Enrolling in Berkeley Schools

Parent Q&A

  • Advice for relocating in Berkeley with kids this summer

    (4 replies)

    Hi all. We are a french family relocating from the east coast this summer.

    We are planning to go house hunting in May and hopefully find a rental then. We would start our lease in August, meaning would be very late with public schools registration.

    I am confident that there is a provision for kids just relocating and that a spot will be secured. But in which school? Does anyone can provide suggestions or advice on how this will work? We are targeting Berkeley for many reasons and one of them being that almost every schools look good and we're thinking that if the assigned one is full then the fall back will also be very decent. Are we making safe assumptions?

    Also, we might arrive a bit late in August and could miss the back to school day, assuming it happens arounds August 20th. Would that be a problem and should we change our plans?

    Thank you very much for the feedbacks or any thoughts you might provide

    You'll get a spot at a school but it may not be your first choice school. Of course, with the lottery system, you may not get your first choice school anyway.

    I would defintely change your plans if you can to be here and settled before the first day of school. Kids adapt a lot faster when they start at the same time as everyone else.

    You may have a hard time finding housing in Berkeley in May for a lease starting in August. Berkeley is a college town and lots of students want to secure their fall housing before leaving Berkeley for the summer. If you can afford it you'd be better off starting your lease in May, getting your kids registered in school, and trying to sublet the place for the summer (if that's allowed in your lease).

    I hope that you enjoy it here!

    Hi - no need to change plans. kids come late to register for situations like yours frequently. Don't change moving plans simply to make a "back to school" night which is Sept 7, 14 and 28 for elementary, middle and high school respectively. That night is after teachers have made an assessment of students - after school has started. 

    Welcome to Berkeley. Bienvenue.


    From the Berkeley Public Schools website; 

    Enrollment FAQ

    Can my child attend a Berkeley Public School?
    Children who reside in Berkeley may attend Berkeley Public Schools.  In order to ensure placement for all Berkeley children, we need three proofs of residence to start the admission process (see Required Enrollment Documentation).  If your child does not reside in Berkeley you may request an inter-district transfer from your school district. Inter-district transfers are considered after Berkeley residents are placed.

    What elementary school is my student going to attend?
    Elementary schools are divided into three attendance zones:

    Northwest Zone: Berkeley Arts Magnet, Jefferson, Rosa Parks and Thousand Oaks
    Central Zone: Berkeley Arts Magnet, Cragmont, Malcolm X, Oxford and Washington
    Southeast Zone: Emerson, John Muir, LeConte (grades 1-5) and Malcolm X

    District-wide: LeConte Two Way Immersion Elementary School (open to incoming kindergarten students from all Berkeley attendance zones)

    Your child will be assigned to an elementary school in his/her attendance zone or LeConte Elementary Two Way Immersion.

    You need "proof of residency" as frequently we have students from other areas registering in Berkeley schools which is unfair tax burden.

    here is url for admissions. http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/berkeley-school-admissions/

    Congratulations on your upcoming move to Berkeley.  The first day of school for the 2017-2018 school year is August 29th.  The BUSD website has a good overview of the assignment process here http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/berkeley-school-admissions/en....   As you will read, you won't have an "assigned school" based on your address, but you will be assigned to one of the schools in your zone.  You can see a map by clicking on the Find Your BUSD Zone on the menu on the left hand side of the page. Each zone has between 3 and 5 elementary schools.  All of them have similar demographics and test scores, so like you say, even your 2nd or 3rd or even 4th choice will be decent.  If you end up not liking your assigned school, you can submit an application in early 2018 and go through the annual lottery for a chance to get into your preferred school in your zone.  While you didn't ask for advice about searching for a rental, I'd advise you to allow as much time as possible to that process.  The rental market, especially for units large enough for families, is very very tight.  

    Hi and welcome to Berkeley! I have 3 kids in the Berkeley schools and while the elementary schools all seem to have their own culture they all seem quite good. My kids go to Malcolm X where they enjoy a stimulating and varied curriculum and high parent participation. 

    As far as missing the back to school, I'm quite certain that there is only a school organized one for kindergarten or otherwise if somehow the class is "looping" (having a second year w the same teacher). The class lists for the year aren't posted until the Friday before classes start. The back to school night for parents and teachers isn't until September.

    hope that helps  

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  • Berkeley schools, last minute options

    (2 replies)

    Has anyone not gotten their first choice of school in the Berkeley School District and then decided not to do public school at the last minute? Is this possible with the timing of notifications, application processes, etc.? Did you home school? Is that possible? I'm really dreading having so little say in the assigned school...and likely being assigned a school across town. It's great that the schools are equitable, but I love the idea of a neighborhood school...walking to the one closest to you and getting to know the neighborhood kids. Advice from other Berkeley families who have had similar concerns...and who have come up with alternatives? What did you do? Thanks!

    I know that this isn't really answering your question, but all of the BUSD elementary schools are terrific and even if you have to schlepp across town, I think you'll be happy with the school your child is assigned. Plus, it's free.

    In response to one of your questions, BUSD's independent study program supports homeschooling families, K through 12:  http://www.berkeleyschools.net/schools/independent-study/  We're a long-time (happy) BUSD family, and we haven't done homeschooling.  But we went to a meeting about the independent study program earlier this month at which they mentioned the homeschooling resources.  The independent study program in general looks great.

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  • Enrolling my kids in a BUSD school

    (2 replies)

    We recently moved back from out of state.  We moved the week of 12/12/16.  I intentionally moved a week before winter break so I had enough time to enroll my children in school.  I went to BUSD on Bonar during that week and had all of my paperwork submitted by that Friday.  I still have not received my children's "assignments"!  It is infuriating as they have now been out of school for almost a month.  Does anyone have any advice?  I went back to BUSD this week to follow-up and they said they are working on it.

    Also, my 14 year old will be going to Berkeley High in the fall.  Does anyone know of any parent groups for Berkeley High?  I emailed them to get a school tour but haven't heard back yet.  Since it is such a large school, I want to make sure I get him into the correct programs.

    Thank you!

    Hello and welcome back to California and Berkeley. The situation does certainly sound frustrating. I don't have any specific advice about dealing with BUSD other than instinct - be persistent, in person and polite. But that's just an instinct. Your children certainly should be in school.

    As far as BHS goes - one thing that ought to be of interest - on Feb. 8 there will be an 8th Grade Information Night. This evening is to introduce parents to the different programs at BHS. The kids in the public schools get their own information sessions at school but many parents do seem to bring their kids to the Info Night. Especially kids who are not currently enrolled in BUSD. Each of the schools - BIHS, AC, AMPS, CAS, etc will do a presentation that night. They don't try and 'sell' themselves in comparison to other programs, but you will learn about the flavor and character of each program. Each program has its merits and best fit for different students though a student can certainly thrive in any of the programs. You might also ask when the 8th graders apply for the school placement lottery. I know they aren't told which program they get until July (I think) but state their preferences much earlier. 

    I know the school does tours. You might email Lisa Sibony (Volunteer Coordinator)  and ask if she knows when there are tours. Or certainly start subscribing to the BHS E-Tree to get a sense of what is going on at school. 

    Good luck to you. 

    Berkeley high, like all BUSD schools, uses a choice/lottery system. He'll need to sign up for the program(s) (small school, or one of the 2 larger school). By the time high school arrives the kids are largely self-advocating, and you'll likely find you have precious little to do with the classes and/or activities he pursues- it's not really your choice any longer. Just cross your fingers that he gets in with a good group of kids, as hell pretty much be running his own life now. 

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  • Returning to same school after a year away

    (4 replies)

    does anyone know if Berkeley allows children to return to the same school after a year away living abroad?

    We took a sabbatical year from summer 2012 to summer 2013, so I have personal experience with this.  Unless they have changed the rules, you have to do the whole enrollment thing again, which seems utterly stupid to me, but it's the way it is.  I had to get a friend to take original birth certificates, etc. in to the office by the enrollment deadline; I couldn't even do it by mail.  And in fact, my elementary school child initially got assigned to a different school for 4th grade, even though he had been at his original school since kindergarten and we had only missed his 3rd grade.  Because I knew he would never forgive me for taking him from his friends at that school, I begged and pleaded and lobbied and negotiated (maybe even cried?  -- cannot remember) until I finally got him back into his original school.  It's ridiculous.  On my mental to-do list in my abundant spare time is to write to the District and politely suggest that they come up with a policy for sabbatical families, since they are not too uncommon in Berkeley, that would allow you to return to the same school if you arrange it in advance and are only gone one year.  It would make so much sense.  But until then . .. be prepared, plan ahead, have the necessary documents, and make arrangements with a friend to do the process for you while you away. 

    I don't live in Berkeley, but I believe it may be similar to other public schools. I don't think that any school will "hold their place" for a year. If the school is impacted, they will let someone in who will take the place of the child who left. If there is space when you return, you'll be able to re-join the same school. If not, you may be redirected to another school. I'm in Lamorinda, and this was one of my biggest concerns. When we left for a family sabbatical in January, there was literally a kid who took my son's seat the next day. We immediately put ourselves on the waiting list to get back into the school and we felt lucky to have received a spot at the same school the following school year. He was, in fact, I think the only "new kid" who entered at that grade level when we returned to the USA in August.

    You might speak with the principal at your child's school and get their take on it. Definitely your kids can attend Berkeley schools if you are returning to live in Berkeley, but whether they can return to the same school, I don't know.

    As long as you live in Berkeley your child can attend Berkeley public schools. You will need to re-admit your student(s) at the District offices. However, you will have go through the lottery again, so there is no guarantee your child will be placed in the same school. 

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Advantage to submit BUSD enrollment form early? 

Jan 2015

Are there any advantages to turning in the BUSD enrollment form ahead of the early Feb due date? I've heard rumor that it increases your changes of getting your top choice. Is this just a rumor or is there any validity to it? Our son is entering K in the Southeast zone this fall. BUSD Parent-to-Be

It's a rumor. Don't stress about submitting early. After deadline, all apps put into a lottery with very strict priorities (siblings, zone, etc). It's hard to feel like you have some control over this process when really you have very little control. Believe me, I stressed & 'held on' to what we wanted for years (on waitlists forever) and am happy to have finally let it go. Good luck! don't believe the rumors

Who knows?  The BUSD does not tell parents much about their process. It's like a black box. You put your request in, and cross your fingers, and out comes the answer a few months later.  You can search and search but you will find very little information about how BUSD makes decisions about school assignment, thus the rumors. My experience has been that BUSD operates in secrecy, and it is impossible to find out any information they don't want you to know.
BUSD veteran

Our house is half in Oakland and half in Berkeley

Sept 2014

Am I in Berkeley or Oakland school district? My son is eligible for Kindergarten next year but our property is smack on the Oakland-Berkeley line and I don't know how to find out where we are zoned. Neither school district includes our address on their zone websites. [in fact, a whole chunk of our street's addresses are missing -- weird!] The family who lived here before us sent their kids to private school. Our taxes and services are divided up between the two cities- Berkeley address, Oakland trash, Berkeley police, taxes prorated between the two, but we vote in Oakland. I thought I'd check here before calling the offices. Can anyone offer a lead? Thanks! confused mom

We sleep and eat in Oakland and watch tv in Berkeley. Our house/lot is 56% Berkeley so we vote in Berkeley but have choice of services and schools. Our son went to an Oakland Hill elementary school and is at a Berkeley middle school. You can choose. Our address is Oakland -- as most of the homes on our street are in Oakland -- so the mail carriers don't go postal. When registering my son for BUSD, I went in person to the district office with our county tax bills for both cities. There are benefits to being in the BUSD schools which are addressed elsewhere. Depending on which Oakland elementary school is your neighborhood school, you may want to go there, especially if it's walking distance. Go tour the schools, read reviews here and on Great Schools, talk to your neighbors.... As baffling as it can be, you really have a good situation. Best of luck. Boakland resident

You can try greatschools.org. They have a district boundaries tool that lets you search schools you are zoned for. Just type in your address and use the buttons to toggle between elementary, middle, and high schools. Hopefully this tool can help you. I used it a lot before we bought our house recently. http://www.greatschools.org/school-district-boundaries-map/ It links to reviews and extra info for relevant schools. There seems to be much more info for public schools vs private schools at this time. Greatschools fan

My old house was in the Oakland hills on the Alameda/Contra Costa County line, and property taxes were prorated between the two counties. Most of our services were provided by Alameda County, but since we paid property taxes to both counties, we had a choice of Orinda or Oakland schools. One key factor was that we paid all of the school district parcel tax assessments.

You might ask other neighbors whose homes are in both counties where they send their kids, or you could take your property tax bill and other proof of residency to the school district office of the district you prefer to find out if you have adequate documentation to put your child in their school. I am sure they have dealt with this issue before and have established some protocol.

It's good that you're already looking into this because you will want it settled before kindergarten registration. Another Parent with Dual School Districts

I would go to the district where you want your child to attend with your ID that preferably says that city.If you do not question it,the district may not either. Ellen

BUSD: Out of Zone by a Block

Oct 2012

We live very close to a wonderful school that is out of zone for us. This school is walking distance, while all the schools in our zone are a car ride away. How frustrating! I know all of the schools in BUSD are good, so the idea of a ''neighborhood'' school is very appealing. Has anyone tried getting into a school that is not in their zone? What was the process? Does putting it as your first pick ruin your chances of getting your second pick (i.e., your first in-zone pick)? Am I silly for putting location as such a high priority when I know there are excellent schools within my own zone? I don't know if this matters, but I do not believe the out of zone school near us is necessarily the most popular in that zone; does that increase our chances? This process seems a bit more confusing than I originally thought (or I am making it that way!). Out of Zone by a Block

We were in a similar situation years ago. My advice is, only put schools on your list that you would really want to go to. We put in an out of zone school (which was a magnate school) as our first choice, then listed our 2 in-zone choices. We got our third choice school and ended up opting for private school because we didn't really like the third choice school. I think if we had only listed the 2 schools we wanted, we would have gotten one of them.

It has been a while since we were getting our first into K, so i am not sure the process is still the same. If it is then .....if the out of zone school is the least requested in that zone, then you have the best chance of getting in. However siblings get preference and you would not know how many siblings will take up spaces in that school. Also, if there are a bunch of siblings and they are all from the census tracts with same ''scores'' as your ''census tract'', then the district may strive to get new families from different scoring tracts (not yours). So it all depends on factors you dont have control over and information that you wont have access to. Sorry. Given that, if you would like to go for having your student at that nearby school for 6 years, then go for it and get on the waiting list if you have to. Even if it means transfering in part way into the year. And yes, it could mean you would not get a spot at your #2 if it is most requested. Another BUSD Parent

My son is still not assigned to a school!

Aug 2012

It is Wednesday, August 22nd, all my documentation has been submitted and accepted, i am only waiting for an ''unannounced'' home visit so that BUSD can validate i really live where i say i live. I have called the Admissions office numerous times and no one answers and the VM system says ''mailbox full''. What recourse do I have? Anyone have any direct contacts of people I can talk to? Should I skip work and go down there? Any help or recommendations would be appreciated! thank you! Signed, Waiting For BUSD

Definitely go into the main admissions office ASAP. We are in a slightly different situation (wait listed rather than unassigned) but have had the same experience of not having our calls returned etc. I have found the admissions staff- or perhaps I get the same woman- to be friendly which was a nice surprise. We went into the office after being told repeatedly that we would get a call back, turns out the woman had somehow skipped our name in the call back log and we received a call the following day as promised. Definitely go in and, even if you have to take time off work, until you get your placement. That would be crazy to not have a spot when school starts! Good luck!

Can kids stay in Berkeley Schools if we move?

April 2012

We currently rent in Berkeley where our kids currently attend elementary school. We love our school, the district, the City. However, due to financial constraints we are considering moving to El Cerrito. I know the kids can stay at their Elementary school until they finish but what about middle and high school? Will they be allowed to complete their education in Berkeley or when they are ready to move to middle school will they be forced out of the district? Is is possible to get a waiver and continue until graduation in Berkeley? I would like the facts and am not looking to hear from folks who just want to make comment about how its not ''right'' to have your kids in Berkeley schools if you arent actually still living here. Any personal experience or knowledge in this area would be welcome. Struggling BUSD Family

In a word: no. Having said that, people do it all the time. I assume they just lie about their address. I wager you could do this through elementary but you have to register them all over again at the district office with your residency documentation for middle and again at high school.

I'm sure you will get some nasty replies as this is a big issue. If you choose to do it I would just ask that you take some of the money you save and donate it to the schools PTA so at least you can help fund some of the programs that are being cut like cooking and gardening. BUSD Parent

If you move out of Berkeley you can still, legally go to Berkeley Schools if your new school district releases you and if Berkley accepts you. Go to the district office and ask what you need to do. anon

Typically not. You could apply for an inter district transfer permit, but those aren't given out in large numbers. If homelessness is the reason for your leaving Berkeley, that's another matter : you can definitely remain until you are redomiciled. Otherwise, please get involved in the schools in your new community!

What if we get assigned to a school we don't want?

March 2009

Likely an old question, but we're new to Berkeley. Looking to buy a house, and terrified at the idea that our children might have to cross the city to get to their kindergarten. If we get assigned to a school we don't want, what recourse do we have? Is there any level of preference for assigning neighborhood residents to their neighborhood school? If not, are there realistic / good alternatives to public schools -- while still avoiding private school fees? Many thanks! G

Berkeley explicitly has a bussing policy rather an a neighborhood school policy. My understanding is that it was put in place to integrate schools. You should buy a house in Berkeley with your eyes open to this policy - you should investigate the schools in your ''zone'' rather than just your neighborhood school (this info is available on the BUSD website). That said, my daughter goes to school ''across town'' and it really isn't a problem at all. Sure, it would be nice to walk down the street to school, but if you want to be guaranteed the ability to do that you should buy elsewhere. it's not really so scary

Trying to understand how the Berkeley system works

Jan 2009

Hi all!, I am tring to understand how the Berkeley elementary public school system works? I hear it is a lottery, but how does it works? When and where should I register for the school? Also, which schools are better, and are they OK? Thanks so much! Lora

Hi. The deadline for Berkeley's 2009-2010 school year first assignment lottery is/was Feb. 6th. All the info you want on enrollment can be found at: www.berkeley.net/index.php?page=enrollment Basically, Berkeley is divided into zones. You will generally go to a school in your zone. It's difficult to get a school out of zone. You tour each school (peek in on classes) attend their kindergarten open house nights (meet the teachers) & see what school is the best fit for you. (These events are all done for this year, I hope you are interested in 2010-11 school year enrollment.) You then simply select 3 schools in the order of your preference and hope you get into your top choice. We generally liked all the schools in our Northwest Zone & wouldn't have minded getting into any of the schools. But we did get our top choice, Thousand Oaks. If you don't get your top choice, you can be placed on the waitlist. We attended 2 lectures presented by the school system on how their lottery system works. There is no way (that we could figure out) to ''play'' the system to ensure you get your top school choice. But I understand that like 70%+ families get their top choice. Good luck. Debbie

Understanding the BUSD lottery system

December 2006

I'd like BPN help on how to understand BUSD district, lottery system, and general information about the various schools. My son is only 1.5 right now so we are dealing with childcare and preschool most immediately but kindergarden isn't too far into the future. I'd like some help with resources to understand the BUSD lottery and kindergarden process. I've looked at the BUSD website but all it has is a form but not much help in understanding the schools or the lottery system. Where do people go to understand what the schools are like, particularly kindergarten.

Generally, my questions include:
* I am interested in the Spanish immersion programs, where do I find out about how parents feel about these programs and what does they entail?
* Do the programs differ betweent the schools in the district?
* How does that lottery system work?
* We live in West Berkeley but the NW zone is where I undertand the most ''competitive'' schools are? What does that mean and why are they that way.
* Yes, I can look at the test score sheets and all of that but where else do people get informationa about BUSD and the schools, particularly kindergarten?
* Is there a BUSD info session held about K-schools or some other meeting to know about?
*how far in advance should you start visiting schools to see what they are like (espeically since between now and when we want to go, school administration and character could change alot)?

Parent just beginning research.

Sorry that you're experiencing some anxiety about BUSD lottery. I don't have all the answers but here's a couple of comments and suggestions. First, find out when the kindergarten open house nights are scheduled and plan to attend them. (These open houses usually are not announced until after the new year.) These will give you a good window into the schools. You can also plan to go on one of the school tour days (these are also scheduled after the new year, I believe). However, since you asked for advice, I would suggest that you not go on a school tour until your child is four or so. Right now your child is so young that immersing yourself in a school environment might feel too overwhelming as you try to visualize your own child in this big new environment. With regard to the lottery, I would call the BUSD staff person in charge and ask your questions. With regard to which schools or zones are the most 'competitive,' that's a very subjective criterion and I think it's based on rumor or conjecture. I think each one of us probably feels that the school WE want is undoubtedly the most competitive, based on our own needs and desires. Please keep an open mind all the way through the process, and try to disregard the rumor mill. Best of luck!
BUSD fan

I recommend that you call the Parent Access office at BUSD and ask them when the kindergarten fairs will be held this year. Call soon so you can get scheduel it and make sure you have childcare - so that you won't be distracted with your toddler. There is uaually an info ''fair'' (BUSD-spnosred and perhaps other fairs) where the elementary schools each have a table and you can chat with the different parents. Call the schools now to see when you could visit their kindergartens - are they still having visitors come in during the day? Each school has a different way of working classroom observations. Definitely don't bring your toddler to these visits. Ask the parent access office what other event may be scheduled in December, january and February regarding kindergarten next year. Also, not sure when, but each elementary school has an evening ''dog and pony show'' at their school where parents can come and ask questions about kindergarten and the school in general. Whenever you visit a school, try to check out the older classrooms, too. Also, you can ask when the PTA meetings are, go to a couple of those and get a feel for the school's parent and teacher community. You can also drop in on a school event. Many are happening this time of year. Regarding your specific questions...Dual immersion program - hopefully someone with direct experience will answer you..got the the fairs and ask a parent. Do the programs differ from shcool to school? YEs, but there is a basic Berkeley curriculum. Each school has different ways of doing the ''release time classes'' and each school has a different emphasis. SOme do more theater arts (Malcom X) and some do more visual arts and dance (Cragmont). How does the lottery system work? - Go to a BUSD event that covers this topic and ask clarifying wuestions there and afterwards. Is the NW zone the most ''comptetive'' and wha does that mean? I don't know that one could truly call any of the zones themost ''competetive'' and I don't know what the originator of that comment meant. Most of the BUSD schools have strong programs - each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In each zone, some schools have longer waiting lists than others. There is not one ''best '' school in the district, nor is there a ''best '' school in any of the 3 zones. Each family has their own needs and own opinions - that is how it should be. You need to figure out which school you think is best for your kid and put that one first on your priority list (3 years form now). What to do between now and when it is time to apply? Go to the anuual info nights and fairs. Focus on 2 or 3 schools that your are most interested in - based on your visits and 1st hand accounts of acquaintences. Keep checking in with people you know who have kids in those schools over the next couple of years to see how things are going. Know anyone at your preschool (if you are involved with one) When you are out in the community, at parks, at parties, etc, find out where older kids go and politely ask what they like about their school and what the challenges are. Don't listen to rumors form folks who don't have first hand knowledge. Schools change, their staf changes, the rules regarding assignments change - so just do your data gathering in a low-key but consistent fashion, and you'll have a great knowledge base when it comes time to apply. Have a great time. (And when you do become part of a BUSD school community please donate time and $ as you are able) Thanks! BUSD Mama

The kindergarten fair is on January 20, probably at 10-2, at LeConte School this year. Last year it was just PTAs, no teachers or principals from individual schools, although BUSD people are there. Michele Lawrence, superintendant, has stopped by in the past. Francisco Martinez, head of admissions is usually there and does his whole extremely detailed run-down of the process. I have been there 3 years in a row. It is essential that you go to this event, it is comprehensive. You should already be visiting schools as well - call and find out their visitation hours - their phone numbers are on the BUSD website
BUSD parent and PTA member

Best strategy for getting first choice in the lottery?

Nov 2006

1) When applying for a kindergarten placement to Berkeley public schools, if you really want your first choice of a school in your zone, is it better not to list a second and third choice? (We live within walking distance of Thousand Oaks and want our son to get in there.)

2) If you don't get your first choice kindergarten school at first, if you wait list and patiently wait is your child likely to get into the first choice school within a year or less? Thanks for any insights.

puzzled parent

I would not recommend leaving your #2 and #3 choices blank because somebody will decide for you and it does NOT increase your chances of getting your first choice. As for the waiting list, the school must meet the integration formula and it therefore depends what demographic your kid fills versus what demographic the school still needs i.e., your kid could remain on the waiting list even when spots are open in the school if your demographic is already full. I think it might change after November once the numbers are submitted because the schools don't have to ''tally'' again until the following year, so if you are willing to wait that long, things might open up a little more (unless the school is actually full in every demographic).
--Been there, done that

You are fortunate -- all of the schools in the ''Western/Northern'' part of the Berkeley District have people that prefer them, so it is relatively likely that you'll get your first choice. That said, if you don't, and are willing to go on the waiting list and move your child during the school year, you will almost certainly find a slot. The only exception is the language-immersion programs which are very competitive to enter, at least for English as a first language speakers. Some families I know have ended up so happy with their second choice, that they haven't moved their children when an opening comes up. My child is at Jefferson, and we've had a great experience with both the school and the parent community. Carol

Our daughter started BUSD kindergarten this year, so let me share. We did not list one school in our zone on the preference form -- that is, we listed 1st through 3rd choices, leaving 4th place blank. We were assigned to the unchosen school. So, I think that only making one choice is not a successful strategy. Attend the kindergarten fair in February. Get on the BUSD website and educate yourself about the admission process. Get downtown and meet with Francisco Martinez, the direct of admissions. He'll fill you in, straight, on both of your questions. All the schools are good if you make them so.

Which school should I choose?

Jan 2006

Hello fellow Parents, I am in the ever-stressful position of choosing a kindergarten for my daughter next year. I would be grateful to hear any and all recent opinions (as there is not much in the archives--I find hard to believe) of the following schools: Whittier Arts Magnet, Oxford and Cragmont (all in our zone) and Jefferson, which is not in our zone, but the closest of all of these to our house! At any rate, my husband and I did a tour of all these the other day, and those schools we had expected to really like and be impressed by, we were not and those we expected not as much from, we really liked. But how do you decide after an half-hour tour and a couple of info nights? I am interested in honest opinions of any of these schools. I know no one school is perfect or is going to offer all the things that I want in a school (strong sense of community, sense of social responsibility as well as academics) and that all schools have some issues. I am just looking for a good balance. Just want the best fit for my kid.

How do you decide after a few info nights and a half hour visit? Find folks in the community that you know have kids at those schools now and have a long chat with them. Go for another visit at recess time or at a evening school event or to a PTA meeting to get a broader sense of how the school community works. Check out the after school programs if you are planning to use an on-site program (does it even have one?). How do the start and end times of the school fit with your family's schedule? Would you ever drive to the school and are you okay with parking availability for the times of day, and days of the week, you might be there? Do you like the principal and their style? Do you like the other subjects offered at the school (visual art, dance, garden/science, etc.). How are discipline issues dealth with? My children are at Cragmont Elementary and we are very happy with the school for its strong academics, arts, safety and sense of cummunity, and its great principal. Regarding Jefferson, it is difficult to get into a school outside of your zone if it is one of the top requested schools in that zone. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't bother requesting Jefferson. FYI - there are a bunch of Cragmont kids who live in the blocks north of University Ave. and east of Sacramento St. Best of luck ! Cragmont Family

What's the liklihood of getting your first choice?

Nov 2003

We have a child who will be starting kindergarten next fall. We're toying with the idea of moving to Berkeley for the public schools (from Oakland). However, I'm concerned about going through the tremendous work and expense to do this move and not be guaranteed the school of my choice in the zone we move to. Does anyone have any thoughts about the likelihood of getting one's first or second choice of Berkeley school if, for example, we don't move til April (after decisions have been made)? Would appreciate hearing from anyone who did this or anyone who might have general thoughts about it. Thanks.

This is to respond to concerns regarding getting into your Berkeley school of choice. We toured four public schools in the years before my daughter started kindergarten: Jefferson, Thousand Oaks (in our zone) and Cragmont and Oxford (not in our zone). We liked Jefferson the best by far -- the staff was warm and welcoming, teachers were energetic and the children mostly seemed engaged in their classrooms. We also like Cragmont, which is near our home.

We picked Jefferson as our first choice. Didn't get in. Neither did any of the other families we know that picked Jefferson first. The district assigned our daughter to our third choice, Thousand Oaks. We weren't crazy about that school, because the kids did not seem engaged in their classes (particularly in the higher grades). We asked for an explanation of this outcome and got no response.

I've heard that you can ultimately get into your school of choice if you work at it. I also believe that there are wonderful parents that devote a lot of time and energy to the public schools and they get good results for their kids. But we decided to go private. Ann

How does the school choice system work?

Nov 1999

We are in the thinking stages of possibly buying a house this next spring or summer. More than likely we will settle in Berkeley, however, I have some concerns over this due to what I have heard about the Berkeley School District. I am not sure if I'm basing my knowledge on hearsay or actual policies. So, can someone please enlighten me on whether the information I have is correct, or not.

I have heard that Berkeley goes by a lottery system, and that it won't matter where we live because my son could get bused to any school within the district. I.e. if we live across the street from Cragmont he could end up all the way across Berkeley at Columbia. The other thing I have heard is that there is no consistency on kids going to the same school year after year, meaning that they could go to school A this year, and then end up at school B the following year. This seems absolutely ludicrous to me. How are kids supposed to feel grounded or connected to their educational institutions with a situation like this. I am also amazed that my son could end up in a separate school from his next door neighbor. This certainly does not help create a sense of community.

I'd like to hear if the information I have is correct, and if it is how are people coping with it? Turning to private schools as an alternative to dealing with this situation? thanks! To the best of my knowledge, this is how it works (and I've simplified a bit): for the elementary levels, Berkeley is divided into three sort of pie-shaped slices that run from the bay to the hills. Each "slice" of the pie has 4 or 5 elementary schools from which to choose. In some cases, there is overlap of schools available in more than one pie slice when the school is sufficiently large to handle more students. Parents list their choice of elementary school in preference order, 1, 2, 3. The school district, however, assigns the children, paying attention to preference order, but also paying attention to things like socioeconomic mix. Therefore, it is entirely possible that you could select the two schools nearest home as your first two preferences and be given your third choice as the school for your child, and your third choice could be farther away. Or, as in the case of a friend of mine, none of her choices was given, and her child was assigned to one of the larger "overlap" schools.

I have not heard of many people who are successful in getting to change the district once the decision is made. In the case of my friend, she opted to send her daughter to private school rather than have her be bussed or driven halfway across town at age 5.

At the middle school level, Berkeley is divided into roughly two pie-shaped wedges going from bay to hills. If your house is in one part of the wedge, you get Willard, in the other, King, and Longfellow is offered as a "magnet" school in arts and technology and anyone from either district may put Longfellow down as a choice. Thus it is possible to purchase a home close to King, but be within the Willard district, and vice-versa.

There is only one High School.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, once your child is in a school that's it unless you move. So, there is that consistency once the assignment has been made.

Boy do you have bad information! Sorry, or maybe you'll be glad to know that just about everything you heard is wrong. Berkeley has what is called 'parent choice' not lottery. Berkeley is divided into three zones and each of these zones has three or four schools. When you enroll your child you fill out a form and put the schools you want your child to attend in order of priority. You are not limited to the schools in your zone - but have priority in them. They will try to give you your first choice, and say that you will get at least one of your choices. So, yes, you could live across the street from one school and end up going somewhere else, but so will some of the other children in your neighborhood. I had a really hard time with this in the beginning since I only liked one of the schools in my zone. Despite what they say, I did not get any of my choices - yet after kicking up a fuss - my child was admitted to my second choice which was a school out of our zone (he is not entitled to bus services because of this). We are very happy! I know parents with children in both of the schools that I rejected in my zone and they rave about their schools. I just read a rave review about Thousand Oaks.

Once you are in a school, you stay in that school and your other children will have top priority to the same school. You don't even fill out a new request every year unless you want to change.

I have checked the ratings of Berkeley schools online and have found that many of them are rated in the top 75 of the county, above Albany schools. And speaking of Albany schools, it seems they are not all they are cracked up to be. My son's friends have about 5 more in their classes than my son's class. I hope this puts your mind at ease.

The Berkeley Schools have a "controlled choice" assignment system. It works this way: The school district (city) is divided into 3 school zones, with boundaries running from the hills to the bay. Parents of new students to the district request a school for their children, listing first, second or third choice. Requests are processed by computer to provide the greatest number of first choices possible. The control factor here racial balance--the system is designed to create racially integrated schools while providing some choice of schools to families. In addition, the district has developed magnet schools with specialized curricula--arts, for example, or the "City of Franklin" microsociety school. Free bus transportation is provided to students who select a school in their enrollment zone. If you want to send your child to a school out of your zone you have to provide the transportation. Each zone contains a choice of 3 or 4 schools. Students who live in that zone have "first preference" over students who live in another zone. There is no neighborhood preference, however, and children who live near you may choose to attend various public schools. There are many people who would prefer neighborhood schools, but even more who want to send their children to schools with a diverse, integrated population. In Berkeley, unfortunately, we can't accomplish both things at once. (It is interesting that people who say they want neighborhood schools will sometimes choose to send their children to a private school miles from home.)

Note: Generally, you choose a school at kindergarten and then at 6th grade (most Berkeley schools are K-5 or 6-8). You do not have to choose each year; once enrolled, your child remains at the same school for his/her elementary years, unless you are unhappy with the school and request a change.

All Berkeley schools have the same core curriculum, but each school has its own character and special programs. Three advantages that Berkeley schools have: (1) They are small (many are no more than 300 or so); (2) Berkeley parcel tax money (Berkeley Schools Excellence Program) provides funding for smaller class size and program enrichment; (3) local bond money has rebuilt and replaced a number of schools--most of the facilities are now far superior to other public and private schools.

There is a lot more information on the school district web site: www.berkeley.k12.ca.us. See the "Guide to Berkeley Public Schools," which describes each school site and the choice system.

One last piece of advice: Visit the schools, check them out, and make your own decision. It's helpful to hear from other parents, but be careful to sort out fact from rumor. Good luck!

To my knowledge, your second fear (changing schools from one year to another) is not justified. Check the ucbparents web page for a good string on the issue of the different lottery systems for BUSD, as well as other info on the specific schools. You can also contact the BUSD directly. They have a very good person there who deals with these issues and who is always willing to explain the process to parents-at least that was our experience. Sorry I can't remember her name.

For assigning students to elementary schools, Berkeley is cut diagnally into 3 zones, each including some hills and some flatlands. (Zones are different for middle schools, and all Berkeley high school students go to a single school).

All students who request a particular school are put into a prioritized lottery system where the priorities are something like this: first: students already attending the school, second: siblings of students in the school, then students from the same zone as the school, students from other zones, and lastly students from outside of Berkeley.

I have never heard of a student being forced to leave the school that he or she attended the previous year (although I know parents who choose to move their kids from school to school as a way of dealing with personality conflicts with teachers or principals). If a particular grade at a school fills up with students from within the zone (as tends to happen at Columbus elementary), then no students from outside the zone can go there. Students not accepted can elect to be on a waiting list.

The various kids on my block all go to different schools, due completely to the differences in their parents' choices. I find this sad, because my kids' friends from school are not nearby, and kids do not get acquainted with their neighbors through school. Of course, going to private school doesn't help with this particular problem.

A map of the zones and a brochure on the various schools is available from the Berkeley school district.

The Berkeley Unifed School District is a big bureaucracy with the usual inefficiencies one finds in such, but not unduly so. Berkeley is divided by the BUSD into North, Central, and South districts with the lines drawn in a slanting fashion from NE to SW. Within your district there will be 4 elementary schools for you to choose from, to request. Almost everyone gets their first or second choice. Once your kid is in a school they stay there until they graduate. There are rules and there are tweaks, so even if you didn't get the school you really, really want, if you keep pleading, make a good case, and keep bugging them you can probably change. From my observation, however, most of the schools are good. This doesn't mean there isn't the odd teacher or principle who should have retired years ago or else should be in a different line of work, but overall the schools keep a pretty high standard.

So just give them a call, work your way through the voice mail menu, find out which schools are in which district, and start visiting and asking around about the schools you think will be closest to you and fit your needs. One thing they try to do is make sure that each school, both elementary and middle schools, have something special to offer, be it performing arts, science, farm and garden, Mandarin instruction, or whatever.

How to decide which schools to request

July 2000

A couple of more thoughts on requesting elementary schools...

(1) Once you have to get in the car to drive a child (or two or three...) to school, it's not the same as living so close that the child can walk to school.

(2) If you live far enough away to drive, you should check out the school bus option. BUSD provides those nice yellow buses for kids through 5th grade as long as they live a certain distance away are attending a school in their "zone." We found the transportation people to be amenable to creating a new stop to get our child within a block of our house.

(3) Having your child closer to your workplace (e.g., UCB campus in the case of Washington) may be much more convenient for drop-ins, teacher visits etc, than having the school closer to your home. (If home and work are in same place this is a simpler matter to analyze of course.)

(4) Check out what time the school day starts and ends at the schools you consider -- I found that varied by as much as an hour, and was important to me to know for coordination with another school as well as my work.

I think these are generic considerations for one's school selection, and they presume you are already satisfied with the core elements of academic quality, facility safety, etc. By the way, we live in northeast Berkeley (off Grizzly Peak) and my kid just "graduated" from Washington. It worked well for us.

Our daughter is entering second grade at now Rosa Parks, nee Columbus, our son will start Kindergarten in September there. It is in child's terms very far from our home, but in our zone. A school bus comes and picks up the kids in the neighborhood a block from the house. While we do not walk to school, we do go with kids in this neighborhood to the bus and the kids have a blast. THey also have a sense of community for this fifteen minute ride and the play time down at the corner before the bus comes. We also feel very connected to the West Berkeley neighborhood that our children go to school in. We are involved with issues of the school as a park for children in the neighborhood and with the importance of community. The issue of neighborhood schools is rife with many subtleties, no doubt. But, we might at least wonder if the image we return to is one of an idea of exclusion, isolation, homogeneity and ultimately privelege and race. We have had an incredible experience, so consider all the angles before you write off opportunities.

Thanks for the thoughtful message on the importance of neighborhood schools. I agree with you about how families become communities through schools -- but probably should have mentioned to you that I do live in your neighborhood (but the North Zone). We reached Washington on a bounce out of a school closer to home -- and I do drive my kids there daily. I also helped out most days this year. It's my opinion that any school you can't walk to is equally far away (getting the kids in the car being the hard part) and that ample parking exists almost nowhere... so that's not an issue. We did often walk to Oxford, but frankly now enjoy the atmosphere down the hill a little more (with apologies to old friends at Oxford). The most important thing is to pick your school and help make it the best it can be. Good luck!

(Aug 2000)

RE: Berkeley Neighborhood Schools

The District will place your child where they think best. If you have strong preferences you may have to negotiate, or be willing to move your child as space is available after the beginning of the School year. You got a response mentioning "Oxford and Arts Magnet parents in our area who love their schools, too, so I can't say I'd base a decision on location alone."

Where your child goes depends first off on which zone, south, central or north you live in. You have quite a lot of choice within the zone. Don't underestimate the importance of a neighborhood school, however. You will be so much more involved, both in formal activities, and in casual Saturday afternoons on the playground, if your son goes to a nearby school.

In general I have heard good things about all the schools in the South zone of the BUSD, John Muir, Emerson, Malcolm X, and LeConte. Every parent I have ever spoken to who had a kid in one of these schools loves it and wouldn't switch if they could. These are all south of the UC campus area, or SE or SW, and there are lots of apartments in these areas for rent. Generally speaking, east of Shattuck Ave. is more crime free than west of Shattuck, but only in a very general way, as there are some very nice neighborhoods in the southwest part of Berkeley.

One criterion for making a decision is the availability of onsite childcare before or after school, if you will need that. LeConte has two programs: a YMCA kids club which is run by very nice, competent people, and the BUSD Extended Day Care program, which is largely subsidized for lower income folks. This last program also has good teachers, but a higher child:teacher ratio.

Navigating the school choice process


Our son started Kindergarten at Cragmont School this fall. My brief recommendations for getting through BUSD's "School Choice" system are:

1. Attend all the functions (school fair, school nights, class observations). You learn something different from each one.

2. If you don't get your first choice of school, don't give up. Get on the waiting lists. Our son was originally assigned to our last choice school, which we had been led to expect would not happen. By June he got into our second choice. The Thursday before school started, he was assigned to our first choice. So be as patient as you can be given your individual circumstances.

Regarding discipline: I would guess that it depends on both the teacher and the principal. Our son's teacher won't stand to have someone disrupt the class but when observing, we saw teachers who had little control over their class that day. I know from experience that Cragmont's principal takes discipline very seriously. Some schools have school-wide mediation programs.

NOTE: At least in the Central zone, if you enter the system in first grade then you have even less chance of getting your choice of school. Spaces open up mostly by attrition, and there seem to be a lot of kids coming into first grade from private kindergartens.

Other experiences:

1. Despite what we pay in taxes for schools enrichment, those extra funds don't go very far. (I had nightmares after my first PTA meeting.) Fund raising is very big for PTAs.

2. Economically, students vary from to kids who can't afford $2.00 for a field trip to kids who attended expensive private preschools such as Step One.

3. We were told that some incoming kindergarteners will never have been read to before coming to school. I didn't see any direct evidence in my son's class, but it could be true.

4. Volunteering in the classroom on a regular basis (even 2 hours/week) helps the teachers and students A LOT. It also lets you keep a close eye on what really goes on in the classroom and the playground. It is also your only regular contact with the teacher if your child takes the bus.

5. It's true that Berkeley schools don't do well on the standardized tests. Cragmont only has money to give extra help to the two or so lowest scoring students in each class. But my guess is that parents can do a lot to influence how well their own children will do--read to your kids a lot, show your kids that you enjoy reading, help them with homework (my son has nightly homework). I was also saddened to find out that there is very little money for the GATE--Gifted and Talented-- program, which doesn't go into effect until the higher grades anyway.


Overall, we are very pleased with Cragmont and our son's class. It is a K-1 combination and works very well. Our son is exposed to first grade concepts and is intrigued by them. The first graders are respectful of and helpful to the kindergarteners and all the kids have bonded. (The teacher encouraged this and I saw it for myself when I went on a field trip a few weeks ago.)

The real drawbacks we've experienced are a result of Cragmont's current location: it shares the Franklin site with Thousand Oaks School and the physical setup isn't as good as it could be. But the principal is working on the problems and the school district has helped out some.

Regarding after-school programs: We chose JCC because it was close to our house, BUSD would bus our son there after school (JCC has its own vans to some out-of-area schools), and the program seemed very good. We have been quite pleased with it.

A parent asked about the ability to switch classes if a teacher doesn't work out. From what I've seen, this is allowable as long as there is room in another class (classes can't go above 20 students). There are probably issues of trying to maintain racial balance as well. My son's room started out with 17 students and has had some students come and go since then. In one switch, a student who could barely speak English (from what I could tell) was moved into the bilingual class after a few weeks and a few days later, an English speaking student moved from the bilingual class to my son's class. Given what I know about the situation, it wasn't a predetermined "trade"-- things just worked out.

From: Fran (6/98)

Regarding registering for Berkeley Public Schools at this late date:

I recommend that you visit the Parent Access office of the Berkeley Unified School District headquarters as soon as possible and find out what the procedure is for registering at this point. Then visit the schools and decide your priorities, then go from there. My feeling is that everyone has their own ranking of the Central zone schools, depending on their personal circumstances.

An aside: We signed up for the March lottery (kindegarten) and were assigned our 4th choice. As soon as the June registration deadline passed, we were offered a slot at our 2nd choice school. Up to that point, we were 8th on the waiting list for the school. I don't know how many slots opened up, but it wasn't very many. Most of the people ahead of us on the list had already made other arrangements in the time between March and June. This experience supports what I had heard before on this list: the longer you can afford to wait, the better your chances of getting what you want.

From: a parent (3/98)
Subject: In response to: How to get school assignments changed?

Be pleasant and reasonable. Working in the Parent Access Office, especially this time of year, is hard. (If you think how nervous you are, and then multiply that by hundreds of parents, and try to imagine yourself as the person whose job it is to deal with it all... )

As soon as you get your assignment, show up at the Parent Access Office and get your child on the waiting list for the school you want. You can get waitlisted at more than one school, if you didn't get your first or second choice. Then do what they say. (Register at the school you're assigned to, etc.) You can call every few weeks to see if there's any news (always being pleasant and reasonable), but they usually don't start handing out lots of slots until June, when they see how many people have registered. If you can stand uncertainty, and can hang in there until the last minute, there's another big shakedown in late August and through the first few weeks of school. The district may not even know until then how many of each grade they'll have at each site, and often have spots open up when that all gets settled.

Good luck. Last year I listed first, second and third choices in my zone, and didn't get any of them. But in June, my child was assigned to my first choice school, and it's been great.

Date: Jan 2, 1998
Last year I didn't receive a Parent Preference Form for Berkeley Public Schools from my daughter's preschool and I MISSED the application deadline. (I might have been more on top of this if I hadn't just given birth to my second daughter after a five day labor!) Just so other kindergarten parents in the group can avoid the same grief, I called the Berkeley Parent Access Office today (644-6504) and received the following information:

Parent Preference Forms will be available at all school, libraries and the district office after January 10, 1998. The forms are due by February 17th. Parents may visit schools any Tuesday or Thursday after January 13th. They request that you call in advance to verify that the class will be available for viewing. Amy


The lottery system for school selection is tricky. Be sure to make all filing deadlines and follow-up that your application was processed. Last year, our application, along with 50 others, was "lost" and not processed. Fortunately, we still were "picked" by the BPS computer to go to the school of our choice (Emerson) but others were not so lucky. The main office of BPS can be a "black hole" for questions but be persistent, and someone will help you. Carolyn

Oct 1996

I have children in three different Berkeley Public Schools. My youngest child (last school year in 3rd grade) entered the system last year. Based on anecdotal information only (my own experience and conversations with parents I met), I think that most children who entered a Berkeley elementary school last year (and who were not entering kindergarten) were assigned to Franklin. Berkeley has a complicated zone system for elementary schools and parents can choose one of the schools in the zone in which they live. School assignment is then made based on criteria such as older sibling attendance (that is, having all children in the same family at the same school during the same school year, not previous attendance) and the effort to achieve gender racial balance at each school. Last year I met parents from all over Berkeley, all new to Berkeley Public Schools, whose children had been assigned to Franklin. (None of whom had requested Franklin. Me, I live within sight of Jefferson which was why it had been my first choice. Schools in my zone were Franklin, Jefferson, and Thousand Oaks. My second and third choices were schools in other zones that would have made daily drop off and pick up routines workable for me.)

My son had a wonderful year at Franklin, an excellent teacher, made some very nice new friends. Next year he is going to Columbus. (Completely impossible drop off and pick up, but now I'm used to it.) However, I personally wish that Berkeley would just go ahead and assign the kids without the rigamorole of the zones and the choice since I don't think that there is as much choice as advertised .I think that children are assigned where there is room and to achieve racial and gender balance and that parent choice is given the least weight in that decision.

The previous year, when we first moved to Berkeley from Albany, I had a similar experience with my then fifth grade son. We dutifully attended open houses at King (a few blocks from our house), Willard, and Longfellow (identified as an arts and technology magnet school). Longfellow was our third choice, but that is where our son was assigned. The criteria for assignment to both King and Willard severely limited the options for students new to the district. Again, I would have preferred knowing right off that he would be assigned to Longfellow. It is difficult for parents to try to make a careful choice, visit the schools, talk to people, make lists, listen to their child, etc., then discover that there had probably never been much chance of assignment to the school of choice. This is of particular concern when some of the schools (like Longfellow's arts and technology program or Thousand Oaks' Spanish program) offer non standard curricula.

On the plus side, I have friends with children in all of Berkeley's elementary and middle schools and there are people happy with every single one of them. (We're even happy with some of what goes on at Berkeley High.) There are committed teachers, involved parents at all the schools. Any child's experience may be good or not but I have come to think that that experience has more to do with the specific teacher they have and the particular dynamic of the class and the school in any given year.


From: Susan (4/98)

We just went through the lottery system in Berkeley as our daughter is entering kindergarten in the fall. We had a very positive experience. I called the BUSD Parent Outreach office several times with questions and received quick, clear answers from the staff there. We were delighted when we got our first choice of Oxford School.

From: a parent (5/98)

We got our first choice, Columbus School, Spanish immersion. We were really impressed in the Fall with the school, and equally since our admission, we have been invited to several events at the school which has significantly lowered my daughter's anxiety about where the hell she was going next year. It has been an unequivically positive expereince to date. Also, our second and third choices would have been okay with us, especially since we debated which to put where. We are not indiscriminant, I am a child/adolescent analyst and my partner is a teacher and does a great deal with the education, so we had very high standards.