Berkeley High School. Did we make a mistake?

My kid is enrolling as a freshman at Berkeley High.  He previously attended a small private school and I was initially very excited for him to have public school experience.  I like the idea of all kinds of kids in one place and happy about the diversity.  But then I tried to enroll him.  And seriously everything that could go wrong did.  Every step of the way the school did not do what they were supposed to do.  And now he has no schedule.  And apparently they haven't even hired his counselor yet?  Which is super scary because we are new and I don't want someone new as his counselor.  The school is terrible with providing information in a timely manner.  And it is so much stress.  I went to public school and I know not every school is this bad.  Can someone who is there now in post-Covid times tell me, should I rethink my options?  If they are this bad so far I can't imagine going through several years of this with multiple children.  I'm really getting cold feet.  

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Berkeley High can certainly be a bit unorganized and there are people who come and go. But one thing you’ll both learn is how to advocate and bypass the system haha. I would give it a chance. Your kid may love it! Lots of clubs and different people to get to know.

For your current issue, look at the website and email the assistant principal of the universal 9th grade. VPs can get this game done!

Welcome to BHS. Nothing is ever smooth with administration at this school. I have only ever found two administrators to be responsive (and we've been at BHS for 5 years). Counselors are a total revolving door there, so don't expect much from them. My son will be a junior and I believe he has already had three or four counselors. I actually don't even know who his counselor is right now. Classes for the first week are still being shuffled around. Things don't really get going until the 2nd or 3rd week, especially for freshmen. I wouldn't worry too much as I do believe it will get sorted. It is a good school, but it is enormous. There are pros and cons. My college aged daughter looks back at her time at BHS with fondness. It prepared her for the real world in many ways. 

As you can imagine with such a big school, and strong feelings about children’s education, there are many different opinions about Berkeley High. I’ll say this — we went through it and we wouldn’t do it again. The difficulties that you state are not unique and while there are many opportunities an incredible classes at Berkeley High, it can be a very stressful place administratively, for teachers, and for students. The children do develop a level of maturity and street smarts that children in smaller, suburban public schools may not, however, there may be a trade-off in terms of these types of challenges. There are also missed opportunities because of administrative challenges (students literally wait in long lines to try to get into classes, depending on one’s counselor, students repeatedly receive no response, even when trying to complete their college applications, etc). I also went through public schools, but my school didn’t have the budget, administrative and societal stressors that Berkeley High faces. On the other hand, Berkeley High kids can be some of the most mature when it comes to being inclusive, and challenging, systemic oppression, racism, etc. and if your child thrives, it won’t be because it was all handed to them but because they worked hard, stayed focused, overcame hurdles and took advantage of the opportunities in a relatively stressful school environment. It’s not for everyone.

I suspect you'll hear from both defenders and detractors of BHS here. What is the alternative? Either you stick it out at BHS or, if you can afford to continue private education, go that direction. FWIW my kid had an amazing HS experience at St. Mary's College High School - excellent communication, excellent counselors, excellent administration and teachers, everything we could have asked for. Just putting in a plug for SMCHS in case BHS does not work out for your family. Good luck!

There is a mix of good and bad at Berkeley High (my kid will be a senior there this Fall so I have three years of experience with it). Whether or not you should leave depends on what your priorities are. It's a very diverse school with a huge student population which means your kid will have nearly unlimited opportunities to mix with different kinds of students. There is also an enormous number of clubs and extra-curricular activities which makes it very easy for a kid trying to find his "people." There are a lot of AP classes and a great IB program if that is important to you.

I have not found the school to be disorganized or terrible at providing information. In fact, the amount of information they send nearly every single day about every little thing kind of drives me crazy. I'm sorry you've had a bad administrative experience so far but I wouldn't expect that to be the norm. As is true in all of BHS seemingly every class and teacher and administrator is dedicated to teaching social justice in every possible venue. This is great or not depending on your point of view.

The bad news is that if your kid is not very academically motivated it is easy to fall through the cracks. The school is huge, the classes are huge and the students (90% of them at least) are on their phones during every class every day.  There are great teachers here but they don't have the time or the inclination to push a kid to learn who is not motivated. 

The English classes, even the advanced ones, have been very disappointing. By the end of Junior year they have still not read more than three actual books. All of the lessons are just excerpts of books or essays. The science classes have been outstanding. Math classes are a mixed bag: some great, some terrible.

If you have the money and your kid is super academic I would advise you to stay away. College Prep or similar is a better choice. If he's an average kid who is okay at academics, reasonably motivated, and wants the big high school experience BHS will provide that.

We have one graduate and one incoming senior, and you have to roll with some punches but overall it's been good. It's not the curated private school experience - especially over the summer they're understaffed, and for new students there are a lot of unanswered questions - it's easier once you're in the system already. And once you see people like counselors in person they're knowledgeable and helpful. Freshman year has pretty few choices anyway, then once you're there working out the small school and future classes is easier. It works for most kids in Berkeley, so you're not alone!

Welcome to Berkeley high. Your experience  is not unusual to hear & tolerating the chaos is not for everyone. Your kid could learn resilience & self advocacy & executive functioning. If they’re already compromised in these areas- BHS might not be the right fit. Worked for my daughter/not for my son.

BHS has its share of challenges, but overall people are well-meaning and problems will get sorted out. Patience and calm are helpful. My kid, who also has the as-yet-unhired counselor, got put into two sections of the same class; within 24 hours of filling out the online form, the problem was solved. Socially, I think it’s really helpful for your kid to find a strong “home” within the large school— it could be the jazz program, dance, robotics, the cross-country or crew or mountain biking teams, etc— these will make a large place feel more welcoming. I believe there are advantages in learning to navigate a place like BHS, but of course only you and your kid can decide what’s best for them right now. Good luck.

We moved to Berkeley the summer before my kid’s Sophomore year, and the registration process was slow. He didn’t have a schedule until the day school started. But, everything worked out in the end and he has had a great two years there. I think once you are in the system, information is easier to access. Definitely subscribe to the BHS etree emails, they are really helpful. 

Take a breath, and think of this as practice for your student's experience when they enroll in a UC. Luckily the ninth grade schedule is pretty fixed, so there are only a couple of places where your child's schedule will be individualized. Be persistent, and friendly, as your student works out the schedule. My student went to BHS, from a Berkeley Middle School, so the scheduling was simpler. In the long run, the school provided good preparation for negotiating college, and they were accepted by a highly competitive college with minimal parental help along the way.

I'm so sorry this is your (and your son's) experience of starting high school! I wanted to share that both my kids have had really good experiences at Berkeley High. They both also came from small private schools (though they attended public elementary schools). There have been times when I've been frustrated with lack of information (though I've never gone through anything as bad as what you've had to.) The school has also been affected by the overall shortage in educators post-pandemic, so the lack of a counselor is unfortunately not surprising. But my younger son, who was a 9th grader last year, had a great freshman year. He liked his teachers a lot, as did I, and the U9 structure allowed him to really connect with some kids quickly. He's excited about 3 different clubs he's in, and like you alluded to, he's been a member of a very diverse student body which has been a really positive experience. My older son graduated last year and is heading to college. He too found clubs and activities that he really enjoyed, and was able to explore lots of divergent interests. He found Berkeley High very freeing socially after being at a small middle school, and I was impressed with the way he learned to take responsibility for his own path in high school. In my experience Berkeley High is very much worth giving a try, but I'm one parent of many.

OP Here.  Just a big thank you for all the responses.  Hearing a variety of perspectives and experiences helps.  We are on the other side now.  Many of the administrative issues have disappeared and my son is very pleased with his classes.  It is quite an eye opener as a Berkeley resident and taxpayer how poorly organized administration of this very important resource really is.  But I'm very relieved that once the kid is in there is a lot of good.