Parents' Comments about Berkeley High

Questions See Also

Advice for a soon-to-be 9th-grader?

August 2011


I'm hoping to hear something current about the school. My son, who had attended Orinda public schools since the third grade, may be attending Berkeley High because our inter-district transfer into Acalanes Union High School District has been denied. We have appealed and are awaiting a decision. Meanwhile, what advice would you have for my soon-to-be 9th-grader if he will need to attend Berkeley High? What is your opinion of the school: students, faculty, administration, curriculum, safety, etc? Thanks in advance! Karen

My opinion of BHS as the mother of a senior, is very high. We came from a small private school and BHS seemed huge, chaotic and overwhelming. But it is a good school and there are some wonderful, dedicated teachers. There are some funky teachers as well, like anywhere. The different schools and programs (AP, IB) offer kids a more contained environment and a way to connect with others. IB has been VERY impressive. It is an urban-based school with the same kinds of issues that all schools in this country are dealing with---drugs, weapons---but the new principal is fabulous and on top of safety. I encourage you to volunteer for something at the school if your son goes there so that you get a better sense of how things work and who's who. He will learn a lot. I can understand your concerns but he'll be fine. good luck!

My daughter graduated from BHS in 2010 and my son will be a Sophomore this year. Both chose Academic Choice as their school. They are very different kids. My daughter is a student that never had to be pushed to do her best; my son, who is just as capable as she is, ''gets by''. Both have always been very sociable and I think this has worked in their favor in being in a big academic setting. BHS, like any school, works best when a student can find their niche. While I can't get my son all that interested in academics, he does theatre and music outside of school and did a sport last year and will one again this year. While there is plenty to do at BHS, some kids drop through the cracks. Engaged parents make a big difference. The small schools help students focus on what their strengths are.

What BHS has going for it is plenty of diversity, lots to get involved in and many wonderful and dedicated teachers. My kids have had a couple of bad ones as well, and getting the school to respond to complaints is time-consuming and often frustrating for parents and students. And yes, the administration knows who these teachers are but their hands are tied in terms of dealing with them, so it falls on the parents to be persistent with meetings and timely follow-up. In terms of safety issues, despite the gunshot incident last spring, my kids told me they felt safe at BHS and that the open campus is not one that they would want to give up in favor of tighter security. In short, with any school, it has a lot to do with who your child is. My daughter ended up at a very good college and she felt BHS prepared her extremely well. Love BHS

I feel that BHS will be a very good vibrant high school for my student and I know that many other parents with current or former BHS students feel the same way.

Regarding the learning communities within BHS, each student is required to be inone of the learning communities whether one of the smaller ones or the larger BIHS or AC. Requiring students to be in learning communities has, from what I understand, made a big difference and students feel more a part of a group. I also understand that at BHS is it s key to be involved in an activity (club, music or a sport). So if you student is lucky enough to go to BHS, require them to be involved in some activity. BHS is not something to be scared of, but an opportunity to take advantage of.

And for the anti-theft refresher with any urban school (or urban transit system!), be aware. Do not use your electronics before, during or after school out in the open or they may get yanked out of your hands. Find out what areas around school to avoid. Don't hang out in the adjacent park after school. Put any electronics and your wallet deep in your backpack or in your front pocket. Valuables left just inside the zipper of your backpack may get pick-pocketed in a crowded hallway at class passing time. Do not leave your backpack unattended. If any thing gets stolen or you are hassled, report it. Berkeley High grads who apply themselves get a great education and leave the school very ready for the world. BHS Mom

Our daughter attended Berkeley High as a freshman, but we transferred to a smaller private school her sophomore year because of the safety/violence problems there. IMO, the school is too big, with over 3,000 students, along with a number of kids from other districts who just happen to be on campus during school hours. There are many students who disrupt the classes on a regular basis. The small schools format does not change that. The small schools are merely ''on-paper'' assignments to a particular curriculum. We also did not like the fact that Berkeley High students wander around downtown Berkeley on their lunch hour. Eating lunch in the cafeteria is not a real option, as I'm sure you already know. Yes, there are some very good teachers there, although there are also some not-so-good ones. There are kids who do well at Berkeley High. But since we have lived in south Berkeley for years, we did not need the multicultural ''experience'' of Berkeley High. We needed a school where our daughter could concentrate on her classes. Berkeley mom

BHS has some fantastic teachers and some who should not be teaching (or counseling students). It's a great school for kids who are high achievers and who are independent students. Not so great for those who aren't on a high academic track or who have mild disabilities like ADD or social difficulties. Those kids can get lost in the vastness of the place and it's a constant struggle to get a certain counselor to do his job and a struggle to get some teachers to make any changes to their way of teaching. Some of my friends' kids did great--being involved in a sport or activity is very helpful--but mine, despite lots of help at home, did not. Disappointed mom

Regarding the Principal, Mr. Scuderi is an excellent communicator, and seems to be well liked by the staff. He seems to have a good rapport with students and with the BUSD administration. He appears to be accomplishing a challenging job with grace. berkeley parent

I would like to add a different point view to your question. I actually like BHS as a high school and feel that it gave my recent graduate a superb education. My child has ADD and the coping skills and academics learned from BHS were invaluable for getting into a good college and for coping with college bureaucracy and the real world.

Yes, it is bigger than most high schools and perhaps, if you have a child with disabilities or other challenges, you as a parent might have to be a little more on top of tracking homework and communicating with teachers than in a smaller school. However, Powerschool makes it easy to keep on top of grades, homework assignments and it is fairly easy to communicate with most teachers and administration who I found to be caring, competent,and open to working with parents.

The Parent-Teacher community is inviting and I found that while some teachers were better than others, most teachers were good or great. The best part is that there is a place at BHS for every type of student with sports, clubs, or more studious pursuits.

BHS divides the student population into smaller learning communities (SLC) - the smaller ones are between 300-500 students and the larger ones between 900-1350. The larger SLC are not any bigger than most other high schools.

I am impressed with the recent posts coming out from administration about enhanced security and attendance oversight.

Good luck with your decision. Mom of recent BHS graduate

Of course Berkeley High is not for everyone. Berkeley itself isn't. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford a private high school, congratulations. If not, or you think the BHS experience would be valuable for your child's development as a caring, intelligent and happy member of society, get involved and stay in touch with your kids and their teachers and you can make the school work. Even if you don't have time, the school and community have set up programs to provide all kinds of suport to students who seek it out. Encourage your child to use them. There are activities for just about any type of young person. There are temptations and children who are headed for trouble all around--no doubt. However, suggesting that the students are constantly threatened and that physical danger lurks around every corner reflects more a parent's anxiety than reality. The statistics do not support this fear. Anecdotes do not prove much. Everyone has their own opinion of BHS. Stop by the front desk, get a tour, talk to kids, sit in on a class. Attend meetings. Volunteer as a tutor. Don't believe what you read on the internet. Find out for yourself. luckypaul

The small schools are not merely ''on paper.'' I can't disagree with all of the things that have been said about BHS here, but it's worth saying that many of the generalizations about the school are just that. For what it's worth, CAS has given my child a strong sense of community--being part of a group--in the midst of the much larger, looser entity of BHS. He has had some good teachers and some not so good, as in any other part of the school. He rejected the world of private schools after the experience of a private middle school, and really likes being part of BHS, especially CAS. a CAS Mom


Impacts of large size at Berkeley High School?

April 2011


Can people share their experiences about Berkeley High School, specifically with regards to the large size of the school? How easy is it for a child to get ''lost'' academically and socially? What type of children tend to thrive and which don't at Berkeley HS? -Exploring Berkeley Schools

For my child the size has worked well, allowing her to meet people with similar interests. In 9th grade my impression is that the students are very open to making new friends. I think it is a good school for relatively well-organized, self-directed, bright students who have interests (i.e. sports, music, drama, art, clubs), and a very good school for students who are gifted in their area of interest, or academically gifted (especially in the junior/senior year with many AP and IB SL/HL classes.) Most teachers are interested in pushing the strong students to do better, and to think more analytically. For example, my student who writes well and easily has been learning to write critical essays in English, and not been allowed to slide by with just a fluid and entertaining writing style. I think it is probably a hard place to be ''middle-of-the-road'' and not have some kind of passionate interest. Students have to be relatively self-directed to solve glitches that come up (probably more than ideal with complex paperwork like P.E. waivers for students in BIHS, and other programs without time for electives.) It is also big enough so that students who want to find trouble can do so, though from what I've heard from friends with students in other high schools, trouble/drugs are pretty available most places. -anon


Trying to learn the ropes at BHS

Oct 2008


Hi - as the mom of a ninth grader at Berkeley High, we're just learning the ropes and I have a few questions about how to help my daughter navigate a few areas at school: 1. Clubs: How does one encourage one's kid to get involved in clubs? My kid seems a bit lost and overwhelmed and the clubs seem like a perfect way to take a more manageable bite out of things. I'm still looking for a complete list but would love advice on how other kids put a toe in the club waters. 2. Absences: Our daughter was sick with a bad cold for three days about three weeks ago. It seems to have cost her a lot of momentum. She seems to be spending a lot of energy catching up and just a brief absence seems costly. Have other parents observed your kid having the same experience? 3. Self-esteem: Our daughter has always gotten great grades and her academic excellence has been an important part of her identity. Now, for the first time, it seems unlikely that she'll pull off straight A's. I don't want her to get discouraged or have this diminish her drive (Latin and Geometry seem especially hard). Any words of wisdom as to how to encourage her to continue to do her best even though the going is tough in this new environment would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much

For clubs, as well as everything else, check out the BHS etree; they send all the announcements for current BHS events. To subscribe to the etree, write bhs-request [at] with one word only in the subject line: subscribe. You should be able to find a recent listing of clubs at the BHS etree archives: Moving from the smaller pond, where your daughter excelled easily, to the bigger pond, with all the others that excelled easily, is hard. My son, also a freshman, is in the same situation. If she needs help in specific classes, there are a lot of opportunities for tutoring and advice, frequently at lunchtime. Tom

I also have a BHS 9th grade daughter. I agree that it's tough to miss school and keep up. I felt terrible when my daughter didn't want to miss a day of middle school, even when sick, because she feared getting behind. On the grades front, my daughter is a solid student but didn't get all As in middle school, unlike some of her friends. She said the other day that some of these friends are having a hard time adjusting to not getting ''all As.'' The course work is hard and teachers aren't open to late or make-up work. When a kid asked about turning in a late assignment, her geometry teacher said he should go in a time machine and turn in the work when it was supposed to be turned in. How about ''group tests,'' where the teacher picks one page to grade....and in one instance it was a page that one student left blank, so all four kids got a bad grade. These are frustrating and demoralizing situations, but that's life. Try to keep encouraging your daughter to do her best and try not to focus on the importance of ''all A's.'' mom of BHS kid


Gay Teens at Berkeley High

Feb 2008


Re: Choosing a high school for gay son
I am the parent of a sophmore at Berkeley High School and based on the discussions she and I have regarding gay teens (she's heterosexual but accepting of the LBGT community) kids are able to be themselves because there are other kids just like them. Also there are staff members who are lesbian and gay (and open about it) and there are support groups for these teens and the school has a health center that also offers counseling for kids to have an outlet to talk to someone. For the most part from what I've observed from being on campus is that these kids are more welcomed opposed to being outcast. I also would like to say my daughter has a teacher who falls in this catergory that we absolutely adore (my daughter stops by her class just to hang out and chat afterschool) because she is a good educator which is all that matters.


Under challenged daughter at BHS

Feb 2006


My daughter just started at BHS for second semester sophomore year. She moved here from an excellent school near Seattle. She is really unhappy with the level of instruction and the teachers (and everyone involved, she says) there. The kids in her classes don't seem to care, they are disruptive, the Spanish teacher doesn't seem to know what she's doing and doesn't even speak in an accent. We are desperately looking for a last minute alternative! Is there some secret way to get her into some more advanced classes, or another area school that is better, or anything??? She's very bright and academically committed. I'm going to go over there tomorrow and talk to someone about switching her into some better classes but she is sure no one will have anything better to offer. She is not as into clubs or sports as the rest of the school is, she just wants to learn academics. Any suggestions, teacher names, etc? Elizabeth

My bright, creative daughter attended Berkeley High School's Independent Study program for two years and LOVED it! Most of the teachers are attentive, intelligent, respectful, and committed to their unique students. The academic rigor was challenging ... (Click here for full review)


Sophomore son is doing poorly academically at BHS

February 2006


My son, a sophmore at BHS, skips as many classes as he attends. He is doing poorly academically. I believe that the current program is not right for him. He wanted to be in the Arts program but was not admitted.

I've tried talking with the counselor, and I believe that the counselor is unable to help because he seems uninterested in my son in the first place and hostile to me. I've requested from the deputy principal that a different counselor be assigned and was refused.

Therefore, I am considering:
--other schools, including arts academies
--the BHS independent study program.

Anybody have a suggestion for an incredibly intelligent young man who is not successful at BHS?
Looking for Alternatives

A while back, some parents were meeting as a 'school is not for boys' support group, and we archived the notes and resources from those meetings at Hope you find something useful there - several of the entries include other schools to consider, including a new charter school in Oakland. The group is now defunct, but maybe it could be resurrected with new members (and the group might consider including parents of daughters as well). I don't know why the group was short-lived, must be many reasons. Our situations were quite different (family composition, finances, ethnicity, sons' ages, schools...); it's difficult to share these stories with strangers (and perhaps the conversations are better handled by a professional); some of us were experiencing some success and others saw little change.... I wish we could have helped one another more. The problems are real and need raising and addressing. Best of luck to you. anon

I highly recommend the East Bay Waldorf High School. Some kids think it's too small, but the education is excellent and the kids can't hide - which can make all the difference - so much attention is paid to each child and I have found my interactions with the faculty to be very informative and helpful - I know it's not close, it's in El Sobrante - there is a bus and there are carpools from Berkeley and other cities. There aren't lots of sports and clubs like Berkeley High but there are some and they are working on making more. Kids can visit the school for a few days to get a feel for it.
A Happy EBWS Parent

Editor Note: see also Older Discussions (2005 and earlier)