Yes, Nathaniel, I’m sorry to tell you, but we’re moving again. (But then again maybe I’m not so sorry, because we’re doing it for you!)
Where do I begin this story? It’s long, and a bit convoluted, so maybe the best place to start is at some random beginning, say, exactly one year ago today.
A year ago we were still living outside of London. And on that second day of 2005, Rachel and I were drinking a glass of wine, trying to decide whether to stay in Leatherhead (outside of London), or move back down to Cornwall. For a variety of reasons…house, schools, peace and quiet (ahhhh)…we chose Cornwall.
Fast forward to July, 2005. The Cornwall house we were staying in was built in the 1860’s, purchased by Rachel’s father in the 1960’s, and given to his children – Rachel, her sister Kate, and brother Jonathan – upon his death seven years ago. They rent it during the summer to pay for the upkeep and the taxes, and so we had to be out for most of July and all of August. We considered renting a caravan and living in the bottom garden, but Rachel really wanted to spend some time in the U.S., and so we decided to move back to San Francisco for the summer.
We’d taken what had turned out to be an extended two year sabbatical, and while we hadn’t run out of money, there’d been a lot more coming out of the bank account than going in, and so I decided to look for a job, preferably one that would let me work remotely, i.e. in Cornwall. During an early 2005 trip back to San Francisco for some meetings related to Web Photos Pro I met with a company who was interested in having me do a photo product for them, and so I returned in mid-April to help design the product. They seemed pleased with the design document, and we started negotiations on a long term contract, one that would, I hoped, allow us to return to Cornwall.
While I was back in the U.S. on that April trip, I stopped by a friend who lived on a houseboat, and went to an open house on the next dock over. To make a long story just a little bit shorter, we decided to put some money back in the US housing market, and bought that houseboat. We figured we’d use it for the summer, fix it up a bit, and then rent it when we left. (The best part about buying the houseboat is that we did it all via phone and the internet. Yep, the whole thing. Our agent, Paul Bergeron, sent us PDFs via email, we printed them, signed them, and faxed them back. The only thing we had to do in person was show up for the close of escrow, which we did the day after we landed. A fantastically easy process, thanks to Paul, the lender, and our escrow officer.)
And that’s when the first bump in the road appeared. Just after we closed on the houseboat, the company I’d been consulting with decided to lose a cool $100 million in their 2nd quarter, and they cancelled the project. “Wow” I thought, “that sure puts a damper on on things doesn’t it?” After getting ourselves unpacked, I got in touch with old friends, and found that two had new startups. After a couple of interviews I took a job at one of the startups, in San Mateo, and while it doesn’t have anything to do with photos (unfortunately), it’s interesting work, with nice people, including some old friends from Apple.
So, we’re back in the U.S. We live on a houseboat. I have a job at a startup. And then September rolls around, and it’s time to put Nathaniel in school. And here’s where the part of the story entitled “why we’re moving” really begins.
It’s funny, but when we started our trip, and this “A Year In Cornwall” blog, Nathaniel had just turned four, and Sebastian was a babe in arms at three months, and schools weren’t even in the equation of what we were going to do, and where we going to live. But then we put Nathaniel in the little local Cornwall school – St. Minver – so that he (and we) would have some friends. And then we moved up to London and he attended two different schools: first, New Lodge, a private school in Dorking ("public school” to those reading this in the UK) where he wore a tie a jacket to reception (kindergarden to those reading this in the US) – cute beyond belief – and then to the sweet local church school, St. Michael’s in Mickleham, which was just as delightful.
Now it may seem that I’ve gotten off the track here, onto schools, but one of the things we learned from those three schools, is that a school is most definitely defined by the headmaster/headmistress (principal for those of you in the US). How the head meets you that very first time. Whether they take time to show you around, or are “too busy” to give you more than a couple of minutes. How proud they are to introduce you to everyone you walk by. All of these things are a good indicator of how well they run the school, and treat those within it – teachers and students alike. Nick Lane at St. Minver is a great case in point…he spent 45 minutes with us that first time, showed us every classroom, introduced us to everyone who walked by, asked anyone who wanted to talk with him if he couldn’t meet with them later, and showed a level of enthusiasm and excitement for his job that we found later bubbled over onto the teachers and children in equal measure.
But back to Sausalito and schools. It’s common knowledge that Sausalito has some of the lowest scores in the state. This is primarily because most of the kids are from Marin City, snuggled against the hillside between Sausalito and Mill Valley, home to a lot of poor folks who live in the projects ("Council estates” to those of you reading this in the UK). And this is where I cringe a bit because it’s also common knowledge that there’s a lot of “white flight” going on in Sausalito, and all the rich folks either move out of Sausalito when it comes time to send their kids to school, or they send them to private school. Unfortunate, but true.
So with that in mind, and the fact that I grew up going to public schoolsl (US public, not UK public), we looked around. We looked at the local public schools. We looked at private schools. We weighed the cost of sending one, and then two (once Sebastian comes of age), to private school. And then I did the math. Let’s see…$12,000 a year…that’s a $250,000 mortage. $24,000 a year…that’s a $500,000 mortgage. Hmmm, maybe it’s time to look a little closer at the local schools.
So after a lot of discussion and a couple of teary sessions, we decided to send Nathaniel to the local charter school. Turns out it’s a very nice school. They have a nice new building, a new playground, and the class sizes are small – just 18 in first grade (though with 4 boys and 14 girls it’s a little bit lopsided). So we took the plunge and placed Nathaniel there. And I’m happy to report that he’s done very well. He has a fantastic first grade teacher in Ms. Lurie. The children are mostly well behaved by US standards (which are, unfortunately, a bit lower than UK standards). He’s learning to read and do math by leaps and bounds. And they have some fun extras in his classroom, like naturalists from the nearby conservation center, yoga twice a month, and music once a week. But that’s where it seems to stop. There’s no sense of where the school is going next, how it’s going to improve, how it’s going to find more room as it grows, and most importantly how it’s going to attract the Sausalito children who currently go to private school.
I called my aunt Cayo the other day. She’s lives on Cape Cod, is in her 70’s, and spent 35 years teaching high school in Newton, Massachusetts. I told her about our problem, and mentioned that we weren’t sure whether we should get involved, or simply move. Maybe one of us should run for school board I said. Maybe we should be meeting with the headmistress regularly. Maybe we should be, well, I don’t know what. Cayo’s unexpected response was “If good leadership isn’t in place already, you’ll spend the rest of his elementary school time trying to make that happen, when you could be spending time making a good situation better. You should move.”
Sound advice we decided. And so with some of that unspent private school fees burning a hole in our pocket we found ourselves a very nice house above Tam High school in Mill Valley. It’s not our forever house, but it’s got good bones, has been nicely finished, and best of all – given my penchant for projects – has a couple of things that can be upgraded in the future, but don’t need to be right away.
We’re both excited and nervous about the move. Nervous that it’s a big step up financially. Excited that we’ll have room for the kids to run around, for Rosie to join us (she’s still in Cornwall…but that’s another story), enough extra room for friends and families to come stay with us (please do!), and best of all we’ll be able to send Nathaniel to Mill Valley schools, which are purported to be some of the best in the state.
Well, gotta go now, because I’ve got a couple of bathrooms to redo before we put this houseboat on the market. And if you know anyone who wants a really nice two-bedroom houseboat, let us know.
Happy New Year all!
Love from Frank and Rachel