Anyone proactively pick BUSD over private school?

I am trying to decide on Berkeley kindergarten for my 4 year old. I'm a single mom (widow), and I personally am more familiar with private schools, as that's what I had growing up (in a different area). I'm intimidated by public schools - the lottery, common core (?), bigger size classes - and I don't know if I'll be able to be an active PTAer given that I have a demanding job and have to keep house and parent on my own. (I've already missed open house, the parent teacher conference, and kinder info night due to work/travel... and it's only October!)

That said, the public schools in NW Berkeley have such rave reviews, and the private schools, while good, seem to be more of a mixed bag - less ethnically and economically diverse, reports of bullying not being effectively handled, etc. My daughter is very outgoing, mixed race, a strong self-advocate, not easily intimidated or offended, so I wonder if BUSD might be the way to go for her, despite my uncertainty and unfamiliarity.

Did anyone proactively opt against private school in favor of BUSD? Why or why not, and can you share your experience? Thanks in advance!

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Yes, we went through a similar process when choosing public vs private in North Berkeley.  Specifically we are two working parents with demanding jobs which limited our ability to get involved but wanted a quality education for our child.  Part of our process was visiting the schools in our zone and getting a feel if the environment/parents/students/administrators was a good fit for our child at either public or private.  We liked Cragmont and Black Pine Circle when we applied, and got into both schools.  In the end we felt comfortable with our child at Cragmont and have been happy with the experience/teachers.  My oldest is now in 4th grade and my middle child is in 1st with my youngest starting Cragmont next year.  Another benefit was convenience, Cragmont is a short walk from our home which means we could schedule extra activities (music, language, etc) to supplement when we can.  Hope this is helpful, good luck.

My older child is still in preschool but I wanted to respond because I have been chewing on the same issue as you and I wanted to share how I've decided to proceed. I was raised in Berkeley and went to private school from third grade through high school. So I have a built-in bias toward private school. Despite this, we are planning to send our kids to BUSD schools. For one thing, I hear really good things about the district these days. All of the elementary schools seem good, and I have a hard time seeing the value proposition of private school compared to BUSD at the K-5 level. Secondly, I want my children to be educated in a diverse environment. I feel like the diversity of race, socioeconomic status, and culture in the BUSD will be of huge educational benefit to my children, and I hope our family will also be able to contribute in some way to the betterment of the community through their attendance. Finally, as a philosophical matter, I support public education and I want to act consistent with my principles. 

I'm also leaving open the possibility that if BUSD is truly inadequate at some point for one (or both) of my kids, we will consider private school of it's financially feasible at the time. But I want to start with the assumption that BUSD will be adequate, and that it may in fact be excellent, instead of starting with the assumption that it won't be good enough. 

Anyway, that's been my thought process and perhaps it will be helpful to you. Good luck!

In the past three years we have moved both our children from private to public schools in Berkeley - one in 6th grade to start middle school, and the second in 4th grade. We have been very happy with our decision. The private school had a lot to offer that we originally thought we wanted (small class sizes, hands-on learning opportunities, more individual attention for our children, more creative and engaging curriculum) but in the end we decided that the public schools were a better choice. The quality of learning at the private school was very uneven and largely dependent on the teacher any given year, which varied a lot. We were never clear on what standards they were teaching to or what our children's academic weaknesses or strengths were in comparison to a broader peer group. It also felt like our children were being too coddled and isolated in a homogeneous environment. At the public schools, the downsides are just as we anticipated - big classrooms, large differential in learning levels in each class, and behavior issues in the classroom that take up a lot of the teachers' time. But on balance, we are happier now primarily because of all that the public schools offer: the dedicated and creative teachers we have found almost universally; the resources available to all students - great libraries, gardening, music, access to computers, etc; a talented school staff with deep knowledge of child development and education practices; a diverse peer group for our children; a focus on emotional learning alongside academic learning; emphasis on social justice and equality as a fundamental principle in all classrooms; an involved parent community; an environment where I feel like all involved adults care about my whole child and do their very best to make sure they are getting the best education they can, within the natural limits of public schooling. Berkeley public schools are a treasure and we are lucky to have our kids there.

Hi I tutor twice a week at Jefferson elementary school on Sacramento St in Berkeley.The first grade class in which I tutor has 22 kids. Nice size. It is a fantastic school. Excellent teachers, well liked, well organized principal. A very diverse school with kids from upper middle class households as well as a few from a shelter. The kids are lively, motivated and eager to learn. Private schools are expensive. Their tuition may have you gulping now .... just wait....tuition goes up annually and never comes down. You don't have to be an active PTAer - just be sure the teacher and your child understands that you are very interested. Schedule make up appt if you miss (particularly) the parent-teacher conference and make sure your child knows you have done that. Save your money for your child's college fund. You will have money to buy books for your child's home library, go to the Lawrence Hall of Science and the SF Museum of Natural History on weekends and send your child to good camps in the summer. Recommend public school.

My spouse went to a very exclusive private boarding school for high school, and an even more exclusive private middle school; after public elementary school.  I went to all public.  Based on our combined experiences we decided on public school.  We decided (in addition to not being able/wanting to afford private school) that we can't help but be academic around our children- we've been reading to them since 6 months, and our older son who just started Kinder, we can't help but ask him about what words he sees on the cereal box (actually, he asks, we don't lay it on him), play counting games with him, and generally interact with him all the time we're with him.  So we know he'll get strong academic exposure at home.  What he can't get is economic diversity (our children are multi-ethnic).  And we think we're more likely to run into that in public school (tho' less and less so in Berkeley). We want him to know of people who've overcome problems that are different from ours; we want him to know that he's quite privileged socio-economically.  

So the way the lottery works is that about 70% of people get their first choice, and you can waitlist to get it if you don't first succeed.  BUSD is divided into zones, and students can go to any of the schools in their zone.  As far as I understand, school population is designed so that no school is worse or better off economically than any others.  E.g., Cragmont, up in the hills.  You'd think that'd be a rich white "hill" school, right?  It's actually among the less white schools, and has the same proportion of economically disadvantaged students as all other schools in Berkeley.  In some ways, schools are as strong as their parents are involved and have means.  As far as I can tell, Berkeley has merged socialism with wealth: all schools have the same socio-economic profile (meaning they all have similar levels of parental/PTA involvement and support); and bond measures seem always to pass to fund school programs like the arts and music.  In contrast, in SF, I have a friend whose PTA for their school in the Mission expects to raise $90K/year, whereas a Noe Valley raises $400K!

There is a kinder open house on a Sat. sometime in Dec. (Here's a link to more info: ) That's where I learned a lot more, met some PTA types, etc.  So far, we're very, very happy with our school.  In the end, I'm not sure that a private school will alleviate the challenges you have as a single parent with a demanding job.  Maybe? I've heard that a private school can help make sure your child doesn't get lost through the cracks, meaning you don't have to pay as much attention. 

The way you describe your daughter, sounds like she'd thrive in a public school in Berkeley.  Good luck!

I proactively choose BUSD. My oldest was quite ahead in reading etc, so I was a little worried she would be bored (she wasn't!), but I wanted her to be in an ethically diverse environment. I feel we as a family benefitted in so many ways from the ethnic diversity. Also, there were so many smart kids in her classes, and so many amazing teachers. (Private school teachers do not need any credentials the way public school teachers do).  Even if you are not Ms. Super PTA, public schools are fine, from what I can tell (I participated in minor ways as I am practically a single parent with a big job too).

Hello, Single parent here with a 12 and 15 yr old. We looked at many of the private schools early on and ended up opting for public school and have had overwhelmingly positive experiences. Our children have a diverse group of friends, have had some incredible teachers, and have never experienced any kind of bullying. Their schools have offered so much that they would not have the same access to in most private schools, such as incredible music / band opportunities. Most of our friends from the pre-school days chose private schools, and honestly our kids have all turned up pretty much the same, which puts all my years of fretting about it into perspective. I'll say too that it just gets even better in high school; my gifted son gets tons of academic and intellectual challenge while also having a very diverse social experience and having an incredible array of opportunities ranging from music to theatre to sports to photography...The public schools offer a wonderful diverse community for children, parents & staff that I wouldn't give up for anything. If you have an outgoing child she will do well no matter what. The only reason we have ever considered switching is because our daughter is very introverted and wants to focus on dance, but every time we have concluded that public school is the best option (BHS has an incredible dance program!). Best of luck!

One last thought: you can save your money and hire an au pair or mother's helper, if you don't have one already.  And house cleaner...

The other thing is that you'll be with other families who made a conscious choice to be in public schools. PM me with any more questions.