Moving to the East Bay and looking for great public schools

My husband and I are planning a move from Austin, TX to the East Bay to be closer to family (and to escape the conservative TX politics), and I'm starting my school research for my sons (rising 7th grader and rising 4th grader, but likely not moving until academic year 2022-2023). I'm most concerned about my older son, who is currently in a wonderful Fine Arts academy as a creative writing major, but who is equally passionate about math, science, and coding. He's been lucky thus far to have had access to top notch public schools, with challenging curriculum and really involved teachers. I'm particularly concerned about leaving his Fine Arts academy, which is housed in a traditional public middle school, so also offers accelerated and advanced paths for core subjects. He's a very easy-going kid and makes friends easily, but he's incredibly dedicated to his schoolwork and I don't want to let that slip. My younger son is probably a little easier to place, academically, as he's more of a generalist than his older brother.

Financially, private school for 2 kids is not an option for us, so we do need to pursue public education opportunities. I'd be most appreciative of any and all suggestions for late elementary - middle and high schools in the East Bay! I'm not even sure what city we should be targeting. Berkeley? Oakland? Emeryville? Alameda?

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For middle and high public school options, I think you'd be better off in Berkeley, Albany, Alameda; or Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Walnut Creek; or San Ramon, Alamo, Danville. Emeryville isn't known for public school options. Oakland has a few decent public middle schools (OUSD and charter options) but many OUSD families opt for private school for middle school. For high school, many want to get into Oakland Tech, some are ok with Skyline, and many (religious or not) opt for Catholic schools and other private schools.  Oakland School for the Arts is a popular arts magnet school offering middle and high school and must audition to get in. Priority is given to Oakland residents for OSA. 

Public schools in Berkeley largely don’t have specialties like you’re mentioning. If private is something you’d consider I would recommend checking out Black Pine Circle, at least for your older child. They have rigorous academics that are balanced with a strong arts curriculum/focus — sort of exactly what you described. Perhaps one in private and one public? Also, it’s worth checking if you qualify for financial aid — given cost of living in the Bay Area, many people find they do qualify when they expected to not! 

Berkeley (BUSD) doesn't offer accelerated or tracked classes--so every class has a wide variety of skill levels for math, writing, literacy, etc.and I think it causes issues for students and teachers, but that's just my opinion.

In highschool, you can take accelerated math--it's just the regular math work, but you go through it faster.

BUSD does have decent schools/middle schools by CA standards--they get good ratings and have a variety of classes. But some parents have issues with the lack of assistance for kids who enjoy a subject and might be more advanced in it.

Another unusual thing about BUSD is they have a zoning system, so you have limited choices Abt elementary schools. Middle schools are based on address, but two neighbors could be assigned to two different middle schools.

My daughter attended Oakland School for the Arts, with Creative Writing as her emphasis. She had a wonderful experience, and went on the get a BFA in Creative Writing. She graduated from OSA in 2015, so I cannot tell you what the program is like currently. 
Oakland School for the Arts is a grades 6-12 charter school, and is open to students from all Bay Area communities. Her classmates were from Berkeley, Piedmont, Orinda, San Francisco, Richmond, Alameda, etc. not only from Oakland. Students audition for acceptance. 

Check out Oakland School for the Arts. My daughter has been there from 6th grade and will be in 10th. Many of her friends also chose to go there. They have a creative/literary arts empathic among others. its free, a great school and you do not have to live in Oakland. They have changed the audition requirements. Lovely community to be involved in!

Consider Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek. All of these communities have excellent public schools.

Hello! Good luck on your move! Although I have heard Albany and Alameda schools are "good," as a Berkeley parent, I am an advocate of BUSD. The generous voters of Berkeley have consistently passed a parcel tax that provides an additional ~$2,000+ per pupil in funding. The majority of the funds go toward class size reduction, but it also funds an excellent Visual and Performing Arts program at the elementary and middle schools. The high school also has an excellent arts program, it is just funded in a different way. (It is known particularly for its jazz band -- Charlie Hunter and Joshua Redman are both Berkeley High graduates.) The high school is large, but it has 5 "communities" that students join after their freshman year -- thus it's a small "school within a school" environment. For middle schools, both Willard and King are excellent. King is the larger of the two. Our daughter goes to Willard, and though as a 6th grader she has yet to experience true in school learning, all of her teachers thus far have been excellent. (There is a third middle school but it currently does not have any feeder elementary schools aside from the one Spanish immersion school as it houses the Spanish immersion program at the middle school level. The district is evaluating whether to make it a zone school or keep it as a choice school.)

The elementary schools are all good in my opinion. The district has 3 zones and you are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools in your zone. What's nice about the zones is that they create a diverse mix of students from areas of each zone, so no one school is "better" than the next. The trick you will find is that the application for the following school year is due around February 1st and requires proof of a local address. So unless you have family in Berkeley, you will likely apply later in the process and may not get a spot at your top choice school. Luckily, you don't really lose because they are all good, plus your younger will only be there one year. 

I'm happy to provide more info on our experience -- just send me a DM.

For public schools, in order start with Orinda, Moraga, and the schools on the Orinda/Moraga side of Lafayette.  Berkeley is good and do your research on Oakland to see if it meets your needs.  Enrollment laws just changed in California so something you might want to look at.  Before researching schools have your researched housing prices?