Rethinking Inner Loop Living

At 20 years old, I was sitting in the parking lot known as I-45 during rush hour and thought to myself, “I can’t WAIT until I graduate, have an awesome job, and can afford to live in the city!” I commuted every day during my undergrad years and then again early-on in my career. Living with my parents allowed me to save for my own home, but that also meant endless hours of traffic either in my own car or in an overcrowded commuter bus. It was killing my youthful vibe! So when I signed and initialed my name 238,493 times during closing for my Inner Loop home, I was determined to never set foot on a commuter bus ever again.

But now that we have kids, we are reconsidering Inner Loop living. And for those who know me, the lover of many Houston urban scenes, this is shocking.

Rethinking Inner Loop Living | Houston Moms Blog

I had it all figured out. Of course {with sarcastic hair flip}, my children would test into HISD’s Vanguard program which would then open up the doors to any school in the district, and we weren’t stuck with the less-than-stellar schools we were zoned to. Then, we could still have our cake and eat it too. Three miles from work Downtown. Check. Close proximity to amazing restaurants and museums. Check. A safe and unique neighborhood with amazing neighbors. Check. Access to great public schools. Almost check. It was going to be easy! Ha!

This was my plan even before my kids were conceived.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I found myself writing a Parent Brag Sheet for my 20-month-old as part of her Mother’s Day Out application. This was the sixth application we completed for her, as she was on wait lists for other schools for over a year. We needed options. If she’s going to test into Vanguard, this child needs a head start!

We spent February and March exploring various places with private early childhood education and quickly learned that frenziness is the norm to make Inner Loop schooling work – wait lists, staggered priority registration, and eventual teacher recommendations and interviews. I thought, surely, this was unique to the private school experience.

Nope. The HISD Vanguard testing, lottery, and the wait list games happen with entry into kindergarten. It almost seems like a college admissions process at the ripe age of 5. The most disheartening part to me is that many of these highly desired magnet schools are now already at capacity and chances of admission to one’s top pick are very small. With the growth of young families populating the city, it appears the HISD system and supporting PTOs can’t keep up with the demand.  After all of the emotion and time invested into touring the schools, you’re still not guaranteed a spot for outstanding education. {Since I’m a nerd…the data behind chances of acceptance can be found here.} It seems like a fair amount of uncertainty, and I’m pretty risk averse when it comes to my kids.

Sure, I could fake-it-til-I-make-it and shield my kids from the stress I would feel as a parent. But realistically, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and kids are pretty perceptive. And yes, I could have my kids test into the GT program at their zoned school. But, what if they don’t test in? And yes, I could get involved with the PTOs of the schools we are zoned to in order to make it a better place, but that’s nearly impossible when both parents work full-time.

It’s been fun having the close proximity to experiences we’ve had in the city :: the murals, the museums, the urban green spaces, and the incredible free classes {like baby and toddler yoga} at central Houston Public Library branches. However, the pleasure of these niceties do not outweigh the importance of good public education. {No, private school is not in our family’s plan nor our budget.} Plus, who are we kidding? With 2 kids who are 16 months apart, once we we get home from work, we only have time to make and eat dinner, and then play in the front yard before their early bedtime. We are experiencing the city only on weekends.

There’s something appealing about the simplicity of going to your zoned school and knowing that all of your children will go to the same place with certainty. It’s even more appealing when the elementary school is one of the top-ranked in the state as are the middle and high schools. If we lived close enough, we could walk or ride our bikes to school. My kids would go to school with their neighbors. Their friends would be within a couple mile radius rather than across town. And guess what? An 11 mile drive vs. a 3 mile drive on a weekday morning is only 17 minutes vs. 10.

I’m not necessarily stepping back on to that commuter bus, but I’m definitely weighing our home options a few miles outside of the city’s center. Perhaps I don’t have an accurate perception of how to make the system work for us in the city. Perhaps it’s the fear of uncertainty with something so important that’s making me focus on the negative.

If you’re in the HISD Vanguard system and take your child to a non-zoned school, how is that working for your family? 

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Kristine grew up in Houston where she met her husband Richard. The high school sweethearts welcomed their daughter Kara {2014} after naturally overcoming infertility. Sixteen months later, their son Ray {2015} joined their family. She balances the allergy mom life as well as a full-time job at an oil & gas supermajor where she is the queen of PowerPoint. Her Houston roots run deep with her Bachelors degree from the University of Houston and MBA from Rice University. Kristine loves traveling, good food, and experiencing all things H-town with family and friends, especially drinks {bars, breweries, boutique coffee shops!}, museums, and of course, BEYONCÉ. You can follow her adventures on vu hu life, Instagram and Twitter {@vuhulife}.


  1. Pre-kids I lived inside the loop in a lovely and fun Westheimer-Montrose neighborhood. It often took me 35+ minutes to make the short commute into the med center.

    Fast forward to post-kids and we live 27 miles outside the med center in a suburb. It takes me about 40 min to make the commute now. I am happy to make the commuting sacrifice because my kids go to outstanding schools (that we are zoned to), we are within easy walking distance of parks, family, and the local snowcone stand.

    Everyone decides what is best for their family, but for us the choice was easy. 🙂

  2. Yes, schools were an afterthought for me as well when I first purchased my home. Since then, schooling for my kids was one of the biggest stresses in my life. Even when at private school, we wondered how the school ranked compared to other private schools and then city wide, etc. And at some point, our kids were lucky to get into a magnet school but now those rules have changed, siblings are no longer guaranteed admission. Yet I feel the pressure has been extended to them now; to continue to not only make good grades, strive to participate in extracurricular activities, etc. So as to be poised to be able to apply for the next vanguard /magnet school when time came. If it’s exhausting for us parents, I can’t imagine what it is like for the kids. ..Especially when all they want to do is be a kid! All the best in your decision!

  3. We are moving on Thursday for this exact reason. Packing up right now! My neighbors with older children say “just test in to the good school” and make it sound so easy. But I see these wait lists of 100, 200, 300 kids and I get really nervous. I don’t want my son to have to fight to attend a good public school before he even starts. It will be our first move that isn’t centered around us, but instead what’s best for our new family. It’s difficult. I am still struggling to get excited. I hear it just becomes your new normal, the long commute. And I’m sure looking back at this decision in a few years, I’ll see it was the absolute right one to make.

  4. I found your article insightful. We are moving to the Houston area and you expressed many of the same concerns I have. I have a 5yr old entering kindergarten and we too have found difficulty with wait lists at schools. If you were to live in suburbia what areas would you recommend?

    • We have been looking at 77024 zoned to Valley Oaks Elem, Spring Branch MS, and Memorial HS, and also 77055 — both zips have the trifecta of good schools. Some people really like Meyerland but the whole flooding element can be tricky from neighborhood to neighborhood. Those options are still pretty close to town. If I worked at Greenway Plaza, I’d be open to Sugar Land. Good luck!

  5. As a former HISD educator, a parent of 2 young children, and a working parent who lives inside the loop, I hate when to hear that people are so ready to abandon their neighborhood schools, instead of investing in them to make them a better place. Your kids can go to a mediocre school and if you as a parent are reinforcing educational values and opportunities than your kids will turn out just fine. Probably even better than fine because you also provided your kids with a diverse educational experience where they are able to interact with kids and families from all different types of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are so many wonderful HISD schools inside the loop. As a former HISD educator, I can tell you firsthand, that the schools that are lacking are the schools where there is little to no parental involvement. That is the number one way to improve a school- get involved! When parents know what is happening, are helping to make it better, and demanding better from the district, the city and the state, things get done. It’s easy to walk away and say, “it’s not my problem”, but it sets a good example for your children to show them that you’re willing to put in the hard work alongside them to make your school and your neighborhood a better place. Is it difficult to do all of this as a working parent, YES, of course. It has to be a priority for you to make the commitment. There are many wonderful things about the suburbs, but you don’t have to give up city living because your school doesn’t look as good on paper. Think of what opportunities and experiences your child is receiving because of their city life style- that’s pretty amazing too (and some of those are things you can’t learn in school).


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