About Berkeley High - Parents' Advice

Parent Q&A

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  • I have an 8th-grade child who is set to attend Berkeley High School next year. I've gathered information about the school, including insights from neighbors whose kids have graduated from BHS. My child is a good student and an athlete and has been able to self-advocate since very young - and so on paper seems well-suited for the school.

    However, our recent school tour left us feeling disappointed and, to be honest, depressed.  Walking through the Civic Center encampments into the very inward-facing school that very much felt prison-like wasn’t a great welcome to the tour.  While we appreciated the effort of the parent volunteer guiding us – the tour did not leave a positive impression. We picked up from the tour a general lack of structure to the school and, as a result, the ease at which some kids can just slip through the system. 

    He de-emphasized the school’s athletic programs, letting us know that it’s a source of pride that the school doesn’t excel in sports.  He ended the tour by telling us that his kids joke that a full third of students are either drug dealers or high at school. When I think about the high school experience, this seemed to be very much not what I would want for my kid.  It appears to be a place where kids are kicked too early into adulthood – worrying about their safety, easily slipping through cracks and finding trouble.

    Given these concerns, I'm reaching out to current or former parents of BHS students for your own insight. Do students typically have "normal" high school experiences at Berkeley High? Is there a sense of school spirit and pride? Do students attend weekend football games? In essence, can students enjoy a typical high school experience while attending Berkeley High School? More-or-less can kids be high school kids here?  I'd really appreciate any input and perspectives you can share to help us make an informed decision for the next step for our kid.  I fully realize that there's much more to the school than can be picked up from a 45 minute tour.  Thank you!

    You'll get a lot of replies I'm sure! My two kids have had good experiences overall at BHS. Yes the size weighs on the operation of the school, and yes there are students smoking weed in the bathrooms, etc. But one of my girls went to private middle school and many of her friends are at a well-known religious high school in Berkeley - she feels they have a far worse drug problem. My kids really enjoy going to basketball, football and soccer games with their friends. There's not as much rah-rah athletic pride, but IMHO that's a good thing - you're as likely to have pride in the film program or the jazz band. I think it all boils down to your kid and your family - kids who are motivated and supported can get through without any danger or distractions. There will definitely be bad classes every semester and dirty bathrooms, but there is every opportunity to find a large niche. Never once have my girls felt pressured to dress a certain way, or feel body-shamed, or be part of an 'in' or 'out' clique. They've stayed motivated and feel very ready for college.

    Good cause to be concerned with BHS. My two sons went there the previous two years. Both played on varsity athletic teams. My kids would agree that a "third of students are either drug dealers or high at school". Halls smell of weed, and you can't go to the bathroom without someone selling. Class sizes are large and it was difficult to get individual attention. Both had straight A's without much effort. They transferred to private schools for this school year and it is night and day compared to BHS. They miss their friends but understood it was not an environment for learning. Unfortunately it was not a good experience. Moved on...

    You are not wrong to be worried. My kid is a senior at BHS and I really wish I had made a different choice for him. 

    On the plus side:  yes, there are sports and hundreds of different groups and activities to join and if a kid finds one of those niches works for them it can be fun and rewarding. The huge size of the school does allow for all different kinds of kids to find their tribe as well (unlike a small school that can be hard for some to feel part of.)

    The negatives are far greater in number and importance:

    #1 I bought into the story everyone tells about how a very smart driven kid can get a great education there because of all the AP classes. It's not true. No matter how "advanced" the class (with the exception of physics and calculus—they were appropriately challenging) the material has been closer to middle school level and A's are passed out like candy on Halloween. I worry about my kid starting college next year at a serious disadvantage to the kids who went to more academically-oriented schools.

    #2 Yes, the campus is grim. Maybe not worse than the average urban public school but dreary, dark, and prison-like nevertheless. The school prides itself on having security guards in most of the hallways. It might be a good idea to question why this is necessary.

    #3 Yes, drug use is as described. I would estimate more like 50% but my guess would be that's the case at most every high school in the U.S.

    #4 Rather than being kicked too early into adulthood I would say BHS has created the opposite problem. The lack of structure, academic seriousness, and culture of wokeness (sorry, but it's true) creates an atmosphere in which kids are never accountable for anything and every bad behavior is forgiven. It's much more like a poorly run elementary school than adulthood.

    If I had the chance to do it again I would RUN, not walk, to a private school no matter what it cost us. I would have rather spent our savings there and taken out loans for college.

    The tour guide's comments would also apply to when I was a student a Berkeley High, late '70s-early '80s. And your question is very interesting... kids being kids and a normal high school experience. Those of us who attended Berkeley High wouldn't know any different. Then and now, about 25-30% of Berkeley High students do very, very well. About 25% do poorly and have resulting problems for many years. Most are somewhere in the middle.

    My daughter is a recent graduate of a smaller local public high school, and it still had some of the same issues as Berkeley High, just on a smaller scale because there were fewer overall students. It was also a closed campus, which, according to my daughter, helped some with improving student behavior.

    In my opinion, it all comes down to the student and how they handle the Berkeley High culture and environment, and how you trust her to make good choices.

    Hi there, I am a "bonus" ("step", "secondary", etc) parent of a sophomore at Berkeley High. I know a number of people who work at Berkeley High, and if you feel comfortable, I would like to know the name of the parent volunteer -- that is atrocious and an insulting summary for the school student population and athletes, and the tour guide is doing a disservice to the whole school in presenting it as such.

    My kid is having a good experience there, and we were worried not because of the reputation or rumors, but because he was coming from another school district, entering without having any friends at the school. His first year he had mostly successes although we had hoped he would get involved more with extra-curricular activities (he joined one club that he quit halfway through the year because it didn't seem very organized). This year he's joining a sport for the first time and has friends, and he is happy to be there. Freshman year, kids start in "pods" where they have classes with mostly the same group of other students, and I think that helped him make friends. Sophomore year and on, they're split into "schools" (pardon, I don't know all the terminology or mini-schools), and while homework can be a lot, he's managing it.

    The school is large -- it's like a college campus. I've volunteered at the school and met student athletes that were very dedicated; and also some musicians and artists and dancers too. The school does have to balance student safety - with ever-present national concern about violence, they do have to be careful. There are all types of students with all types of backgrounds there-- it's a public school. I honestly think having such an institution in Berkeley is a gift, not without flaws or incidents, but there are just TONS of resources at the high school. Good luck with your high school venture! 

    I have two BHS kids - one who graduated from AHA and a senior in AC. Even though they are very different people and one attended K-8 in BUSD and the other a small private K-8 school, they both found their place at BHS and had/is having a great experience. I think because BHS is so big, each student can find their niche and their community of friends. My older child never went to or participated in any sporting events but did go to every performing arts show. My younger participates in a variety of programs and has gone to many student events/activities (like basketball games, volunteering, dance performances, Homecoming) and has friends from a diversity of sub-communities that he never had the chance in his homogenous private school. Despite a lot of effort on the part of the staff and faculty, there are still students who aren't engaged, who are vaping in the bathrooms, pulling fire alarms and skipping classes, but by and large, these students are not disruptive in the classroom and neither of my children have felt that they couldn't learn.  Yes, the teachers are hit and miss -- some are amazing and some are just so-so, but my kids have gotten all fours and fives on their AP exams, so they are definitely learning (and more importantly learning how to get help when they don't.) Sounds like your child is adept at self-advocacy - that's a good skill to have (or to learn) at BHS and beyond. My oldest attends college in a big urban setting and they navigate the streets like a boss but also treat others with kindness and equity -- all of which I think are artifacts of spending four years at BHS. Good luck to your child!

    My child graduated some time ago - 2014 - but many of the same issues were there then. She came to BHS from King, which is a pretty big middle school. And participated in the IB program. She had been playing soccer since kindergarten and played for 3 years, then took senior year off to do other things (work after school, particiate in the Vagina Monologs). The school has EVERYTHING and it's not for everybody (it would have been too easy for my second child to slip through the cracks there and get into trouble, which is why we chose another school for them.) But my daughter got a lot out of the school, and she says it prepared her well for college. And today, in her late 20s, her largest friend group is made up of kids she went to high school with. And she lives in New York! I'm sure you'll get a lot of similar feedback from parents on this topic. Berkeley HIgh is an amazing place, and it's a difficult place, and everything in between - much like life. If you have some grit and can seek out the good stuff, it'll serve you well. Good luck to you.

    My student graduated from Berkeley High and is now in a top graduate school program in their field. My question to you is: What is a normal high school experience? If you define it by football, BHS is probably not normal. My child did not attend any football games. They did attend many plays, dance performances, and concerts. They had a group of close friends they hung out with, mostly to talk about shows, and graphic novels, and Science Fiction or Fantasy novels. And to bake elaborate creations. They went hiking with friends, and did a bit of camping with friends junior and senior year. Some of the friends were athletes, but most didn't pursue competitive sports after high school. They knew a few people who took drugs/drank but this group of friends (who I admit, had the kinds of parents who stuck around when the kids were over) did not have significant drug use. They were not significantly impacted by the presence of the unhoused, although they probably learned to be more street-smart because of that. The school was very good preparation for college. Not every moment or teacher was perfect but overall it was a very good place to learn how to negotiate a bigger world. 

    However, you and your son need to determine what he needs to thrive.. If he is easily influenced, or there is a lot of substance abuse in your family, there could be problems. Or if one of his goals is to pursue football at a college where it is competitive to join the team, it might not be the best preparation. The BHS students we know had an easier time getting being recruited for crew, and soccer.

    Caveat: I have a ninth grader at BHS, so am not as experienced as some other parents. I can tell you of our experience so far. First of all, Berkeley High athletics does very well. With such a large school, they have a huge pool of talented athletes to draw from. The football team was 1st in the league this fall and the Girls Cross Country team won the state championship. Last year, boys basketball was number 1 in the league and boys soccer was #2 ... girls soccer was #1, etc., etc. The club sports do well, too -- the mountain biking team is often #1 in their league. So I'm not sure what that parent was talking about.

    Another thing about sports is that because the school is so big, sports is one way of students finding their people -- I know it helped my child's transition to high school immensely to be on the Cross Country team in the fall. Plus, at least for that team, the coaches and student athletes are so supportive and they emphasize nutrition, injury prevention, and rest in addition to personal performance. I can not speak highly enough of the cross country and track coaches -- they are amazing. I've heard similar good things about other sports, though not all.

    As far as drugs go, yes there are people who use and deal drugs there, perhaps more than other schools, I don't know. Perhaps it just seems like a lot since it is such a big student body. I can't imagine there is any high school in the area with no access to drugs -- and don't think the private school are more sheltered -- they have a reputation of having even easier access to drugs! I think it is something you have to have constant conversations about with your child and definitely be aware of who they are hanging out with and where they are going. That said, it is definitely possible to graduate from Berkeley high and not be a regular drug user. The majority of kids fall into that category. (My child says it's more like a tenth of the kids use or deal drugs, not a third, FWIW.)

    There is school spirit at Berkeley high and students do attend football games. There is also "unity week" in the fall which is mostly fun, but can be fraught on Friday when it is "Red and Gold" day and the upperclassmen target freshman -- my child was really worried about it, but in the end it seemed to be overhyped and not a big deal. In general it seems like a fun week when students can show their school spirit. I'm not sure if this is what you mean by a "normal" high school experience.

    I do think your post hits on a weakness at Berkeley high -- which is that kids can fall through the cracks and it tends to segregate the high-performing students from the kids with more headwinds. If your child is a good student and involved in sports, I don't think this should be a big worry. It is a big school, and some students may feel lost -- joining a smaller of the small learning communities in 10th grade would help as would getting involved in clubs or sports. 

    Good luck on your decision -- I do think BHS is a good school with lots to offer.

    You're wise to bring up some of these issues. I had a child graduate BHS in 2021 and we weren't really prepared for the prison-like atmosphere of the school. In my kid's time there, the campus was never used for "hanging out." There was only one break in the entire day, 45 mins for lunch, and the kids all dissipated into downtown Berkeley. The schedule -- same classes every day in the same order, with only a single 45 min lunch break -- was monotonous and exhausting. That single 45 minute break was the only time during the school day that students had to participate in clubs, or seek help from teachers. BHS was also extremely rigid and unforgiving about attendance and homework. 
    In my kid's time, no one went to football games -- I think there was a ban on spectator attendance due to fears of violence. There was no homecoming dance. The school spirit week was a chaotic time where students dressed up and screamed in the hallways -- for a gregarious kid this is great, my kid not so much. There were frequent fire alarms and students would be evacuated due to fires set in bathrooms. I would not say my kid felt safe and confident walking through BHS.
    That said, not all of the parent volunteer's comments seem accurate. BHS has some very strong sports teams, including the excellent crew and soccer programs. Many students have wonderful experiences in some of the clubs and activities, including jazz band and the Jacket. Our kid tried both sports and clubs and they were definitely the best part of the school.
    Yes, my kid learned to navigate a chaotic bureaucracy, and learned some valuable self-advocacy skills while at BHS. She did not learn much in the way of academics, however, and the humanities curriculum in AC, even AP classes, was extremely poor. At the end of the day I'm not sure whether it was worth the "life skills" learned. 

    My kid is a freshman and definitely bought into the allure of cannabis. He was addicted to nicotine by September. I had a hard time figuring what to even do about it. He has mostly stuck to cannabis, but says that you can get lean (codeine + sprite) and percs (Percocets) anywhere. A month ago I would have said the problem is the school. They could DEFINITELY do more to address it, but I had a conversation last night with a friend who sent her daughter to Albany high and that it was worse.

    Honestly, I think that if my kid was into sports it would go a long way, because there are a ton of teams and there's strong community on the teams.

    We got calls from our son's teachers very early in the semester, letting us know that he was struggling or seemed clocked out in class. The faculty are very invested, and I think genuinely want to support him. I'm not in a position to judge the academic content because my kid is making absolutely no effort. I think with  half-hearted push, he could easily get Bs. He's got FS at the moment.

    I don't think the "prison" feel is something that I or my kid sees. Kids spread out to the Cal campus and the YMCA and generally I don't hear kids complain about the campus itself.

    I've been trying to get the school to address the bathroom problem. It sucks for everyone. Kids who just want to use the toilet have no where to go (or they leave campus and go to the Y). Apparently they are checked every five minutes but my kid says you can just hide in a stall.

    Wherever you end up, have a lot of honest conversations with your kid about drugs, addiction and brain development (or don't take my advice? My son was recently aghast that his Stoner Sidekick didn't even understand why his parents were so upset. "I had to explain about, like, pruning and adolescent brain development" -- so he knows all this stuff and he's still doing it. 😢) and be prepared to intervene.

  • Does anyone have advice on how to weather online teaching next year for incoming freshman. We are at a little bit of a loss about how to start Berkeley High with the new post-COVID world.

    My hard-working, high-GPA 9th grader somehow failed to turn in any work for several weeks, so we are scrambling to catch up enough now to pass.

    Problem one: technological issues are a challenge to our non-techie household.  Some of her work seems to have gotten lost via tech problems.

    Problem two: insufficient supervision by parents.  Distance learning requires skills (self-discipline, scheduling, etc.) that most 14-year-olds lack.

    Problem three: SIL-induced mental vagueness and brain-fog. I suspect our kid sincerely thought she had done some homework that she hadn't.

    Next year will have an added challenge, that the kids will never have met their teachers in person.. Our kid LOVES her BHS teachers, and that feeling is an important motivator.

    What we have instituted, which seems to help, includes

    -  a tighter daily schedule meant to mimic the school day, including breaks; 

    -  removal of cell phone during school hours (studies show that even the presence of a turned-off phone on the desk cuts into attention; the phone has to be completely unavailable)

    -  parents go over homework before it gets posted, to be sure it's completely done (otherwise there would be a lot of skipped answers).

  • I am looking for some parent "reviews" of the new universal 9th grade at Berkeley High. What do you think of the curriculum? Is it academically challenging/engaging for more advanced learners? 

    My advanced-learner daughter was challenged last year mostly by her non-universal classes (Advanced Math 1 and Mandarin), but she was at least engaged in her universal classes, thanks to excellent teachers.  Ethnic studies/social living involved a lot of class discussions and learning about civil rights, some of which was eye-opening to her.  For English, they seemed mostly to read and reflect on books of their own choosing, with some reading and writing essays on stories they read as a class.  Physics was a lot of experiments and what seemed to be a good grounding in the basics.

  • Is there somewhere I can find a listing of what Berkeley High School classes are offered 0 or 7 period (that is, not using up an elective choice)?  There are so many great classes, and we can't find out which are options for my kid, who likes music, dance, and art, but can't seem to do more than one if she is also going to take a foreign language.  Help?  Either the information about what classes are in these slots or a direction of where to look to find out?

    I'm pretty sure 0 and 7 periods are mainly used for music and science labs. For instance, my son took IB Environmental Science and IB Biology, and both classes had lab days during 0 period a couple days a week. The academic schedule set up at BHS can be challenging to work around. There are 6 academic classes per day, which includes the 4 "core" classes (English, Social Studies, Math, Science) and leaves one "elective" slot for world language and one more slot for... what? PE (4 semesters of which kids have to somehow fit into their schedule), Art, other electives. Sophomore year in BIHS is difficult because the two elective slots are taken up with world language and World Values and Beliefs/Economics. This essentially means that the first two years of BHS can be spent with not a lot of choices for electives, depending on which learning community you're in.

    Since the incoming class are going into Universal 9th Grade, this does give your family time to figure out which learning community suits your student best, and will also give you time to figure out how to set up your student's academic progression plan for BHS. You don't have to decide everything right now. You should all spend some time going over the Choices Catalog and the Course Catalog, and over the course of your student's 9th grade year, discuss options with your student's counselors and teachers. Hope this helps.

  • I need help and am so frustrated.  My daughter, who is a junior in high school, has consistently been an A and sometimes B student. She loves learning and used to love math.  This year her math teacher's teaching style is very difficult for her and she lost all confidence and was failed by 1.2 points.  At first I reached out to him to see if she could do any work to pass.  He was rigid on his stance.  She feels belittled by him and didn't want to even go to school.  I reached out to admin to ask for her to be switched to another math class. No response.  I called. Nothing.  I finally spoke to an admin who said they'd work on it and promised to call me in two days and meet with my daughter.  Nothing.  No call, no meeting.  I wrote to the principal.  Nothing.  I wrote to the Superintendent--nothing.  All I want at this point is to just drop the class.  No one seems to care or be responsive.  I feel so sad for my daughter and very disillusioned.  She is extremely stressed.  Any advice?

    I just saw your post after posting about my son’s experience with BHS math (maybe I shouldn’t have named the teacher?) The sense I’m getting is that MANY families are asking to be moved out of this teacher’s class or to drop the class all together and the administration is trying to stone wall all of us. They can’t let a bunch of students transfer to other math teachers (they say there is no room) but they refuse to address the problem. I’ve found many families who posted about serious issues with this teacher for years and complained to the school. Many kids who loved math and had always done well struggling and dreading going to school. It appears that nothing is being done. Sorry I don’t have positive advice to share. We’re in the same boat.

    Hi there,

    We are also having struggles with the math curriculum at BHS. It seems to have come to a head this year with Math3. My daughter also used to love math and this year has been awful. Her math teacher's style is hard to understand and many students are struggling. Among other things, her teacher was very late in returning homework to students. They took quizzes and exams without feedback from their work so they could target their study for tests. I'm really upset about this new math curriculum and I suspect my daughter's teacher is not too keen on it either, hence his crappy attitude and style. We have spoken with her counselor and with Ms. Phillips, the administrator for the math department, and they supposedly talked with the teacher, but nothing changed. She was not allowed to switch classes -- the other class offered during the same period had even more students than hers -- or drop the class. Their solution is the math tutoring after school, but there are too many students who need help and it's overcrowded. I emailed her teacher several times and he never bothered to respond to me. Finally, we gave up and we're paying for a tutor at Classroom Matters. The coordinator there has shared with us that they are seeing a lot more students from BHS math, especially her teacher. The coordinator emailed the teacher and asked for my daughter's homework, so she could study it over the break, and the stack was 2 + inches high. The good news is, my daughter got a B after busting her ass over winter break, thanks to help from her tutor. She feels a lot better about making it to the end of the year and is planning to take a summer course at BCC so she won't have to take math at BHS again. It just sucks that 1) my daughter has to spend time out of school doing this stuff that should be covered in class, and that 2) only families with financial resources can get this support. 

    My friend's child failed first semester Math3 and was allowed to drop the second semester, and will take Math3 in summer school. While she was waiting to speak to the counselor about this drop, there were 4 other students with the same request, same teacher (not my daughter's). My advice is to go in person (if you can) to the school and speak to Ms. Phillips, your student's counselor, and raise a stink. Ms. Phillips is a very busy administrator and sometimes she is out of her office, so you might call the front desk and check if she's around first. I find her very open to listening, but not sure why she's so inflexible about respecting the needs of the students with this math thing. Someone suggested it is probably difficult to find math teachers these days, which is probably true, but BHS math has had problems for ages. I'm really sorry your daughter is having such a terrible time and I feel your pain. I am working on writing a complaint but don't know if it will make a difference. Feel free to contact me if you need more support.

    My son also is having a terrible year in math 3. As far as we can tell, the teacher does not teach and tells the kids to figure it out for themselves. His grammar is so atrocious that no one can decode his exam questions. He rarely updates grades so the students don't know where they stand, and he doesn't respond to emails from students or parents. My kid aced math 2, but has struggled to do well this year even though he puts in hours daily. BHS needs to deal with this!

    This sounds very familiar. Our daughter is a junior, straight A student who has always done well in math and enjoyed it, and she was forced INTO this teacher's section mid-fall quarter because so many other students were moving out and the counselors apparently thought our daughter would manage and not complain. We were told there was no choice. She immediately felt like she was swimming upstream, felt the teacher was not able to explain the material in a coherent way, and has struggled. The school seems to not care this is affecting some of their best students' future college opportunities. I went through this with another BHS math teacher a few years back with our other child, who would stay up until 1am doing the endless, every-day math homework, go to every tutoring session possible, and ended up a hair's breath below an A, which the teacher refused to raise the grade to. I'm a college professor who rewards effort and also offers extra credit assignments because I believe grades should be about growth, not raw test scores, and I couldn't believe BHS has math teachers so devoted to their little numbers.

    I just wanted to let folks know that we're having the same issue at Oakland Tech with one of the 9th grade math teachers, a guy who has been there 30 years and has an old school style that does not include actual teaching, from what I can tell.  My son experienced the same downward trajectory as your kids.  The administrators at Tech are very sympathetic but the bottom line is there are no teachers able to pay for housing while working for peanuts.  The issue of trying to get qualified math teachers in public schools that are as woefully underfunded as they are in the bay area relative to cost of living will not go away until we figure out how to equitably fund our public schools and address local affordable housing.  Sorry so many kids are going through this.

    Please see my response re: Mr. Henri. My daughter's counselor was able to switch her to another math class where she's excelled and is getting her tattered self-esteem back in place. 

    My student had a lot of math class troubles at her public high school. She took some on-line classes instead and also two math classes at Tilden Prep on Solano. It cost us, but it was worth it. Bureaucracies like giant public schools

    can be so very hard to navigate. Good luck! 

    Perhaps you and I have daughter's in the same class/same teacher.  We are in the exact same position.  My daughter, who's a junior, was also an A//B student and failed first semester math, despite tutoring.  The teacher is very draconian with his grading. We've tried to communicate with the teacher and begged for a way to earn a better grade and the teacher is belittling and dismissive, uninterested in seeing student succeed and completely unempathetic that he's fundamentally diminishing her options for college. We begged for a drop and are still in negotiations about it.  Even a drop is less than ideal- the bad grade stays on their transcript, they have an empty spot in their schedule, and then have to figure out the logistics of retaking the class at another time.  Terrible!

    Is there a way parents could collectively raise the issues regarding the controversial teaching and grading approach in this math class with first the principal, and if there isn't a helpful response to the issues, as a group make the district superintendent aware that student needs aren't being addressed?

    We have had this teacher 4 times across my 3 kids at BHS - Please file a complaint with the math department. I'm afraid we had to just suck it up and pay a ton of $ for private tutors to make it through the class, BUT a bunch of parents went to the head of the math department and then to the district about this specific teacher. Please please please file a complaint - it's the only way we're going to be able to remove this teacher from BHS as he's well ensconced and protected by the union due to seniority. Also document everything you can. Parents and kids have been complaining about this teacher for years and at some point they have to do something about him if there's year after year of outcry. 

    I am so sorry to hear these experiences with Math at BHS.  I have two suggestions.  First, my oldest son, Jasper, had Mr. Henri for 2 years and did well in the class.  He is now a sophomore at Yale had has been tutoring a friend's daughter in math (from an Oakland Tech teacher who is also very uninstructive).  He is open to more tutoring.  If you are interested, please email him at jbsfeinberg [at] gmail.com.  He is a great tutor, with references and rates considerably less than Classroom Matters.  

    Second, my experience of getting administrative help at BHS has sadly been similar to yours.  I ended up camping out in the office until the VP I needed to talk to returned.  She made an apt but ended up double booking so I camped out and ended up talking to the Principal.

    Since there seem to be a group of you in similar situation, I suggest teaming up to talk to the principal.  If Schweng won't meet with you, go en mass to the School Board, write an op-ed in Berkeleyside and generally call attention to your group situation.  

    Best of luck.

    I just noticed two opinion pieces posted this week by BHS parents on Berkeleyside that address this very problem:

    I'm so sorry to hear about this, but you are obviously not alone. Parents from the Academic Choice Advisory Council put together a website including a page on the complaint process. This information comes from parents who've experienced precisely what you are going through with the same teacher. In the official process, they expect you to meet with the teacher, then the VP or principal before you can file a complaint at BUSD. However, if you feel a meeting with the teacher is a problem due to a hostile relationship, you are allowed to skip it. If you can, I suggest meeting with the teacher to check that box, then meet with the guidance counselor to insist on a transfer, and send an email to the VP and principal to request a meeting now. If they don't reply after 3 tries, go on to the BUSD official complaint. Another option is to do an online course. A junior can be a proctor for the free period and you can insist on this. BUSD has heard this all before and done nothing, but we're in an age when the voice of the people is bringing about change. I also suggest each family files its own complaint. Group complaints are treated as one. Here's the website with details: https://bhsparentadvocate.wordpress.com


    I would suggest you contact the math department liaisons (of which I'm one of them) at bhsmathassist [at] gmail.com (bhsmathassist[at]gmail[dot]com) .  The math department liaisons were set up in part to help with this sort of thing (see the bottom of this page: https://sites.google.com/berkeley.net/mathematicsdepartment/student-and-... ).

    Separately, it appears that a number of students are having a hard time in Math 3.  BHS math assist is interested in seeing whether there might be a way for the community to provide additional resources to supplement learning for students who are struggling in math 3.  We encourage interested parties to contact us at bhsmathassist [at] gmail.com (bhsmathassist[at]gmail[dot]com) with the header "Math 3" and describe their situation.  We'll do our best to help.

    Good Luck.

    Zeph Landau (on behalf of bhsmathassist)


  • BHS or Oakland Tech

    Nov 3, 2017

    I live in Berkeley and my son's father lives in Oakland.  My son went to Chabot for elementary school and is now in 8th grade at King. Does anyone have advice about choosing BHS vs. Oakland Tech?

    Both schools are large urban publics with similar offerings. If your kid is motivated, he will do fine. If not, he will have the same struggles (academically) at either school. That said, I'd stick with the school where your kid knows the most people. Sounds like this is Tech. Starting over socially is hard.

    I recommend letting him make the choice and then once he's started, stick with it, don't second guess it and switch mid-stream. Find ways to make it work, join a team, a club whatever. Get tutors. Make it work - but don't cut and run.  Switching schools after a year is a total disaster.  Take it from one who's been there.  We did that and we're still recovering, two years on.... 

    I think your son could excel at either of these schools. My kids went to BHS but we have many friends at Oakland Tech or headed there. What does your son want to do? I think you should let that inform the decision.

  • I'm many years off from this being a real concern, but haven't found anything online to answer.

    Anyway, my understanding is that ELC for the UC system requires some eligibility requirements from high schools, which includes the ability to determine the top 9% (or whatever) of students, which requires the high school to regularly submit transcripts of the top 12.5% (or whatever) students. But as far as I know, Berkeley High doesn't compute individual rankings. So is Berkeley High an ELC-eligible school? 

    I don't have any inside information, but since nobody has responded yet and I'm very interested in this stuff, I dug around a bit.

    From the website it looks like the ranking is calculated purely from the individual's GPA, vs historical GPAs from that high school.   So even if Berkeley High does not compute individual rankings, UC can still determine whether the student is in that top 9%.  Of course, it's possible that Berkeley High refuses to submit those transcripts either, but that doesn't seem likely.  

    All that said, I believe ELC is intended to ensure that the top students statewide, regardless of the resources available to their high school (availability of AP classes, for example), have an opportunity to attend a UC.  Berkeley High is a well-funded school with many high-achieving students, so it seems to me that any student in the top 9% at Berkeley High would already be a strong candidate to attend a UC in the usual "statewide" context.

    Here's an interesting conversation on College Confidential about ELC (not about Berkeley High but seems to be initiated by a student who is also at a school of students with high GPAs).

    I'm not sure how it was done but we received a letter about our child being in the top 9% at BHS, and there was no problem with UC admittance -- she got into all the ones she applied to except for being wait-listed at UCLA. Also received Regents' Scholarships from several of the UCs. Many BHS students go on to the UCs, so the system must be set up for that. We worked through Angela Price, the BHS college counselor for her program, and our daughter ended up with a number of good schools to choose from.

Berkeley High is a good place for strong students interested in clubs/activities. My student (white) had a diverse friend group. They also did some activities in the community— Berkeley Rep, ATDP some summers, etc. They did very well on the standardized tests without any paid tutors, and were accepted by a highly competitive college (without private counseling). Your mileage may vary — my child was not particularly competitive or outgoing but they were very self-directed. 

Of these four, Berkeley is your best bet for diversity--Albany and Alameda Highs are strong academically but both predominantly white/Asian and middle/upper income. Piedmont is predominantly white and upper income. (Encinal High in West Alameda is more diverse both ethnically and socioeconomically and could be worth exploring.) Given the neighborhoods you like, I might look at areas zoned to Willard Middle/Berkeley High. Berkeley High is very large but it does reflect a big cross-section of the community and most kids we've known who've attended have found their circles. Good luck with the search!

I guess I'm not sure why you want to move. Strictly for academics? BUSD is actually quite good and BHS (where my two kids go) offers so so much in terms of diversity, AP classes, clubs, sports, an award winning student newspaper ... Colleges love these kids - strong academics, social justice focus, and a more worldly outlook. I guess I'm biased but I would never consider a move to Lafayette from Berkeley, especially if it's just for the schools. I know one family who moved from Oakland to Moraga (they're white), and the daughter hated the school situation so so much, she ended up dropping out. I do know some Berkeley families who chose private school just for middle school and then their kids went on to be successful at BHS, so that may be an option, too. But Lafayette? I think Berkeley offers so much more.

In terms of high school, Berkeley High is a good school for strong students -- that is students who are academic, or who have activities they enjoy (theater/sports/robotics/music/art/etc.) Academic support is readily available. The school population is diverse in terms of income, race, and interests, which most of us see as a feature, not a bug. Trouble can be found by those who are looking for it, though from what I can tell, no more than at other area high schools. The independence it fosters is good preparation for going to college, particularly the UCs, and other larger, competitive colleges. Each year many students are accepted by UCs, the Ivies, and other highly competitive schools. Other students graduate and go on to CSUs, Community Colleges, and gap years/work. As in most places, these placements more with family income/parents education level than student characteristics.

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

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

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

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

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

Archived Q&A and Reviews


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 course.....as 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] idiom.com 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: http://mailman.idiom.com/public/bhs/ 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)

How are things going for you at BHS?

Jan 2003

Berkeley High is a mess but survivable. The best thing about it is that there are some fabulous students there. There are a few good teachers. There are also some dreadful kids, and some positively dreadful teachers. My child is on the academic track and there is nothing fun about the school. It's all quizzes/lectures/tests then hours and hours of homework (as much as 6 hours a night as a Junior!). The work is not particularly inspiring and my child has not developed either a love of learning or a capacity to think. Most of the learning is done at home through homework, particularly the math. Surprisingly the Latin classes have been the most 'fun' of all the classes - probably because the teachers are wonderful. English, until this year, in Academic Choice, has been a joke. History is almost non-existent unless you luck out with one of the few good teachers. I have heard that CAS provides good English and History classes, but they weren't looking for any 'smart white males' when my son thought of applying and Academic Choice wasn't available for him until this year (it does have the good teachers, but also a TON of homework.) If we had any choice my children would go somewhere else.

I was disappointed to read the write up on bhs and so am publicly adding our experience.

My daugher is a senior who entered bhs in the 9th grade, after an Oakland Public School education (and a private school at St. Paul's for 7th and 8th grade). She has had a wonderful variety of experiences, both socially and academically. She was in CAS, a small school, from 9th -11th grade so had classes both in the small school setting and the larger school. She has been very active in dance and cheerleading; this year there was a major conflict in scheduling between CAS and Dance so she opted to continue dancing and is part of the comprehensive high school program.

My daughter has had a very diverse group of friends, including some who were gang affiliated. She is now in a group of terrific kids, all of whom I truly like and enjoy. She feels completely safe at the high school and, quite honestly, I feel safe having her there. This is no mean feat for me. My daughter is 5'2, naturally blonde, blue eyed, and has a well endowed figure and I would generally feel safer not letting her out of the house!

Yes, she has had some bad teachers - where doesn't one? But overall, she has had an excellent, well rounded education and I'm more than pleased. She is not a 'super-academic' e.g., she took no AP courses until this year when she left CAS. But she does get her work done and she is bright. She has a 3.64 GPA and has already received acceptances from Tulane and Rutgers. She is well prepared for the world, has a good sense of moral integrity (which I realize originates from home but was definitely enhanced at bhs). She knows how to 'work the system' has good self confidence, feels that she belongs, and knows her place in the world. In the midst of all this, she has managed to maintain a balance between schoolwork and social life, with social life having the higher priority.

What my daughter had to say when she was recently asked if she 'couldn't wait until the year was over and she was out of there' said it all. Her response was that she's is no hurry to leave bhs - she loves it there; she has had a great experience -- it's gone too fast, and she could easily stay on. I have absolutely no regrets having sent her to bhs and would do it again in a flash. I also encourage other people I know to seriously consider bhs as the majority of students who choose to go there do very well.

Looking forwrad to some more positive (or mixed) reviews - I know they're out there! Joan

I have two sons at BHS, a sophomore and a senior. After reading a couple of the reviews I wanted to give a different point of view. While it is not idyllic in all respects, both my kids have had valuable and interesting social and educational experiences there. The music program is GREAT, both orchestra and jazz lab band and ensemble, as is the dance program. The visual art department is fantastic, offering an incredible array of different classes, and has the facilities to do so. History and English are mixed, depending on the teacher - some have really inspired and stretched, others have been dull. There is a philosophy in those departments of heterogeneity (there's upside and downside to that approach), so how the class goes depends a lot on the individual teacher. My kids' favorite and most disliked classes have each been in these subjects. The math and science is super challenging at the high end - it's nice to see a chance for an academically rigorous road if that's what you are looking for. There are three levels of these subjects too, so you can find what you want.

Socially both my kids have felt good at BHS. Both have made friends they like. Sports and clubs offer a huge number of choices to suit every interest. The social atmosphere doesn't consist of a hierarchy. People of different social groups interact relatively well. The selection of classes is unmatched in this area.

The BHS bureaucracy is daunting, although many individuals involved are helpful and sympathetic. You have to learn to fend for yourself in the system. If you learn how, it's good training for life. sb

My daughter is a freshman at BHS and is enjoying it so far. Before the school year started, I had heard worrisome stories about safety issues, but I've been pleasantly surprised. I'm in the school every week as a writing tutor, and what I've seen makes me a lot less concerned. The halls are noisy, there are definitely alienated students, but things manage to work somehow and people learn--thanks to many dedicated teachers. The social atmosphere is open and unpretentious, and as one would expect of Berkeley, there are loads of bright and interesting students. My daughter is involved in Amnesty International and debate, and both groups are quite active. Her classes have mostly been fine, except that her French class at 35 students is way too big. Art, Identity & Ethnic Studies, and English have all been great. Ted

I am surprised not to see more dissatisfaction among the current Berkeley High parents. We have a child who is a senior and another who is a freshman. My older child enjoyed Common Ground last year (the first enjoyable experince of any kind at Berkeley High). Despite many problems over the years- particularly unresponsive teachers- she wanted to continue at the school because her friends were there. She did threaten to quit school for almost 2 years as the problems seemed insurmountable and she would not consider private school.

This year she has a teacher who still knows no ones name in the class and is known to give out all B's, another teacher who has attended class maybe 1/2 a dozen times this semester who randomly gives grades (one boy who has never attended a class has an A). The problems go on and on with little or no response from the administration. I'm very discouraged about our younger child who is in a similar situation- particularly with Common Ground English. He objected to the rhetoric he was getting early on but the teacher has been out of school on disability for quite some time now and he has had a series of substitutes. He has lost a whole year! I am beyond frustrated when he comes home and tells me he ''just wants to learn English''. I have told him we must figure something out or he will have to attend a private school. With my oldest beginning college next year that will prove very difficult financially. He loves some of the extra curricular offerings unique to BHS and doesn't want to give that or his friends up, but the level of teaching and care has become preposterous. Forget the fact he and his friends are approched daily to empty their pockets or get beaten up! Some one must be having similar issues with their children. How are you handling it?

My son, a sophomore at BHS this year is challenged by his Academic Choice classes in APChemistry, World Literature, and World HIstory as well as his Honors Algebra class. His freshman year, he was resistant to Social Living which had no assigned reading and only one homework assignment for the entire semester and a teacher with poor English skills. Being on sports teams has helped with meeting new friends, being included, and doing something he's good at.Also, last year, a friend of his was assaulted in the boy's locker room.( Being in Honors Algebra freshman year was challenging.) His Spanish classes have been too slow paced and not challenging enough. jf

Two of my children have gone to Berkeley High. My children, though bright, are not academically motivated, so I'd like to give a perspective on what it's like at BHS if you have that kind of kid.

First my oldest kid: his BHS friends were all very academic and self-motivated and are now in top colleges. BHS is an excellent school for this type of kid, maybe the best in the East Bay. My son is not like that. He just wanted to do the minimum. He cut class, flunked some classes. He never connected academically with any class in 4 years. He also is not gifted in sports or music or art, but because of the wonderful sports program at BHS - there is something for everyone! - he played on a team, made close friendships, grew in maturity and confidence, and loved his time at BHS, still does. He was applying to colleges with a 2.something GPA, but was accepted to a big university in another state, is very happy there and doing fine academically! When he comes home for breaks, he gets together with his BHS friends, they hold ''alumni'' games at BHS against current students.

My second child is equally unmotivated but does not like team sports or any other kind of group activity. His first semester at BHS he made Fs in all the required classes. He then went to a small private school for the rest of 9th grade and all of 10th grade. By the middle of 10th grade he was deemed unsuitable for the school and asked not to return for junior year. (This was our second experience with this kid and private schools. Never assume that private school is intrinsically better! For us, it was worse!) He is now at Berkeley High Independent Studies. It has been very rocky grade-wise, but due to a some very dedicated talented teachers, it is working out and he is even engaging in academics. I think he would have dropped out if he was still at BHS or a private school.

Dealing with the BHS administration is like going to DMV to do something complicated on a busy day without an appointment. You can get it done usually if you can stand the frustration. On the other hand, many's the time that a BHS teacher has phoned after hours to tell me about missing work. It also holds so many opportunities for a kid to grow and learn and get off to a good start in life. If you have a smart motivated kid, you can hardly do better than BHS. If you have a smart unmotivated kid, get her/him on a sports team or into a music or theater group right away! BHS mom

the commentary on BHS seems to be following the often-heard advice that how the school will work out for your student depends on what kind of kid he/she is. Our academically able and ambitious sophomore is having a blast, and we are very happy also. My advice to private school parents is that if your son or daughter has any chance of being admitted to a more selective private high school, you should save your money - you have nothing to fear from Berkeley High. There is a private high school's worth of like-minded kids there, all as busy as a beehive with AP and honors classes, either taking Latin and a second language, or art, dance, drama and a foreign language, & etc., playing sports, running around to clubs at lunch and after school, playing music. Our sophomore has lost all sign of the boredom that dogged middle school and I have lost the sense of foreboding with which I approached my first experience of BUSD. My thanks to the many fine hard- working teachers, and to the co-principals and staff. anonymous

I have 2 sons at BHS, 11th ad 9th grade, one in Academic Choice, the other in CAS. BHS is a reflection of the Dstrict, wich has been in chaos, disorder and disfunction for 25 years or more! The administrators try to keep it together with duct tape and bad financial figures. The superntendent is now creating a tightly controlled hierarchical pyramid with herself at the top. (Maybe this is the political vogue, ala Bush and Ashcroft) The BHS administration is a good example of duct tape leadership:no principal, no one with any qualifications applying to be principal, a superintendent who is facing fiscal crisis and is trying to run the high school as well, new ''systems'' every year. Two aspects of BHS which worked before was the ability of students to select teachers, and the double period science, which provided challenging and interesting science classes. Teacher choice and double period science were axed by the superintendent. This is a good example of district actions to make matters easier for administrators (smplify scheduling) rather than to really benefit the kids. With the upcoming budget crisis, if the district only considers cuts, there won't be much left and students will leave. For example, as part of last year's cost cutting, PE is now part of the required 9th grade core curriculum. My son's PE class has 40+ students. There's insufficient facilities, they sit around.THey watch videos. So this was good cost cutting but bad education. One parent's analogy of BHS as trying to negotiate something complicated (an education)on a crowded day is apt. However, BHS and BUSD schools can be more than just mediocre. BUSD needs to be student and parent friendly. Evaluate decisions by the impact on students. Of my kids, one is motivated and the other does the minimum, and my motivated one is considering ditching his senior year by taking the GREs. So, BUSD, you depend upon students enrollment and attendance for your income. Don't just cut the budget, focus on increasing income. It's estmated that 25% of the elementary school students who live in Berkeley attend private schools. Develop programs that will encourage people to come to BUSD schools - dual immersion programs, good music programs, aggressively go after grants. Hire a real principal for BHS and have the superintendent fix the district. Support good teachers. Cut your district administration costs. anonymous

Berkeley High School has created problems rather than solutions for our two sons. I cannot recommend it for kids who are college bound, yet are not academically talented. (Nor can I recommend it for kids who have vocational interests.) The academic stars find each other in their honors and AP courses, and they create a community that works really well for them; most of the contributors to this newsletter seem to be parents of these kinds of students. But if a kid is a B/C student, enrolled in no AP courses, he's ignored by teachers, and he can easily fall into a crowd of kids going nowhere fast -- kids who ditch classes, do the minimum homework, and much more I won't describe... Our older son is fine now, very invested in his major in college and increasingly confident about his academic capacities, but no thanks to BHS. We cross our fingers that our younger son will find the same opportunities in college to turn himself around.

I totally agree with the Anonymous writer who said BHS is being duct-taped to make things easier for administrators, and that the needs of students are being put on the back burner (examples, no class choice and double period classes being axed). The few things that worked well for my son freshman year were thrown out this year. And it's been made very clear that parent involvement is not welcome on any level. This is very frustrating, and leading many of us to just close our eyes and ears, hold our breaths and be glad when our kids are out of the system.

P.S. My son makes very good grades and seems to be learning from those teachers who have something to offer, so this is not just a case of sour grapes.

I have a freshman at BHS and I have found many ways to become involved in the school. Some of the meetings I attend that are open to all parents have a pretty sorry turnout. Put yourself out there if you are worried about how your kid is doing at school. It will make you feel a lot better to be involved in the school in some way. Do the Writers Room-you get to be in the classroom with these kids. Go to PTSA meetings and budget meetings. Get some parents together and brainstorm about ways to raise money to offset the budget cuts. Get on a commitee. Go talk to your kids teachers. Show the administration and faculty that you are interested in the success of the school. There is a lot of opportunity for parent involvement at Berkeley High and people there do listen. Berkeley citizens with or without kids in schools need to come together to support their only public High School!!!!!! w

Son against BHS, feels it is "too big"

March 2001

My son is adamantly against attempting Berkeley High, as he feels it will be "too big." His second choice is Skyline, although he really wants to go to a private school (we are awaiting acceptance.) Can anyone tell me/him about Berkeley High and whether it is "too big?" Elaine

I asked this question of both of my sons (and also other friends) as they were entering BHS because the size of the school did seem overwhelming. One son has graduated and the other is a freshman. They both said that while it is indeed very big they enjoyed the advantages more than they were hampered by disadvantages . The advantages they mentioned were larger and more equiped labs, clubs and activities. It is possible, due to the size of the school, to have very good and more diverse performance, arts and sports opportunities. The drawbacks we've experienced are mostly to do with administration, scheduling classes, finding needed information, getting a chance to talk to staff. It seems to me that "self initiated" types of students tend to thrive at BHS. But I do know students that get lost in the shuffle. We have found that the teachers were, over all, very committed and qualified. For me this was the factor that made the school size managable. It is, after all, the personal experience of the individual student with his or her teachers that makes it work or not.

People report to me who observe Berkeley High graduates that they seem to thrive in college. They have commented that the BHS students are so much more "savy" and ready to deal with the responsibilities of living in a complex community. I have not seen a loss of idealism either. They seem to still feel they can do something worthwhile with the education they are getting. My youngest (9th grade) says his freshman year at BHS has been the best year of his school experience so far.


Elaine~ Sounds like it is too big for your son. He sounds very clear...and that is a gift. I find that our kids usually do know what is right for them. I had thought BHS would be too big for my younger son, but he was very clear that he wanted to attend... MAB

I write to you as a BUSD parent for the past nine years. I stand on the brink of finding out, first hand, about BHS, as my older child is an 8th grader at King Middle School. But I also write to you as someone who is studying the possibility -- I would say necessity -- of creating more small learning communities within Berkeley High.

Our children in Berkeley public schools attend small schools in grades K through 5. I speak for those who have had the good fortune to find that we can create a great community in a small school. Families, teachers, students, and staff can work together to form partnerships in our children's education. We get to know each other well, and can form the logical links of "who can help in this situation?" easily, in a small school. Learning happens on a human scale. Education is personalized. Community quilts are made in hallways after school. Teachers and families bring children together outside of school hours to look at the planets, to count birds, to explore their world. Children are drawn into activities that fuel their interests, and help them grow. Teachers and families collaborate.

By middle school, our kids are attending larger, less personal schools. It's a little harder to stay involved, especially since our budding teens often don't want to be seen in public with us! By high school, many of us feel that we are entering a foreign land, one that is often hostile to our needs and those of our children. Yet there *are* small learning communities at Berkeley High School, and those children who find them, I believe, benefit.

There are the well-known small learning communities at Berkeley High: Communication Arts and Science (CAS); The Computer Academy; The Biotech Academy; Common Ground. But if you look deeply within Berkeley High, you'll also find communities being built in Independent Studies, Village 9, Berkeley Alternative High School, Special Education, ESL, AVID, REBOUND!, the Student Learning Center, African American Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Asian American Studies, Advanced Placement, Freshman-Senior Bridge, and in many after school activities.

I believe that every student and family needs to find a niche in such a large school community, a foothold, in order to succeed. We want every child to succeed, and every child and family to find that foothold. It should be our goal to close the cracks that kids fall through, to help set standards for Berkeley High in important areas -- scheduling, counseling, mentoring, orientation for kids and families, continuous support, and so forth, so that our children are not lost in a hostile environment.

If you are interested in joining in a community discussion of the benefits of and possibility for creating more small learning communities at Berkeley High, please e-mail me and I can put you in touch with the parents, teachers, and students who are studying small learning communities at Berkeley High.

We can help cast the connecting threads that strengthen the educational experience at Berkeley High for all of our students.


Earlier General Comments


Why we Like it

Nov 1999

I'm worried that recent postings, mine included, may be contributing to an overall mistaken impression that there are lots of us out here who are unhappy with Berkeley High School. I want to say that I think BHS is a great school and I have been 87% happy with it so far. There are many more positive aspects about BHS than there are negative. We often assume that people already know about the good stuff, so we complain about the bad stuff without putting it into the larger context. But of course this works no better than assuming your teenager knows you love him even though you are yelling at him all the time about being lazy.

So I would like to mention a couple of the greatnesses about Berkeley High School. I don't know about most of the great things, because I am a not-very-highly-involved parent with two not-very-highly-involved BHS kids, but here are the things that I appreciate:

1. The principal. I admire the candor and sincerity of Theresa Saunders. I can't remember ever dealing with a school administrator who just answers a question plainly, eschewing the usual bureaucratic blabbering, and who seems so geniunely to be striving to do the right thing.

2. Teachers. There are teachers at BHS who will knock your socks off. You can't imagine the thrill I get when Mr. "I Hate School" comes home talking excitedly about what he did in biology lab today.

3. Sports. I'm not into them, but my kid is. I can assure you there is a sport for every kid who wants to play. All the usual ones plus golf, lacrosse, crew, tennis, badminton, field hockey, swimming, diving, water polo, you name it for men AND women. I can't say enough good things about the dedicated coaches I meet, and the positive experience for kids of being on a team and feeling part of a group.

4. The Jacket - newspaper. I subscribe, I get it at home, it is quite a good read. It makes my high school newspaper look like Romper Room. By the way, subscribing to the Jacket is an excellent way to strike up a conversation with your kid about "what's new at school."


Seconding your positive remarks about Berkeley High (not forgetting its maddening faults):
Among its advantages:
--a wonderful pair of Latin teachers. They make BHS's Latin program the best of any language program I have ever seen.
--an excellent orchestra. The director manages both to include kids at every level of ability (the range is huge, from just-picked-it-up to accomplished), and to present interesting and challenging music, in both symphonic and chamber ensembles. My old high school had an award-winning music program, and it was nowhere near this good.

Let me add that the College/Career Adviser, Barbara Mitchell, has been recruiting people to critique students' college-application essays--November is the hot month for this. If you are one of those born with an irresistible urge to critique other people's writing, and want to help some BHS seniors get into college, an hour or two a couple of days a week will not only help the kids but give you a chance to read (and help shape) some fascinating and moving biographies. You can reach Ms. Mitchell at 644-6804.

Good things about Berkeley High: My sophomore daughter has a collection of friends of many races, classes, sexual orientations, interests, academic motivation and achievements. When she went to a college counselor recently (I know, I'm starting early!), the one requirement she stated was:"I want the college I go to to have lots of different races of people." She is getting an education in life at Berkeley High School that wasn't available to me growing up in a homogeneous town in New Jersey.

All of the negative stuff out there really can give the wrong impression about BHS. Although there are many problems, (and there have been for years), overall I've been more pleased than not with BHS, and both my kids love(d) the school. My older daughter, now a college junior, had many fabulous teachers and just one or two absolutely mediocre ones. Her UCLA frosh Eng prof actually told her that it was very evident that she had received excellent instruction from her high school English teachers (she was just average in writing skills and reading comprehension when she began 9th grade, so the credit really does go to her teachers). She now attends Northwestern University, and she says her BHS classes really prepared for the level of rigor at both UCLA and NU, and that she is not at a disadvantage because she is a BHS grad. She also feels that her experience at BHS has definitely helped her navigate successfully thru the layers of university bureaucracies. My younger daughter is currently a BHS senior, and she also has received an excellent education on the whole. I feel that BHS worked for them because they were forced out of necessity to learn to be assertive, take ownership of their education and search out those teachers who embody excellence. I know 2 Harvard alums who conduct college applicant interviews of seniors from around this area (including Lowell, Piedmont, CPS, HeadRoyce, LickWilmerding, and other private and public high schools thru the tunnel), and they both have independently marveled at how impressed they are by all the BHS applicants (not just the ones who get accepted to Harvard). They said that BHS interviewees have a special quality that sets them head and shoulders above other schools' applicants.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about BHS. In my opinion it is a great school... and I think I have a standard for what that is having been involved with more than 11 high schools over the past 28 years. The programs are strong and the teaching staff is good. The issues around curricular expectations and delivery in English are true and yet we continue to work on them...I think that one thing our students get that can not be equally anywhere is the ability to require the "system" to hear them... They are open and honest about their thoughts and believe that the whole idea of expression is critical to who we are as people... They are right... The ability to do this can not be underestimated... It is, however, very unfortunate that BHS does not serve all students well... As everyone knows we are working on this... but it will not happen overnight... and to our great sorrow some students are lost along the way to drugs, truancy, low grades, "go-no-where classes, etc. However, this is not the norm...I welcome your continued support of our school and our efforts to make changes for the best...Just one thing more... we are seriously considering starting school later in the day two Mondays a month starting in February with the beginning of the second semester....Teachers need time to plan and think and the current pace of the school day is furious...It just does not allow time for thoughtful work...AND thoughtful work is what we MUST do...Specifically, we are looking at starting school somewhere around 10 or 10:30 AM on the first and third or second and fourth Mondays of each month....School would still get out at 3:20 PM. AS soon as we have a draft schedule I'll share it with you... Let me know what you think... Theresa Saunders (Theresa is principal of Berkeley High School)

I'd love to say a lot of great things about Berkeley High. Unfortunately I can't think of any. My experience with BH was horrendous. I had a child who came into BH with all As and Bs. She was a good student, but did not find a niche there. The racial great-divide affected her enormously as she found herself on the other side of the line from the crowds she used to hand around - two lines actually.

My daughter's English teacher actually crossed out her A on a paper and lowered it to a B because it was not word processed. We had no computer at the time - the teacher's attitude - "Too bad - she'll have to stay after school and use one here." She did not care that my daughter had stayed up half the night re-writing her essay so it would be neat. She did not care that my daughter had other activities after school, she did not care that this discriminated against children of lesser means.

At orientation the counselors had said "call your child's counselor if your child has not hooked up with a group after a few weeks". I did - the counselor's words were, and I quote "so what do you want me to do about it". I called the counselor again when her grades went from A s and B s to D s and Fs in 10th grade. Again she wanted to know what I wanted her to do. I asked her about the "at risk programs" and was informed that my daughter was not at risk because she had Ds. (By the time she got all Fs she had missed 19 out of 21 days of school). I called the school health clinic to have my daughter seen for counseling. They agreed, but in respect to her privacy would not even tell me if she was going! NOT even if she was going?

Needless to say - she never dropped out - the school came up with a better suggestion - Independent Studies. My daughter did this for a while and eventually, gradually stopped going. Oh yes, did I mention free drugs? The park across the street is a great source.

I was a great believer in public schools, but I will not send my son to BH and I don't recommend it for anyone else unless your child is white and a very good student, oh yeah, make sure you have a computer at home. Mine was a good student, but that was not enough!

One of the great surprises to me as the parent of a freshman is the overall quality of the teaching staff. Aaron Ward in math and Allison Johnson in English have made a particularly good impression. Beyond that, we haven't hit any duds (knock on wood.)

To the parent who wrote:" My experience with BH was horrendous. ..." What a poignant post this was. My heart goes out to this parent. I am always astonished by the difference between the color blindness of children in my third grader's class and the separation that develops in middle school and (apparently more so) in high school. Mixed race children seem to face the greatest difficulty, because they are pressed to choose between their heritages. And there seems to be no easy answer. And the teacher's insensitivity to the family's economic situation is grotesque.

RE: "[>Oh yes, did I mention free drugs? The park across the street is a great source.]" Isn't the Berkeley Police Department a block away? Aren't there cops on campus? How can this be a perennial problem? Yet it seems to be.

The Berkeley public schools offer immersion and bilingual education for students with English as a Second Language (ESL) and while these programs keep cultural ethnicity together, the programs in practice (not theory) do not necessarily give children a quality English education. Both my children have been part of a strong Hispanic bilingual program at Cragmont and Columbus which I appreciate, but there are flaws that have limited a more thorough English education for native speakers and non-native speakers. The early literacy learning program currently in place at my son's elementary school is the beginning of a more rigorous plan to bring fluency and literacy to children by third grade by not allowing those who fall behind to move ahead until they have passed state-mandated tests for literacy. Elementary school is where more rigorous standards for teaching English must be set in order for middle and high school English programs to improve. Still, this brings us back to the lack of higher standards for teaching English at BHS. The written word and all its fluency and beauty can only be appreciated by reading quality books, for example, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, taught with the purpose of increasing and enriching fluency. However, I believe English is taught down to the level of many students who have not been adequately prepared to read and write in high school. This leaves students who are fluent and prepared to read and write with more complexity and fluency sitting around bored. The solution? Offer AP English classes to freshman, not as seniors (or juniors who petition); or, introduce poetry, reading and writing to all students and teach up to the level of a college-prep high school English class, not down, giving students the option of dropping out if they find the class too difficult; or, offer more "remedial"--a different word should be used, perhaps, "pre-college prep"--classes in English that will bring literacy levels up for students. However, this comes to the question of lack of diversity if AP classes are offered, assuming only white students would qualify, with ethnicity and color becoming factors in English literacy. I read a BHS Jacket article about the recent Poetry Slam where a student recited a poem he had written that showed humor and self-awareness around the fact he was the only nonwhite student in an AP class, and he's only half-white--find a way to bring literacy to all students at all levels.

It brings me to the "blanket" statement in the newsletter from a mother who says "I don't recommend it [BHS] for anyone else unless your child is white and a very good student,..." This is, of course, not true. It's easy to blame the institution, and when you have a personally bad experience with the institution, naturally, you blame it, react negatively and act accordingly. However, if left entirely in the hands of the institution many children will fail within it, whites and nonwhites, because every student has individual needs that parents, teachers, counselors may or may not understand. I am very positive about BHS in spite of being fully aware of its "blackboard jungle" qualities, problem teachers, and administrative snafus--problems abound that need to be fixed and cannot all be fixed this semester, or next--and really, you can't make every experience for your child a positive one. My concern is not only that my child succeed, but for all students to find success somewhere for themselves while going to BHS, because the experience will teach them how to succeed after BHS as well--some are slow learners; some will never learn. In talking to students from freshmen to seniors, whites and nonwhites, I find attitudes too many to figure, but know teenagers want more independence, at the same time they need strict, no-nonsense guidelines to follow or rebel against at their will--they need to test authority; they also want and need to figure things out on their own, not to be spoon-fed, nor given authority trips. As a parent, you can only hope to keep tabs and keep up with it all, but most importantly, keep in touch.

Dec 1999

Karen Wells, the Orchestra, the PEP Band, the Jazz Bands, Carla Herndon, the Latin Department, The Art Department, Corinne Eno, the Theater Department - all these things have made Berkeley High interesting and fun for my daughter and our whole family. I ate lunch one day at the Good Food Cafe and it was great! Thanks for doing this newsletter Sally. I hope I see everyone at Bonnie Baldwin's Parenting Teens Class at the Adult School. ~Anita

A comment about Berkeley High School

My daughter is finishing her senior year at Berkeley High. In general the math department seems very good at Berkeley High. However the English dept does a poor job of preparing the students. The kids seem to read enough, but they are assigned very few papers to write. And the teachers could have provided a lot more vocabulary work. My daughter never received an assignment to write a research paper in her English classes, nor did she seem to receive instruction in how to write a research paper. Furthermore the district permits the Literary Magazine to be an English class, although the teacher does not assign them any work, either reading assignments (such as reading reviews printed in newspapers) or any writing assignments. I really hope that the class is examined by the administration. If it is kept as a class, then more substantial content should be required.

Another problem that kids have at Berkeley High is getting appropriate classes. I don't think that the counselor's have enough to help students, or to review students' choices. Parents need to read the Berkeley High class description booklet, and carefully review classes that their student is signing up to take. And then the parent has to pray, that the class continues to be offered at the time advertised, and that the teacher is still teaching the class. If your student ends up with a hole in their schedule, it is very important for the parent to go to the school and supervise the "fix" that your student is offered. I often felt that there were insufficient teachers at Berkeley High, so that the school did not demand that each student take an English Class, a Math Class, and a Social Science class each semester. Another impression I have is that, except for the Math Department, the teachers' expections of the student is low. I think all the classes should be more challenging. K (1/00)

After seeing the API values for Berkeley High, my response was exactly the opposite of the one expressed by a parent complaining that BHS is "not functioning" - I felt that the scores finally gave parents an indication that despite the many problems at BHS (phones, bells, attendance enforcement, etc.), the school, teachers, and students are doing an amazing job. That such a diverse school scored so highly (even acknowledging the problems with relying too heavily on such test scores as a measure of the quality of the education) is truly an accomplishment to be proud of. I, too, find it difficult to see beyond many of the problems on a day-to-day basis, but I think we should take a moment from complaining and celebrate the many remarkable aspects of this school. --Anonymous. (Jan 00)

More problems with Berkeley High

Writing - In three semesters of English, my son has been assigned one paper longer than one page. In history, he has had no long writing assignments. In science, he has not had one project requiring research.

Textbooks - My son's chemistry teacher has never assigned any reading from the textbook. Why do we issue textbooks if they are not to be used? In US history no textbook was ever issued, so the teacher showed movies instead of a final.

Course Outlines - With the exception of Latin, none of my son's teachers have given out course outlines. I find it very difficult to help my son with his school work if I don't know what he is studying and when.

Secret tests - Why do BHS teachers seem to have a policy of keeping test results secret from parents? Virtually every test my son has taken at Berkeley High has had to be given back to the teacher. How am I to monitor my son's progress without access to his test results?

Counselors - As frequently stated by others on this list, it is very difficult to get a counselor to return calls. The only success we have had so far was a getting a temporary fill-in counselor who did return calls, but she was gone in six weeks. Since then both my wife and I have never had a call returned by a counselor.

Assistant Principals - The only way I ever got a call back from an assistant principal was to have a former School Board member call the Superintendent. This got me a call from a very angry vice-principal and an unsatisfactory result.

Walt (Jan 2000)

I'm replying to the "textbook" comment in the Feb. 1 newsletter that a chemistry teacher never required reading of the textbook. As the science department chair, I appreciate this sort of information. I believe that students should be assigned reading from science textbooks and given help in reading them. I will pursue this further with the teachers. You might be interested to know that our textbook budgets are not adequate. The current chemistry textbook is nine years old. We'd like to get a newer, more readable textbook, but the costs are high and the budget is low. Steve Brand, BHS Science Chair (Feb 2000)

Nothing can be changed unless the school board is informed of the specific complaints of parents. Call 644-6147 and ask for the board member's email addresses and attend school board meetings on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday's of the month. They have comments from the public by filling out a card for a presentation of 3 minutes for the first 1/2 hour of the meeting. Budget considerations will be coming up soon and if the high school is to receive the proper attention and dollars to go with it, parents must speak out. Uniting is a very good idea. Repeated letters to the board, business manager and superintendent are helpful too. This is an election year and 3 seats will be open to fill. Good luck. Anonymous (Jan 2000)

A clarification on last comment under the BHS "gripes" section. Only two Board Seats will be up for city wide election this fall (the terms for the other 3 seats do not expire until 2002). Additionally, the Student Board Director comes up for student election every year. Nancy

Re:Knowing your child's test scores and keeping track of their progress. Most of the teachers at BHS have e-mail and use it. I have recieved phone calls and e-mail from 3 of my daughter's teachers and have kept track of her that way. If you really want to know what is going on in the classroom, e-mail the teacher and communicate directly with them. That is what I do. "Laurie (2/00)

On a more positive note regarding communication and schoolwork: In the Freshman CAS group, Rick Ayers, English Teacher, sends out a weekly update by email of all the work the students will be covering in English and History for the week. Instructions regarding student assignments are reviewed and information about tests given is included. The English and History classes are integrated so that assignments are complementary. Research papers and notebooks get feedback. The history text is used. Reading is varied and extensive. I think it's terrific!! Joan (2/00)

  >After seeing the API values for Berkeley High, my response was exactly 
  >the opposite of the one expressed by a parent complaining that BHS is 
  >"not functioning" - I felt that the scores finally gave parents an 
  >indication that despite the many problems at BHS (phones, bells,   
  >attendance enforcement, etc.), the school, teachers, and students are 
  >doing an amazing job....

I agree. I think that we, far too often, complain, and not without cause, about things, conditions, etc. that are not "perfect" or even best... But, and I read this email faithfully, we do not take time to celebrate and congratulate each other for the wonderful work done by the entire staff... So... let me boast a little. Our scores are exceptionally good whether you consider all our aspects - size, diversity, D/F rates, facilities, day-to-day operations, etc. or not. The teachers and students pulled with the administrative staff and gave the test to every student... by encouraging and supporting students in taking the test seriously. The result is that our scores are great. No, we did not get an 800 but we scored well. We are the largest high school in our county and the most diverse. We have students at all academic achievement levels and still all of them performed well. this is something about which to celebrate... Yes, we do have a lot of work to do because the disaggregated data is troublesome... However, I do believe that it is important to stop and smell the roses and enjoy our success. T.
Theresa Saunders, Principal

I am unhappy with quite a few of the administrative decisions at BHS and I have done my share of complaining. However! some of my fellow complainers are making me even more unhappy: My son came home yesterday talking about his "cool" teacher who reads the daily bulletin to the class in a sarcastic voice, making fun of the principal and administration. My son thought this was very clever. We had a heated discussion - he did not agree with me that it's wrong for the teacher to be behaving this way in front of the kids. Please. Keep complaining, but complain thoughtfully, constructivly, to adults, not to the kids. It is not only unprofessional and counterproductive for a teacher to be doing this but it sets an EXTREMELY bad example for the kids.

My daughter complains that there is no working public phone on campus. If she wants to call home, she has to leave campus and go to the post office. Is this true? If so, why don't students have access to a phone? There should be a very good reason.

My daughter also tells me that if it is raining, there is no dry place for the students to go to eat lunch. She has to choose between eating lunch and getting wet on the one hand, and going to the library to stay dry but missing lunch, on the other. Is this true? If so, why not provide a sheltered place for lunch?

How Involved do I need to be?

April 2000

My daughter is BHS bound for next year, it is the first time we will be dealing with the Berkeley Public School System. This is not totally by choice, and I am very concerned even worried. I need to know what are the best tools I can use to make it a successful experience for her academic success and her social well being? I hear parents saying, you need to be there and involved, I work part-time I can do that, but what does it concretely mean? I am sure it's not baking cookies anymore. Teenagers are embarassed by their parents presence...right? What should I know or learn from parents who are there?

It depends on the child. You can get away with minimal involvement if your child is pretty good about taking care of business. Just save a copy of her schedule (for teachers' names just in case), sign up for the BHS e-tree, and go to the open house (so you can get a look at her teachers). Everything else will go along fine on its own. If your child is not very good at paying attention to deadlines, assignments, announcements, etc. and doesn't want to talk to teachers and counselors when problems arise, then you'll have to help out. Do all of the above, plus be prepared to call and meet with teachers, department heads, and counselors as needed. - from an anonymous parent who has only been to BHS 2 times in 3 years

I would advise that you come to the PTA Meetings and see what ways you can be involved. There are many. Talk to your daughter and see what she considers "acceptable." I worked in the Information Booth once a week for 3 years. My daughter knew I was there once a week and avoided me (unless she needed lunch money). But I learned a lot about the school by being there and felt connected. I got to at least see those bulletins once a week! There are many options. Go to PTA.

Dear Parent,
BHS teachers and administrators expect Berkeley High students to take care of things themselves. So you as a parent have to work with your student so that he/she will be comfortable making appointments with her counselor or a teacher. Whenever I went to see someone at BHS, I always insisted that my daughter (who is now a senior) accompany me. Even though she is fairly shy, by the end of her junior year, she was pretty apt at making appointments, getting help, applying for special programs, etc.

You should be prepared to help her keep dates in mind....now when is sign-up for a sports' team, or an audition, or whatever. And certainly, when your student is making out their schedule, it behoves you to see what they have selected (what course, not what teacher), and compare that with what courses the school tells them they will need to take in order to graduate, go to college, whatever. I found reading the BHS catalogue very helpful and I tried to insist that my daughter read it with me.

I think one area of adjustment that is difficult for many kids, particularly kids who come to BHS from non Berkeley schools, is learning to focus. Your student will have to decide to apply herself or himself at the academics. No one will nag her or him. And concurrently, she/he will have to learn to ignor some things which other students will be doing, which might be deleterious.

All these skills become especially valuable as your student interacts more and more with the non-high school world.

And even though you mentioned that your student is going to BHS because there is no other choice, don't worry. BHS students seem to do very well in the world. And they certainly have a great understanding of the complexity and diversity in the United States. Good luck. -- A parent of a soon to be graduating student.

Berkeley High offers bridge program for entering freshman. But students can also take regular offerings like English or History. That leaves more room in the schedule for fun stuff like art. Sally (Jan 2000)

I know the District has a committee to discuss options, including types of classes. In the past summer school has been 6 weeks, 2 hours for each class, a variety of classes with students taking 1 or 2 classes. As an 8th grade V.P. I have recommended classes for students who aren't going away or have jobs. Students earn BHS credit. For some students, they learn where classes are located and get a feel for high schools. Last year applications for summer school were given in late April, early May. Doreen S 

13-year-old about to start BHS - any advice?

March 1999

I have a 13 year old daughter about to start Berkeley High. My first question would be: any advice for parents of teens about to start BHS?

The rule at BHS is that kids can do very well there if they get involved and make it happen. They also can get lost in the shuffle if they don't. Kind of like real life. I do recommend the CAS (Communications Arts and Sciences) program. It is a small school within the big school and geared toward video production and communications. The teachers are very involved and it is a group of 60 kids each year who spend most of their school time together.) -- Barbara

re: Mom with 13 year old entering BHS. I had a recommendation from Terri Gerritz at MLK Middle School which we are planning to follow. She told me that the kids from King that she knew who took Ethnic Studies in summer school before 9th grade had not only enjoyed the class, but also felt a bit more familiar with the Berkeley High School plant, and were pleased to have lightened their load in the freshman year. Ethnic Studies is mandatory in 9th grade and it is a class with homework. Terri said the transition to more homework in high school is softened by eliminating this class from the fall or spring schedule. I hope that this class will fly this summer because my daughter is planning to take it in the 3 week summer session (June 21-July 9). Classes will not be offered if there are insufficient signups. - Edith

Re: entering Berkeley High. I highly recommend encouraging your child to get involved in one of the sports. For some this comes naturally. My son is not super-competitive or super-athletic but there are teams for those kids as well. If you child enjoys swimming, I highly recommend water polo. It's a fall sport, everyone who tries out gets on the team, and it's a great way to meet kids who are in different grades at Berkeley High. (For those for whom it is an issue, yes they do have to wear Speedos but they are very adept at wrapping towels around themselves while on deck and jumping into the water quickly.) Bill Gaebler is the coach and is a wonderful person. I also recommend the Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS) program. It's not a cure all but does give the kids a much smaller group to associate with and some of the most caring teachers at Berkeley High. For more info on either feel free to contact me. Sally