Advice about Small Schools at Berkeley High School

Parent Q&A

  • My daughter will be starting at Berkeley High next year and is pondering "small school" choices. She wants to choose the school that will allow her to take the most science classes, as she is currently passionate about becoming a surgeon (but she's 13, so who knows if that'll stick ;). So far, she likes what she's read/heard about the social justice focus of CAS and the academic rigor and international focus at BIHS. They seem like pretty different programs, but if they'd both give her equal opportunity to choose advanced and interesting science courses, she'd probably prefer the social atmosphere of CAS.

    As a parent, my concern is that she hasn't always been very engaged and challenged in her classes in middle school, so I am hoping for a more focused and challenging learning environment for her in high school. She's been annoyed by behavior issues that have distracted from learning in many of her classes at King, and has developed a somewhat jaded attitude about the quality of her school as a result.

    My daughter is finishing up at BHS and has loved some of the advanced science courses that she's been able to take (especially AP Chemistry).  She's now planning to be a STEM major.  

    Unfortunately, what I've heard is that if she had been in one of the small schools she wouldn't have been able to take those classes - or at least not at the pace that she did. So you have to be careful about the implications of the lottery choice you make (I really wish they would do away with that 9th grade lottery system as they've been discussing!). I believe that one option is to take classes at the local community college, but that could be difficult for a high school sophomore or junior. That said, I should also say that my daughter thinks that CAS is a wonderful school with a very supportive cohort of kids and teachers, based on what she's heard from her friends.

    My daughter chose BIHS, and while the international focus and many good teachers has been nice, it's been very difficult to meet all the requirements, and she wishes that her high school years had been less stressful. Segregation is also a major issue at Berkeley High, and BIHS has many more white kids than the general school population, which is alienating for many students of color and anyone who is seeking to learn in a diverse environment. If we had to do it over again we would probably chose AC.

    I have an 11th grader at BHS who just switched from BIHS to independent study.  Although she was in BIHS, she took AP science classes her sophomore year (chemistry) and her junior year (physics).  They have been plenty challenging, even for very strong students.  I also recently heard good things about AP biology, which she plans to take next year.  Ninth-grade biology was a bust (rotating cast of substitutes), but once she got into the AP science classes, they've been good.

    My child was in AMPS. If your daughter was annoyed by behavioral issues at King and wants to become a surgeon, she should most definitely avoid the small schools (AHA, AMPS, CAS). Their academic standards are significantly lower and their behavioral problems more extreme than anything you'll find at King. The vast majority of small school students are below grade level in math and until BHS figures out a way to address that issue, there is no way these classes will be able to prepare kids for university level math or science classes. The math proficiency level at King is about 70%. In the BHS small schools it is in the 2% - 7% range. CAS can be a very welcoming and accepting place for kids with a combination of on-going substance abuse problems and learning disabilities of the behavioral sort who need an alternative to a regular high-school education -- but if your daughter wants a focused and academic environment, do not consider a small school. Please don't be fooled by BHS's literature and presentations about the small schools - it bears no resemblance to what happens in the classroom. Instead, go and visit the CAS math and science classes (if BHS will allow you to) and form your own opinion. Also consider asking the teenagers at the park across from Berkeley High which ones are enrolled in CAS and get their feedback on the academics. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Discussions on this Page  

IB vs. AC vs. CAS at Berkeley High

Oct 2014

We have a child planning to attend Berkeley High in the fall, and are looking for feedback from parents about the different schools. Our child loves school, loves learning, but has a significant math delay. We are not convinced that massive amounts of homework serves any purpose beyond torturing teenagers, but on the other hand our child loves being in a classroom with other motivated and interested kids. A few specific questions.

1. Can a child who does not excel in math (or likely chemistry) do well and enjoy IB?
2. Is AC more of a catch all for kids who don't choose other small schools, or is it a place that kids affirmatively choose because they are interested in the program?
3. What are the teachers in AC like?
4. Will an academically-minded kid be frustrated in CAS, or inspired by it?

Hope someone can shed light on these issues. -Soon-to-be BHS Parent

Our child is a sophmore in AC. We chose that over IB for her mostly because she is a math/science kid and we wanted her to have time to take more science. IB's program is so proscribed that there is not much time for any electives. We also wanted her to be able to choose electives other than extra science. We also heard about the heavy workload in IB, and have found the homework load in AC to be very manageable (other than AP Chem). AC has such a broad range of kids that I don't think it is by any means for math/sci kids only. I think it does appeal to kids who want freedom for academic or other interests. So far her teachers have been solid, a few have been very good, one was not good.

She did have a friend who is an academically minded kid who was in CAS and was frustrated by the classes not being challenging enough. If you go on BHS's website, look at the accrediation report, there's lots of info about how the different small schools perform.

Your question was: ''Is AC more of a catch all for kids who don't choose other small schools, or is it a place that kids affirmatively choose because they are interested in the program?''

My answer is that kids choose it because they actively prefer it because they have more choice in what to take. AC is not a small school. See: This is a rather old fact sheet but it does spell out the differences.

IB is an excellent program, but it has many requirements, leaving little choice for choosing electives and leaving kids with a schedule so crowded they can hardly fulfill the PE requirement.

In AC kids get to follow their passion and their strengths - double science, double English, double art if they so choose, with room to explore things they have not tried before that could prove to be life changing (e.g. sports medicine, photography, literature & writing electives). If your child has a 504 due to math issues, it will be honored by math teachers who may need to reduce homework or give extended time on tests. (Mine had that accommodation.) If CAS is still using IMP math (please check on this) that is a severe detriment, IMHO. Good luck! former AC parent

Enrolling as a junior, requested AC, assigned to BIHS

May 2013

Our daughter will be entering Berkeley High as a junior in the fall. She requested Academic Choice - this learning community seems like the best option for a transfer student, but she was assigned to BIHS. Wondering if she can meet the graduation requirements coming from a non-IB high school. As we understand it, there isn't much flexibility in the BIHS curriculum. Advice? Are there AP courses in BIHS? BHS newbie parents

Hi There, The curriculum does not start until Junior year so she should be fine. I don't think she can take AP classes but the IB ones are just as good and challenging. The IB program has a good structure, teachers and leadership. My daughter is just finishing up her Jr year there. Best Wishes. Shoshana

If you want to pursue getting into AC I recommend sending an email to the AC VP Vernon Walton - vernonwalton [at] - and see if he can help you. It might also be worthwhile going to Berkeley High and asking to speak with him. Good luck! Francesca V - an AC parent

Moving to Berkeley mid-year - BHS lottery

Jan 2013

I am about to move to Berkeley and sign my daughter to BHS. I am wondering what are the chances of getting our first choice in the lottery. We are mostly interested in BIHS. Our second choice is AMPS. Are there any AP classes at AC community? Would you recommend AMPS for a child interested in science? Is it possible to switch communities after one year? The website states that kids from South and West Berkeley are given priorities for biotechnoigy classes. I am going to live in North Berkeley and wonder if there is a chance for my daughter to take these classes. Catherine

Catherine, You have many good questions about the BHS lottery.

1. Lottery: Information can be found here: Read #4 closely to understand how to establish preferences, and for clear direction for how to get one of the large programs if a student only wants AC or BIHS. Meeting deadlines is crucial for getting any preferences. AC and BIHS are both challenging programs with different characteristics. Some kids would say BIHS is harder. It certainly has more required classes.

2. RE: AMPS, you can intuit something about small schools by looking at their comparative test scores. See This April 25, 2012 school board packet contains the school report on BHS. Scroll down this pdf more than half-way until you see the colorful Powerpoint report. For instance, see PPT pages 7-11.

When you consider small schools and want to know about how rigorous the classes may be, consider the proficiency levels of the students in that small school. For instance, you'll see that the math performance scores for CPA, now AMPS, are only 2% proficient so this tells you a bit about the teaching/learning level of those classes. (It may also be a reflection of how well/not well students learn that math curriculum.) This should help you decide if those classes will be a good level of rigor for your student. Also consult the school catalog to see whether or not, for instance, AP science classes are offered in AMPS. I think not but that may have changed.

3. AP classes - AC has the largest roster of AP classes and AC is the largest program.

4. Switching communities: it is *statistically very unlikely* that a North Berkeley student will be allowed to transfer out of a small school at any time. It is statistically likely that if a NB resident puts a small school on their list at all, no matter how low, they will be put there. Generally, small schools are under-subscribed by kids who live in census tracts with higher income/higher education level (which is what BUSD uses). While the district seems to want to correct this inequity they haven't figured out how because policy is that a student may not be placed in a small school against their will (as long as deadlines are met). This may be a sore point but for now, it is reality and many kids do not want a small school.

5. Double check on this but I think Biotechnology classes are reserved for lower-performing students.

Good luck. former BHS parent

Moving to Berkeley - chances for IB in lottery?

Feb 2012

Hi guys, we are still planning our relocation to the Bay Area and still want to choose Berkeley. We're coming out next month for our spring break to visit schools, etc. My 8th grade daughter is pretty upbeat about the idea of BHS, particularly the IB program (though she'd be great in the AC program as well, as she goes to a highly ranked independent school and is a good and well-rounded student). I don't really know all the ins and outs of the lottery process, but I fear that if we don't actually move til the summer, we'll have lost all the opportunities to get a spot in the IB program. Can someone explain to me (even in bullet points!) how this whole thing works? It's OK not to refer me to the website, b/c obviously I've already read their narrative, but I have so much on my mind and so many moving parts, I'd like a more digestible and real-world assessment of how it all works.

I am not sure what your chances are of getting into BIHS are if you do not have a Berkeley address until the summer, however, i do know that if your daughter is only interested in BIHS or AC that you only have to put those two down on the form. I also know that for a kid focused on academics, either of these two is just fine. My kid is in BIHS, and it works well for my student but lack of room for many electives is always an item that my kid is aware of....and berkeley high has amazing electives. On a related note, many of my kid's friends who have been in dual spanish-english immersion since kindergarten opted for AC so that they could have sufficient flexibility in picking language classes.

I imagine that your daughter will be fine no matter where she lands. Welcome to berkeley! Go Jackets!

Starting BHS next year - which small school?

March 2011

My kid is starting Berk. High next year & we want to hear about your experience w/ Academic Choice, BHIS & Communication Arts & Science. He is into computers more than anything but also loves math & has a knack for reading. Writing is a forte but he gets writer's block & has hard time starting, so too many papers prove problematic. Kids from BHIS gave a great presentation at recent open house so son was interested but BHIS has less elective than AC. How much homework do these schools give? Any opinions on the teachers? How are the advanced placement courses? BHS Students reading this, feel free to answer so we can hear from the horse's mouth! need more info

Hi, I'm a junior at Berkeley High and I'm in the Communication Arts & Sciences small school CAS. I love it! I think it's the best thing ever. You said your son likes computers and i have taken two computer arts classes and i liked them both and as a junior you take a video class which i think is one of the coolest classes ever.... (more)

This question made me look for an archive of recent messages since there have been many recent answers RE: AC, BIHS and CAS, but I don't see one. So I will just state, as a very ''satisfied customer'' parent of an AC senior, that Academic Choice has been an excellent choice for my kid. AC has the only schedule that allows a kid with particular interests to really explore a field. The computer whiz kid who designed the Jacket website (and won national awards,) was able to take computer classes for three years because he's in AC. There is at least one AP Scholar of Distinction in AC. There are kids who took 8 AP classes, kids who took two and kids who took none, but still learned a lot. ... (more)

Hi--to continue the discussion, our son is a junior in AHA, the Arts and Humanities Academy. We have really valued the experience because of the quality of the teachers (the arts teachers are remarkable--but so are the English, Social Studies, and Science teachers). My older son went to an outstanding progressive private school in Atlanta, and the AHA core teachers are as good or better than the teachers at that school.... (more)

Confused about course choices and how rigorous the schools are

Feb 2011

OK, I am still quite confused after attending three nights at Berkeley High, the morning tour, and carefully reading this year's catholog.

AC is supposed to have more 'choices' then the IB program, but, from the catholog, what I see is that each program has the 5 periods each year filled in, with only a choice for performing/visual arts each for your sixth period. So where is the 'more choice' of AC?

Also, are the small schools less rigorous or not, and which ones are or are not? And how is the 'interactive math' compared to the geometry-algebra sequence of AC/IB?

And, are the IB and the 4 small schools more 'supportive' and you get less lost then AC, or not?

Lastly, on their website, Berkeley High writes about assigning incoming 9th graders by socioeconomic class/diversity. Is this assigned purely by the city block you live in, or/and by the child's racial background, as given when they entered K, or asked them now?

I will be so grateful for any clarification, bcause I am still quite confused! Thank you so much! Confused

I'm sorry to say that my experience with CAS was not a good one. They claim to be interested in meeting individual needs and pride themselves on being equally ''rigorous'' as the bigger schools, but that's not what happened. My son looked at the IMP2 math book the first day of 9th grade and reported that there was nothing new until page 300. Nonetheless, they would not let him take IMP3 or any other math outside of CAS. The teacher made some attempts to challenge him, but he was mostly very bored. The reason they gave for not changing his class was so that he would not be seen as better or tracked higher than the rest of the class. However, when the teacher asked a question no one else could answer, she'd call on him knowing he could answer (waking him up; he didn't volunteer), which made him feel like a show-off and teacher's pet. The counselor (bless Molly Offerman!) advised him to take online Geometry from BYU over the summer (which he did easily and got an A) and went over the CAS lead teacher's head to put him in Algebra 2 for 10th grade. He also wasn't very impressed with the English teacher, (I agreed), and fixed the computer teacher's computer for him. He wanted to take biology after that because he said he didn't learn any biology in his class in CAS. He ended up switching to Independent Study. Disappointed and Disillusioned

GOOD questions. 1) '''More choice' of AC?'' In 9th grade, BIHS requires Art & small schools have other requirements. In AC you choose world language, math with or without honors, may choose art, PE, lab science, but you're right, most of 9th grade is pretty set. Choices kick in grades 10-12: take AP science or humanities? honors math? which world language, which art, etc. By junior and senior year, besides all the AP vs. non-AP choices, there are many AC choices for English electives and social science classes (literature, creative writing, sociology, psychology,) besides all the other electives (arts, technology, sports medicine, dance etc.)

2) ''Also, are the small schools less rigorous or not, and which ones are or are not?'' Small schools insist they are rigorous, but have far less homework, offer a lot of group tests, offer little in honors math. Talk to BHS students, they will tell you. The kids like the less- homework part but look at their proficiency scores. CPA and CAS were only 4% and 3% proficient in math CST in 2009. No one likes CST scores. But they do show something. Ask to see test scores. See if you can find any kids who got great SAT or ACT scores who took IMP math. the CAHSEE is not a very high bar; a high percentage of kids pass the first time. (kids who do not pass the first time need lots of help.) Some parents report their kids who took IMP math have trouble passing engineering entrance tests or college math placement tests but I don't know.

3) ''Are the IB and the 4 small schools more 'supportive?'' Counselor ratio in AC is worse. Small schools are a cozier community. The catalog says AC will have houses next year to increase personalization.

4) ''assigning incoming 9th graders by socioeconomic class/diversity...assigned purely by the city block you live in, or/and by the child's racial background, as given when they entered K?'' Lottery assignment is PURELY on census data of your street address. However transferring out of a small school if your child is unhappy might actually involve finding a student of their race who wants to transfer in.

Janet H's answer to another post (see List IB as only choice to guarantee entrance?) was right EXCEPT for round #2 lottery students. Because if the 2 large programs fill up, and they often do, the round 2 kids mostly get small schools. So if a student only wants AC or BIHS then get into the round 1 lottery. This is why so many exchange students are in small schools (because they enroll after lottery and AC/BIHS are full.) Satisfied BHS parent

You asked where is the 'more choice' of AC? Berkeley High students are expected to take enough ''a-g'' courses (p. 11 of the catalogue) to meet BHS graduation requirements and meet the UC/CSU application requirements. AC mandates only two things: which English and which Social Science courses students take to meet those requirements.

BIHS also mandates which English and which Social Science courses its students take. In addition, BIHS freshmen must take either a performing art or the BIHS Creative Arts course (AC students can fulfill the art requirement in a later year if they choose and can take any art course to do so, such as drawing, ceramics, or photography). BIHS also requires two additional full-year courses: Comp.Values/Econ sophomore year and Theory of Knowledge senior year. You'll see the impact on choice when you map out potential course options for each year, including BHS/UC/CSU math, science, and language requirements. Happy AC mom with happy BIHS friends

Regarding the issue of small schools at BHS I have two comments. My daughter is in IMP classes through her small school and found that the CST test did not cover any of the topics she had studied. But on the PSAT she was in the 99th percentile. The issue is not in the classes -- they are excellent. I love how she is able to put the different math topics together to address real world problems. Another small school parent, an astro-physicist, told me that the IMP curriculum teaches math the same way people in his field have to use it. The CSTs, however, do not measure what she is learning. There is no CST that correlates with the IMP curriculum. Frankly, I'd rather have her enjoying math and learning how to really work with it than producing a score for the NCLB act. She'll be well prepared for AP Calculus next year.

My second comment is regarding rigor. Teachers in the small schools vary just like they do in the large programs. My daughter has challenging teachers and weak teachers, but her weakest teacher is not in the small school, is in the large school, and her strongest teachers are in the small school. They work together and they know their students. They are caring, creative, and committed teachers. She is learning a lot, is getting enough homework that she is doing regular essays and research projects, but still has the time to do extracurricular activities including sports and volunteering. She has taken one honors class already, and will be able to take five AP classes, including math, science, English and art. Her peers in her small school are a varied lot and she gets along with most of them very well. She learns a lot from being in a program with all kinds of students. She gets quite irritated when friends in BIHS or AC tell her that they have more rigorous programs than she and therefore expect to get into more prestigious colleges. She doesn't believe it, and the College Counselors tell her that students from all the small schools get into all types of colleges. I have no doubt she will be both well prepared and have excellent colleges to choose from. Annie J, small school parent and teacher

In the past there has been confusion about course choices and the lottery at Berkeley High This year things seem much clearer. Anyone whose child will be going to BHS should get on the E-Tree ASAP! Subscribe to the list by filling in the form at:

Then go to the archives and read INCOMING FAMILIES: Next steps for incoming 9th grade students - posted on 02/22/11. Here is what it says about the lottery: QUOTE- Small school preferences. Students must rank at least two, and may rank as many as six, small learning communities. Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School "the two larger programs" must be ranked even if a student is only interested in one of the small schools. If a student is only interested in the two larger programs, they will only rank the two larger programs.-end quote-

Course choice is largely determined by which learning community the student is in. Each SLC has required courses and may allow for some choice. My daughter, now a senior, is in Academic Choice; its emphasis on CHOICE has been great for her. Kids can take on challenges that play to their strengths and try new things. She chose AP English but regular history junior year, took AP Econ. but regular Chem, great senior English elective, plus had space in her schedule for eclectic choices (Sports Medicine, African American History, Adv. Photo.) Honors math is avail every year (need to test in) and AC offers the most AP classes @ BHS. AC=Choice in Academics; it worked great for us. She already got in to 3 colleges. Whoo hoo! FYI her friends in BIHS would also recommend their program but she says she would not have liked it as much. (And remember those extra science labs - they can help pull a C up to a B or A. Good modeling for learning to work hard too.) Peggy

Desperate to get out of small school at Berkeley High

May 2009

I recently found out that my son, who is now a sophomore, did not get his request granted to transfer out of the School of Social Justice and Ecology at BHS and into Academic Choice, his top choice. His original placement was random and this year he didn't ''win the lottery.'' He will be entering his junior year and wants AP classes, Honors math, and a stimulating class climate. I've talked to teachers and counselors and hit brick walls. I haven't gotten a response from the VP. I'm afraid his opportunities for college and his emotional state are in jeopardy. I feel frustrated. He is a GATE student and formerly a high achiever in math, but due to the pace of his math class this year he's falling behind. Any tips from those who have fought their placement decision? Any inside info on why there is such resistance? He wants to stay at BHS and not go to a private school. Any support would be appreciated! Thanks. Frantic Mom of Math Geek

Get thee to a community college program *fast*. No, they cannot keep a qualified student from taking the courses suitable to his educational needs, but they can put you into such a bureaucratic bind that the protest is rendered moot. And in the ''ed biz'', the individual student is subordinated to the smooth progression of the school. The Peralta College system (Laney, Merritt, Berkeley City, Alameda) offer concurrent enrollment for students entering 10th grade. So enroll him right now in a summer math course and demand BHS signoff on it to admit the units and step him up to honors in fall. Please note that summer college courses are *very* time-consuming and stressful because you go through an entire year of geometry or Algebra2 in 6-8 weeks, and it is a college record. But if he and you are serious about this, it is worthwhile. Why? Because I've been in your shoes, and now my daughter is doing research at NASA this summer while her friends are planning a summer of boredom. Good luck. Lynne

Your son must have included SSJE on his lottery form. The school board has established a strict policy that students who participate in the lottery on time and record only AC or IB as choices are guaranteed a spot in one of those programs. Once the first round of the lottery is complete I don't believe there are a lot of options, but if there was an error on the part of the school there should be. I would take the issue up with the Assistant Principal responsible for the lottery (Ms. Frey), rather than your son's counselor. anon

I keep hearing that one should fill in the complaint form that is in the handbook and also on the BUSD website. Once there is an official complaint, they have to deal with it as such. Jim Slemp said very specifically that kids who wanted higher level classes would get passports out and it should be illegal to prevent a student from taking those higher level classes. If you get turned down by the high school, appeal it to the Supt. office. Who knows if that will work but it is the official pathway and I for one would like to be informed of your progress. BHS parent, also of a sophomore

I have heard similar stories from some other Berkeley High parents. I have recommend that they look at a charter school in Alameda called Bay Area School of Enterprise. The students can take college classes at the Peralta Community Colleges one of those being Berkeley Community College.( That is what my daughter is doing). If you have any questions feel free to contact me. j.

It is my understanding that GATE students are a protected category and have the same rights as special ed. students. Contact his counselor and confirm this. Demand he be placed in AP classes. This is one of the problems with overly large high schools. They lose sight of the importance of the child as an individual. Good luck to you and your son. Jenny

My son got most of the AP and honors classes he wanted, but not AP English. I found an English at Vista (now Berkeley City College) that worked in his schedule. It meant he was late to Latin a few days a week, but both his Latin teacher and English teacher were very supportive. This arrangement worked out quite well, and he was able to get into AP English for his second semester. Anon

Transfer student assigned to SSJE - how to get into AC?

Feb - March 2009

Help! Has anyone successfully exited a small school? My son transferred into BHS this year as a sophomore and was arbitrarily assigned to the School of Social Justice, which limited his math choices. At his previous school, as a freshman, he was a GATE student and advanced in math. He wanted to take Honors math, but it was not available in the SSJE. He wants to be in Academic Choice. I've talked to his teacher and counselor and have been met with resistance. He wants to be on an advanced math track! He is bored in math and getting A's. It pains me to think he is missing out on an opportunity. Who is the appropriate person to contact? Bored in Berkeley

You need to go up the chain of command at BHS, up to the principal. Keep pushing them and you may get results. At this point, though he might as well stay through the end of the year, but next year could easily make the break. You might look into what's for offer at BCC that's more on his level. Don't give up. It's your school!! You pay for it! Best of Luck! squeaky wheel

Go immediately to the vice principal(s) in charge of SSJE and the math department. (Call the front desk and ask for Belinda to find out the appropriate vice principals if you don't know who they are.) If that doesn't work go directly to Principal Slemp. BHS is constantly prodding every student to challenge him or herself and forcing students to remain in less advanced math classes does not stand up to this exhortation. Whatever you do, DO NOT BACK DOWN in fighting for what is right for your student. BHS parent who has had to fight too

I'm sorry to hear your son landed in a small school at BHS. Unfortunately, it appears to be the policy for any student transferring, or missing the enrollment deadline for the beginning of the school year, to be placed in a small school. The best you can hope for, is to get a transfer for his junior year - or opt out of his current math class and enroll in a math program somewhere else. You would need to get this cleared through the school first, and your son would take a different class or sit in the Library during his regular class -but it could be an option!I would suggest you read the BHS Policies. They stick to their policies -no deviation , except of course when their at fault! Been there, done that!

I have been struggling with this issue too, as a parent of a 9th grader who was shut out of honors geometry this year, and was inspired by your post to contact the head teacher at SSJE again about the options for next year, after having given it a rest for a couple months. Here is her reply:

I'm so glad that you emailed me. I have great news. I've been meeting with the Principal and the Math Department and next year SSJE students will be able to passport out for Honors. So your son can take Honors Algebra 2 next year if he takes the test in the Spring. Please spread the word and let me know how I can get the message out there. Thanks Kate Trimlett

sign me as, BHS-SSJE parent

I think this is clear but it was repeated to me again so I am passing this along. If your student does not want to be in a small school, they will not be placed in one against their will as long as their name is in the lottery on time. Some students who transferred in last year after school started were placed in small schools against their will. It seems that this was allowed. They may be stuck there for that academic year but can, I am told, then go into the lottery for the next year.

Some people refer to all programs at Berkeley High as small schools; others make the distinction between the 4 small schools and the 2 big schools - AC and BIHS. If your child does not want to be in a small school and you enter the lottery on time, only fill in choices #1 and #2 between AC and BIHS, and you will get one of the large school choices. Right now, from what I hear from my daughter and her friends, both programs are relatively fine as long as you get good teachers (which is always the catch.)

BIHS has a strong program and is no longer brand new, but fewer choices for electives. If your child plays no BHS sport after school, it is hard to complete the PE requirement AND take science AND foreign language. This is a funky wrinkle and maybe they will fix it.

My daughter is an athlete and does well taking PE or dance everyday so is glad to be in AC. I loved their freshman curriculum and sophomore is fine too, so far.

Here is my pitch for excellence at Berkeley High - teacher performance reviews, peer reviews, and anything else that will improve teaching in all subject areas at all levels. There are some terrific teachers there and many who need a whole lot of help. Good teaching is the greatest factor to help close the achievement gap and will help *all* students, those who struggle and those who excel. Demand excellence, give teachers support to improve, and watch what can happen... Peggy

What is the ''small schools'' thing at Berkeley High?

January 2007

I have a child who will be entering BHS in Fall 2007....I have some questions that I couldn't find answered on the archives (although maybe the moderator will point me in the right direction).

1. What is the ''small schools'' thing at Berkeley High? Are all the students in small schools, or is this system separate from the general high school population?

2. What is the procedure for getting into these small schools? I have heard that it is very difficult to get into the ''most academic'' one. What are the eligibility requirements, or how do they determine who gets into which school?

3. Is getting into small schools different for kids with disabilites? My child is a very high-functioning autistic young man....I guess I am wondering if his disability status will make him any more or less likely to get into a particular ''small school.''

Thanks for your help! anon

Berkeley High's Small Schools program is intended to ameliorate a long-standing problem: the school is so big a lot of kids get lost. Each of the small schools has a manageably small cohort of kids who pretty much stay together throughout their high school careers; each focuses on a broadly-defined subject area, like arts & humanities, communications, community work, hardcore academics, etc. Each school's curriculum is designed to prepare students for college, but has its own focus and methodology. Depending on the size of the school, students take some or most of their classes within that school and go to the Comprehensive High School for anything their small school doesn't offer. More information is at

The small schools kids are not kept separate. They just mostly take classes together.

You get into a small school by indicating your preferences and entering a lottery (see I don't think disability status would make any difference at all.

I think the small schools have overall been a success at BHS. John

It would be a good idea for you and your son to visit the high school if you can. There are information nights for prospective students and parents coming up. A notice just came out on the e-tree for a Feb 27th, 7:00-9:00 presentation for families. You should subscribe to the bhs e-tree: send an e-mail to bhs-request [at] with only the word 'subscribe' in the subject line, and you will be kept informed of these upcoming dates. More specifically, you could make an appt to meet with someone from the special ed dept at the high school. Diane Colborn is the head of the program and I'm sure she would be happy to speak with you. The lottery process will be explained at the Feb meeting. And there is no program that is particularly 'more academic' than another. The four small schools and the two large school programs have different areas of emphasis and varying numbers of courses that a student takes within the schools. Jane

I'll respond to your third question, about students with disabilities, as I also have a very high functioning son with autism. I had some meetings with the district when I was considering transferring him to Berkeley High from a private school, though we eventually decided against Berkeley High. It's not clear to me from your question if your son is currently enrolled in the district and whether he has an IEP. Unless he has an IEP (or 504 plan) or you are in the process of seeking one, I don't think his disability will make any difference in school or program assignment. If he does have an IEP or you are in the process of trying to obtain one, my understanding is that they try to distribute special ed students in a ''balanced'' way among the small schools and programs. So, in theory, he could be assigned to any of them. Our child previously had an IEP in the BUSD, which lapsed when he left for a private school, and I'm sure he would have had one again had he enrolled at BHS. The interim placement the district offered us did not say which small school or program my son would be assigned to. They explicitly said that he would be assigned to a program only after we enrolled him, at which time they would take into account all the factors they use to balance enrollment. If the IEP makes a case for certain courses that are only available in some of the small schools, I'd guess that could influence placement. In our discussions, the district raised the question about which of the two different math tracks would work best for him and discussed the elective and international language offerings. Honoring these preferences would have narrowed down the possibilities, but would not have dictated one specific program. At no point did they ask which small school or program we'd prefer -- the focus was on identifying courses that might contribute to his success.

If you'd like further feedback from parents of students with similar disabilities, there is an etree for parents with special needs students within the Berkeley district. To join, I believe you can send email to BSPED[at] anonymous

How can I get more information about the BHS small schools?

March 2005

My son is an 8th grader on his way to BHS next fall. I need some feedback on the small schools, of which I believe, there are five. Can the readers of this site recommend any of these schools for a bright boy who gets bad grades because he lacks discipline? The Community Partnership Academy impressed me as the one that might do him the most good. But this is only based on the March 3 intro night we attended. thanks. RA

Editor Note see Community Partnerships Academy for a review submitted in response to this question.

This month (March 2005), students begin registering for the classes they want to take next year at Berkeley High School. Those entering 9th and 10th grade can choose from among six different options: (1) Arts & Humanities Academy, a small school, (2) Communication Arts and Sciences, a small school, (3) Community Partnerships Academy, a small school, (4) School for Social Justice and Ecology, a small school, (5) the Academic Choice program within the large school, and (6) the large school, not within a program or small school. For information about these six options, visit Juliann

Are "Small Schools" really better?

Feb 2005

I want to start an informal discussion of the Berkeley High small schools program and whether these programs are really going to ''fix'' substantive proplems in the school. It seems like the idea was tried years ago, and the ''big school'' was meant to be an improvement... and now we're back to small schools.

My personal concerns (in no particular order) are currently that:

a) Common Ground seems to have disappeared w/o a ripple -- what happened there? Will other programs vanish in mid-course? What happens to those kids?

b) CAS is well reputed but may have some problems bending UC reqs to their curriculum. I also don't understand their relationship to AP classes. CAS is also the most popular, too bad for kids who don't get in. Hopefully someone is working to replicate the good parts and fix the bad.

c) CPA kids can't take English or History APs, and the courses offered in place seem to suffer 'the soft bigotry of low expectation''. Easier courses, with gut finals and higher grades than outside CPA. Also CPA doesn't not to meet the ''diversity guidelines'' for the district, but because they have more kids of color no one seems to care. Unlike,

d) Academic Choice (not really a small school), which has been hammered by the district, for not having enough students of color, even though their program is the only one in the school that was previously open to ALL students choosing to enroll (until now). By the districts rules AC will now enroll kids by the new ''system,'' and be forced to stop accepting students when they run out of applicants from any one of the district identified racial groups. In theory that means the program next year will be EQUALLY represented (or under-represented) by all ethnicities... and size of the program will be limited to 3 times the number of the most under-represented group in the pool.

AHA and SJE are still unknowns.

The obvious advantage of small schools is the continuity and potential for smaller communities and closer relationships with teachers and fellow students. The advantage of the big school seems to be avoiding the disadvantages of the small schools.

When did school stop being about academics and become heavy-hand social engineering? Where do kids go who just want to be educated in a safe environment where most of the challenges are academic?

Anonymous at present

I've had two kids go through the CAS program & graduate, so I can attest that it was and is a great program. It's really too bad that it isn't big enough for everyone, or that BHS hasn't been able to grow small schools fast enough for everyone who wants to be in one. BUT that's exactly the reason CAS has succeeded where Common Ground floundered: A small school needs support from the school administration, an unreasonable amount of commitment from all staff involved, and a really clear focus. Common Ground was a great idea and there were many good teachers, activities and students, but it just got too big too fast.

You didn't say whether you currently have a student at BHS or are considering the school for the future. I think you'll find the school as a whole has improved immensely. Also, there are lots of other ways to create a 'small school' for yourself: Through the arts, certain sports, certain academic subjects like Latin. A strong commitment to any one of these often forces you into certain scheduling choices with like-minded students, creating an unofficial, but real, community.

Also, the great thing about CAS and the other small schools, so far, is that they are NOT exclusive; students do participate in the diversity and excitement of the community at large.

Yes, CAS has developed a strong social-political component. Yes, there need to be a wider range of choices in small schools, for families who don't want that. But for many many of us CAS families, parents and students alike, this is the best part of the program.

And finally, being part of an academic community for four years resulted in a really meaningful and supportive college application process, from help choosing appropriate schools to apply to, to strong guidance through the essay-writing, to letters of reference from teachers who really really knew my kids. Once at college, my kids felt like they had a tremendous head-start, both academically and socially, over other freshmen.

been there

From whatI know as a parent whose child is in CPA, the information you presented is inaccurate and is what I've heard from others who have relied upon ''hearsay'' rather than information from CPA itself or are using outdated information from when CPA was a ''program'' not a true small school (just became a true small school this year). First of all, students interested in AP classes can request to ''passport out'' to the big school just like CAS students can(and can also do so for arts classes if requested - however the majority of a child's classes must be within the classes since being part of the community is a critical part of the experience) and I know that ALL of my child's freshman core classes offer an honor's option. In terms of course content - in varies with the teacher (true in all of the District not just BHS). I would say that of my child's 6 teachers - 3 are exemplary, 2 are competent, and 1 I (and my child) have some questions about. I consider this VERY competitive with any other ''school'' or program at BHS. I know the Director is very concerned about attracting and retaining excellent teachers and in academic excellence for all students at every current achievement level.

It is true that CPA is not as ''popular'' as CAS. There is less publicity - no trips like to Cuba at this time - and when CPA started as a PROGRAM rather than a full small school CPA's emphasis was to assist underachieving students to succeed - and for some this has translated into a fear that as a small school, CPA would settle for less academic rigor. I would say that CPA does have more of an emphasis on ''bread and butter'' than ''jelly'' than CAS but that approach has merits as does a more ''creative'' type of emphasis. Definitely, CPA is fully aware that the curriculum has to address the needs of students at all current achievement levels - because that should be the goal of ANY small school or BHS program AND that it is needed for CPA to be sustainable within a community that absolutely values the highest academic achievement (and after all - families of children that are not achieving aren't looking for the minimum either). I certainly expect my CPA child (who has always been an honor roll student) to be competive for UC or one of the better private schools (in terms of my child's ability and from his academic and personal preparation - and so far, I have seen the type of growth at CPA that would make him successful with that goal). In terms of diversity - as a true small school (as opposed to the program it was before this year) CPA must now enroll students using the same diversity formula as any District school (zip code, socio-economic, etc.) and is mandated to reflect the demographics of the BHS as a whole.

There is a CPA Parent meeting on Monday, February 7 at 6:30pm. in the room across from the library. Perhaps some of your questions/concerned can be addressed by attending this meeting or requesting a meeting with Flora Russ, the Director.

anonymous for my kid's privacy

I am also interested in analyzing and discussing the impacts of the small schools movement at Berkeley High. There are clearly gains and losses in these early days of programmatic shifts and a mix of approaches will probably prevail in the long run and meet the diverse interests of most of our students.

However, I'm disturbed by the atmosphere of intolerance for open discussion that surrounds this revolution. I do not understand the antipathy towards those who want to preserve more demanding academic programs that seem to work for some of our children nor the antipathy towards those looking for new ways to engage our students. Why should access to any programs be limited by racial barriers instead of open to all? Why can't we find out which approaches attract our children, while meeting the requirements of various education and career choices, and then assign staff appropriately? Why should any respectfully-stated opinions need to be anonymous? I would hope that these discussions can find a place in the open, as well as in these pages. I would be interested in knowing about or creating public, constructive, non- antagonistic discussions of these issues at the high school.