High Schools in Oakland and Berkeley

Hi- My family is moving to the Oakland/Berkeley area and I'm researching high schools for my 15 year old daughter. She is going into the 10th grade.  We are coming from an affluent suburb community where my daughter doesn't really fit in. We're looking for an environment where differences are respected and valued, and there is a level of diversity. My daughter gets mostly B's and some A's in general classes. While she is interested in learning and wants to go to college, she isn't highly motivated academically and she isn't interested in rigorous or challenging coursework. We're huge supporters of public schools so would like to stay in the public system if possible. What are thoughts/opinions on Oakland Technical High School versus Berkeley High School, and being in one of the special academies versus general classes? We would be open to private options as well and could use any recommendations in that regard. Thank you for your insights!

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Hi there, you do need to know how to "navigate" it (it's a huge school, with a sometimes overwhelming array of choices, and it's also no longer "your" decision about things), but MANY students come back to public schools after K-8 private to attend BHS. It's almost guaranteed that your child will find classes & activities that are a good fit; of course, just growing up means finding out that you don't always get (everything) you want, so that lesson is there too. The diversity, the quality of education (again not 100% of classes/teachers), the variety of options, all make for the potential for wonderful HS experience. (You do know that it's not at all unusual for families to actually lie and cheat to get their kids into BHS, right?)   If you live in Oakland, BHS is not a choice unless you are among those who are willing to lie/cheat. 

If in Oakland and Tech is a choice, I've heard really great things about SOME parts of Tech; heard of much more difficulty there too, but again, we're a Berkeley family not an Oakland family. Pretty sure this is still true but ONE of the reasons Berkeley home prices have always been higher than Oakland is due you the school system. If you can afford private, that comparison is off the table of course big you're committed to public, Berkeley has traditionally been the far better choice.  Best of luck in your decisions! (And if you're not in a home yet, the crazy crazy housing market could potentially dictate where you end up!)

This is regarding Berkeley High School (BHS), which would only be an option for you if you live in Berkeley. There are 5 learning communities (AKA "small schools") within the larger school entity. You can find more information about those small schools n the BHS website or on BPN. Once you're registered in the Berkeley School District, your student will choose, through a lottery system, which learning community they want to join. Since you'll be entering late, she'll likely be assigned to Academic Choice or Berkeley International High School, the two biggest learning communities. Core classes like English, Science, Social Studies are usually taught with the learning community curriculum; math, foreign languages, art, other electives are usually taught school-wide, so even if a student is in AC, they will likely have classes with kids from other learning communities. Because AC and BIHS are so large, students in 9th and 10th grade are grouped into "cores" and have those core classes together, so at least your daughter will have familiar faces in 3 classes right away. BHS is a very large and diverse community and and can be overwhelming at first, but the benefit of having so many students is that your student is bound to find "her people." It's a good idea for her to join clubs and/or sports so she can meet people with similar interests. 

As for academics: I have an entering senior and sophomore. In my experience, 9th and 10th grade academics are relatively easy, depending on your student and the teacher. My kids did most of their homework for classes during downtime in other classes, for example. But when they're in 11th and 12th grade, they can choose electives that really spark their interest. There are a few dud teachers but some amazing gems as well. I volunteer regularly at BHS and really enjoy seeing these kids engaging in their community. Hope this helps.

Are you set on Berkeley or Oakland? Because close by are Alameda, Albany, and El Cerrito, with good, diverse high schools that seem to be much less complicated to "navigate."

Consider looking at Millenium, which is an alternative high school in Piedmont.  Sounds like that would be a great fit!

Hi! I commend you on your choice to support public schools, as I think that is really important for our community as well as our kids. We sold our home in the Oakland Hills and bought a home 2 years ago here in the Berkeley flats that cost $400,000 more for half the square footage with the idea of sending our sons to Berkeley High instead of to private high schools in Oakland. Housing prices here, if you are going to buy, are beyond crazy. That is mostly in part due to the strong public schools, especially BHS. If you are a person of integrity, you would need to rent or buy a home here in Berkeley to send your daughter to BHS. I know of quite a few folks that are willing to lie and cheat the system to send their kids here, but it sometimes backfires, as it is hard to hide where you really live once your daughter makes friends and people find out where you live. It is also not a good position to have to be in to constantly lie to the administration or the coaches if she wants to join any sports or afterschool clubs. Beyond that, it overwhelms the Berkeley school systems and drains resources away from the kids who actually do live here. But BHS is not the only good school; Albany also has an amazing high school and certain programs at Oakland Tech are really great right now and both of those schools have lots of interesting and diverse kiddos. I don't know what your situation is, but if she is very sensitive and curious, I would send her to a private school. We have had several family friends who have needed to do this with a few of their children who were especially sensitive and different (and that is ok, right?) and did not fit in the public school mold like their siblings. I think it is fine to realize the needs of your child and support them- the huge BHS schools are not for every child- the campus is overwhelming! Maybe take a look at the Maybeck school in Berkeley, it is a warm environment and the kids that go there seem to really thrive. But stay away from the hugely academic driven schools like College Prep, that would not fit your daughter in the slightest. Best to you- keep looking and you will find the right fit but hurry- BHS starts in just 3 weeks.

BHS is a big high school, sometimes messy and chaotic, but also one of the great public high schools and truly one of the most diverse on all levels. Many students come from private school K-8 background, and the school is so large, and always with an influx of new students, that there are many academic and social pathways for new students. The teachers our children have had have mostly been great, with deep dedication to their students. The college pathways this high school produces are extremely impressive and would do any school proud, because college admissions people know that students who have navigated and succeeded at BHS are independent, strong students.

I think that Oakland Tech and BHS are very similar in terms offerings, size, diversity, etc.  We are only in Day 3 of Tech, but have many friends at both schools and all are happy.  Oakland Tech might be hard to get into because it always has a waiting list, whereas BHS will take all kids with a Berkeley address (legitimate or not).  Both schools seem like the kind of place where a kid who doesn't fit in at an affluent suburban school would fit in just fine, because of how diverse the student bodies are.  Your daughter will likely find her people at either one.