Berkeley Public Schools vs. Albany Public Schools

Parent Q&A

Albany vs. Berkeley Elementary Schools Oct 19, 2021 (6 responses below)
Albany vs Berkeley middle and high schools? Apr 26, 2021 (7 responses below)
  • Albany vs. Berkeley Elementary Schools

    (6 replies)


    I am a single mom with kids in 1st and 3rd grades, considering either the Albany or Berkeley elementary school district. We are moving from Chicago and my understanding of the Bay Area school options is limited to the internet.  Any guidance is appreciated. Which schools do you like and why? Which schools offer better after-school options? What do I need to pay attention to when looking for housing in those areas? Is air conditioning really that unnecessary? What are some after-school activities providers you can recommend in either location (or beyond)?

    Thank you in advance!

    The archives here have lots of depth, but in short, BUSD is a much bigger district, with more resources as well as more "under-resourced" in some areas. With kids so young, you may not know what their interests are going to be or what challenges they may have in school as yet. AUSD is much smaller, outsources much special ed service, the elementary schools seem very tight communities and social groups form in elementary and seem to last through high school. Both AHS and BHS seem to offer lots of scope for advanced learning; BHS is just a way bigger high school with whatever good and "bad" that entails. The rental market is much looser than ever, especially in Albany; I'd say rent a nice 2 bedroom apartment in Albany within walking distance of Memorial Park and you'll be happy with grade schoolers.

    I am a parent of two kids in BUSD. Berkeley schools are divided into zones depending on where you live in the city. Within each zone, you rank your choice of the elementary schools located within that zone (it's around 4) and then it's a lottery where the district places your child. We got our first choice, but not everyone does. The elementary schools are all really good. The three middle schools are a bit more unequal and there's only one enormous high school. I can't speak to Albany, but it isn't nearly as big and isn't as diverse. I think you will probably be outraged by the rent in these areas, compared to Chicago. And no, you don't need AC. No one has it. I grew up here, but I would do a lot more research before actually relocating. You will probably find that the cost of living here is just completely outrageous and the homeless situation is dire. 

    Both cities are great options and you can't go wrong with either option.  Albany is a smaller city and thus a smaller school district but still has tons of resources.  There are maybe 10 days a year in which you need AC so if you want to splurge you can go with a window unit but most people just get some fans.  As far as housing, I'd avoid housing near where the subway(BART) is above ground due to noise.  Also if you live in west berkeley/albany there are train horns that can be quite loud.  As far as which school offers better after school options, you'll have to dive deeper into what you mean by "better."

  • We have been planning a move to Berkeley but might be priced out and are expanding our search to Albany. Would any parents be willing to chat with me about the differences between the middle and high schools? I have a 5th grade girl that is artistic and musical and a little quirky. Looking for info on arts programming, school cultures in addition to academics and all the other usual stuff. Thanks!!!!

    Not too many people have firsthand experiences with both districts, but I can tell you that I have a student at AMS right now and - keep in mind this is the COVID experience and a "normal" year could be different - I feel like it is very academic-heavy and there's pretty high expectations for homework. We are happy enough with the band program for what it is this year; expecting it to be better in a normal year. (Not sure what type of music your daughter is into.) I also have a fifth grader who is artistic (not musical), quirky, and dreamy, and I don't think they would be particularly happy at AMS - that is, it is not tailored to their flavor of student personality - and I don't plan to send them there. Can't speak firsthand to Berkeley schools being same or different, but we have experience in a different public school district and I wouldn't say that it catered to the artistic dreamers either.

    You may be interested in Oakland School for the Arts

    I have direct experience with BUSD, but only what I've heard from friends for Albany. Berkeley has many students who care about music and the arts. Also because BHS is so large, most students I know find their people. The academics depend on what your student chooses, plenty of AP and IB options. Middle school is middle school. King wasn't great for our student -- not as personal as elementary school, but not the choice of high school. Generally BHS seems to have more room for quirky kids because there are so many social groups and activities. Also, keep in mind that there are many community activities like Contra Costa Civic Theater and Berkeley Rep for students who like the arts, and often that is a good supplement to whatever goes on in school, and provides an alternative friend group.

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Berkeley vs. Albany Schools???

June 2012

My husband and I have been trying to buy a house in Albany, in large part because of the schools. However, we are finding that we are being priced out of Albany--at least for any house we'd be happy living in for the next 15-20 years. On the other hand, we can probably afford to buy a pretty nice house in Berkeley, which will most likely put us in the Northwest Zone of BUSD. But I'm feeling quite a bit of stress about not getting our son (who is now 2) into the Albany School District. Private school is out of the question, and we are not considering renting. Any thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Anon

We have 3 kids in Berkeley public schools, and all are thriving, at Oxford Elementary & Longfellow Middle School. We have found the education to be challenging and of very high quality, offering music, art, gardening, PE, and all the ''extras'' that schools should still offer, but often don't these days. The teachers are excellent, for the most part. Some facilities are older, and seem a bit ugly, but they are lovingly cared for. I've heard Albany is great for ''average'' kids, but if you have a child who's exceptional (either very bright or needing extra services), they may not get as many services as kids in Berkeley. If you can get a bigger, better house in Berkeley, go for it. JMHO. Happy BUSD mom of 3

Buy in Albany. It's better to buy the smallest house on the block in the community you want to live, than a larger one in a community you don't want to live. Then, you can always upgrade if needed. Like you, we were torn between Berkeley and Albany with the schools as the top priority. Our deciding moment was looking beyond elementary school in Berkeley. We just didn't think King or Willard would be a good fit for our son. And we definitely knew he'd be invisible at such a large high school like Berkeley High. There are pros and cons about both communities, depending on your family's needs. We've been here for 4 years, our house is small, and space is always an issue. But by far, it's our favorite house, and favorite neighborhood. Good luck, hope that's helpful. Happy Albany-ite

The Berkeley school system is a lottery. You could find a great home in Berkeley and find that your kids don't get into one of your preferred schools (or they could!) Not sure your price range, but a friend bought a 3/1 in Albany under $500k, another bought a 2/1 for around $400k. Not sure what comparable homes would be in Berkeley for those prices. Good luck. If I could do it all over again, I think I would have taken my chances in Berkeley! anon

You'll be fine whichever choice you make. We are in Albany, and yes, we truly do love it here and thrilled w/our school is two blocks away - pleased that there's only one middle and one high, which are great schools as well. That said, I also know lots of people in Berkeley who truly love it there, and rave about the diversity, and other things that a larger district - and city - can offer.

I think the one difference is travel/logistics. In Berkeley, you may do more schlepping around (kids' friends who live farther away/school that may be farther away) than Albany. For me, that did mean a lot, but for others it's not really a big deal. And the public schools in both districts really are great.

Congrats - it's a good choice to have!! Like Albany and Berkeley Schools

Both albany and berkeley school districts have great things going for them and neither is perfect. If your kid ends up doing sports in north berkeley, then will likely be on teams with some albany AND berkeley kids. There is lots of neigborhood overlapping with kids and families in the Solano Avenue area...Kensinton and Southern el cerrito kids, too, for that matter.

There are few families who have kids in both districts, or have experience in both. Given that, my understanding as a BUSD parent is that the schools are comparable. Albany is a smaller town, and there are only three elementary schools (11? In berkeley), one middle school (3 in berkeley),. Berkeley high is bigger, but has about 6 learning communities. If you want more information on the middle and high schools, check out past posting on the related ''parents of teens'' list serve.

A lot of a student's success in any school depends on, studies say, the parent's education level or investment in their kid's schooling or their own experience(comfort level) with school as they grew up. At berkeley schools i have seen that if parents/guardians of students are involved in their child's education, that the child does well. Most families in berkeley ARE actively involved.. It seems that you plan to be invested in your student's educational experience. Given that, i expect your child and your family would be just fine in either berkeley, or albany. Both are great home towns. So go for that house in berkeley! Stop fretting. Just stay involved. Berkeley parent who likes albany, and other towns too


Albany High vs Berkeley High

March 2012


Our family has a choice of high schools (lucky us) since we are a split family (unlucky us) to have our kid at either Albany or Berkeley. I would really appreciate hearing your opinion of each & how you would choose, if you could. I know lots of parent's partial to either Albany or Berkeley, but seems like their sole motivation is that they live in that school district (and, thus, have no other public school choice) and/or because our kids are friends and they want their kid to go to HS with my kid. Concerned Dad

My child spent one year at Berkeley High, and the other years at Albany High. There are pluses and minuses to both, and it really depends on what your child is like. If you child is driven, self-motivated, has good social skills, advocates for him/herself, then I would vote for Berkeley High. Latin is great there, the IB program is very challenging, there are some great classes, great art classes. Most of the kids in IB come from private elementary schools, and are very driven, and privileged. Berkeley HIgh is segregated and overwhelming, they are constantly talking about the achievement gap. My child did not thrive there-the pressure was too great, it was too intense, and the disparity between the kids was immense. Albany is more protected, friendlier, smaller, more like a suburban school, though still diverse (though many fewer African-American kids. Lots of Asians). My child has had some really good teachers, but fewer than if he had stayed at Berkeley. There are quite a few mediocre classes, and less choices than at Berkeley. Art is dismal at Albany High, though music is good. Sports are good at both places. My son is happier at Albany. So, hope that helps. Really depends on your kid and what they want. anon

For parents with questions about Berkeley High School programs and academics, you can access the current Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Accreditation report prepared by the BHS administration at: The report is quite comprehensive including a range of data on Berkeley High from academics to truancy. Includes action plans for the next accreditation period. BHS Parent


Are Berkeley schools better than Albany schools?

March 2012


Ok - so I know I am asking a difficult (and potentially controversial) question but here it is - Are Berkeley schools better than Albany schools? We are considering buying a house and are looking at North Berkeley and Albany. We have a child who will be in elementary school so that obviously factors into the decision making process. I am aware of ''being able to walk to school'' in Albany vs. the zone system in BUSD. I am more interested in hearing about the actual curriculum, overall growth and development of kids in either school system. I know it may be hard to truly compare the two school systems (unless you had kids who attended both!) but any feedback is appreciated. Schools-making-my-head-spin

You are correct that probably few have experience in both systems for the same grade levels. ...or in various individual schools within a given district. So why not ask about what people find are the strengths and challenges in their students' particular schools? I imagine that your head IS spinning, so i encourage you to take a breath and visit individual schools. Call the schools and make appointments. Perhaps it will help to take comfort in the fact that both districts are very good, and neither is perfect, nor is any school within either district. And even if they were, the staff will change to some degree, and so will the students and families, before you get there as no school community is static.

One easier comparison to make may be at the upper grades. Berkeley has 3 middle schools and albany has one. Berkeley high is bigger than albany high. Kids can remix their peer group more easily in a bigger system, perhaps. You can compare high school course catalogues,If that may be important to you, although of course this will change in time, too. Here is the bhs catalogue with explanation of the schools within berkeley high. BUSD does offer some dual spanish-english programs from k to 5th and then some continue this at Longfellow. The families and students i know in both districts are, for the most part, very happy with their district. Also, some kids do transfer from one to the other. Check the archives for more comments on experiences in the two different districts. Check information on district web sites for both districts. And remain calm. Both are good. Busd mom