Private kindergarten, then BUSD? (turns 5 in July)

Our family is moving from SF to Berkeley, and we have a 4-year-old who will turn 5 in mid-July. At his current half-day preschool, the teachers’ perspective is that all kids with summer birthdays universally do better with an extra year of preschool, and after a fair amount of mulling it over without really knowing what was “right,” we opted not to place our son in the “pre-k” cohort this year, with the plan to do an extra year of preschool. Ultimately I think we lucked into making the right decision—his school is a co-op, and on my work days throughout this school year, I can see first hand how his fine and gross motor skills and his social confidence all will do well with an extra year to develop in a play-based environment. We’ve just in the last few weeks realized that Berkeley Unified doesn’t allow “redshirting” so we’re looking at private TK (he’s too old for public TK) followed by private kindergarten, after which we’re committed to sending him to public school as a first-grader in the fall of 2025.

We’re looking at the Berkeley School but it’s unclear yet whether there is TK availability, and at the JCC, which is starting what seems like will be a great TK program, but doesn’t have a kindergarten. I’ve only visited the kindergarten class at the Berkeley School briefly, and it seems fine, but we’re also a little overwhelmed by the process since we weren’t expecting to be choosing a kindergarten this year. My gut tells me that we should send our child to TK at JCC and then do a proper search for kindergartens next year.

Any phenomenal experiences doing TK + K at the Berkeley School? Or any private schools (either in Berkeley or reasonably close) that have particularly stellar kindergartens? It’s hard for me to know what I think my child needs in particular, apart from a program that will have him ready for first grade at a public school (as in, I am charmed by the idea of schools with alternative structures that allow more organic development of cognitive processes, but this is a kid who’s destined for the traditional metric-driven world of public schooling).

Any advice is appreciated!

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Be aware that BUSD's redshirting policy extends beyond kindergarten; if you do private TK and K in place of K/1st and then start him in BUSD, he will likely be placed where he is age-eligible, which in your case will be second grade, not first. You may be able to convince the enrollment office otherwise, but those we've know who've tried to bypass this with a year of private kindergarten have not succeeded. Maybe others who've managed it can share their strategies, though. (Other local districts, including Oakland and Albany, do allow redshirting, though, so you might look at doing a transfer into one of those districts instead.) With that in mind, you might want to choose a school for kinder that you'd consider staying at longer term if necessary.

I would suggest verifying with BUSD whether your child would be able to enter in first grade if you went through with your plan to do private TK and K. My understanding is that they won't allow this -- it's only if transferring in at grades 2nd or above that this would be possible. 

Hello and welcome to the Bay Area! I can only speak from my own experience but I went to Berkwood hedge when I was growing up (a liberal private school in Berkeley) and I loved, loved loved it! I made lifelong friends and found a real love for reading there that has lasted my lifetime. Would urge you to check them out!

We selected St. Paul’s as the perfect spot for our daughter to transition from a small, play-based preschool to an outstanding, supportive, thoughtfully planned kindergarten.  We elected to stay on longer than kindergarten, but I would have been very happy had we done one year only.  The teachers, staff, and programs at SPES are second to none.  I recommend checking out the kindergarten team.  Good luck with your search!

If you’re considering the JCC, you may want to look into OHDS. There’s a bus from berkeley most days. My son is there in K and we all love it. That said, the person who commented before is probably right; if you are committed to public after two years, you may just want to bite the bullet and go for K this year—it seems like in many districts in the Bay Area there are no workarounds. 

We haven’t done private K but based on what I’ve read, I’d be mindful of the fact that you could go down the private TK and K route and then have your kid placed in 2nd grade. The redshirting thing doesn’t go away as they get older, and based on your kids age they’d probably still be pushed to the standard grade. 

Thanks so much for all of these helpful responses! I've spoken to BUSD admissions twice to make sure that I have the policy straight, and here's what they told me on 4/26/23: Kindergarten is not considered mandatory, but first grade is. If we choose to go the private TK/K route and then enroll our kid in Berkeley public school after that, as long as we can clearly document in progress reports or in a letter from the school that he has done kindergarten only and not first grade, he will be enrolled in first grade in BUSD. The person in the admissions department said that the straight-to-grade-2-after-K thing happens when the private school doesn't have progress reports or other clear documentation that the kid has just been in kindergarten (for example, independent schools with blended grades or no written progress reports that document grade). I'll admit that this feels like a big leap of faith given what I've read on BPN, but after watching my kid sit through a private K admission assessment, it just felt so unequivocal that he's not ready for kindergarten.