How Are the Schools in this Area?

school-signLast weekend, while attending my daughter’s volleyball tournament in San Antonio, I observed the sign shown here posted all throughout the Middle School at which the tournament was held. I’ve been to a lot of public and private schools for my kid’s basketball and volleyball games over the years, but have never seen a sign such as this. I found it interesting and it started me wondering, and making assumptions.

How much can such a sign tell us? Can one extrapolate a broad and deep set of accurate assumptions based on nothing more than the words on this sign, and the fact that it’s prominently displayed throughout the school, inside and outside? What do the words on the sign tell us about the school and its kids, about the parents, the parent’s jobs and socioeconomic status, about the homes and neighborhoods that feed into the school, or whether these kids are someday headed for college?

For me, I thought at first, “this must be a school that struggles academically and has discipline problems”. And, “the homes and neighborhoods that feed into this this school must be low cost homes in low cost areas and the owners and renters are mostly blue collar workers”. Those were just some of my assumptions, based on nothing other than the words on this sign.

Was I right?

As the day wore on, and I had down time between games, I wandered around and made further observations about the school. It seemed to be a newer facility, in very good condition. The gyms were very nice, with newer style flooring and good bleachers. There was no graffiti or visible evidence of why such a sign would be needed.

The restrooms were clean and well maintained, with no graffiti or broken plumbing. The outside basketball courts were in good condition, with none of the goals bent, damaged or leaning, and again there was no sign of graffiti. The grounds were well kept. I rounded up a few stray basketballs which I returned to the courts while walking around the track to get some exercise. There was no trash or litter to be seen.

I guessed that the school must be no older than about 2 to 5 years, judging from the design and the general condition. It was located in an industrial area, along a freeway, and there we no residential areas visible from the campus, that I could see. There were two maintenance employees patrolling the school, guiding parents to restrooms, to the correct gym, and generally helping out and keeping an eye on things.

And I thus added to my list of observations, “somebody is running a really tight ship around here”. And I started to wonder if my initial assumptions regarding academics might be wrong.

When I returned home I decided to follow up on my curiosity and check out the school.

On it’s ranked a 4 out of 10, which isn’t good, but I found the parent reviews all favorable. One was especially amusing, which said “Security officer could be nicer to students by simply talking calmly to students instead of yelling at them through his microphone.”

The Security Officer sounds like my kind of guy. Tight ship indeed. I’ll bet they don’t put up with any nonsense, which in turn allows more kids to spend time learning, especially if they feel safe and are held to higher expectations.

The school is rated “Academically Acceptable” but is commended in Reading, Writing and Social Studies. Looking at the specific testing data, the school appears to be on a strong improvement trajectory over the year before, and in fact has reasonably good numbers overall.

It’s much more difficult for Middle and High Schools to achieve Recognized or Exemplary status than it is for an elementary school to do so, because of the broader demographic spread at the bigger schools, and the fact that it only takes a small number of poor performing students in one subset to screw up the ranking for the entire school. So the Academically Acceptable rating doesn’t mean they are not doing a good job of teaching those kids.

Searching a radius around the area, the homes are indeed cheaper, below average and median prices for San Antonio. There seems to be mostly new starter homes areas, with a few pockets of older homes, some as cheap as $60K to $80K. That area of San Antonio has a higher crime rate though, based on the stats on the San Antonio Police website.

So, would I personally invest in property in an area like this, or buy a home that feeds into this school? Probably not. But if I were a San Antonio real estate investor, I wouldn’t rule it out as quickly as I initially thought I might. One of my basic rules of thumb for investing is that I like homes that feed into desired and popular schools and that will attract white collar tenants paying at or above the average rent for the city. This area doesn’t pass my test as far as I can tell. But a “cash flow” buyer might find it a very good area in which to invest, because it’s easier to get positive cash flow from cheaper homes.

But what the sign did ultimately provide for me was an opportunity to discuss with my youngest daughter on the drive back to Austin the topic of stereotypes, assumptions, and how we sometimes think we can judge a book by its cover, but that it’s always interesting to dig deeper and learn more about people, places and things.

Much of what we know and learn in life is based on hunches, intuition, or assumptions that we form based on insufficient data. This is exactly how a lot of buyers make decisions. Some are very fact based, but more often than not, it’s an emotional “feeling” decision, such as “I don’t like how the houses look in this area”. Or, “I heard there are a lot of drugs and gangs at that school”. Why not dig a little deeper and find out for sure?

3 thoughts on “How Are the Schools in this Area?”

  1. What I see there is a very insecure school – insecure psychologically. I could see the same sign going up at various middle-class schools in the Austin area, and NOT going up at Austin High. What would that tell us, though, apart from the fact that a certain sociological group freaks out more than others?

  2. Blatantly racist? Anyone? The vast majority of these “prohibited” items/characteristics are most commonly associated with the black community and black culture/style. Personally, I feel that black culture has some attributes which promote destructive behavior, but what culture doesn’t? Discriminating based on style and clothing which may be an individual’s way to associate and integrate with their culture, community and history I think is petty and offensive. Not every kid wearing baggy pants and a do-rag is a “gangsta” just like not every kid who wears skinny jeans and has a lip ring is a suicidal “emo” junkie. Please, schools need to be focusing more of their attention on actual education and not stereotype promotion.

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