this parkview plaza. If we have to vote by our feet couple years down the road, we would. I cannot put my children’s education in jeopardy.

    I’m sure that there will be consequences for not building a high school in foster city. But some people and politicians don’t think about that when that consequence becomes real and it really hurt.

  12. Jim Minkey says:

    I completely agree that Foster City could use a High School. Here’s where I disagree:

    Foster City has been around for 40 years…it’s never had a High School. That fact didn’t stop property values from escalating. During that time there have been plenty of kid bubbles and Foster City still prospered. What made you think there was going to be a High School 5 years ago? The topic was off the table long before that. The plan for a school at the 15 acre site was not what you’re thinking of as a High School…it was a very scaled down facility that your kids may not have been able to get into anyway. I’ve been in real estate for 20 years…the last ballot measure regarding a High School happened long before the tech boom. When it was defeated people still bought here and prices still went up. That’s not going to change.

    I’m also unclear about the problem with San Mateo High Schools. They’re far superior to alot of other Peninsula communities. I personally would have no problem at all with my kids going to SM High Schools.

    I don’t know…just my 2 cents

  13. Jim, Thanks. It really depends on how many people are with your thinking and how many people with my thought.

    We moved to California 6 years ago. I was not aware of the long history of the high school battle when we were house hunting. I remember filling out a survey about wanting a high school even after we moved to foster city. The hope of high school was very high then. Five families w/ babies then moved to the same street about same time. We all had that hope. It was such a no-brainer that foster city ought to have a high school. I’m wondering how many of us will stay. One family already moved away.

    It might still be my wishful thinking. If the Mirabella San Francisco Bay/Parkview Plaza project becomes indefinately delayed for another year or two. Can that plan fall off the table so that there will be another round of high school battle?

    Here is my problem with SM high schools:
    (1) their locations are not convenient. It will a 4 years of inconvenience for my first child and another couples for my 2nd child.
    (2) their scores, ranking and reputation are not at the same level as what foster city schools are.
    I have to admit that I haven’t done too much research about them as my kids are still young. From what I heard though, it’s not up to my expectation. On the other hand, their ranking/reputation can improve for the next 5 or 10 years. That can change the equation.

  14. Jim Minkey says:

    Ling, I have complete respect for your point of view, honest. In addition, I have no doubt that it would make my job easier if there was, in fact, a High School in Foster City. The problem is the fact that the mistakes happened 20 years ago. Foster City is tied into the San Mateo school district…and they’ve historically fought a FC High School because it would have meant a new district without them at the helm and they would then lose all that revenue.

    Even if by some miracle the Mirabella plan tanked completely and somebody began talking about a School again on the 15 acre site it’s not going to be the kind of school you’re imagining. There certainly would not be enough room for football, baseball, track & field..etc. It wouldn’t look anything like any of the other area schools. Once the JCC got built those options evaporated. The only option is a charter school…with a very small capacity. Plus it would be open to students from throughout the district, not just FC. Most of the FC kids would go to SM schools anyway.

    You could also say that it was bad leadership historically that was the problem…but the people of Foster City voted a High School down in more than one referendum. Everybody’s to blame ultimately.

    I totally agree with you…It’s a crying shame that Foster City doesn’t have a High School. In my opinion, unless either the JCC, City Hall or the Police and Fire stations go away there’s never going to be one here.

    I actually have a great deal of sympathy for you Ling, honestly. I think this all should have been disclosed to you five years ago.

  15. c/o 2011 smhs says:

    I am a student who has lived in foster city all my life and attends San Mateo High. I am not in favor of a high school here for many reasons.
    1) Even though I go to a school where the majority of bowditch class goes to San Mateo high, I have met a number of interesting and fun people from Hillsborough and San Mateo, instead of being staying with mostly the same people in a charter school. Going to a high school out of our town allows us to meet more people while we can still keep in touch with ones that we have split up with. Anybody kid would agree that they have met somebody from another middle school who became their friend.
    2) A charter school!? Does that come with the theater, sports, and other extra circular activities a normal high school does? People everywhere come to San Mateo just for the theater program and enjoy the sports traditions and other programs at our school. There is so much all the high schools have to offer.
    3) How can anybody say that the high schools in the local district aren’t good enough for your children? Several schools have ranked fairly high in the Newsweek national high schools rankings and have achieved much more things such as being admitted to prestigious colleges all over the country. We also have a large number of APs and honors classes to offer to challenge kids. The kids from bowditch have stood out in the high schools and have done well. If kids work hard enough if in these schools, they have a chance to take the advanced courses and get into good colleges. If you don’t like these schools, send your kids to private schools or move just like others have done.

    Rather than being stuck in our perfect Foster City bubble, as we’re known to other cities, I would like to meet new people and have a real high school experience. The only reason i would ever want a high school here is because i want to see my friends for different high schools again. Do any parents actually see the schools this away through the eyes of their kids? Look at the last 40 years and tell me when these high schools have failed on the parents. If only the people in recent posts could hear the voice of the kids.

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