Switching from Public to Private School

Parent Q&A

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  • We've been in BUSD/public school for 6 years. We are now considering Prospect Sierra and Head Royce for 2021-22 (our kid will be entering 6th grade, is a solid student, this year has been a disaster with distance learning) and are wondering about:

    1. The overall culture. Is there a good mix of families in terms of socioeconomic status? Sending our kid to private school would be a big financial stretch for us even with financial aid but we think it's the right move at this point. Both schools claim that they value diversity but are the communities truly diverse and welcoming? We want to make sure our kid will not feel like an outsider just because we are a family of moderate income.

    2. If you've made the move from public to private, were there significant differences in terms of academics and overall student experience? Are the above schools really "better" compared to BUSD middle schools? 

    Any insights would be appreciated. 

    We have a child in middle school at PS, and I would consider us a moderate income family. Due to remote learning, etc etc I think the welcome aspect was probably less than normal but we have been both reached out to by individual classmate's families as well as met warmly when we reached out. Other families clearly have more means than ours, which we expected and have discussed with our child. It is an ongoing adjustment.

    I can't speak to BUSD middle schools per se, but yes we consider this academic experience to be superior (deeper, more engaging, more rigourous in humanities at least, maybe not math this year) to the alternative in our local public school option. (We have an older child who went through public so we have a point of comparison.)

    We are very happy with PS so far even despite all the ups and downs of this remote year.

    I'd say it really depends on the peer group. In general, our experience at PS was a mixed bag: good in some ways but not good in other important ways, and the reasons were in part due to the peer group and also to variability in the teaching. With respect to the peer group and inclusivity, we never felt like income was a determining factor, but there were definitely cliques (among both boys and girls) at the school that were unhealthy and made our kids feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I think the best way for your kid to get a sense of that is via an in-person visit, which is tough this year. I'd simply ask around a lot more, and I'd encourage you to look at other schools like BPC, Redwood Day, or the Berkeley School, too.

    Our child is a new 6th grader at PS, and we are a moderate-income family (think: just barely into 6 figures for a family of 4; we are only able to send our child to PS because a grandparent is paying for it). Our child came to PS from a public school. You can take everything I'm saying with a grain of salt, because of the pandemic. But for what it's worth... I think PS walks the walk in terms of having racial/ethnic/gender diversity and very explicitly valuing that. I'm so impressed with how much time and effort they have spent on building community and building a culture where all individuals are valued. And I'm impressed with the way they've put a lot of effort into translating that into a mostly-online school year. Overall, we're very happy with the school and think it has a very healthy social/emotional culture. Our child loves it.

    In terms of socio-economic diversity... ehhh, that's a bit of a different story. I think there's just no escaping the fact that it's not a fully socioeconomically diverse school, nor can it be. My child is already quite aware that many of their classmates have had fabulous European vacations, live in houses much bigger than ours, etc. I haven't had too many opportunities to interact with the parent community, but so far my impression is that everyone is so very, very kind and welcoming. Truly lovely. And I have also witnessed a few moments that I would describe as tone deaf in terms of awareness that not everyone is swimming in the luxury pool, you know? But honestly, that same thing was a regular occurrence at my child's public elementary school (where there was a significant subset of very affluent families who often were in positions of leadership on the PTA, etc.) I think it's less a function of PS' parent culture and more just part of the reality of living in the Bay Area in 2021. While our child notices the differences in income between our family and some of their classmates, our child has definitely never felt unwelcome or like an outsider because of that. I think that's OK. And it has honestly led us into some really interesting conversations about status, privilege, class, and our own choice to be part of this community right now. So on balance, we feel like it's working for us.

    I definitely think our child is having a richer academic experience than their former classmates who are at our local public middle school (we are in touch with many of them). Some of this is due to the pandemic. PS has been able to adjust and be creative much more rapidly than the public school district has. All of last spring, while public schools were effectively doing nothing, PS was experimenting with online learning and figuring out what works and what doesn't. They continue to do that, and the result is that my child is having a very different experience from her public school peers. This is a freaking tragedy and mostly fills me with rage, but that's a post for another time. Good luck making your decision!

    We had a very difficult experience at Prospect Sierra.  Our child was racially profiled.  My child has dark hair and skin.  They went to PS only for 6th grade.  At no other school in her entire life had she ever not been seen as an incredibly bright and enthusiastic student and person.  As a matter of fact, at her public school, one of her teachers convinced us she should skip a grade, which she did.  At PS, we got an alarmed call home saying "your child has taken a bite of another child's cookie" (this was pre-pandemic).  I was asked to come pick her up.  Another call, "your daughter has sneezed very loudly and disturbed others" I was asked to come pick her up.  Only one teacher there acknowledged that she had any academic skills or high intellect.  The admin at PS even said to me, "skipping a grade in a public school does not mean much given the school population".  If you read that sentence again you will understand the true philosophy and values of PS.  The school went so far as to recommend "a full evaluation" of my daughter.  I am her Mom, I knew 100% they were wrong.  We took her out and she went to another private middle school and another highly regarded private high school.  She is now attending a top Ivy League College.  My child had never and has never experienced such intense racial profiling as at Prospect Sierra.  If you have a child of color please be very careful.

  • Can anyone share their experience of being in a "great" public school and then deciding to switch to private/independent school? What made you change your mind, especially if you initially moved *for* the public schools? Thanks for sharing.

    I haven't done this but many people I know have done this for a variety of reasons specific to their particular circumstances.  For all these examples I'm drawing from families who attended the public schools in Alameda, Piedmont or Albany:  One acquaintance moved her child, who was being bullied, because the school wasn't a good fit for her quirky personality.  A few years later she confidently enrolled her next child at that same public school b/c she "fit" there.  I know at least three families who sent their daughters to Julia Morgan for middle school, b/c the parents thought that single sex schooling improved the performance of female students in mathematics.  They all planned to enroll the girls at their public high schools after their middle school years.  Several families simply felt that their public school wasn't rigorous enough for their particular children.  During grade or middle school, Head Royce is a common destination, for high school, CPS.

    We moved our child after kindergarten from a "great" public school to a private school.  It was definitely a hard decision, financially speaking, especially as we, as it sounds you did, moved into the neighborhood for the school, and all of our neighbors sent their kids happily to that school, and if anything were sending their kids to private middle schools.  On the other hand, based on how he was doing at the school, it was kind of a no-brainer.  We never expected him to have trouble, as he had always made friends easily and adjusted beautifully to new situations.  And his teacher was really as wonderful as everyone said.  But he was miserable almost from the start, and was doing weird things (for him), like playing exclusively with girls (even though there were plenty of boys in his class, some of whom he is now friends with, that he would befriend under other circumstances) and crying whenever I had to leave after volunteering.  There were also behavioral challenges that suggested low self-esteem.  It was clear that he did not want to/was not ready to do the hard work of learning to read and write and sit still for long stretches and listen quietly, as required of kindergarteners who are one of 20+ kids in a classroom with one teacher.  That being said, after we moved him to private school (EBI), he happily learned to read and write in two languages (why pay for private school if you can't at least get a second or third language out of it?).  I think the nature of public education did not work for him as a little kid; too many worksheets and independent activities, not enough collaborative learning opportunities or recess or ways to really engage in the things he wanted to learn about.  In the end, we rationalized we would give him a good foundation so that he learned to love learning and had a chance to figure out who he is and what he stands for before entering middle school, where I expect him to figure more things out for himself.  We also realized that things would get better for him at the public school, but then he would simply coast under the radar, which was problematic in its own way.  This is a super hard decision.  Good luck.  

    I discovered that "great" schools are not always great for all families.  I switched my son to private school for middle and high school and things have worked out including having less savings than I would have...

     It depends on who your child is and what you are looking for as a family.  There is no "great" school solution that will serve every student equally.  Seems to me, we want to find the best "fit" for our children and what works for us as well.  You may want to look into, how "great" is determined...test scores?  How many students get into Cal?  Diverse?  Arts focus?  Common Core aligned?   It depends what you are looking for.

    You definitely have many choices in the Bay Area. Figure out what YOU want for your family, then explore options based on your values.

    It definitely is an adventure and constantly changing given public policy.

    My son completed kindergarten at a highly-rated public elementary school in SF, which went fairly smoothly. It had a strong parent community, long-term teaching staff and a focus on social-emotional curriculum and differentiating the needs of students. Our son, who can feel anxiety in new situations, did well with teacher who honed in on the needs of each student and a couple of friends to rely on for support. 

    We then moved to the East Bay and my son was placed for first grade at another high-performing school. He was there from September to February and never settled in. Some factors were beyond the control of the school and us as parents, such as the fact that he was coming into the school with no prior social connections. However, we never got over the feeling of being “late to the party.” Without many opportunities to meet parents or regular activities supported by the PTA, it was difficult for us to help our son get over a feeling of unease and exclusion. Academically, the school focused on a lot of homework and frequent quizzing to accelerate and track student progress. The pressure to produce caused our otherwise curious and creative son to “freeze up” in the classroom around what to write or what to do. While he had no problem understanding the homework, he came to resent and fight against the repetition and volume of it. We saw our son losing his love of learning. Five months into the school year, he was too anxious some days to go into the classroom. His teacher was too overburdened with other students’ needs to help us manage the situation, and that’s when we switched to a private school option.

    We moved our son to a small progressive private elementary school (Aurora School), and found that the school fit his needs amazingly well from the start and put him back on the track of feeling productive and successful academically, socially and emotionally. He completed the school year in a K/1 mixed grade classroom with two teachers available to support his needs. What the school offered was exactly what we had been missing: an emphasis on having kids feel safe, supported, able to recognize and react productively to their own state of mind. In tuning into his own needs, we saw our son again be able to trust and be proud of his strengths in learning and being with others. From this solid place, we see that so much is able to happen for students at his school. They learn not just how to be successful academically but why and how to seek information and apply it to the world around them, and how to work with and rely on each other (both as learners and mentors) to further this understanding. The school also has a wonderful and dedicated community of staff and parents who work closely together and have an enormous amount of mutual respect and friendship. It’s been a wonderful way for our whole family to find a home base and community in a new city. Our son now loves going to school and all school-related functions, and has friends and advocates across many grades, each year strengthening this network. 

    I know of so many great families who have connected in wonderful ways with their public schools, and I don’t discount any of their experiences. I speak only for our family when I say we couldn’t be happier to have discovered our private school situation.

    We bought our house so that our kids could attend Berkeley's great public schools.  All three children thrived at Washington Elementary.  The two oldest (who are twins) are now at Black Pine Circle, a fabulous private school; my youngest is in fifth grade at Washington.

    Our decision to move schools was not  a reflection on the public schools.   Our decision was based on our childrens' needs and skills.  Our twins thrive when teachers' set high standards and closely watch his work.  One of them is  a budding "efficiency expert' and does not do any unnecessary work.  My husband and I want him to attend a middle school where teachers  frequently challenge him to do his best.  Black Pine Circle (BPC) has that environment . It's a small middle school where academic teachers push students to philosophical questions and hands-on science projects.  There's lots of talk at BPC about the "growth mindset" and being a "school of thought." 

    For us, sixth grade was a natural time to look at all of the schools in the community.  The kids would be moving to a new school and leaving some of their friends .  My husband and I also had different goals for middle school than for elementary school.  In our minds, elementary school is about understanding democratic values, making friends and learning academic skills.  Middle is about all of those things plus discovering your talents and learning the value of hard work.

    Our kids will likely attend Berkeley High.  Like all the other Berkeley public schools, its fabulous.

    We have two children, aged 11 in 6thgrade and 9 in 3rdgrade, and we moved them both from a “great” public school in Oakland to St Pauls, a private school located right off Lake Merritt.  Honestly, we felt very lucky, that both were good options for our kids.  The public school has a fantastic community, very involved parents, and – in general – a solid education.  However, we are very pleased with our move for the following reasons:

    1. Values. St Paul’s infuses its values both proactively and reactively in every part of its education, from chapel on Friday mornings to expected class behaviors to responses to behavioral issues. We feel much more of a partnership with our new school in raising our children with the values that we want to instill, where in our public school we felt more on our own.
    2. Consistency in teaching.  Our public school has some teachers who are excellent; however, it also has some teachers that are surprisingly poor.  It proved very difficult to move teachers or switch classes, while – so far – we have found consistently good teachers at our new school.  
    3. Individual passion.  We found that our kids were well served at the public school for basic skills and knowledge.  In our new school, we have found that both are kids are exploring their own passions, often in new areas.  The teacher-student ratios and the focus of the teachers have 
    4. Study skills. We have found – especially for our 6thgrader --  that she has a completely new approach to homework and study skills, and we thank our partnership with our new school.  

    Good luck with your choice…I know it’s a difficult one!

  • Moving from BUSD to private middle school

    (10 replies)

    Our family has been happy with the BUSD for elementary school.  As our child is approaching middle school, we are feeling less than enthused.  The complete absence of accelerated classes in the public middle schools combined with larger class sizes are prompting a look at local private schools.  We certainly intend to go to the various admission events but at this point I would appreciate any feedback from parents whose children made the transition, particularly from a BUSD school to The Berkeley School, Black Pine Circle or Prospect Sierra.  Was your child one of the few new students transferring into 6th grade?  Was it hard for him/her to make friends?  
    Please no comments critical of a decision to move to private school.  We are huge public school advocates but want to explore all options for our child.

    Black Pine Circle is very small. Prospect Sierra has an influx of kids I think about 6th grade. 

    they expand from 2 classes at each grade level to 3. Reasonable school, ends at 8th grade.

    Tres expensive and remember their tuition will increase annually. 

    good luck.

    Hi there,

    we did exactly as you are doing.  Our two younger kids moved from BUSD to Black Pine Circle for middle school.  They had a wonderful experience there ....socially and academically.  It was small but had plenty of opportunity to make friends.  My younger is now a senior at BHS.  Both girls transferred back into BUSD for high school.   Here is something they each said to me going back into the public system for high school :  The found  it more difficult in HS socially as many of the peer groups/friend groups get solidified in middle school.  They made friends n high school but they mostly hung out with other private school kids entering into the public system.  My older daughter told me she regretted going to private school for those years even though we though it would serve her better that staying in BUSD.  I dont know if we did the right thing.  It certainly was not something we thought bout or considered when we were making that decision.  We thought since she continued with soccer and other outside activities that connected her with her public school peers, she would have those relationships already in place.  We were not exactly correct in that.  


    We were in the same boat (and looked at the above schools) when we decided to transfer from WCCUSD to the Berkeley School last year for 6th grade. We too had been committed to public education but increasingly saw my son checking out/not feeling stimulated/doing the bare minimum and were concerned about the trajectory that would take once he moved into a bigger middle school during a tricky time of life and could likely slip through the cracks. I wasn't sure whether, as a 6th grade newbie it would feel like he was entering a well-established social and school system but the Berkeley School staff, kids and community have been so inclusive, welcoming and kind from the beginning that my son never experienced any transition issues. I think the school is very conscientious and does a great job teaching and living its values and as a result, newcomers seem to integrate pretty well. The class size has been good too: We were hoping for something not too small and not too big to ease the transition. It seems like the middle school has drawn a lot more new students this year so I definitely would not be concerned about your child being the "only" new kid. TBS also matches up new families with current families so that new students at least have one familiar face when school starts. I have been beyond impressed by how welcoming this community has been towards my family. We actually just moved our (very anxious) 3rd grader there this year and have had the same positive transition experience. TBS has made both of my kids feel excited about learning again and it really is such a nice, no-drama community of good kids and grownups. This was definitely one of the best decisions we've made. My sense is that because these schools see an influx of kids for middle school, they are all probably pretty good at helping incoming 6th graders integrate so it's more a question of finding a school that feels like a good fit for your child and family. Good luck!

    My son moved from Malcolm X (six years of being very happy there) to Prospect Sierra  for sixth grade last year and it has been fantastic. The school does a great job of integrating the new kids and there (they bring in roughly 25 new kids, so it is not a tiny number) and the "old" kids seem to be thrilled to have a fresh group of friends.  My son, who did NOT want to go to private school and desperately wanted to follow his friends to Willard, has been very happy at Prospect and it has been a great experience for him. 

    I am happy to talk to you about our experience there if you'd like.  Please feel free to contact me via my BPN user name.


    Black Pine Circle expands from an enrollment of ~20 (in 5th grade) to an enrollment of ~60 (in 6th grade.)  So 2/3 of the 6th grade class is new to the school.  The newcomers integrate well with the students coming from 5th grade, energizing and tripling the class size. It's a great school!

    Consider expanding your reach to include school's in Oakland. If the diversity you see in the Bay Area is critical, consider St. Paul's in Oakland. It's a K-8 independent school near Lake Merritt. 

    You might in your considerations give thought to the importance (or lack thereof) of academic acceleration in middle school. These years are so much about social development, and where it feels happy counts for a lot. Not sure if you have older children, but as the parents of highly-academically successful kids, our experience was that what happens in middle school is not going to make or break your child's academic trajectory. Our oldest child did the private route and our youngest went to King. King was by far a more rich learning experience overall and there are consistently wonderful teachers there. Overall, King was the happiest school experience either of our children had at any level. All the BHS middle schools do a great job of making 6th grade still feel safe and "small". So, not judging or critical of your process - just suggesting that if you are "huge public school advocates", to be open to the possibility they do serve your needs for these years.

    My daughter moved from BUSD to Prospect Sierra this year. There was a large cohort of other kids (I think about 1/4- 1/3 of the class) who entered at same time, from a variety of places (Berk and Oakland public schools, other private schools).  There are now 4 6th grade classes, about 18 kids each. The school does a wonderful job of making the new kids (and families) feel welcome. There is a 3 day orientation just for the new students before the school year officially starts, where they become acquainted with each other and the culture of the school. She has become friendly with many kids, though only actually considers herself real friends with one other girl, who also started this year (that reflects more my daughter's introverted nature though than the school-- the school creates a variety of groupings which help the kids to get to know each other and feel supported). I think overall it has been a really good move for her, though maybe she would have thrived at King middle school as well. Hard to know. Overall though, she definitely seems happier and I am pleased with what she is learning and doing. She loves that art and drama and language are all part of the regular curriculum (not electives), as she loves all of these subjects and doesn't want to choose one!

    I decided to move my daughter to private school for reasons somewhat similar to yours-- I wanted her to have more academic challenges/opportunities and she is also a kid who needs more individualized attention. She really needs to feel that her teachers see her and get her in order to thrive. She was also very sensitive to any disruptions in the classroom, which were unfortunately frequent in her elementary school career. I say all this because I have another child, now at Berkeley High, who did great in BUSD elem and middle school, learning a lot and really enjoying himself all the way through. And he loves Berkeley High too!  It was really hard for me to get my head around considering private school for my second child, because my first was so successful in public school. But so much depends on the child.  I anticipate my daughter will end up at Berkeley High for high school as well, but for now, she needed something different. 

    Good luck with your decision!

    Escuela Bilingüe Internacional is known for integrating new kids warmly. The school is open to all levels of Spanish learners. There are two tracks, one for the already bilingual students, and another track to learn Spanish. There are also many classes in English. Though Spanish fluency is important to me, the International Baccalaureate program is really the most astounding part of the school for its depth and support of deep learning. 

    Crestmont School is expanding to a K-8 starting with their first 6th grade class for the 2017-18 school year. Our daughter has attended since K and is now in 3rd grade there. We're super excited about the program and curriculum being developed. They are hosting an info session on Dec. 3. You can sign up to attend and learn more on their website. Hope to see you there!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Nov 2011

My son will most likely be attending a private high school (although we are looking at two charter high schools as well) next school year. He currently goes to a middle school in Berkeley and is zoned in for Berkeley High. However, we have decided not to send him -- he is not used to such a huge school (has always been in small schools) and thrives when he is in smaller class sizes. We are also concerned about the safety of students in Berkeley High, class sizes, academics, etc.

- Is there a way on making the public to private school transition easier for him? He knows he won't be attending BHS next year, and is not very happy with the idea, as he thinks he won't be able to talk or hang out with his friends anymore. Is there someway we can assure him that he'll still be able to spend time with them?

Thank you! -family switching from public to private

Your son will lose touch with old friends unless they are really close now. I think most kids make new friends in high school as they transition from being children to young adults and redefine themselves. Most kids make new friends going from middle to high school, don't they? Quite simply, he most likely won't have time for his new friends and to hang with his old friends. And his new friends likely won't want to hang out with his old friends. Also, my limited experience is that a lot of public school kids resent/don't like the private school kids. You make choices, you live with the consequences. BHS Grad and Dad

My sons' transition into a private high school was made easier by participation with sports teams. The sports at his school encourage participation and many of the teams have summer leagues or other activities where incoming freshman are welcome. You can contact coaches directly by email. Ellen


How hard to move a 3rd grader to private school?

Sept 2008

We have two boys, one of whom is in second grade at Thousand Oaks and one who will start kindergarten next year. Our sons kindergarten year was great at Thousand Oaks, but about 1/2 way through last year, we started feeling dissatisfied with our sons experience at Thousand Oaks (academically, socially, multiple reasons). We are considering sending our second son to a private school (Prospect Sierra, if possible)and also transfering our older son to this school as well at the start of next year (3rd grade). I am curious what other parent's experience has been in terms of how easy it is to transfer into private schools if you wait until the 3rd or 4th grade- both how your childs experience is and how easy it was to be accepted as a transfer into the private school of your choice? Thanks, -Anon

The answer is that it depends. If you son is trying to get into a certain grade, it will depend on whether that grade is fully enrolled at that school, and whether there are openings because of current students moving or changing schools. The school will also look at your child and how he will fit into that particular class of kids (i.e., is he a quiet, bookish boy who would nicely balance out a class that has an abundance of very active kids? Race, gender and other diversity factors also make a difference at some schools.) It will also depend on whether you are seeking tuition assistance and if the school's budget will allow it to support another student on TA. Don't take it personally if you child doesn't get in. Sometimes you have to persist for a few years before there is a spot available. You should probably not set your hopes on one school being able to accommodate both of your boys, and look at a number of options.

As for the adjustment issue, I transferred my son from Berkeley public to a private school when he was in 3rd grade. He wasn't very happy about moving schools at the time because he liked his school. But even though it was hard to do, I think it was the right decision because the private school was better able to serve him academically. He eventually adjusted, and I was also glad that since the school is K-8, he didn't have to make another switch at middle school. These are hard choices to make. Good luck. anon

I can't speak directly to Prospect Sierra but my son attends a private school that has a somewhat similar admissions profile, I think, and each year there are a few students who transfer in at the lower grades from other schools, both public and private. There is attrition from people leaving due to family moves, or other reasons. Each year from first grade onward there have been a couple of ''new kids'' and it is amazing how even in a close school community how quickly the newness wears off and they fit right in! At our school the admissions director would happily put you in touch with a family new to the school so you could chat directly about your concerns and their experiences. If you would like to email me off list ask the moderator for my contact info. Good luck!


Changing from public to private for 6th grade

April 2007

I would like to have the opinion of parents who opted to transfer their child from public to private schools and vice versa. Any regret or, at the contrary, satisfaction ? I am considering to have my child start 6th grade in a private school next year after he was in a elementary public school in Berkeley, but I am still hesitating. Thanks for any relevant experience in this matter.

We are about to make the switch from years and years of private schools (in different parts of the country due to moves) to public. Two pieces of advice I can offer from all my experience is that 1)- you don't necessarily get what you pay for as my expectations were high and I always found that accountability was negligible in terms of the administration caring whether you were a satisfied customer or not. 2)- it's all about the teachers. So, I would try as hard as possible to meet the teachers and talk to them at length. Also, curriculum is all over the map in private school. We never felt like there was enough coverage of the basics in private school. anon


Making Transition from Public to Private School

March 2007

My daughter is currently enrolled in a public school but will be switching to a private school next year. She's not making this change at a standard entry year, such as kindergarten or middle school. What kind of transitional issues should I be aware of, and what questions should I ask of her new school before she begins in September? I'd love to hear from other parents who have transitioned from public to private about their experiences and any suggestions they may have about making this a smooth change. What do you wish you had known, and how do you suggest I prepare? We're very excited to be joining this new school and want to do what we can to have a wonderful experience from the start. Thanks, parents! anon

I would say that you should be optimistic, but also realistic: every school has its plusses and minuses, and you may be very happy with most aspects of the new school, while still finding yourself missing aspects of the old school. We changed to a private school for 5th grade after K-4 in public school. We had had some problems at public school that the private school did solve, but the private school had some problems that we did not anticipate. On the plus side, the atmosphere was calmer and less chaotic, class size was smaller, and my child seemed more content at first. He had no problems making new friends. He had attended the new school's summer session before he started so it was familiar by September. On the minus side, the school had taught a foreign language since kindergarten and my child had never had a foreign language. The new school made no provision for him to catch up - we were on our own! Rules about behavior and dress at the new school were much, much stricter, something I had not expected. The academics at the new school were much more demanding than in public school - homework took 5 or more hours a night. We knew there would be more work, but we were unprepared for how much more. Other kids who'd been at the school since K were used to the work and had made changes years before to accommodate it. A big surprise for me was that there was little flexibility in teaching style or in teacher's expectations - every kid needed to function at the same level, different from public school. Finally, the insular environment that we had actually sought out in this private school, proved too stifling for my kid. We fully expected to have a wonderful experience at the school, and we did for the first few weeks, but after the initial honeymoon period, the minuses began to outweigh the plusses and we returned to public school the next year. The school was simply a bad fit for my child. So, just be aware that you may not like EVERYthing, but hopefully the plusses will outweigh the minuses! Mixed results

I am happy to say we had a very smooth transition from public to private school this past year. Our two daughters began third grade and fifth grade at a private school this year after attending public school since kindergarten. We also enrolled our kindergartner. We have been very happy with the smaller class sizes and higher teacher to student ratios. The homework takes the same amount of time as at the public school, but the difference is our daughters know what they is doing and can work independently. The homework assignments are also interesting and meaningful. We are happy there is no homework in kindergarten, unlike the public school. Our kids are all very excited and happy about school now. The school did a wonderful job supporting us in making the transition. The teachers looked at each child's individual needs and brought in the resource specialists right away in areas where they needed to bridge a gap. The teachers were always approachable and available through email to answer our questions. They had useful suggestions on how we could help at home. The best surprise in our move was the very welcoming and friendly school community. The students are taught beginning in kindergarten the value of community and working with others. The school creates buddy pairs and families made up of teachers and students from each grade level to promote students getting to know others throughout the school. Our children cherish this special time for buddy and family activities at school. In this environment, the students in third and fifth grade were very open and welcoming to us. The girls quickly made new friends and felt part of the class. As you prepare for your transition, I recommend getting involved as a family in your new school community by attending school events and getting together with families at the school. Still make it a priority to maintain your child\x92s friendships from the public school. Also, partner with your child's teacher to ensure everyone is doing what is needed to support your student to make a successful transition. Good luck!
Prospect Sierra Parent


Switching to private school after kindergarten

Jan 2007

We are considering switching our daughter to a private school after this year (she is currently in Kindergarten). We did open enrollment and she is in a decent public school in North Oakland. While this school has good arts and music programs, we are concerned about the overall quality of the curriculum- a lot of open-court, inability to differentiate instruction based on different learning levels, homework at Kindergarten (lots of it), too many worksheets,a focus on teaching to the test, an emphasis on extrinsic rewards for learning and a shift in our daughter's attitude towards school and learning. Our child has always been a very intellectually curious person and loved going to pre-school. She is complaining of being bored at school and she is starting to view school and homework as a chore. I've also noticed a shift in her attitude toward trying things she doesn't know how to do (if she can't get it perfect, she doesn't want to do it). I've read the previous postings on the network. This is my challenge, I fundamentally disagree with the curriculum and instructional philosophy being implemented at my daughter's school. While socially she is very happy there, I am concerned about this shift in attitude. Am I over-reacting? Should I just suck it up and be happy that we have a somewhat decent, free public school. Or, is dissasisfaction with the educational philosophy (i.e. open court, worksheets, extrinsic rewards) enough reason to go private? I am particularly interested in hearing from parents who have done this shift from public to private. Thanks. Anon

For what its worth, here is my own experience: We also strongly considered switching our son to private school after kindergarten because he was not excited about going, and often when I asked him about the activities at school he said they were ''boring''. We decided to wait it out - now he is in first grade, and he is much happier. I think the main differences are that now he goes for a full day, not just a three hour kindergarten, so he has recess and lunch periods to play with the other kids and make friends. He also gets to do the art, music, and PE programs (kindergarten doesn't get those). Another thing that helps is that his first grade teacher allows a lot of independent activities and choices, which is great for my son's personality, whereas in kindergarten almost everything was done in groups. So we are going to stick with public for now, as it seems to be working out. Just my 2 cents

I started my son in a private school, but thought I'd reply because I shared a number of your concerns last year. To start, I want to tell you some of the best advice I got about elemntary school as a whole: while looking at schools, both public and private, I told a friend with older kids that I just wanted to find an elementary school I loved as much as I loved my son's preschool. ''Oh, you won't,'' my friend told me bluntly. ''Both you and your child engage in preschool in a different way than you will in elementary school.'' I find that to be true. But I also think you can like your kid's elementary school a whole lot, and feel that he or she is in the right place.

Your post sounds like you think your daughter's school might not be the best for either of you. The things you mentioned as concerns are real and valid, and I don't think you'll feel settled until you look at and weigh the options.

In a private school, chances are your daughter will get an education that is not ''teaching to the test,'' and not workbook based (however, there are some elementary schools that use the Open Court workbooks). Teachers have different requirements at a private school, and often few kids per class, or more help in the classroom. That means that the kids tend to get more individual attention. Also, most private schools know a lot about learning differences, and even if schools don't have learning specialists on staff, teachers are often given the resources to work on more individual plans with kids.

However, all this comes at a cost. Tuition is a fact of private schools, and even with financial aid it's not easy. Be aware, also, that tuition is just the biggest part of the cost, there's also volunteer hours, annual giving, fundraising, field trips, t-shirts, gifts for teachers, etc.

Some people say that they can understand paying for part of their kids' education, but not all of it. Often people think middle school or high school is more important than grade school. I think that the first years of learning set up a pattern for later years. Disengagement in kindergarten is a big red flag for me. Yes, kindergarten is different and often harder than preschool. My son feels it too. But he has never said he felt bored. I believe that the good habits and attitudes and the love of learning he is developing now will last his whole life time. You are going to have to weigh your dissatisfaction with public school and the costs of private school. But before you even start looking at private schools, decide if you can afford it. If you have more than one child, decide if you can afford to send them all to private school. If you can't, try to somehow make your daughter's experience in her current school better. Because you might find it really hard to look private school and then turn away. berkeley parent

I think the issue is not only your disagreement with the philosophy/curriculum of her school, it is also that she is already looking at school (the learning aspect at least) in a negative way in Kindergarden! I agree with your concerns about her school and think you are right to consider private school. As a product of public schools it saddens me to see them turn someone who was intellectually curious and make them dislike school. (Not to put all the blame on the individual schools, there are many great teachers and administrators, but with No Child Left Behind, they have huge pressures on them leading to messed up education.) We feared what you describe when we were looking for schools for our child and decided on private school. We and our kid have been very happy with our choice (Aurora). There is a wide variety of private schools in the East Bay. I encourage you to check them out. Happy Mom Happy Kid

I feel for you sister! I don't have an answer but I feel somewhat in the same boat--mostly about the homework (although we can't afford private school at this time, so it is more about how to adjust). Have you actually been in the classroom? What I have seen in our school, in K anyway: the teacher is extremely creative with open court, and supplements it with more interesting ''writer's workshop'' type activities. Her approach to the curriculum makes sense to me--she seems to have a range of different type activities, some pretty basic (and some of which my daughter needs) and some more creative, higher level (also some of which my daughter needs). Yeah, it is HARD to get on board with the worksheets, but I try to look at the big picture which is: for some kids this really is all they get, they are not coming from literacy rich environments, and skill drills are probably helpful. (and frankly, the homework is the similar to the crap I had in elementary school and at times I loved it, when I didnt I survived!) Also, in the big picture: my daughter gets tons of informal and formal ''enrichment'' by being a child of liberal, middle class parents who care (desperately?) about her education. Also, having taken the PSAT, SAT, GRE, LSAT, gone to law school, and taken the cal bar etc--I have had to do plenty of ''studying for the test'' so it is not the worst skill to acquire, along with an earnest love of learning! Making the best of a good school in the OUSD

You and your daughter, like many others, have be subjected to the trials and troubles of the American public school system. It is not in a good state right now. I would not consider a school that is robbing your daughter of her love of learning decent. If you can find a private school that fits her better, and can afford it, I would do it. She spends at least half her waking hours in school, and it should be a place where she can explore, discover, and learn. If she is not getting that at her currant school, I would suggest a move as soon as possible, before it further infringes upon her life. I'm sorry if I'm sonding a little melodramatic, but few people realize what the 'teaching to a test' school system can do to kids, and it really worries me. If you can, I would get your daughter out of there. Mark

You are absolutely not overreacting. I have the same set of concerns that you have. My son, who loved his play-based preschool, and has loved learning of all kinds, hates Kindergarten (also at one of the ''good'' Oakland schools) and has told me so many times. He refuses to even attempt to read or write most of the time, and gets angry if I suggest it. I also am strongly considering a shift to private school. What OUSD is doing is wrong, and there is plenty of research to back me up in suggesting this. And there is plenty of research, too, showing that child's attitude toward learning is of vital importance. Karen

I don't have any advice for you about whether you should change to private school or stay in public school, but if you do decide to change, I can tell you this: most private schools will have very few or no openings at the first grade level. If you do find a private school that has a lot of openings, you should take a good look at it, because there might be a reason why, and that reason might mean that your current school is a better option for now. I changed my child from public to private in fourth grade, and the only school that I could get him in to turned out to be really dreadful, and he was back into the public school the next year. Hate to be all doom and gloom, but this is a real possibility of enrolling in private schools outside of the usual entry points. There are exceptions of course, but they are rare. a mom

I wanted to respond to one of the previous posts to this question. It was stated that it's hard to switch to private schools outside of a couple of key years when there's a lot of transition or when they open the grades up to taking more kids (typically 6th or 9th grade). My kids are in private school and I have noticed that there is a lot of movement after Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades and quite a few spots open up in each grade. Usually this is because families have faced the huge expense that is private school and they decide to switch to public. Fee increases hit about this time of year for the coming year and many families are looking at putting their 2nd or 3rd child into school and realize that it's just not financially feasible to stay in private schools. It's my theory that soon our private schools are going to be populated by mainly single children as multi-child families simply won't be able to pay the fees.

So don't be discouraged, there are places available in the private schools and it's not because there's something wrong with the school.


When to switch from public to private school

Nov 2003

Hi - a general question, while considering switching from Berkeley Public schools to a private school setting. Are the possibilities for entering private school just K, and then 6 (middle school)? Or, have parents had success in applying in some intermediate grades: 3rd, 4th. If you were advising someone considering the public - private switch, would you suggest waiting until 6th grade so the ''break'' is clean? Or do you think kids can successfully transition at 3rd or 4th. Any thoughts, advice, experiences, opinions, etc. on switching from public to private are welcome! Thanks. Berkeley parent

In response to the question of when to change schools from public to private, I don't think it matters much at all. I had one son change at 6th grade, another at 2nd, seen childen come into the class at 3rd, 4th, 5th 7th, 8th... The real answer is one should put the child in the school that is appropriate at that moment, and not wait. The only reason to wait is if one is forced to because the school of choice has no space. Don't Wait

We moved our daughter from a Berkeley public school to private school at 3rd grade. She has done great. Some of it may be the school, Berkeley Montessori, which stresses non-clique type social interactions so she made friends very quickly. Also, the change in learning environment was so welcomed by her that we have had nothing but a positive experience. We also made sure to maintain one strong friendship from public school which may have helped in the transition. Good luck. Alice

Considering leaving public elementary school

Dec 1999

I am seeking advice about switching my two children to a private school. They currently attend early grades in a local public school. I would like to hear from other parents who have tried to do this. Have you been successful? What did you do? Did you apply when families typically apply for kindergarten?

We have been very happy with the teaching in our local elementary school but have grown increasingly frustrated with the behaviors tolerated outside the class room (especially on the playground), as well as with the heartbreaking set of problems that interfere with learning on the part of many of our children's classmates.

While we know of a few cases where families have successfully made the switch to private schools, the general opinion out there seems to be that if parents don't opt for private schools at the kindergarten level, its impossible to get into private schools later. We hope that this isn't true but need to know if this has been the experience of other parents.

Thanks for any information and/or helpful advice.

From our experience at Windrush School in El Cerrito, children coming in to the school after kindergarten are welcomed and do not have problems with the transition. Now is the time to be investigating and applying to schools, although I don't think they will know about openings until they get the contracts signed from returning students. There are often a few openings even in mid-year for various grades at the private schools, for instance I know there are 2 openings for 2nd grade girls at Windrush. My experience is that there are a handful of new students each year coming from either public school or other private schools, and the kids who have been there welcome the new children (in a small school, new friends are very exciting). Private schools do experience some turnover, from people who move, decide they can no longer afford it, decide to give the public schools a try, decide the school's philosophy is not for them, etc. I would recommend investigating the schools you are interested in, take the tours and talk to the administrators, teachers and parents, find out which schools have openings now, and then apply. If you want more information on Windrush, feel free to contact me.

We moved our daughter from public to private school this year for fourth grade, in part for the reasons you described (behavioral, etc.) and in part because her mind was not being challenged enough in public school. The range of capabilities among students gets to be enormous ( in public school) by the time they reach fourth grade. There are always some openings at any school from year to year; Families move, educational tastes change, etc. We have been extremely happy with the transition. Our daughter has keenly felt the improvement, right from the beginning. The climate in the classroom and on the playground is drastically better, according to her. The level at which she has been challenged and asked to truly analyze and understand her academic subjects has been refreshing for her and for us. She actually appreciates having more homework, which is far more interesting than the little bit of homework she had last year in third grade at public school. The enrichment classes (science, music, technology, etc.) are a plus and she enjoys them a lot; but they were not the reason for the move. We moved her for the basics nd we are happy with the results.

One caveat, however, is that changing schools for any reason is difficult in fourth grade. Friends are left behind and although she still sees friends from the old school, this has been the most difficult area for her.