About BUSD Elementary Schools

Parent Q&A

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  • Science in BUSD Elementary?

    (9 replies)

    We will soon be enrolling our child in kindergarten and as I've been talking to a few parents, I heard someone mention that there are no science teachers in the elementary schools (!!!). Current parents - is that true? The person had mentioned they had heard that only schools with PTAs that choose to fund a science teacher will get science curriculum. I feel like this has to be false, but wanted to hear it from current parents. If it is true, are parents generally fine with this because the rest of the curriculum makes up for it? I'm not familiar with Common Core, but it looks like it only covers math and literacy. 

    The elementary schools get a dedicated science teacher in 4th and 5th grades. For younger grades, the classroom teachers do the science lessons. My child is in 4th grade, but he definitely did science in earlier years, just not with a dedicated science teacher. I'm pretty sure all of the schools follow the CA curriculum for grade level science-- life cycles, water cycles, etc.

    I am a current BUSD parent and my kids (1st and 4th) both have science 1x/week with a science teacher. The kindergarteners do science with their classroom teacher and then start science classes with the science teacher in 1st. The kids also have music with a music teacher and gardening with a gardening teacher. I believe this is true across the district. These teachers are not funded by the PTA. (The PTA sometimes funds art and dance teachers.)

    Every BUSD elementary school's staff list includes a science teacher.  I believe that most science teachers split their time between two schools.  As a Cragmont parent, I can vouch for the fact that kids in at least 3rd, 4th and 5th grade have two weekly sessions with the science teacher.  They also have science with their classroom teacher.  The younger kids may have science with the dedicated science teacher or with their classroom teacher, but they definitely have science instruction.

    It's true. My kids went to Ruth Acty and they had science once a week when they were older. I *think* it was 3rd-5th grades? And they did a science fair in 4th and 5th grades. They have science every year in middle school and for at least 3 years in high school (4 years isn't required by most colleges). I was fine with it. 

    Science is generally taught by the classroom teacher in elementary school. You can check out the science content standards for each grade here at cde.ca.gov. My daughter’s teachers did really great hands-on class projects and each student did an individual project as well, even starting in kindergarten.


    When Measure E1 kicked in, teachers in grades 1-3 got extra prep periods because they now have bigger classes (on average 23 vs. 20 previously).  My understanding is that teachers voted at the school level whether they wanted a dedicated science teacher or something else, such as art. I believe that most schools chose dedicated science teacher, but I don't know if it was universal. Our school (Sylvia Mendez) has a dedicated science teacher for grades 1-5 -- grades 1-3 go once a week and grades 4-5 go twice a week (also in combo with farm and garden). Kindergarten teachers do not have a prep period because they have a shorter instructional day, so they are supposed to teach science to their students. I would ask the school your child is enrolled in whether they have a science teacher or not -- or check the PTA website for the school.

    I don’t know about the rest of the district, but Rosa Parks has a science teacher. I don’t think the kindergarteners have science, but the older kids have class once or twice a week. The teacher is excellent, and my kids love her. She also went way above and beyond during distance learning. I have no idea how it’s funded.

    Berkeley USD has several sources of income. The state is not obliged to pay for the science teacher, so the school can pay out of their discretionary fund or via PTA or any other way of their choosing. Cragmont has a science teacher, dance teacher, PE teacher, Arts teacher. Just because the state does not specifically provide for a science teacher, does not mean there is no science teacher. In either case, all kids have the same amount of hours spent on science. It is just taught by their regular classroom teacher. The funds situation is fluid and changes year to year, so it is best to ask a specific school for a specific grade.

    Great question. It is indeed false that only schools with a PTA-funded science teacher get science curriculum. Any teacher with an elementary credential has gotten training to teach all subjects, including science. In the past few years, CA adopted a framework for teaching science called the NextGen science standards, so if you are looking at Common Core, that may not cover everything. You should look at the NextGen standards as well, to get a sense of what's being taught. There are standards for every grade in K-6.

    In terms of science specialist teachers, I can't speak to BUSD in particular, but my kids are in OUSD, and I think it's pretty similar in this regard. I think it's generally correct that most schools don't employ a science specialist to teach the kids; I think this is true around the state and maybe even around the country.

    My own kids are now in grades 4 and 7, and their experience with science has varied widely depending on the predilections and skills of their classroom teachers. Honestly, this has been true of every academic discipline. They also attend a school with a science specialist teacher (yes, funded by the PTA), but honestly, that amounts to about 40-50 minutes a week of lab time. I'm not sure that it actually directly benefits the kids' science learning so much as it removes some of the pressure from the classroom teachers to cover everything themselves and makes my kids' school a nicer place to work (hypothetically, happier/better supported teachers = a big benefit to all kids). I look on it as a nice-to-have rather than a if-they-don't-get-this-they-won't-understand-science.

    One of my noticings over these years is that a lot of what has kept an interest in science alive for my kids has been things we do outside of school. The pandemic year really showed me clearly how dreary most of the school's science learning is, unfortunately, and made me recommit to just helping my kids continually practice thinking scientifically and continuing to explore science all around us as a family. 

  • Should we stick it out with BUSD?

    (11 replies)

    My wife and I have been having a tough time coming up with a plan on how to approach schooling for next year. We have loved our Berkeley elementary school (Sylvia Mendez), but are afraid that full time instruction won't resume next fall.

    Do we stick it out? Find a private school? Move to another district? Are these the types of options you are weighing? How did you decide?


    We had this debate last year after the horrendous distance learning during the spring semester in 2020. We decided to stick it out at our local public school because we believe in public schools and we did not want to contribute to depleting resources for our public schools. With our departure, our local school loses yet another middle class family who donates to the PTA. However, after a whole year of distance learning that feels mostly like a waste of time; the uncertainty about school opening in the fall; lack of trust in schools' ability to keep the schools clean and sanitized adequately; and concerns over the learning gap that will force teachers to teach to the bottom to try to catch up kids, we have decided that we need to switch to a private school. The thought of paying $30k/year is daunting and makes me feel sick to the stomach sometimes, but we do not want our child to hate school. They did not enjoy school pre-pandemic, and they now scream that school is stupid. So, it's time. They may need to take out a huge student loan to attend college, but they need to start developing good academic habits and love of learning. So, we will pay the cost now. We feel bad 

    Do you rent or own?  How easy/difficult would it be to replicate the things you like about Sylvia Mendez in another school?  I'd start to make an objective/quantifiable list of the factors in play and think about which ones can be controlled and which ones can't.  You could try one of the neighboring public schools in a different district but there is no guarantee that you won't have some of the same problems.

    If you were happy with Sylvia Mendez before, then I personally think you should stick it out. I believe the district is making every effort to be fully open in the fall and in fact (as I'm sure you know) will be offering 5 days a week starting April 12th. We are also a SM family and have been pretty disappointed in the distance learning program, to be honest, but still plan on continuing to send our son there. We believe in public education, don't want to spend our money on private school (would rather save for college), and still believe in the value of a bilingual education. Good luck with your decision -- it has not been an easy year and I think all the options for parents (and educators) have been super crappy. Here's to better days ahead!

    Mostly likely school will be full time next fall. I wouldn't worry about that. It will probably be mandated by the state at that point.  As a person that went to private schools in the bay area my whole life, I personally don't think it is worth it. To me it is more important to have my child be in a diverse school as it is the most anti-racist action I can take as a parent. And my annual donation goes a lot farther that 30,000 tuition would. Public vs private safety measures are all Safety Kabuki at this point. Don't mistake paying for school with safety. 

    Hoping by now you've seen the news that BUSD elementary schools are resuming in-person, 5 day a week education in April! Opt-in or Opt-out, this provides me with a lot of hope for the fall.

    This is such a tricky question. I am also a big believer in public school education. Both of our daughters attend public charter schools in Oakland that have really been amazingly great at pivoting for distance learning. Our 4th grader attends ASCEND and our 7th grader goes to EBIA now, although she could've stayed at ASCEND because that school is tk-8. (But she wanted a "real middle school" experience after 6 years at ASCEND... Ironic, right? So much for that.) EBIA is 6-7-8 on their lower school campus and they have a HS as well.

    Anyway, both of these schools have done much, much better than all the others I've heard of in OUSD, BUSD, private schools, and even the wonderful little school in Canyon (where residents all over the East Bay are allowed to attend; it's a public K-8). Our daughters are both getting REAL learning- in-depth, complete with PE, art, science, etc. And it's full-day! I know other kids who're attending only a couple hours of online school each day and the rest is "independent" learning, which I imagine is super-hard for parents to be able to constantly supervise and supplement, etc. 

    That being said, we're ALL dying for them to be back IN school and we're probably going to have to wait until fall as well. As far as I know, ASCEND won't be in-person again until the fall. EBIA might start trying some experimental small, outdoor groups sooner for families that want that... We do! (fingers crossed)

    For us, there's no decision to be made because both of their schools are doing stellar jobs- they just can't fulfill all of their needs, of course. But for you, if distance-learning has been crappy then I can see why you might want to make a change. However, if your kid's school was acceptable before the pandemic then I would suggest waiting it out. We will go back to "normal" (ish) in about 6 months or so (probably). If you bail now and it ends up not being as good of a choice as you thought it'd be, then you're going to be kicking yourself in 6 months.

    Too bad you can't just pull out your child for "independent study" and take a 6-month road trip with them. This would be a perfect time to become a temporary nomad and learn about our country by actually visiting all those cool places... That's what I want to be doing right now! But you probably have to work and don't have the extra time or extra money to fund such as adventure... haha

    Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about ASCEND or EBIA. I love our schools, but I'm also happy to share their weaknesses as well.

    Full-time instruction is resuming in BUSD on april 1 of this THIS year.

    OUSD parent here.  I have heard that BUSD will be returning 5 days/week at the end of March, so this may be moot for you at this point.  In any case, I just wanted to say that we have been having a lot of the same thoughts about private school over here and have decided to stick it out through 5th grade (1 more year).  We are strong believers in public education, but are just worn out from dealing with OUSD.  We have concerns about being able to afford private school, but have decided to do what we can to make it happen.

    Full-time instruction for BUSD Elementary schools is resuming in a couple weeks, on March 29th. Not sure why you would think it won't (also) be full-time in Fall '21? We had initially heard that going back on 3/29/21 would just be a hybrid model (2 days/week on-site), but the Superintendent's last letter on March 8th indicated we are now offered a 5 day/week schedule of on-campus learning. 

    Fight for schools to reopen! There is no excuse to allow distance learning to continue. The science is clear - schools should fully reopen. Please don't give up, for the sake of your kids, for kids who don't have other options, and for the future of public education.

    We are in OUSD, so this isn’t directly relevant to your question. But, we are VERY envious of BUSD that will be welcoming back students 5 days a week!!!!!! OUSD is offering measly two 2.5 hour afternoons a week. This triggered a hot debate between moving to a different school district or paying for a private school. I began looking at Zillow for houses in Berkeley, Albany,  Lamorinda, and Marin.

    After dealing with the chaos and uncertainty every year and then COVID-19, we are fed up with OUSD. We are exhausted beyond belief. We supported the teachers through the strike which was hard as we were suddenly thrown into juggling full time work and remote working. Little did we know that those weeks were a piece of cake and just a taste of what is to come except it’s 10 times harder now because we can’t even share care with others.

    Public schools were acceptable enough before the pandemic. Our child didn’t love the school, which by the way is one of the most popular elementary schools in Oakland, and we always felt it was a good enough option for lower grades and we would be better off saving money for private middle school, college and retirement while praying that the child ends up choosing Oakland Tech HS (our zoned school). We felt good about supporting public education and became active in PTA.

    However, with guilt and tails between our legs, we have decided to leave OUSD and will be enrolling our child in a private school. My mental health can’t handle the way public schools work anymore and my child cannot handle online schooling any longer. It’s a huge sacrifice for us financially and we discussed with our child that this means we will have less money for vacations, toys, sushi dinners. That second bathroom we wanted will have to wait — 3 people sharing 1 bathroom while being home full time hasn’t been easy. A dream to have a hot tub in the backyard isn’t going to happen. The overdue HVAC upgrade and roof replacement will also have to wait.

    you mentioned that you loved your school before the pandemic, So I think sticking with it seems to make sense. If you didn’t like it and it’s causing you a high level of distress, changing to another option may make sense. 

    I think CA schools will be back full time in the fall. But, things are uncertain with the pandemic and our child requested to go to school in person. OUSD is not making any commitment about the fall and I fear that prolonged and difficult negotiations will ensue between the district and the union causing uncertainty into the fall as was the case for distance learning in the fall of 2020. We gave OUSD a chance for 4 years and I absolutely hate change. But, we are leaving OUSD while we continue to discuss whether we should move out of Oakland all together or not. 

  • Please tell me more about science and social studies in BUSD particularly in elementary grades. Our experience this year has been underwhelming. Now, we are in a pandemic, and I figured this year reading and math will be favored, and we are also grateful that the amount of work has been kept manageable. But, wondering ahead, how much are science and social studies covered in a regular year? Would love to hear your anecdotes and grade level. I know the state standards, just want to know what actually happens. 

    Not much science or history at all. It gets better in middle and high school when they have dedicated classes. In elementary, the focus was always on reading and math. There was more history in 4th and 5th grades, which is California history and then US history. But science? One hour a week at the most. 

    Unfortunately our pre-COVID experience at Sylvia Mendez has been pretty weak, especially with regard to Social Studies. It gets a bit better in 4th and 5th grade. It may be in part because of the two-way immersion program eating up more instructional hours on reading and writing (students are to become bilingual and biliterate by the end of 5th grade). Our now 6th grader did get some California history in 4th grade including an end of year trip to Sierra Outdoor School. Sadly, that trip has been cancelled (before COVID) with no replacement at 4th or 5th grade. Our current 4th grader has had absolutely NO CA history this year.

    Science is a little different. During the 2018-2019 school year, the elementary schools hired dedicated science teachers for grades 1-5. (Before that, as far as I can tell, grades 1-3 got zero science, but 4th and 5th had a dedicated science teacher.) The younger kids get ~45 minutes of science a week, and 4th and 5th get 1.5 hours. Not great, but better than nothing. They are now getting 45 minutes via distance learning. Hopefully as the science teachers get some experience teaching the science curriculum, it will get better.

    Based on my experience at Oxford, science and social studies K-5 are not strong.  I'm especially bummed about science as it's clear that there is no organized effort/curriculum.  It was slightly better pre-pandemic but this year it feels that science is not even considered as a subject (it's an elective, 45 minutes a week). Social studies in K-3 was mostly combined with reading.  In 4th and 5th grades there is focus on CA history but in distance learning there is very little time dedicated to social studies so I haven't seen much happening this year. 

  • Hi,

    We're a multiracial family with a kid who is Black and Asian and about to make the big decision to move to Berkeley. What are people's experiences of having a Black kid in BUSD?

    We're attracted to Rosa Parks elementary and would love to hear more about it, especially since we can't visit:(

    Or are there other public elementaries people would recommend for a supportive, fufilling and academically rich environment for a kid, and in particular a kid who is Black?

    Lastly, any recs for Mandarin language afterschool programs? Also we saw on the website Rosa Parks has a Chinese before school program??

    Thanks so much!

    This doesn't really answer your main question ... You may know this, but it is a lottery system in Berkeley based on where you live in the city. It is split into three zones, so if you want Rosa Parks, you'd have to live in the Northwest Zone and put RP as #1 on your list . I will say, don't get too attached to any one school. You'd have to find a living situation in that zone, and then put the school as your first choice ... and you may not get it. 70% of families get their first choice. Transferring to a different elementary is also notoriously difficult. That said, I think the elementary schools here are all really good. Because it's zoned and a lottery, they're all pretty equal. My kids went to Jefferson and really thrived, but I've also heard really positive things about Rosa Parks. Definitely do your research, but keep in mind it's all a crapshoot. 

    My daughter is Black-white biracial and attended El Cerrito public schools. El Cerrito public schools are actually more diverse than Berkeley. El Cerrito High School is the #4 most diverse high school in California, while Berkeley High is #116. She had a good education and is doing very well in college. There were opportunities for arts and advanced academics throughout elementary, middle and high school. Among the elementary schools, Harding and Fairmont are more diverse than Madera and Kensington. I will note, however, that it seemed my meeting the her teachers (at all school levels) helped her get taken more seriously as a student; I am hoping that is not just because I am white but I suspect in some cases it is. I noticed several talented non-white students who should have been encouraged and given the confidence to take more demanding classes. My daughter learned how to advocate for herself, which I think helped her get additional challenges. One more thing, West Contra Costa does have a Mandarin immersion school, https://wcmspta.org/.

    Since the previous parent mentioned the Mandarin immersion school, I just wanted to weigh in. My kids are black and Asian (not Chinese) and attend the Mandarin school. We love it. Last I checked, the school actually has more black kids than the district at large. And a significant number of mixed black kids. And while most (all?) of the Mandarin teachers are Chinese, many of the non-Mandarin teachers are black. Plus they have enrichment that is intentionally multicultural. West Contra Costa Unified is also increasing its focus on supporting black students (who, frankly, have been underserved). So, I recommend you check it out. I think the last year or two has had a wait list, so it'd be good to reach out before kinder registration/transfer to figure things out. 

  • Distance learning experiences in BUSD?

    (4 replies)

    Before the pandemic hit us, we had already planned on switching our first grade son from a private school to BUSD. He was assigned to Rosa Parks and he's on the waitlist at Jefferson.  I have heard not great reports about the distance learning at Thousand Oaks, so I started to wonder if Rosa Parks and Jefferson are doing a better job (in case this continues next fall).  Can people let me know their experiences at either of those schools (in particular, second grade)? 

    Thanks in advance.

    The quality of distance learning differs even from teacher to teacher. I have two boys at Cragmont. Our TK teacher rocks, our 3rd grade teacher not so much. Actually for TK it works out even better than face to face. The virtual class has 5 children and is 30 minutes per day. They cover "reading" and math. For the 3rd grader, we get 17 pages of assignments per week and two hours of virtual classroom. Half of that time they talk about their feelings and the other half about the assignments they failed to complete. Not a word on fractions yet-this is obviously parents' responsibility not teacher's.

    Greetings, and I I understand your concern...but it is nearly impossible to measure one school to another. Since this is BUSD first time ever to do Distsnce learning, much of it has been to teacher discretion with general guidance from district. This means that every teacher teaching will be different; classwork and load will vary quite a bit too. Currently there is not a definitive plan as to what hybrid learning program will be in place. Both Rosa Park and Jefferson are great schools, but the overall district curriculum and number of websites district approved telling teachers to use have significantly overloaded both teachers and parents.(too many login and passwords/classcode). There is not way to objective measure anything at the moment...everything is a russian roulette when it comes to school choice right now. Personally, I would reccomend determine your interaction with other parents and how well the principal communicates. Best of luck!!!

    I have a second grader (and Kindergartner) at Rosa Parks.  The Second grade teachers are a really strong group of teachers who are creative and fun. Distance learning is never going to capture the magic of great teachers, but the three 2nd grade teachers have worked together to  adapt the curriculum and use google class room quickly and well.  They cover the basics and I would say its a manageable amount of work for a working parent with two kids who are not ready to work totally independently.  Also, our teacher does a morning meeting with the class and also meets once a week individually with each student. she seems to be particularly interested in supporting them emotionally which I know is a huge benefit to the kids.   Both my kids and I miss our community, our after care program and the Rhythm of school, but I have been impressed with the teachers' inventiveness, adaptability, receptiveness and all out effort in a really uncertain an new situation. 

    We have a 2nd Grader at Rosa Parks and the teachers for that grade have come together to develop an online curriculum so there are assignments daily with instruction. The team approach the teachers are taking means that every child in the grade is getting the same content and the teachers aren’t trying to all develop individual content, so they have more time to engage with the kids. My child meets with the class daily online for about half an hour (including 1 day with the science teacher) and has private office hours with the teacher once per week. During the office hours, it is evident that the teacher is reading the submitted work and providing feedback even though the work is not graded. I think it’s excellent given the circumstances and am very satisfied with my child’s education and engagement. All that said, it’s still not as good as “real” school.

    On the other hand, our other child is at the same school in a different grade and the experience has been more aligned with what I’m hearing from others. Basically we get a list of assignments and a once a week meeting with the teacher some weeks. I’d like to say that it’s better than nothing, but I’m not sure it is.

  • Hi There!  We will be moving to Berkeley at the end of the summer.  My kids will be entering 3rd and 6th grades in the fall and attending public school in Berkeley.  Does anyone know where to find recommended summer reading lists for the district?  We are already on Summer Break in our current home town, so I'd love to get them started on the lists if there are any.

    Thank you!

    As far as I know, there aren't required summer reading lists. However, the public library has great reading lists, and the librarians help children find books they are interested in. Here are the suggested BUSD readings for different grade levels.


  • BUSD Bus Stop Locations

    (1 reply)

    We just got our assignment for Kindergarten, and we will qualify for taking the bus.  Does anyone know how far from your house the bus stops usually are?  Also, how long the average bus ride is?  Thanks!