Albany vs. Berkeley Elementary Schools


I am a single mom with kids in 1st and 3rd grades, considering either the Albany or Berkeley elementary school district. We are moving from Chicago and my understanding of the Bay Area school options is limited to the internet.  Any guidance is appreciated. Which schools do you like and why? Which schools offer better after-school options? What do I need to pay attention to when looking for housing in those areas? Is air conditioning really that unnecessary? What are some after-school activities providers you can recommend in either location (or beyond)?

Thank you in advance!

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The archives here have lots of depth, but in short, BUSD is a much bigger district, with more resources as well as more "under-resourced" in some areas. With kids so young, you may not know what their interests are going to be or what challenges they may have in school as yet. AUSD is much smaller, outsources much special ed service, the elementary schools seem very tight communities and social groups form in elementary and seem to last through high school. Both AHS and BHS seem to offer lots of scope for advanced learning; BHS is just a way bigger high school with whatever good and "bad" that entails. The rental market is much looser than ever, especially in Albany; I'd say rent a nice 2 bedroom apartment in Albany within walking distance of Memorial Park and you'll be happy with grade schoolers.

I am a parent of two kids in BUSD. Berkeley schools are divided into zones depending on where you live in the city. Within each zone, you rank your choice of the elementary schools located within that zone (it's around 4) and then it's a lottery where the district places your child. We got our first choice, but not everyone does. The elementary schools are all really good. The three middle schools are a bit more unequal and there's only one enormous high school. I can't speak to Albany, but it isn't nearly as big and isn't as diverse. I think you will probably be outraged by the rent in these areas, compared to Chicago. And no, you don't need AC. No one has it. I grew up here, but I would do a lot more research before actually relocating. You will probably find that the cost of living here is just completely outrageous and the homeless situation is dire. 

Both cities are great options and you can't go wrong with either option.  Albany is a smaller city and thus a smaller school district but still has tons of resources.  There are maybe 10 days a year in which you need AC so if you want to splurge you can go with a window unit but most people just get some fans.  As far as housing, I'd avoid housing near where the subway(BART) is above ground due to noise.  Also if you live in west berkeley/albany there are train horns that can be quite loud.  As far as which school offers better after school options, you'll have to dive deeper into what you mean by "better."

Haha, yes, air conditioning really is unnecessary in both Albany and Berkeley. We have a very limited temperature range year-round in the Bay Area, and especially in those cities right on the Bay. Summers are pretty cool, with daytime highs generally in the low 70’s and fog at night with lows in the low 60’s. Even when we get a heat wave our proximity to the bay means it cools significantly at night, and we never get humidity and heat together. Our family has one portable air conditioner that we use at night during heat waves and we haven’t used it even once during 2021. 

Starting with the housing questions - air conditioning is not necessary and is uncommon. You don’t mention your budget, but that is important - Albany and Berkeley are very expensive. After that, the most important factor in my opinion is proximity to daily destinations - work and school. Don’t just look at miles, make sure travel times during peak hours are reasonable.

Regarding schools - I only have experience with Berkeley. All of the schools are fine for kids without extra needs. They’re more of a crap shoot if your kid has any issues. Elementary schools are assigned using a rank choice lottery system which you can read about online. The important thing here is that this means that your two kids aren’t guaranteed a spot at the same school. That said, even if they don’t end up in the same school, typically you can waitlist your kids at each other’s schools and you will eventually be able to move them to be together.

All schools offer an after school program - and this year they are all oversubscribed. No one I know of with multiple kids got spots for both kids in the after school program at their school. So everyone I know with multiple kids has made other arrangements. We like the City of Berkeley after school programs and recommend them.

I would push back a little on the AC issue. Though it used to be completely unnecessary, with the combination of global warning AND fire seasons every year for the foreseeable future, I now think it is going to become less out of the norm to have AC in the east bay. There will likely be days or weeks each year when you can't open windows because of smoke. If a heatwave hits, you'll want AC. A window unit is really hard to seal from the smoke. I agree it used to be unnecessary, and if we could always open windows I'd agree you could easily live without, but we live in a different world now where opening the windows won't always be an option.