Berkeley Public Schools vs. Albany Public Schools

Parent Q&A

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  • We are looking to move to either Albany or Berkeley.  Any minority perspectives out there regarding your experiences with either school district?  I've read a few negative things re: Albany which concern me, but am wondering what the current day-to-day reality is for minority children there.  We've had a horrible experience with WCCUSD so far (definitely not inclusive of minorities at least in our current school), so trying to guess what Berkeley or Albany might be like.  Thanks for any insight on either.  

    I have many friends with children of color in Berkeley public schools and they are very happy with their experiences. I can’t speak to Albany schools but as a Berkeley native I can say Albany tends to be less diverse.

    If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear what WCCUSD school you’ve had negative experiences with? We’re considering transferring our son from private to public in El Cerrito (possibly Kensington). As a family of color we’d hate to put our child in an unsupportive environment.

    Hello, my children are enrolled in the Albany school district and we are very happy with their experience so far. Very inclusive community, great teachers, staff and while I cannot compare to Berkeley, there is nothing that I could point out to be a negative, certainly not with respect to minority inclusion.

    When I was looking for schools for my child of color, I liked El Cerrito instead of Albany or Berkeley.  We knew POC who had been there and liked it vs other stories I had heard of the other two schools.

    On greatschools.net, you can look up the demographics of a school's student body to get a sense of how many student families share your specific race/ethnic identity. For example, Albany High is a majority-minority school, but only 3% African American.

    BUSD is majority-minority, and there's some thoughtfulness about including students of color (although it's not perfect I'm sure). You might want to look at the demographics of particular schools to see if any stand out as a better fit. Keep in mind that schools are selected based on lottery within each of the 3 attendance zones for primary and (soon) the middle schools. BUSD is phasing in an integration plan for the middle schools. (There used to be 2 zones plus an opt-in to Longfellow, but this gradually resulted in segregation. The middle school zones that are coming online closely track the primary school zones.)

    I think it depends on what minority you are. If you are Asian you would fit in well in Albany. That is the predominant group besides white. If you are something else I think you would do better in Berkeley. I think Berkeley tries to be inclusive. Also, there are just more kids of color in Berkeley than Albany. 

  • Albany vs. Berkeley Elementary Schools

    (6 replies)

    Hello,

    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."

    Haha, yes, air conditioning really is unnecessary in both Albany and Berkeley. We have a very limited temperature range year-round in the Bay Area, and especially in those cities right on the Bay. Summers are pretty cool, with daytime highs generally in the low 70’s and fog at night with lows in the low 60’s. Even when we get a heat wave our proximity to the bay means it cools significantly at night, and we never get humidity and heat together. Our family has one portable air conditioner that we use at night during heat waves and we haven’t used it even once during 2021. 

    Starting with the housing questions - air conditioning is not necessary and is uncommon. You don’t mention your budget, but that is important - Albany and Berkeley are very expensive. After that, the most important factor in my opinion is proximity to daily destinations - work and school. Don’t just look at miles, make sure travel times during peak hours are reasonable.

    Regarding schools - I only have experience with Berkeley. All of the schools are fine for kids without extra needs. They’re more of a crap shoot if your kid has any issues. Elementary schools are assigned using a rank choice lottery system which you can read about online. The important thing here is that this means that your two kids aren’t guaranteed a spot at the same school. That said, even if they don’t end up in the same school, typically you can waitlist your kids at each other’s schools and you will eventually be able to move them to be together.

    All schools offer an after school program - and this year they are all oversubscribed. No one I know of with multiple kids got spots for both kids in the after school program at their school. So everyone I know with multiple kids has made other arrangements. We like the City of Berkeley after school programs and recommend them.

    I would push back a little on the AC issue. Though it used to be completely unnecessary, with the combination of global warning AND fire seasons every year for the foreseeable future, I now think it is going to become less out of the norm to have AC in the east bay. There will likely be days or weeks each year when you can't open windows because of smoke. If a heatwave hits, you'll want AC. A window unit is really hard to seal from the smoke. I agree it used to be unnecessary, and if we could always open windows I'd agree you could easily live without, but we live in a different world now where opening the windows won't always be an option.

  • 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.

    If your child is musical, how about The Crowden School in Berkeley? My child is very happy there.  

    Albany is great if you really like math and believe that STEM is the future. Unfortunately, my English and History-loving student has not been very happy with the district. She has had great teachers and classes in those areas, but the culture does not support them or place much value on them. Math - and taking accelerated math classes - is basically seen a proxy for intelligence and is fostered and encouraged, so students less interested (or with less ability) in such subjects are a bit academically marginalized. I can't speak specifically to the arts, but this has been our experience with a humanities-focused student. I would imagine something similar. 

    If you are priced out of Berkeley, you may be priced out of Albany as well, and perhaps El Cerrito too. If you keep searching toward the north, Richmond Annex is zoned for El Cerrito High School and Korematsu middle school. My daughter attended these schools and they are well regarded for music and dance, although at the highest levels it got competitive and stressful. The class sizes were large, although the overall school size was moderate, and hopefully the class size issue has improved. Academics were low pressure, however students who sought greater academic challenge would find it available. An advantage of West Contra Costa schools is that 6th grade is part of elementary school; middle school is only grades 7-8. Although I don't have personal experience with the middle and high schools in Pinole, El Sobrante, and Hercules, I hear they are completely adequate, not academic pressure cookers unless by student choice, and these areas may be more affordable.

    Albany has a strong music program including choir, band and orchestra. The high school arts program is pretty sophisticated including advanced, honors and AP art. It offers dance classes and club, but does not offer drama classes which is unfortunate. I believe the students have created an after school drama program for plays and musicals.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

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: http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/information/wasc/ 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. http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/BHS_catalog_12-13.pdf 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