Enrollment, Lottery & School Choice in BUSD

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How Does the BUSD School Assignment Work?

Waiting Lists, Appeals & the Second Lottery

Requesting a transfer to a different BUSD school

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Specific Programs & School Zones

How Does the BUSD School Assignment Work?

Our house is half in Oakland and half in Berkeley

Sept 2014

Am I in Berkeley or Oakland school district? My son is eligible for Kindergarten next year but our property is smack on the Oakland-Berkeley line and I don't know how to find out where we are zoned. Neither school district includes our address on their zone websites. [in fact, a whole chunk of our street's addresses are missing -- weird!] The family who lived here before us sent their kids to private school. Our taxes and services are divided up between the two cities- Berkeley address, Oakland trash, Berkeley police, taxes prorated between the two, but we vote in Oakland. I thought I'd check here before calling the offices. Can anyone offer a lead? Thanks! confused mom

We sleep and eat in Oakland and watch tv in Berkeley. Our house/lot is 56% Berkeley so we vote in Berkeley but have choice of services and schools. Our son went to an Oakland Hill elementary school and is at a Berkeley middle school. You can choose. Our address is Oakland -- as most of the homes on our street are in Oakland -- so the mail carriers don't go postal. When registering my son for BUSD, I went in person to the district office with our county tax bills for both cities. There are benefits to being in the BUSD schools which are addressed elsewhere. Depending on which Oakland elementary school is your neighborhood school, you may want to go there, especially if it's walking distance. Go tour the schools, read reviews here and on Great Schools, talk to your neighbors.... As baffling as it can be, you really have a good situation. Best of luck. Boakland resident

You can try greatschools.org. They have a district boundaries tool that lets you search schools you are zoned for. Just type in your address and use the buttons to toggle between elementary, middle, and high schools. Hopefully this tool can help you. I used it a lot before we bought our house recently. http://www.greatschools.org/school-district-boundaries-map/ It links to reviews and extra info for relevant schools. There seems to be much more info for public schools vs private schools at this time. Greatschools fan

My old house was in the Oakland hills on the Alameda/Contra Costa County line, and property taxes were prorated between the two counties. Most of our services were provided by Alameda County, but since we paid property taxes to both counties, we had a choice of Orinda or Oakland schools. One key factor was that we paid all of the school district parcel tax assessments.

You might ask other neighbors whose homes are in both counties where they send their kids, or you could take your property tax bill and other proof of residency to the school district office of the district you prefer to find out if you have adequate documentation to put your child in their school. I am sure they have dealt with this issue before and have established some protocol.

It's good that you're already looking into this because you will want it settled before kindergarten registration. Another Parent with Dual School Districts

I would go to the district where you want your child to attend with your ID that preferably says that city.If you do not question it,the district may not either. Ellen

BUSD: Out of Zone by a Block

Oct 2012

We live very close to a wonderful school that is out of zone for us. This school is walking distance, while all the schools in our zone are a car ride away. How frustrating! I know all of the schools in BUSD are good, so the idea of a ''neighborhood'' school is very appealing. Has anyone tried getting into a school that is not in their zone? What was the process? Does putting it as your first pick ruin your chances of getting your second pick (i.e., your first in-zone pick)? Am I silly for putting location as such a high priority when I know there are excellent schools within my own zone? I don't know if this matters, but I do not believe the out of zone school near us is necessarily the most popular in that zone; does that increase our chances? This process seems a bit more confusing than I originally thought (or I am making it that way!). Out of Zone by a Block

We were in a similar situation years ago. My advice is, only put schools on your list that you would really want to go to. We put in an out of zone school (which was a magnate school) as our first choice, then listed our 2 in-zone choices. We got our third choice school and ended up opting for private school because we didn't really like the third choice school. I think if we had only listed the 2 schools we wanted, we would have gotten one of them.

It has been a while since we were getting our first into K, so i am not sure the process is still the same. If it is then .....if the out of zone school is the least requested in that zone, then you have the best chance of getting in. However siblings get preference and you would not know how many siblings will take up spaces in that school. Also, if there are a bunch of siblings and they are all from the census tracts with same ''scores'' as your ''census tract'', then the district may strive to get new families from different scoring tracts (not yours). So it all depends on factors you dont have control over and information that you wont have access to. Sorry. Given that, if you would like to go for having your student at that nearby school for 6 years, then go for it and get on the waiting list if you have to. Even if it means transfering in part way into the year. And yes, it could mean you would not get a spot at your #2 if it is most requested. Another BUSD Parent

My son is still not assigned to a school!

Aug 2012

It is Wednesday, August 22nd, all my documentation has been submitted and accepted, i am only waiting for an ''unannounced'' home visit so that BUSD can validate i really live where i say i live. I have called the Admissions office numerous times and no one answers and the VM system says ''mailbox full''. What recourse do I have? Anyone have any direct contacts of people I can talk to? Should I skip work and go down there? Any help or recommendations would be appreciated! thank you! Signed, Waiting For BUSD

Definitely go into the main admissions office ASAP. We are in a slightly different situation (wait listed rather than unassigned) but have had the same experience of not having our calls returned etc. I have found the admissions staff- or perhaps I get the same woman- to be friendly which was a nice surprise. We went into the office after being told repeatedly that we would get a call back, turns out the woman had somehow skipped our name in the call back log and we received a call the following day as promised. Definitely go in and, even if you have to take time off work, until you get your placement. That would be crazy to not have a spot when school starts! Good luck!

Can kids stay in Berkeley Schools if we move?

April 2012

We currently rent in Berkeley where our kids currently attend elementary school. We love our school, the district, the City. However, due to financial constraints we are considering moving to El Cerrito. I know the kids can stay at their Elementary school until they finish but what about middle and high school? Will they be allowed to complete their education in Berkeley or when they are ready to move to middle school will they be forced out of the district? Is is possible to get a waiver and continue until graduation in Berkeley? I would like the facts and am not looking to hear from folks who just want to make comment about how its not ''right'' to have your kids in Berkeley schools if you arent actually still living here. Any personal experience or knowledge in this area would be welcome. Struggling BUSD Family

In a word: no. Having said that, people do it all the time. I assume they just lie about their address. I wager you could do this through elementary but you have to register them all over again at the district office with your residency documentation for middle and again at high school.

I'm sure you will get some nasty replies as this is a big issue. If you choose to do it I would just ask that you take some of the money you save and donate it to the schools PTA so at least you can help fund some of the programs that are being cut like cooking and gardening. BUSD Parent

If you move out of Berkeley you can still, leagally go to Berkeley Schools if your new school district releases you and if Berkley accepts you. Go to the district office and ask what you need to do. anon

Typically not. You could apply for an inter district transfer permit, but those aren't given out in large numbers. If homelessness is the reason for your leaving Berkeley, that's another matter : you can definitely remain until you are redomiciled. Otherwise, please get involved in the schools in your new community!

What if we get assigned to a school we don't want?

March 2009

Likely an old question, but we're new to Berkeley. Looking to buy a house, and terrified at the idea that our children might have to cross the city to get to their kindergarten. If we get assigned to a school we don't want, what recourse do we have? Is there any level of preference for assigning neighborhood residents to their neighborhood school? If not, are there realistic / good alternatives to public schools -- while still avoiding private school fees? Many thanks! G

Berkeley explicitly has a bussing policy rather an a neighborhood school policy. My understanding is that it was put in place to integrate schools. You should buy a house in Berkeley with your eyes open to this policy - you should investigate the schools in your ''zone'' rather than just your neighborhood school (this info is available on the BUSD website). That said, my daughter goes to school ''across town'' and it really isn't a problem at all. Sure, it would be nice to walk down the street to school, but if you want to be guaranteed the ability to do that you should buy elsewhere. it's not really so scary

Trying to understand how the Berkeley system works

Jan 2009

Hi all!, I am tring to understand how the Berkeley elementary public school system works? I hear it is a lottery, but how does it works? When and where should I register for the school? Also, which schools are better, and are they OK? Thanks so much! Lora

Hi. The deadline for Berkeley's 2009-2010 school year first assignment lottery is/was Feb. 6th. All the info you want on enrollment can be found at: www.berkeley.net/index.php?page=enrollment Basically, Berkeley is divided into zones. You will generally go to a school in your zone. It's difficult to get a school out of zone. You tour each school (peek in on classes) attend their kindergarten open house nights (meet the teachers) & see what school is the best fit for you. (These events are all done for this year, I hope you are interested in 2010-11 school year enrollment.) You then simply select 3 schools in the order of your preference and hope you get into your top choice. We generally liked all the schools in our Northwest Zone & wouldn't have minded getting into any of the schools. But we did get our top choice, Thousand Oaks. If you don't get your top choice, you can be placed on the waitlist. We attended 2 lectures presented by the school system on how their lottery system works. There is no way (that we could figure out) to ''play'' the system to ensure you get your top school choice. But I understand that like 70%+ families get their top choice. Good luck. Debbie

Understanding the BUSD lottery system

December 2006

I'd like BPN help on how to understand BUSD district, lottery system, and general information about the various schools. My son is only 1.5 right now so we are dealing with childcare and preschool most immediately but kindergarden isn't too far into the future. I'd like some help with resources to understand the BUSD lottery and kindergarden process. I've looked at the BUSD website but all it has is a form but not much help in understanding the schools or the lottery system. Where do people go to understand what the schools are like, particularly kindergarten.

Generally, my questions include:
* I am interested in the Spanish immersion programs, where do I find out about how parents feel about these programs and what does they entail?
* Do the programs differ betweent the schools in the district?
* How does that lottery system work?
* We live in West Berkeley but the NW zone is where I undertand the most ''competitive'' schools are? What does that mean and why are they that way.
* Yes, I can look at the test score sheets and all of that but where else do people get informationa about BUSD and the schools, particularly kindergarten?
* Is there a BUSD info session held about K-schools or some other meeting to know about?
*how far in advance should you start visiting schools to see what they are like (espeically since between now and when we want to go, school administration and character could change alot)?

Parent just beginning research.

Sorry that you're experiencing some anxiety about BUSD lottery. I don't have all the answers but here's a couple of comments and suggestions. First, find out when the kindergarten open house nights are scheduled and plan to attend them. (These open houses usually are not announced until after the new year.) These will give you a good window into the schools. You can also plan to go on one of the school tour days (these are also scheduled after the new year, I believe). However, since you asked for advice, I would suggest that you not go on a school tour until your child is four or so. Right now your child is so young that immersing yourself in a school environment might feel too overwhelming as you try to visualize your own child in this big new environment. With regard to the lottery, I would call the BUSD staff person in charge and ask your questions. With regard to which schools or zones are the most 'competitive,' that's a very subjective criterion and I think it's based on rumor or conjecture. I think each one of us probably feels that the school WE want is undoubtedly the most competitive, based on our own needs and desires. Please keep an open mind all the way through the process, and try to disregard the rumor mill. Best of luck!
BUSD fan

I recommend that you call the Parent Access office at BUSD and ask them when the kindergarten fairs will be held this year. Call soon so you can get scheduel it and make sure you have childcare - so that you won't be distracted with your toddler. There is uaually an info ''fair'' (BUSD-spnosred and perhaps other fairs) where the elementary schools each have a table and you can chat with the different parents. Call the schools now to see when you could visit their kindergartens - are they still having visitors come in during the day? Each school has a different way of working classroom observations. Definitely don't bring your toddler to these visits. Ask the parent access office what other event may be scheduled in December, january and February regarding kindergarten next year. Also, not sure when, but each elementary school has an evening ''dog and pony show'' at their school where parents can come and ask questions about kindergarten and the school in general. Whenever you visit a school, try to check out the older classrooms, too. Also, you can ask when the PTA meetings are, go to a couple of those and get a feel for the school's parent and teacher community. You can also drop in on a school event. Many are happening this time of year. Regarding your specific questions...Dual immersion program - hopefully someone with direct experience will answer you..got the the fairs and ask a parent. Do the programs differ from shcool to school? YEs, but there is a basic Berkeley curriculum. Each school has different ways of doing the ''release time classes'' and each school has a different emphasis. SOme do more theater arts (Malcom X) and some do more visual arts and dance (Cragmont). How does the lottery system work? - Go to a BUSD event that covers this topic and ask clarifying wuestions there and afterwards. Is the NW zone the most ''comptetive'' and wha does that mean? I don't know that one could truly call any of the zones themost ''competetive'' and I don't know what the originator of that comment meant. Most of the BUSD schools have strong programs - each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In each zone, some schools have longer waiting lists than others. There is not one ''best '' school in the district, nor is there a ''best '' school in any of the 3 zones. Each family has their own needs and own opinions - that is how it should be. You need to figure out which school you think is best for your kid and put that one first on your priority list (3 years form now). What to do between now and when it is time to apply? Go to the anuual info nights and fairs. Focus on 2 or 3 schools that your are most interested in - based on your visits and 1st hand accounts of acquaintences. Keep checking in with people you know who have kids in those schools over the next couple of years to see how things are going. Know anyone at your preschool (if you are involved with one) When you are out in the community, at parks, at parties, etc, find out where older kids go and politely ask what they like about their school and what the challenges are. Don't listen to rumors form folks who don't have first hand knowledge. Schools change, their staf changes, the rules regarding assignments change - so just do your data gathering in a low-key but consistent fashion, and you'll have a great knowledge base when it comes time to apply. Have a great time. (And when you do become part of a BUSD school community please donate time and $ as you are able) Thanks! BUSD Mama

The kindergarten fair is on January 20, probably at 10-2, at LeConte School this year. Last year it was just PTAs, no teachers or principals from individual schools, although BUSD people are there. Michele Lawrence, superintendant, has stopped by in the past. Francisco Martinez, head of admissions is usually there and does his whole extremely detailed run-down of the process. I have been there 3 years in a row. It is essential that you go to this event, it is comprehensive. You should already be visiting schools as well - call and find out their visitation hours - their phone numbers are on the BUSD website
BUSD parent and PTA member

Best strategy for getting first choice in the lottery?

Nov 2006

1) When applying for a kindergarten placement to Berkeley public schools, if you really want your first choice of a school in your zone, is it better not to list a second and third choice? (We live within walking distance of Thousand Oaks and want our son to get in there.)

2) If you don't get your first choice kindergarten school at first, if you wait list and patiently wait is your child likely to get into the first choice school within a year or less? Thanks for any insights.

puzzled parent

I would not recommend leaving your #2 and #3 choices blank because somebody will decide for you and it does NOT increase your chances of getting your first choice. As for the waiting list, the school must meet the integration formula and it therefore depends what demographic your kid fills versus what demographic the school still needs i.e., your kid could remain on the waiting list even when spots are open in the school if your demographic is already full. I think it might change after November once the numbers are submitted because the schools don't have to ''tally'' again until the following year, so if you are willing to wait that long, things might open up a little more (unless the school is actually full in every demographic).
--Been there, done that

You are fortunate -- all of the schools in the ''Western/Northern'' part of the Berkeley District have people that prefer them, so it is relatively likely that you'll get your first choice. That said, if you don't, and are willing to go on the waiting list and move your child during the school year, you will almost certainly find a slot. The only exception is the language-immersion programs which are very competitive to enter, at least for English as a first language speakers. Some families I know have ended up so happy with their second choice, that they haven't moved their children when an opening comes up. My child is at Jefferson, and we've had a great experience with both the school and the parent community. Carol

Our daughter started BUSD kindergarten this year, so let me share. We did not list one school in our zone on the preference form -- that is, we listed 1st through 3rd choices, leaving 4th place blank. We were assigned to the unchosen school. So, I think that only making one choice is not a successful strategy. Attend the kindergarten fair in February. Get on the BUSD website and educate yourself about the admission process. Get downtown and meet with Francisco Martinez, the direct of admissions. He'll fill you in, straight, on both of your questions. All the schools are good if you make them so.

Which school should I choose?

Jan 2006

Hello fellow Parents, I am in the ever-stressful position of choosing a kindergarten for my daughter next year. I would be grateful to hear any and all recent opinions (as there is not much in the archives--I find hard to believe) of the following schools: Whittier Arts Magnet, Oxford and Cragmont (all in our zone) and Jefferson, which is not in our zone, but the closest of all of these to our house! At any rate, my husband and I did a tour of all these the other day, and those schools we had expected to really like and be impressed by, we were not and those we expected not as much from, we really liked. But how do you decide after an half-hour tour and a couple of info nights? I am interested in honest opinions of any of these schools. I know no one school is perfect or is going to offer all the things that I want in a school (strong sense of community, sense of social responsibility as well as academics) and that all schools have some issues. I am just looking for a good balance. Just want the best fit for my kid.

How do you decide after a few info nights and a half hour visit? Find folks in the community that you know have kids at those schools now and have a long chat with them. Go for another visit at recess time or at a evening school event or to a PTA meeting to get a broader sense of how the school community works. Check out the after school programs if you are planning to use an on-site program (does it even have one?). How do the start and end times of the school fit with your family's schedule? Would you ever drive to the school and are you okay with parking availability for the times of day, and days of the week, you might be there? Do you like the principal and their style? Do you like the other subjects offered at the school (visual art, dance, garden/science, etc.). How are discipline issues dealth with? My children are at Cragmont Elementary and we are very happy with the school for its strong academics, arts, safety and sense of cummunity, and its great principal. Regarding Jefferson, it is difficult to get into a school outside of your zone if it is one of the top requested schools in that zone. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't bother requesting Jefferson. FYI - there are a bunch of Cragmont kids who live in the blocks north of University Ave. and east of Sacramento St. Best of luck ! Cragmont Family

What's the liklihood of getting your first choice?

Nov 2003

We have a child who will be starting kindergarten next fall. We're toying with the idea of moving to Berkeley for the public schools (from Oakland). However, I'm concerned about going through the tremendous work and expense to do this move and not be guaranteed the school of my choice in the zone we move to. Does anyone have any thoughts about the likelihood of getting one's first or second choice of Berkeley school if, for example, we don't move til April (after decisions have been made)? Would appreciate hearing from anyone who did this or anyone who might have general thoughts about it. Thanks.

This is to respond to concerns regarding getting into your Berkeley school of choice. We toured four public schools in the years before my daughter started kindergarten: Jefferson, Thousand Oaks (in our zone) and Cragmont and Oxford (not in our zone). We liked Jefferson the best by far -- the staff was warm and welcoming, teachers were energetic and the children mostly seemed engaged in their classrooms. We also like Cragmont, which is near our home.

We picked Jefferson as our first choice. Didn't get in. Neither did any of the other families we know that picked Jefferson first. The district assigned our daughter to our third choice, Thousand Oaks. We weren't crazy about that school, because the kids did not seem engaged in their classes (particularly in the higher grades). We asked for an explanation of this outcome and got no response.

I've heard that you can ultimately get into your school of choice if you work at it. I also believe that there are wonderful parents that devote a lot of time and energy to the public schools and they get good results for their kids. But we decided to go private. Ann

How does the school choice system work?

Nov 1999

We are in the thinking stages of possibly buying a house this next spring or summer. More than likely we will settle in Berkeley, however, I have some concerns over this due to what I have heard about the Berkeley School District. I am not sure if I'm basing my knowledge on hearsay or actual policies. So, can someone please enlighten me on whether the information I have is correct, or not.

I have heard that Berkeley goes by a lottery system, and that it won't matter where we live because my son could get bused to any school within the district. I.e. if we live across the street from Cragmont he could end up all the way across Berkeley at Columbia. The other thing I have heard is that there is no consistency on kids going to the same school year after year, meaning that they could go to school A this year, and then end up at school B the following year. This seems absolutely ludicrous to me. How are kids supposed to feel grounded or connected to their educational institutions with a situation like this. I am also amazed that my son could end up in a separate school from his next door neighbor. This certainly does not help create a sense of community.

I'd like to hear if the information I have is correct, and if it is how are people coping with it? Turning to private schools as an alternative to dealing with this situation? thanks! To the best of my knowledge, this is how it works (and I've simplified a bit): for the elementary levels, Berkeley is divided into three sort of pie-shaped slices that run from the bay to the hills. Each "slice" of the pie has 4 or 5 elementary schools from which to choose. In some cases, there is overlap of schools available in more than one pie slice when the school is sufficiently large to handle more students. Parents list their choice of elementary school in preference order, 1, 2, 3. The school district, however, assigns the children, paying attention to preference order, but also paying attention to things like socioeconomic mix. Therefore, it is entirely possible that you could select the two schools nearest home as your first two preferences and be given your third choice as the school for your child, and your third choice could be farther away. Or, as in the case of a friend of mine, none of her choices was given, and her child was assigned to one of the larger "overlap" schools.

I have not heard of many people who are successful in getting to change the district once the decision is made. In the case of my friend, she opted to send her daughter to private school rather than have her be bussed or driven halfway across town at age 5.

At the middle school level, Berkeley is divided into roughly two pie-shaped wedges going from bay to hills. If your house is in one part of the wedge, you get Willard, in the other, King, and Longfellow is offered as a "magnet" school in arts and technology and anyone from either district may put Longfellow down as a choice. Thus it is possible to purchase a home close to King, but be within the Willard district, and vice-versa.

There is only one High School.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, once your child is in a school that's it unless you move. So, there is that consistency once the assignment has been made.

Boy do you have bad information! Sorry, or maybe you'll be glad to know that just about everything you heard is wrong. Berkeley has what is called 'parent choice' not lottery. Berkeley is divided into three zones and each of these zones has three or four schools. When you enroll your child you fill out a form and put the schools you want your child to attend in order of priority. You are not limited to the schools in your zone - but have priority in them. They will try to give you your first choice, and say that you will get at least one of your choices. So, yes, you could live across the street from one school and end up going somewhere else, but so will some of the other children in your neighborhood. I had a really hard time with this in the beginning since I only liked one of the schools in my zone. Despite what they say, I did not get any of my choices - yet after kicking up a fuss - my child was admitted to my second choice which was a school out of our zone (he is not entitled to bus services because of this). We are very happy! I know parents with children in both of the schools that I rejected in my zone and they rave about their schools. I just read a rave review about Thousand Oaks.

Once you are in a school, you stay in that school and your other children will have top priority to the same school. You don't even fill out a new request every year unless you want to change.

I have checked the ratings of Berkeley schools online and have found that many of them are rated in the top 75 of the county, above Albany schools. And speaking of Albany schools, it seems they are not all they are cracked up to be. My son's friends have about 5 more in their classes than my son's class. I hope this puts your mind at ease.

The Berkeley Schools have a "controlled choice" assignment system. It works this way: The school district (city) is divided into 3 school zones, with boundaries running from the hills to the bay. Parents of new students to the district request a school for their children, listing first, second or third choice. Requests are processed by computer to provide the greatest number of first choices possible. The control factor here racial balance--the system is designed to create racially integrated schools while providing some choice of schools to families. In addition, the district has developed magnet schools with specialized curricula--arts, for example, or the "City of Franklin" microsociety school. Free bus transportation is provided to students who select a school in their enrollment zone. If you want to send your child to a school out of your zone you have to provide the transportation. Each zone contains a choice of 3 or 4 schools. Students who live in that zone have "first preference" over students who live in another zone. There is no neighborhood preference, however, and children who live near you may choose to attend various public schools. There are many people who would prefer neighborhood schools, but even more who want to send their children to schools with a diverse, integrated population. In Berkeley, unfortunately, we can't accomplish both things at once. (It is interesting that people who say they want neighborhood schools will sometimes choose to send their children to a private school miles from home.)

Note: Generally, you choose a school at kindergarten and then at 6th grade (most Berkeley schools are K-5 or 6-8). You do not have to choose each year; once enrolled, your child remains at the same school for his/her elementary years, unless you are unhappy with the school and request a change.

All Berkeley schools have the same core curriculum, but each school has its own character and special programs. Three advantages that Berkeley schools have: (1) They are small (many are no more than 300 or so); (2) Berkeley parcel tax money (Berkeley Schools Excellence Program) provides funding for smaller class size and program enrichment; (3) local bond money has rebuilt and replaced a number of schools--most of the facilities are now far superior to other public and private schools.

There is a lot more information on the school district web site: www.berkeley.k12.ca.us. See the "Guide to Berkeley Public Schools," which describes each school site and the choice system.

One last piece of advice: Visit the schools, check them out, and make your own decision. It's helpful to hear from other parents, but be careful to sort out fact from rumor. Good luck!

To my knowledge, your second fear (changing schools from one year to another) is not justified. Check the ucbparents web page for a good string on the issue of the different lottery systems for BUSD, as well as other info on the specific schools. You can also contact the BUSD directly. They have a very good person there who deals with these issues and who is always willing to explain the process to parents-at least that was our experience. Sorry I can't remember her name.

For assigning students to elementary schools, Berkeley is cut diagnally into 3 zones, each including some hills and some flatlands. (Zones are different for middle schools, and all Berkeley high school students go to a single school).

All students who request a particular school are put into a prioritized lottery system where the priorities are something like this: first: students already attending the school, second: siblings of students in the school, then students from the same zone as the school, students from other zones, and lastly students from outside of Berkeley.

I have never heard of a student being forced to leave the school that he or she attended the previous year (although I know parents who choose to move their kids from school to school as a way of dealing with personality conflicts with teachers or principals). If a particular grade at a school fills up with students from within the zone (as tends to happen at Columbus elementary), then no students from outside the zone can go there. Students not accepted can elect to be on a waiting list.

The various kids on my block all go to different schools, due completely to the differences in their parents' choices. I find this sad, because my kids' friends from school are not nearby, and kids do not get acquainted with their neighbors through school. Of course, going to private school doesn't help with this particular problem.

A map of the zones and a brochure on the various schools is available from the Berkeley school district.

The Berkeley Unifed School District is a big bureaucracy with the usual inefficiencies one finds in such, but not unduly so. Berkeley is divided by the BUSD into North, Central, and South districts with the lines drawn in a slanting fashion from NE to SW. Within your district there will be 4 elementary schools for you to choose from, to request. Almost everyone gets their first or second choice. Once your kid is in a school they stay there until they graduate. There are rules and there are tweaks, so even if you didn't get the school you really, really want, if you keep pleading, make a good case, and keep bugging them you can probably change. From my observation, however, most of the schools are good. This doesn't mean there isn't the odd teacher or principle who should have retired years ago or else should be in a different line of work, but overall the schools keep a pretty high standard.

So just give them a call, work your way through the voice mail menu, find out which schools are in which district, and start visiting and asking around about the schools you think will be closest to you and fit your needs. One thing they try to do is make sure that each school, both elementary and middle schools, have something special to offer, be it performing arts, science, farm and garden, Mandarin instruction, or whatever.

How to decide which schools to request

July 2000

A couple of more thoughts on requesting elementary schools...

(1) Once you have to get in the car to drive a child (or two or three...) to school, it's not the same as living so close that the child can walk to school.

(2) If you live far enough away to drive, you should check out the school bus option. BUSD provides those nice yellow buses for kids through 5th grade as long as they live a certain distance away are attending a school in their "zone." We found the transportation people to be amenable to creating a new stop to get our child within a block of our house.

(3) Having your child closer to your workplace (e.g., UCB campus in the case of Washington) may be much more convenient for drop-ins, teacher visits etc, than having the school closer to your home. (If home and work are in same place this is a simpler matter to analyze of course.)

(4) Check out what time the school day starts and ends at the schools you consider -- I found that varied by as much as an hour, and was important to me to know for coordination with another school as well as my work.

I think these are generic considerations for one's school selection, and they presume you are already satisfied with the core elements of academic quality, facility safety, etc. By the way, we live in northeast Berkeley (off Grizzly Peak) and my kid just "graduated" from Washington. It worked well for us.

Our daughter is entering second grade at now Rosa Parks, nee Columbus, our son will start Kindergarten in September there. It is in child's terms very far from our home, but in our zone. A school bus comes and picks up the kids in the neighborhood a block from the house. While we do not walk to school, we do go with kids in this neighborhood to the bus and the kids have a blast. THey also have a sense of community for this fifteen minute ride and the play time down at the corner before the bus comes. We also feel very connected to the West Berkeley neighborhood that our children go to school in. We are involved with issues of the school as a park for children in the neighborhood and with the importance of community. The issue of neighborhood schools is rife with many subtleties, no doubt. But, we might at least wonder if the image we return to is one of an idea of exclusion, isolation, homogeneity and ultimately privelege and race. We have had an incredible experience, so consider all the angles before you write off opportunities.

Thanks for the thoughtful message on the importance of neighborhood schools. I agree with you about how families become communities through schools -- but probably should have mentioned to you that I do live in your neighborhood (but the North Zone). We reached Washington on a bounce out of a school closer to home -- and I do drive my kids there daily. I also helped out most days this year. It's my opinion that any school you can't walk to is equally far away (getting the kids in the car being the hard part) and that ample parking exists almost nowhere... so that's not an issue. We did often walk to Oxford, but frankly now enjoy the atmosphere down the hill a little more (with apologies to old friends at Oxford). The most important thing is to pick your school and help make it the best it can be. Good luck!

(Aug 2000)

RE: Berkeley Neighborhood Schools

The District will place your child where they think best. If you have strong preferences you may have to negotiate, or be willing to move your child as space is available after the beginning of the School year. You got a response mentioning "Oxford and Arts Magnet parents in our area who love their schools, too, so I can't say I'd base a decision on location alone."

Where your child goes depends first off on which zone, south, central or north you live in. You have quite a lot of choice within the zone. Don't underestimate the importance of a neighborhood school, however. You will be so much more involved, both in formal activities, and in casual Saturday afternoons on the playground, if your son goes to a nearby school.

In general I have heard good things about all the schools in the South zone of the BUSD, John Muir, Emerson, Malcolm X, and LeConte. Every parent I have ever spoken to who had a kid in one of these schools loves it and wouldn't switch if they could. These are all south of the UC campus area, or SE or SW, and there are lots of apartments in these areas for rent. Generally speaking, east of Shattuck Ave. is more crime free than west of Shattuck, but only in a very general way, as there are some very nice neighborhoods in the southwest part of Berkeley.

One criterion for making a decision is the availability of onsite childcare before or after school, if you will need that. LeConte has two programs: a YMCA kids club which is run by very nice, competent people, and the BUSD Extended Day Care program, which is largely subsidized for lower income folks. This last program also has good teachers, but a higher child:teacher ratio.

Navigating the school choice process


Our son started Kindergarten at Cragmont School this fall. My brief recommendations for getting through BUSD's "School Choice" system are:

1. Attend all the functions (school fair, school nights, class observations). You learn something different from each one.

2. If you don't get your first choice of school, don't give up. Get on the waiting lists. Our son was originally assigned to our last choice school, which we had been led to expect would not happen. By June he got into our second choice. The Thursday before school started, he was assigned to our first choice. So be as patient as you can be given your individual circumstances.

Regarding discipline: I would guess that it depends on both the teacher and the principal. Our son's teacher won't stand to have someone disrupt the class but when observing, we saw teachers who had little control over their class that day. I know from experience that Cragmont's principal takes discipline very seriously. Some schools have school-wide mediation programs.

NOTE: At least in the Central zone, if you enter the system in first grade then you have even less chance of getting your choice of school. Spaces open up mostly by attrition, and there seem to be a lot of kids coming into first grade from private kindergartens.

Other experiences:

1. Despite what we pay in taxes for schools enrichment, those extra funds don't go very far. (I had nightmares after my first PTA meeting.) Fund raising is very big for PTAs.

2. Economically, students vary from to kids who can't afford $2.00 for a field trip to kids who attended expensive private preschools such as Step One.

3. We were told that some incoming kindergarteners will never have been read to before coming to school. I didn't see any direct evidence in my son's class, but it could be true.

4. Volunteering in the classroom on a regular basis (even 2 hours/week) helps the teachers and students A LOT. It also lets you keep a close eye on what really goes on in the classroom and the playground. It is also your only regular contact with the teacher if your child takes the bus.

5. It's true that Berkeley schools don't do well on the standardized tests. Cragmont only has money to give extra help to the two or so lowest scoring students in each class. But my guess is that parents can do a lot to influence how well their own children will do--read to your kids a lot, show your kids that you enjoy reading, help them with homework (my son has nightly homework). I was also saddened to find out that there is very little money for the GATE--Gifted and Talented-- program, which doesn't go into effect until the higher grades anyway.


Overall, we are very pleased with Cragmont and our son's class. It is a K-1 combination and works very well. Our son is exposed to first grade concepts and is intrigued by them. The first graders are respectful of and helpful to the kindergarteners and all the kids have bonded. (The teacher encouraged this and I saw it for myself when I went on a field trip a few weeks ago.)

The real drawbacks we've experienced are a result of Cragmont's current location: it shares the Franklin site with Thousand Oaks School and the physical setup isn't as good as it could be. But the principal is working on the problems and the school district has helped out some.

Regarding after-school programs: We chose JCC because it was close to our house, BUSD would bus our son there after school (JCC has its own vans to some out-of-area schools), and the program seemed very good. We have been quite pleased with it.

A parent asked about the ability to switch classes if a teacher doesn't work out. From what I've seen, this is allowable as long as there is room in another class (classes can't go above 20 students). There are probably issues of trying to maintain racial balance as well. My son's room started out with 17 students and has had some students come and go since then. In one switch, a student who could barely speak English (from what I could tell) was moved into the bilingual class after a few weeks and a few days later, an English speaking student moved from the bilingual class to my son's class. Given what I know about the situation, it wasn't a predetermined "trade"-- things just worked out.

From: Fran (6/98)

Regarding registering for Berkeley Public Schools at this late date:

I recommend that you visit the Parent Access office of the Berkeley Unified School District headquarters as soon as possible and find out what the procedure is for registering at this point. Then visit the schools and decide your priorities, then go from there. My feeling is that everyone has their own ranking of the Central zone schools, depending on their personal circumstances.

An aside: We signed up for the March lottery (kindegarten) and were assigned our 4th choice. As soon as the June registration deadline passed, we were offered a slot at our 2nd choice school. Up to that point, we were 8th on the waiting list for the school. I don't know how many slots opened up, but it wasn't very many. Most of the people ahead of us on the list had already made other arrangements in the time between March and June. This experience supports what I had heard before on this list: the longer you can afford to wait, the better your chances of getting what you want.

From: a parent (3/98)
Subject: In response to: How to get school assignments changed?

Be pleasant and reasonable. Working in the Parent Access Office, especially this time of year, is hard. (If you think how nervous you are, and then multiply that by hundreds of parents, and try to imagine yourself as the person whose job it is to deal with it all... )

As soon as you get your assignment, show up at the Parent Access Office and get your child on the waiting list for the school you want. You can get waitlisted at more than one school, if you didn't get your first or second choice. Then do what they say. (Register at the school you're assigned to, etc.) You can call every few weeks to see if there's any news (always being pleasant and reasonable), but they usually don't start handing out lots of slots until June, when they see how many people have registered. If you can stand uncertainty, and can hang in there until the last minute, there's another big shakedown in late August and through the first few weeks of school. The district may not even know until then how many of each grade they'll have at each site, and often have spots open up when that all gets settled.

Good luck. Last year I listed first, second and third choices in my zone, and didn't get any of them. But in June, my child was assigned to my first choice school, and it's been great.

Date: Jan 2, 1998
Last year I didn't receive a Parent Preference Form for Berkeley Public Schools from my daughter's preschool and I MISSED the application deadline. (I might have been more on top of this if I hadn't just given birth to my second daughter after a five day labor!) Just so other kindergarten parents in the group can avoid the same grief, I called the Berkeley Parent Access Office today (644-6504) and received the following information:

Parent Preference Forms will be available at all school, libraries and the district office after January 10, 1998. The forms are due by February 17th. Parents may visit schools any Tuesday or Thursday after January 13th. They request that you call in advance to verify that the class will be available for viewing. Amy


The lottery system for school selection is tricky. Be sure to make all filing deadlines and follow-up that your application was processed. Last year, our application, along with 50 others, was "lost" and not processed. Fortunately, we still were "picked" by the BPS computer to go to the school of our choice (Emerson) but others were not so lucky. The main office of BPS can be a "black hole" for questions but be persistent, and someone will help you. Carolyn

Oct 1996

I have children in three different Berkeley Public Schools. My youngest child (last school year in 3rd grade) entered the system last year. Based on anecdotal information only (my own experience and conversations with parents I met), I think that most children who entered a Berkeley elementary school last year (and who were not entering kindergarten) were assigned to Franklin. Berkeley has a complicated zone system for elementary schools and parents can choose one of the schools in the zone in which they live. School assignment is then made based on criteria such as older sibling attendance (that is, having all children in the same family at the same school during the same school year, not previous attendance) and the effort to achieve gender racial balance at each school. Last year I met parents from all over Berkeley, all new to Berkeley Public Schools, whose children had been assigned to Franklin. (None of whom had requested Franklin. Me, I live within sight of Jefferson which was why it had been my first choice. Schools in my zone were Franklin, Jefferson, and Thousand Oaks. My second and third choices were schools in other zones that would have made daily drop off and pick up routines workable for me.)

My son had a wonderful year at Franklin, an excellent teacher, made some very nice new friends. Next year he is going to Columbus. (Completely impossible drop off and pick up, but now I'm used to it.) However, I personally wish that Berkeley would just go ahead and assign the kids without the rigamorole of the zones and the choice since I don't think that there is as much choice as advertised .I think that children are assigned where there is room and to achieve racial and gender balance and that parent choice is given the least weight in that decision.

The previous year, when we first moved to Berkeley from Albany, I had a similar experience with my then fifth grade son. We dutifully attended open houses at King (a few blocks from our house), Willard, and Longfellow (identified as an arts and technology magnet school). Longfellow was our third choice, but that is where our son was assigned. The criteria for assignment to both King and Willard severely limited the options for students new to the district. Again, I would have preferred knowing right off that he would be assigned to Longfellow. It is difficult for parents to try to make a careful choice, visit the schools, talk to people, make lists, listen to their child, etc., then discover that there had probably never been much chance of assignment to the school of choice. This is of particular concern when some of the schools (like Longfellow's arts and technology program or Thousand Oaks' Spanish program) offer non standard curricula.

On the plus side, I have friends with children in all of Berkeley's elementary and middle schools and there are people happy with every single one of them. (We're even happy with some of what goes on at Berkeley High.) There are committed teachers, involved parents at all the schools. Any child's experience may be good or not but I have come to think that that experience has more to do with the specific teacher they have and the particular dynamic of the class and the school in any given year.


From: Susan (4/98)

We just went through the lottery system in Berkeley as our daughter is entering kindergarten in the fall. We had a very positive experience. I called the BUSD Parent Outreach office several times with questions and received quick, clear answers from the staff there. We were delighted when we got our first choice of Oxford School.

From: a parent (5/98)

We got our first choice, Columbus School, Spanish immersion. We were really impressed in the Fall with the school, and equally since our admission, we have been invited to several events at the school which has significantly lowered my daughter's anxiety about where the hell she was going next year. It has been an unequivically positive expereince to date. Also, our second and third choices would have been okay with us, especially since we debated which to put where. We are not indiscriminant, I am a child/adolescent analyst and my partner is a teacher and does a great deal with the education, so we had very high standards.

Waiting Lists, Appeals & the Second Lottery

BUSD Kinder 2013 lottery - did you get 1st choice?

March 2013

We got our 1st choice in NorthWest zone, and feel happy. This is in stark contrast to 3 years ago, when we got our 3rd choice, felt gutted, but were lucky to wait list our way into 2nd choice. Curious to take an informal poll here on BPN for people who went through kindergarten lottery this year, across all zones, did you get your 1st choice? 2nd choice? 3rd choice? BUSD claims somewhere around 80% of families get 1st choice, but I don't really believe that based on friend's experiences. It also seems to happen more often in the Central and South zones than in NW. Thank you for indulging this curiosity. Curious on ''the real'' stats in town

We're in the Central Zone and didn't get any of our 3 choices. It was disappointing, but the school we're assigned to is fine. The number I was given by admissions is 70% for 1st choice. They didn't mention anything about 2nd, 3rd, or no choice percentages. It is a pretty comprehensive formula:http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/berkeley-school-admissions/2156-2/ jess

We did not get our first choice. Actually didn't get any of our choices. We are in the central zone. We were assigned to the elementary school that is actually the furthest away from us than any other school--regardless of zone. So yes, we're disappointed. Central Zone parent

We participated in the NW lottery for K, and did not get our first (or second) choice. From what I heard from friends, no one in the NW zone who lives in the hills seems to get the schools closest to them. Personally I think the main criterion used in the lottery is the census tract data that loosely predicts income. We also tried the lottery again after moving to the Central zone, to get into one of the two schools that are within 3 or 4 blocks of our house, and failed at this as well. Sarah

Aaaaargh, my favorite topic right now! Central zone, we live in the hills, and we didn't get any of our 3 choices. Instead got Washington. Disgruntled

I hope you realize that any ad-hoc poll on an internet-based newsletter is not going to be at all reliable, and I'm not sure why you don't trust BUSD's statistics. I'm sure if you wanted more detail, you can request data from their office under open information rules.

I might respond to you that I did get my first choice, but actually, I don't even have a kindergartener, and you would never know. Or, I might respond to you twice. You also are not going to get any responses from all the people in Berkeley who don't subscribe to BPN, don't read it, and/or don't even have internet access. You won't get responses from Berkeley residents who don't speak english as a first language. You won't get responses from people who have three jobs and don't have any time to read message boards on the internet. -- your methods are probably more biased than any that BUSD might use.

We are in the central zone and did not get into our 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice. David

Fwiw I got my second choice but my 3 friends all got their first. Personally I think my diversity ranking might've worked against me, but I guess that's where the randomness comes in, so I don't know for sure! Waitlisting

Help! Recent wait list experience in Berkeley?

Aug 2012

Hello, we recently relocated to Berkeley (South zone) and because our son is entering first grade, we did not get any of our three school choices. We are currently number 3 on the wait list for John Muir and Emerson and number 5 on the wait list for Malcolm X. We live in the John Muir/ Emerson zip code (our top two choices) and I understand this may be a disadvantage due to the need for diversity in the classroom. There has not been any change in the waiting list since June, it's been challenging to get information from the admissions office ( after 5 weeks of calling weekly had to go to the office in person to get a response!), and we were told that no spots will be filled after the first 2 weeks of school because it's too disruptive for the teachers. My questions: does anyone have recent experience being accepted from the wait list? Is there any chance we will be accepted to a school of our choice? Should we visit the schools directly? Are there exceptions to the no transfer after first 2 weeks rule? Any thoughts are appreciated. I am disturbed by how disorganized the admissions office has been and I am concerned that they are not filling openings past the first 2 weeks of school. After such a huge transition we are hoping to have some stability for our son, and school is just weeks away! Nervous Mama

We had a similar experience several years back, and learned that that wait list doesn't generally move until right before or after school starts, but then it moves a LOT. There are families that enroll but then decide to pull their children out and into private school, and they don't always bother to tell the district until the last minute.

So while it's really nerve-wracking, I am guessing that you'll get into one of the schools that you like. We live in the South district too and have been really impressed at the quality of the schools here!

Oh, and here's a tip that worked for us. You might want to go to the district office once a day on the week before school starts, to ask if there are any developments. If they see you there then you won't get lost in the pile. a formerly wait-listed family

Unfortunately the BUSD admissions office is not a well run shop, and they seem overwhelmed with people who do not live in Berkeley, but are willing to lie about their addresses to get their kids a spot at the schools. At this point, you probably need to go where they send you and then visit the school you want after the year starts to see if there is a place available. Visit our project blog for some recent data on why the surge in BUSD kindergarten enrollment does not jibe with the city's demographics (flat or downward numbers). http://berkeley.accountableschools.com/blog/2012/05/19/kindergarten-enrollments-up-27/

We're on the waiting list for 4 schools - advice?

May 2010

We recently moved to Berkeley and entered our daughter, who will be entering first grade next fall, into the lottery for the Berkeley Unified School District. We were unhappy with the lottery results (were offered our bottom choice) and decided to have her name put on the waiting list for several nearby elementary schools.

Right now we are anywhere between #2 and #4 on the waiting lists for Malcolm X, Emerson, Washington and John Muir. I'm just looking to hear about the experiences of other Berkeley parents who have been on waiting lists in recent years. Would you say our chances of getting into one of these schools are good, poor, depends on the size of the school? Waiting with baited breath

Sorry to hear you got your last choice of school! Sounds like there's been a lot of that this year, probably because of overcrowding in the Northwest & Central Zones.

That said, I'd guess you have a good chance of getting a different school, if only because your number on the waiting list is pretty high! Here are my other thoughts:

- If you're in the Southeast Zone you have almost no chance of getting in to Washington, which is a Central Zone school and is considered to be impacted by the overcrowding. Conversely, if you're in the Central Zone you have a better than would be expected chance of getting into a Southeast Zone school since there is not overcrowding there.

- Kids are assigned off the waiting list depending on what diversity index is needed to maintain a balance in the school, not just the number on the list.

- Malcolm X is a ''dual zone'' school this year to help with the overcrowding. This resulted in BUSD assigning almost entirely Central Zone families to Malcolm X, whether they wanted to go there or not. It's unclear what this will mean for the waiting list.

- First grade assignments are probably trickier than kindergarten assignments since there's already an established class. Obviously, there may be only a few spaces available for assignments, particularly in the smaller schools.

- I think there are a few ''waves'' of assignments off the waiting list. One right about now when they find out who actually enrolled. One mid-summer when they've done the second round of lottery. And another at the beginning of the school year when they see who actually shows up.

Good luck! BUSD parent

The wait list system is unfair

Dec 2009

We got our third choice in the central zone. we then followed all the instructions and wait listed for our top 2 choices. we wrote a letter and persisted with the admissions office. We got nowhere. we moved 1 spot on one of the waitlists, which in my opinion is a bit suspicious. we felt completely powerless.

We declined the one private school we applied for, because we wanted to give BUSD a chance and we thought we might get somewhere on the wait lists, as we weren't very far on them.

After the first month of school, the head of BUSD admissions informed me that they no longer go by the wait list. and i also found out that one of the 2 schools we wanted was not full. so incoming kids 1 month after the school year starts were getting into the school we wanted. after we had followed the district's instructions, waited patiently, (paid a ridiculous amount of property taxes to own a home in Berkeley:)), to find out someone else could just waltz in midyear and get a coveted space we were waiting so patiently for. honestly, it just makes me sick.

Of note, i just read that BUSD has the worst learning gap between white and African American races in all of California. I do question whether busing kids all over the city, forcing people who live in the flats into schools in the hills and vice versa, and completely denying our kids any sense of a neighborhood school is worth it, because it isn't narrowing the gap.

Now we are reapplying to the private school for first grade. anon

What are my chances in the 2nd lottery round?

Feb 2009

Hi, I had missed the first deadline for the Berkeley school lottery, so I am planning to submit my papers for the 2nd round. Does anyone know what are my chances to get into the elementary school that I like? Thank you, kiki

I wouldn't worry about it too much. 4 years ago when I picked my daughter's school I wasn't even in the district. I checked one box and got into the school I wanted, even though parents I spoke with told me that I wouldn't the school.

The worse that will happen is that you get the school you don't want. But there is hope! As soon as you find out the school you have been assigned, all you do is go to the district and tell them what has happened. That you would prefer to be switched to the school you wanted. You have to do this right away. They will put you on the wait list. Parents usually decided after they get the letter their other choices. There are allot of switching around before the year starts, parents leave the Bay Area, because plans changed for them, or they move to a different local city, and some decide to go with private school they wanted instead. There is hope yet! But you have to be proactive.

Now this will be different if you applied for the immersion program as the waiting list is VERY long. I also know parents that were able to get into the program at the last minute, because they were proactive, and didn't give up. School assignments change between start of school year. Parents take a moment to register (fill out the paperwork) at the school they were assigned. Until all the parents are registered at the actual school, it is hard to tell. It takes a moment for the district to figure it all out. Some parents don't register until the first day of school. Switching can happen as late as the first week of October. So you see there is hope. I've never heard of the district turning parentsm away because they want a different school; I truly believe they make an effort to accommodate.

No matter what school you get. If you need the afterschool program, make sure you sign up RIGHT AWAY to get a spot. As if you change your mind down the road it will be harder to get an opening. The wait list is always VERY long after kindergarten.

I hope this helps. You'll get the school you want. Good Luck. Duffy

BUSD kindergarten appeal process

March 2008

hi all - just received our KG assignment and are not sure how to proceed. We were assigned to our third choice school which was our third choice because it is the farthest from our house and has the lowest scores/percentage of parents who attended college etc. There were also many nice things so we're not devastated but we want to know how the appeals/waitlist process works and anyone's experiences. Our daughter has a younger sister so this school could be ours for the next 10 years and we would like it to be the best fit! Thanks in advance for your insight and advice! -lottery loser

Don't worry, you will probably get into another school. Just go now to the school district admin building and get on the waiting list for both your top choice and your second top choice. It will mean filling out a form for each.

In a month or so they will announce what your place on the wait list is.

In the mean time, if you have any compelling reason why your child should given first priority admittance to one of the other schools (aka he has a disability where he can't ride the bus or something like that) then write a letter to that affect and you will usually get put at the top of the list. But hopefully, your child doesn't have a disability.

Most people I know who appealed ended up being offered a spot at another school. before the beginning of the school year. Others got offered a spot at a better school a week or two into the year. -got my first choice thru appealing

There are two questions about waitlists in BUSD. My understanding is that waitlists for Kindergarten offer real hope, as many people will put their kids into private schools. For older kids, I can share our experience. We were put into our fourth choice school, placed our kids on waitlists. Even though children were placed into those schools in those grades, our kids did not move up the waitlist. Some BUSD folks will tell you there are multiple waitlists, and you have to wait until those from your ''demographic'' profile leave the school. Others deny it. We tried entering the lottery the second time, and got nowhere once again.

My daughter was pushed down the stairs, hit repeatedly, and got a concussion at school, we filed paperwork asking that she be moved for safety reasons and the BUSD never even bothered to contact us much less move her, even though it would seem this was a liability issue for them.

There are great principals and teachers out there,but the central administrative staff that you need for enrollment purposes is a total nightmare. The give you the run around, you get different answers based upon who you talk to, and the waitlists do not work the way they are supposed to.

-Mystified in Berkeley

If you really want to call yourself a ''lottery loser you can, but I don't recommend it. As you heard, each elemenetary school in the BUSD has great qualities, so I don't think the term ''loser'' really fits.

Anyhow. You should bring a letter to the office where you brought your kindergarten choice form earlier this year. THe letter should say that you'd like to be placed on the waiting list for a certain school or certain schools. You should date stamp and photocopy the letter. Call the office and find out the deadline for submitting such wait list request letters. Ask the office what the current process is for the wait list generation and notification. Ask them when you should call back to find out where you are on the list, when they will start to move people off the list (likely after the registration deadline passes.

Also, if it were me, I'd submit my registration info to the school we did get into, even if we hope for a transfer, otherwise you will not have your 3rd choice to fall back on.

And of course (as I'm sure you would anyway) please remember to be civil to the folks at the assignment office and at the school you are trying to transfer from. They all have very challenging jobs this time of year.

Welcome to the BUSD. Hope you have a fabulous time no matter where your kindergartener lands! So many great teachers and great families and great kids. We love it. BUSD Mom

Lottery Round Two

Oct 2007

Does anyone have experience with re-entering the school lottery for Berkeley public school assignments? We moved here over the summer and my children were placed in a school we are not thrilled about for a number of reasons. What are our chances of getting into one of our other two choices if we reenter the lottery during the first round next year? New to Berkeley

We have not done this ourselves, but in the past, my kid's BUSD school has receive new students part way through the year. They have also received new students, of course, at the beginning of the year.

I don't know if BUSD does mid-year transfers within the district. If this is something you may be interested in, you should ask Francisco at the BUSD placement office. If it is possible, then it may be easier to switch mid year, than at the beginning of the year - however, you'll need to figure out the potential impact on your child. You may also want to give BUSD a letter saying you are interested in a a mid-year transfer, and keep in touch with them monthly, or so, to see if there are openings at the school(s) you'd like your child to move to.

If you are only interested in end of year transfers, then you should still make sure Francisco and his office know that. You may want to ask your friends at the other school(s), how full the particluar grade you are interested in is. They can also give you a reality check on the strengths and challenges for their school(s), since, as you know, no school is perfect. BUSD Parent

Berkeley school assignment distance from home - are you satisfied?

June 2007

As a new parent looking forward to the school situation, I am concerned about the potential distance that my child may have to travel to get to an elementary school. The goals of the school district are laudable, but I wonder if the actual impact of a 1/2 hour trip each way to get to school (admittedly a worse case) is a tangible negative impact for very young children over the more intangible social impacts of school integration. I just wonder if there is any research about the benefits of limiting travel time for children, and if this factor should be considered in the school assignment criteria. How can a parent get involved in a discussion of the school assignment criteria? I believe this issue becomes less important as the child get older; my primary concern is during elementary school ages. A new parent in Berkeley

In a word, NO. We are not satisfied. we went thru the lottery system this year and got our last choice, the school that is the farthest from our house. Our child will not be attending school with any children on our street. There is another school 1 block from our house. And out of 20 families we know who went thru the lottery, no one is happy with their assignment (except for one who got into Cragmont Spanish emersion)

I agree with you about the travel time issue. Sending my child on the bus instead of being able to walk to school seems very burdensome and frankly, a waste of gasoline.

It also raises another issue for me, What about the detrimental effects of this lottery on the sense of community in a neighborhood? I remember growing up in a neighborhood when all the parents went to the PTA meeting together. They'd knock on each others doors reminding them to go. If I had known what school my children were attending ahead of time, I would have been supporting that school since the children were infants. Instead we get assigned to a school I have never even seen because its so far from our house.

I would also like to know how to get into a discussion about this issue as well. It seems like if you express any negativity toward it, you are stigmatized as almost racist. In the school we got assigned to, the 5th graders had a writing assignment up on the wall about the school assignment system. One child said, ''White families in Berkeley have teamed up with George Bush to try to go to school with only other white families...'' or something like that re: some past lawsuit to reverse the lottery system. So if this is the propaganda the schools are actually spreading to the children, no wonder it is so un-PC to bring it up.

I don't know one family who is happy with their assignment. I know a lot of families who are either moving away or choosing private schools. Its a shame. Berkeley really needs to think about the needs of their families and their neighborhoods. And if the point of all this is to increase diversity, that is great, but the fact is that we chose to live in a really diverse neighborhood. So if we all got to go to the neighborhood school, it would still be diverse. So if there are any organizations of parents trying to reverse the school assignment system. I'd love to find out about it and join up immediately. just don't get it

I have two kids who attend a BUSD elem school in our zone, and travel approimately 40 minutes by BUSD bus to school each morning. I don't have any official research stats to quote, but can offer you some anecdotal information. My kids enjoy riding the bus. It is safe, orderly, and bus driver is attentive and friendly. My kids are entertained by the stories he tells on the bus. It's also fun for them to see their school friends get on the bus at stops after theirs. In a way, the 40-minute ride to school is a *part* of their school day; one that provides some positive socializiation for them.

Also anecdotally, my observation is that VERY FEW kids in Berkeley actually live close enough to the schools they attend, public or private, such that travel time is less than 30 minutes one way, walking, driving, or by bike. If you live near a neighborhood school and can go there, great. But often, in ''school choice'', the school that's best for your kids is not necessarily the closest one. There's a private school in my neighborhood that doesn't provide transportation to the school, so I know parents, some driving from Oakland or further away, are in the car more than 30 minutes delivering their kids to school. They are choosing to do this. Most kids have been doing this type of commute since preschool-age. Actually, I find that it's hard to go much anywhere in the Bay Area where door-to-door travel time is 30 minutes or less, even within the boundaries of Berkeley. Maybe it's just me, but it sounds like your concern about travel time is a veiled concern about something else--kind of like bringing Al Capone to justice on tax evasion because he couldn't be caught for racketeering? If you have issue with the relative un/fairness of the BUSD school assignment process, there's plenty of advice in the BPN archives regarding whom to contact and how to address this directly with the district. BUSD parent

I'm happy with our assignment, and I live in the central zone hills. In our zone, it seems all the schools are fairly close to each other so MANY people who go to any of the schools must be travelling a fair distance, especially someone who lives in west berkeley and has to go to cragmont. When I was a kid I went to a magnet school where kids from all over town went and I actually had to transfer buses, making the trip close to an hour. But I never thought it was a burden, and actually enjoyed the social time. I felt sorry for my friends whose parents picked them up because they missed out. It was almost like another recess. I wouldn't worry about it. dc

We are very satisfied with our BUSD placement for kindergarten next year. We live in the South Zone and spent a lot of time in the winter visiting all the schools in the zone- both during the school day and the evening presentations. We wound up very excited about all the schools but one, which happened to be the closest to our house. We got the one school we didn't want in the lottery- it wasn't even listed in the 3 choices we could put down. I got very anxious and we spent time meeting with Francisco and finding out our options. We put our son on waitlists for the 3 other schools in the zone and got a place in one of them in late May.

I'm very impressed by the ability of the school system to create balanced student bodies at the schools and think that the way it's done is actually fairly good. I'm not sure how they could make everyone happy by giving first choices without segregating the schools by race/income.

I'm not sure what we would have done had we not gotten a different placement. All the other families we know in our zone are happy with their assignments.

We wrote a note to the superintendant about the system- we thought that families who got their last choices should be given a higher number on the wait list than those who may have gotten their 2nd choices. The office read the letter and called us back to say they would try to alter the process in the future. happy with busd process

Assigned to a kindergarten that wasn't on our list. Waitlist?

March 2007

We just received our child's Berkeley kindergarten selection and it's a school that we did not preference at all. Has anyone had experience with waitlisting their child for another school in the district? Is there anything one can do to increase the chances of getting into a different school? Thanks. Berkeley Parent

Our daughter is a BUSD Kindergartener this year (2006/2007). Last year we entered the lottery, and she initially got into our third choice. We put ourselves on the waiting list immediately and then never followed up. Not one phone call, no letters, nothing. We attended welcoming events at the third choice school and accepted that she'd be attending there.

In May we received a call that she had made it into the second choice school. We had to debate whether that was actually better than the third choice we were already in. We decided to make the move. When I called back to let them know, they told me a slot was open in choice #1 if we were still interested.

We're very pleased that she attends our #1 choice school, as it's very close to our home. However, we were really pleasantly surprised at how much we liked #3 once we got used to the idea.

Hope this helps, and good luck to you. happy K mom

Yes I have experience with K waitlists in Berkeley. Write a letter and fill out your paperwork for being put on a waiting list for the school or schools you'd prefer. Photocopy your materials and hand carry them down to the office and hand them in. Don't wait until the last day to do this as the office will be busy and the folks there will be more rushed. Ask when they will be pulling the kids' names out of the hats) for the wait list so that you can call and find out where your child is on the list(s. This will give you some feel for how likely your child will be to get in to a given school. Then ask when they will star placing kids on the wait lists in the schools. Call periodically to check in on waitlist movement (but don't pester - find that balancing point). If you do not get in before school starts, let them know if you are still interested in moving to the other schools even after school begins or any time later that year or in first grade. Keep the stress of this stuff away from your child as much as possible. There is nothing you can do to increase your chances at getting into a specific school. The principals don't have a say. Francisco is (thankfully) not corruptable - not that I ever tried, but that's what I hear.) I hope you land in a Berkeley school that works well for your child and your family and you. There are some hidden gems in Berkeley public schools that deserve more credit than they get, and the new principals and strong family communities are really shining. That said, it is worth trying for your favorite school. BUSD Mom

We also did not get our first choice elementary school. The only thing that increased our chances was to apply to Cragmont's bilingual program and the regular elementary program for the waitlist. We placed #3 on the waitlist for the bilingual program and 17 for the regular program. Had we chosen to go on, we probably would've gotten into the bilingual program. However, we had to make choices about private schools before we found out.

You should get on the waiting list right away and check frequently to see how you rank. If you have extenuating circumstances, you can sometimes make the case that your child needs to attend a particular school because of hours, location, etc. tiara

Can I get on more than one school waiting lists?

March 2005

My son was put into a school that I am not happy with (not any of my three choices). [A letter from the district] says that I can get up on a waiting list. My question is can I get on several different school waiting lists and hope that one opens up, or do I just have one chance? Has anyone done this? What is the possibility of actually getting in through the waiting list? upset mama

The same thing happened to me with my daughter. I wrote to BUSD saying I would like any one of several other schools, and they wrote back saying that they would put her on 3 waiting lists. This was automatic, I didn't request it - just said which schools I would prefer.

Three years ago my daughter did not get our #1 choice, so I put her on the waiting list. I don't know what the process is now, but this is how it worked 3 years ago (check with Francisco): We wrote a letter to the district asking her to be put on the waiting list for the school we wanted (At that time you could be put on a waiting list for more than one school plus an emersion program, probably still can). We photocopied the dated letter and gave it to Francisco's office. I don't recall if we had to fill out more paperwork. I asked Francisco on what date the names would be randomly pulled out of a hat to be placed in order on the waiting list. I called him two weeks after that date to see where my child was on the list. I asked him when children would begin to be taken off the list and assigned to the school, and he gave me his best guess on the date. Of course, this date depends mostly on the deadline for kids to register at their assigned school (is it April or May?), as this is the point when the district knows if the first batch of kids all want to got there or not (So if any of you families out there know you won't need that school spot, please let Francisco and his staff know ASAP - you will make another family's life MUCH less stressful!).

My child was #3 on her school's list. She got in before the end of May that year. A classmate of hers was #12 and he got in in July, I think. OF course it varies from year to year, as to when Francisco's office informs families. I think he tries to inform us as soon as possible. From what I hear over and over again, in past years folks who have stayed on the waiting list have gotten their first choice eventually. Most got it that summer. One or two started in their assigned school and then in the first week of classes got offered a place at their first chioce school. This may seem intense to us, but the kids all did fine with it. They weren't yet settled in, and considering the 6 years that they may be at the school, it's a wash. So, yes, get on those waiting lists for the schools you want and for dual immersion, too (if you want that). My last bit of advice is to please be patient and respectful of Francisco and his staff. They don't have an easy job, and in my experience, they have always been respectful and fair. Best of luck. We love our Berkeley school, and many of our friends love their kid's Berkeley schools, too. - staisfied berkeley school mom

My daughter didn't get into any of our 1st three choices for kindergarten two years ago. I am not sure about the answer to the question about many different waiting lists but the people in the school district office were very helpful. I put her on the waiting list at our preferred school (which was out of zone but close to my office and the afterschool program it made sense for her to go to because her brother went to preschool there). I also wrote a note as to why logistically she needed to attend this school. I did have to enroll her in the other school to make sure she had a spot. I called once a week during the summer and spoke with Francisco (I am not sure if he is still there). As the summer went on, and I am sure they were getting deluged with a high volume of calls, I walked into the office to talk to them face-to-face. About a week before school, on an in-person visit, they looked at the list, and lo and behold a space had opened up. They gave me the transfer papers right then and there. I came back with a box of cookies for the whole office (they looked rather stressed at the time).

There was an incredible amount of shuffling that first week of school and many more openings...I know of a few people who got their children into their preferred choice (different schools) that 1st week classes started. Hang in there. They definitely tried to accomodate me - I was always civil, polite and non-panicky but no doubt very persistant. Good luck. Persistant Mom

I don't know how many different school waiting lists you can be put on but I do know that for each school, there are actually 3 waiting lists, one for each of the ''diversity categories'' to which you have been assigned. You are assigned to one of the diversity categories depending on where you live: Category One is basically West Berkeley, Category Two is basically the Flats, Category Three is basically the Hills. Someone from your category must transfer out for you to transfer in.

These ''composite attributed diversity categories'', as they are called by the BUSD, were made based on 2000 US Census data and take into account your neighboorhood racial composition, your average neighborhood income, and your average neighborhood education level. The school assignments are done to balance the number of students from each category in each school. Parents can request changes but changes will only be made if they maintain the desired balance of categories. For more information about how all this works, please contact Francisco Martinez, the Manager of Admission and Attendence (644- 6504, Francisco_Martinez AT berkeley.k12.ca.us), and Michele Lawrence, the BUSD Superintendent (644-8764, mlawrence AT berkeley.k12.ca.us). Ask for the BUSD Policy for Student Assignment and for the BUSD policies that described how transfers and waitlists are handled. If you are a parent with a child either entering kindergarten or already enrolled in the Berkeley Unified School District and you think that the BUSD school assignment policy that is based partially on race violates the Prop. 209 anti-discrimination provisions (Prop. 209 prohibits the use of race as a factor in admissions/assignments in California schools), and/or if you think that your child has not been assigned to the school of your choice in part because of her/his race (whether it is white, black, or any other), please contact the Paul Beard at the Pacific Legal Foundation (pjb [at] pacificlegal.org). The Pacific Legal Foundation is interested (at their own expense) in mounting another legal challenge to the BUSD policies and is looking for a group of parents to represent. If you are interested in getting a copy of the BUSD School Assignment Policy, contact the BUSD Public Information Office at publicinfo AT berkeley.k12.ca.us or call 644-6320. -I'll remain anonymous since this is such a non-politically- correct position to have in Berkeley! anon

BUSD school assignment policy challenge

April 2005

If you are a parent with a child either entering kindergarten or already enrolled in the Berkeley Unified School District and you think that the BUSD school assignment policy that is based partially on race violates the Prop. 209 anti-discrimination provisions (Prop. 209 prohibits the use of race as a factor in admissions/assignments in California schools), and/or if you think that your child has not been assigned to the school of your choice in part because of her/his race (whether it is white, black, or any other), please contact the Paul Beard at the Pacific Legal Foundation (pjb [at] pacificlegal.org). The Pacific Legal Foundation is interested (at their own expense) in mounting another legal challenge to the BUSD policies and is looking for a group of parents to represent. If you are interested in getting a copy of the BUSD School Assignment Policy, contact the BUSD Public Information Office at publicinfo AT berkeley.k12.ca.us or call 644-6320. -I'll remain anonymous since this is such a non-politically- correct position to have in Berkeley! anon

I am a Berkeley resident and my first child currently attends a BUSD school. My youngest child will be entering kindergarten this fall also at BUSD. I've been through the assignment program twice now and it worked fine for us.

BUSD has the very difficult assignment of trying to balance the educational needs of a very diverse community. They simply can't afford to spend additional money defending themselves from lawsuits aimed at the assignment policy. Money is in short supply and I'd rather see money spent educating the children of Berkeley instead of paying attorney fees. If anyone has issues with the assignment policy maybe they should go to a board meeting and voice their opinion directly instead of costly litigation. Ian

REgarding the recent post here soliciting folks who might be willing to be litigants against BUSD regarding their school assignment policy and the poster's anxiety about being politically correct in Berkeley, forget about political corectness. Since when is it ethically correct to solicit clients to sue a school district in order to allege racial discrimination? Not to mention that such lawsuits cost the district MILLIONS of dollars that could otherwise be spent inside the classroom. Who benefits? Only the lawyers. BUSD parent

I am a Berkeley resident and parent of a child entering kindergarten. And, no, we didn't get any of our 3 choices for elementary school. So we've been assigned to a school across town though we are close to two great schools. It is unfortunate that matters like this will probably go to litigation and cost the school district a lot of money. Are there other ways (besides litigation) to improve the system ? Would going to the school board meetings really make any difference (I'm skeptical) ? I have no objection to the original poster letting people know that litigation is in the works. It's information that may be unpopular but it is information all the same. - anon

To the poster who said the BUSD school assignment '' worked fine for me therefore don't waste BUSD dollars on a lawsuit'' : Well, it may work for you, but it doesn't work for others. That's the point. If the BUSD is potentially doing something illegal in its assignment policy, then it should be challenged to make it fair for EVERYONE not just for you. And people have already tried to voice their opinions on this matter to the school board.

To the poster who thought that it was unethical to legally challenge racial discrimination, please let us all know what you think would be a better way to stop racial discrimination in our schools. If the BUSD doesn't want to waste money on a lawsuit, they could simply stop using race-based polices. Also, think of all the money that the BUSD is wasting on its ridiculously complicated assignment policy! -another angry BUSD parent

I'd like to comment on the idea that a legal challenge to the BUSD's school assignment policy is bad because it costs money that the district sorely needs. I think we are being penny wise and pound foolish. I'm not participating in this legal challenge and I don't plan to, but I think if it's successful, it will actually have the result of bringing much more money into the disctrict than it will end up costing. In my opinion, the BUSD school assignment policy is what's really costing the district money, and the sooner we stop doing it, the better off we'll be.

Here's why I think that: the current policy is driving families away from the BUSD in large numbers. I hear the same story over and over again: ''We applied for our neighborhood school, and we'd have been happy with #2 that's a little further away, but we didn't get any of our top 3 choices so we're going to private school instead.'' Or, ''we're home schooling instead''. These are people who REALLY SUPPORT the public schools but they don't want to be driving their child across town. In my neighborhood, it's actually easier to get your child on to a bus to one of the private schools than to cart them across town to their assigned school. I haven't met anyone in my neighborhood yet whose kids were assigned to the public school in our neighborhood.

It used to be that the argument against private schools was ''but at private school their schoolmates are from all over the East Bay. It's so much better for them to go to the same school as all the other kids in the neighborhood.'' We can't make that appeal anymore. I think it's really costing our district.

Not only are we losing our per-student money from the state from all these kids going to private school and home-schooling, but we are also losing the families in Berkeley that have the money to make our schools really great. Without those affluent families, we have no after-school programs and extra-curricular activities. My Berkeley public school got a new playground because parents paid for it. The K and 1 teachers all had assistants because parents paid for them. There were language classes, movement classes, and music classes because the parents paid for them. I wasn't one of the families that could afford to do that. The families that can afford to write out a check for a new playground are the families that are being driven away by the current policy.

I know that the assignment policy is well-intended and I do understand the great divide of wealth in Berkeley and the reason behind the policy. But there's got to be a better way. How can we improve our schools in the less affluent neighborhoods without taking neighborhood schools away? I'm worried we are ruining our schools for ALL our kids, rich AND poor. How come with so many smart people in Berkeley, we can't do better than a policy that drives so many families away? Is a law suit the ONLY way to fix it? BUSD parent

I would just like to second the BUSD parent who expressed the notion ''there has got to be a better way.'' I am one of those parents who would LIKE to be committed to public school. I spent alot of time talking with parents of kids at our neighborhood school, researching the scores, talking to the PTA, etc. in anticipation of my son entering kindergarten. However, when my son didn't get into our neighborhood school that is 4 blocks away but was assigned one across town, the main reasons for staying with public school--fostering community in the neighborhood, being able to walk to school, having classmates that are neighbors--was wiped away. We are planning to send our child to private school, and it is predictable that we will not want to change that situation once started and his yo! unger brother will also go to private school. What's most frustrating to me isn't the money involved, but the fact that I truly would like to be part of the solution to the public school crisis, rather than part of the problem, but despite this earnest sentiment, I am going to be, from the school district's point of view, part of the problem. If BUSD wants educated parents with resources to stay invested in the school system, the solution cannot be something that educated parents with resources are going to find, across the board, unacceptable. Bussing your child across town to a lower-performing school instead of going to the school 4 blocks away is simply going to be, and will always be, unacceptable to parents. The sooner BUSD figures this out, the faster they will get out of the crisis that they are in. another frustrated parent

We were one of those relatively ''wealthy'' parents who moved out of Berkeley for many reasons one of which was the school assignment question. We lived near two great elem. schools and were looking forward to the hopes of sending our children to either one of them. We were also lookin forward to Berkeley High in our children's future. In retrospect the likelyhood that we would have gotten one of the two schools within walking distance of our home was nill. Turns out that after we moved I have met so many people who did not get their first choice/neighborhood school, and people who have snuck into the Berkeley school system by lying about their address. Many of the ''boundry liars'' I have met are going to the ''desirable'' Berkeley elem. schools (John Muir, Emerson and Cragmant). Meanwhile, many legitimate Berkeley residents did not get their school choice. Why doesn't the school district crack down on this type of thing? It's not fair to Berkeley residents! Was sad to leave Berkeley

A few thoughts about the BUSD assignment policy. The goal IS to make the schools racially balanced, which I believe WILL improve all the schools. regarding the parents who didn't get into the neighborhood svhool of their choice, I know of MANY instances where parents continued going to the parent access office, talking to ! the school of their choice and the P Access office, and, by September, got into the school of their choice. It's, admittedly, hard having to be in limbo more or less over the summer, but it may be well worth it. And, yes, we want the invloved parents in the BUSD because, yes, they help improve on the programs and activities offered. I'm very happy in berkeley public elementary school so far. I've also heard of behavioral problems that seemed much more extreme then any we've had to deal with in some private schools ( a boy saying he's bringing a gun to school that's not being adressed, a lot of bullying, etc). Yes, we do need to hold the board of education accountable and help them focus their resources on paying their amazing teachers the top that they can pay, and keeping slaraies of administrators down, and going in force does make a difference in! my experience. public school parent

Im glad that so many people are so interested in the BUSD school assignment policy and I think its funny that the policy is being described as ''racial descrimination'' and that the policy is ''race based''. I may be wrong but I'm pretty sure the assignment policy does not state that if you are white, if you live in the hills or some other affluent neighborhood of Berkeley and if your combined income is within the top 5% income earners in the country...that your child will be forced to attend a school located in a neighborhood of not-so-white, underprivledged, less well-to-do people. My children are from the hills, they are white, we probably make more money than most people in this fine country of ours and my kids got assigned to one of the schools in our district which is close to our house. I guess the question for me is...''would I be upset as these other parents if my kids were forced to attend school across town at Washington or Rosa Parks or where ever''? I would answer no for a couple reasons..

1)BUSD is trying to do a noble thing and attempt to distribute parent resources throughout the district. This means that yes...some people in Berkeley have more resources to contribute to the educational system than others...some of us make more money, have more flexible schedules, don't have to work on weekends...whatever...its a FACT that some of us have more to give than others. So why not make this your way of giving back to society...sacrifice and let your kids go to one of these schools across town from your house. If you've got money you can help out some kids who may not have as much as you and teach you kids that there is more to life like relating to people from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds...they can get some of that critically acclaimed REAL WORLD experience...something not offered in private schools.

2)At my kids school we have lots of kids from all over Berkeley ..kids of different races...kids of different neighborhoods...kids of different income levels...some get bussed in...some walk and some have their parents drive them. Many of these kids are not attending a school in their own neighborhood. They have to travel across town to a school way up in the hills. It seems to me that everyone who attends this school is getting the same treatment regardless of their race, economic situation or location. I don't see the racial discrimnation of the assignment policy at least at my kids school.

3) I grew up in the hills and I got bussed to Columbus (now Rosa Parks). A bunch of us from the hills all went to that fine school down by the freeway and it was no big deal. Later on I even got bussed to a better school... Kennedy High in Richmond (looks like San Quentin). I survived and I learned enough to get by. My point is we're a village and everyone needs to pitch in. You can make a difference and your child has opportunities regardless of whether your child goes to a school in your neighborhood or not. Yes I agree it may be a hassle to haul across town every day to drop your kid off at school. I know from personal experience. I spent many hours riding busses to and from school.

I would be happy if my kids went to a school that was on the other side of town as long as the teachers were good and the principal was on the ball. This is the case for any school my children would attend. In fact, there were two schools in our district and IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD that I was not satisfied with and didn't want my kids to attend. If we got assigned to them I would have had an issue because I didn't like the way the staff interacted with me. Our second pick was the furthest away and it was second only because it started at 8am. If it started at 9am I would have been there. Parents should focus their energy on the quality of the particular school, not its location. Any person can have a profound influence on the quality of the education at any school. Each school offers its own character and specialties regardless of location and that has to work for your child and you. Decisions shouldn't be based simply by location of the school...it should be the quality of the staff at a school...that's what you should fight for. Even our school in the hills has its daily issues with conflicts, class disruptions, shortages of materials and lack of support. Just because its in the hills and close to our house doesn't make it good. We are there like many other parents are..donating time and resources by helping out in class, giving money and supplying lots of support. This happens at all schools, not just in the hill! s. If you are choosing schools simply on location then the district isn't discriminating, you are. Ian

I just wanted to add a voice in favor of the current system. While it is confusing and stressful for families, it has great benefits. In addition, I question the claim that it is race based. I asked BUSD very specific questions about this a few months ago because our top choice school was one where we would tend to contribute to diversity. However, we live in a neighborhood that is already well represented at the school. I wanted to know if our son's race would be considered (in our favor, in this case). We were told that it is based on census tract only - ie, geographic location, and our son's race would not be used in how priority was assigned.

My son will enter kindergarten in the fall and we looked in depth at a number of schools in and out of our zone and I was pleased by what I saw. In addition to some great learning going on, evidence of the benefits of the diversity that results from the desegregation was abundant at all the schools we looked at. So benefit #1 is for my child and other children in Berkeley public schools.

The second benefit I'll mention goes beyond children to the entire community. Having a school assignment system organized by zone rather than by local school boundaries changes the local economics. We were able to consider buying our house anywhere in Berkeley, knowing that some or all schools in each zone would be of interest to us. This discourages the skyrocketing home values that result when just one or two schools are considered desirable and there is great pressure to buy in those boundaries. (not to say that prices aren't high enough...) This phenomenon of artifically inflated home prices based on a small number of desirable schools in a given district is thought to contribute to the high personal bankruptcy rate and general overuse of credit common today. See The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi for more detai! ls on this. One of the great things about living in Berkeley is that enough people usually vote to fund things that are important to families like schools and libraries - and this not only benefits me and my family directly, but also benefits the many very disadvantaged families within Berkeley's borders. Let's keep it that way. - desegregation fan

I just had to put in my two cents regarding the posting in defense of Berkeley's School assignment policy and bussing. The writer, with whom I agreed for the most part, described it as a ''sacrifice'' for a child to be bussed down the hill to Washington or Rosa Parks. I want to say that although I know little about the latter school, I can say it is no ''sacrifice'' to attend Washington School. The teaching staff is top-notch, the principal extremely bright, caring and accessible, the classrooms orderly. And there is an education to be had in diversity - the challenge you would face going there is that of not paying lip service to liberal ideals. A Washington first choice parent

The reason to complain is the sincere feeling that we have been dealt with unfairly by a system that purports to be fair. It is beyond simply school assignment: because we “failed” to get even our third choice and do not wish to fight, argue, persuade our way into the school of our desires which appears to be the implicit way of getting what you want, we are opting for private school. This means 1. we are paying taxes for Berkeley schools without the benefit of their programs; and 2. BUSD will not receive any of the considerable amount of money we are prepared to direct toward our child’s education. This is a lose-lose situation that should be apparent to anyone. The sense of things being unfair comes from the success of neighbors willing to argue vociferously to get what they want, conversations with others who accept the system as flawed but are willing to patiently indulge the BUSD to eventually reassign their children to the desired schools, too many stories of “technical errors” where kids were not assigned to their older siblings schools, having neighbors move eastward because of the schools, and then the egregious assignment of the Cragmont principal’s son to Cragmont (which is admittedly difficult to complain about; nevertheless we are four blocks away, they live outside the school zone, and we were denied a space, so we are suspicious, to be polite).

To remedy lose-lose, we want a reevaluation of a forty year old system. Why shouldn’t the standards of schools benefit from the obvious sums of money going to what are perceived to be more effective educational institutions, namely private schools? (We went to public school) When we arrived over eight years ago, even before thinking of having children, we heard again and again just how dismal the BUSD was, whether justified or not. Now with Governor Schwarzenegger further distressing the school system statewide, this is a time to think quickly about just what community minded schooling really means and further dispense with the idealism that in our view (maybe only ours – you tell me) does not promote the best local resources to educate our kids but instead remain splintered and disorganized.

The fruitful education of all children is a deeply held dream by everyone, right? It ! is an awesome problem. On the local level, we don’t think BUSD is handling assignments which have financial, neighborhood and educational implications in nearly the best way it could. There is simply too much intellectual firepower around for this to be happening. If you are in the system maybe you’re satisfied with the status quo; then again I am willing to support your child’s teachers’ welfare if I am given fair treatment by BUSD. I look forward to responses because this is only my perspective. What’s up out there? another parent

Some of us (many of color and/or more moderate income) in the Central Zone where Cragmount is located don't even HAVE a neigbhorhood school. Where I live in the southwest part of the Central Zone, we live far enough away from EVERY school choice that not a single school is within walking distance (busing is available). So, it is wrong to believe that only white and/or affluent kids are not able to attend schools in their neighborhood as part of ethnic/socio-economic integration. Having said that I support the current school choice system as being as good as it could probably be (with the caveat that smooth, kink-free implementation is a work in progress). Berkeley is quite geographically segregated by wealth and ethnicity. Without an integration plan, virtually all moderate to low income and students of color would be concentrated in a h! andful of schools (Berkeley's history placed only 4 schools: Rosa Parks, Washington, Malcom X elementary schools and Longfellow middle school, south of University and west of MLK). I do believe that it is important for all of our children to be successful being part of the diverse world we live in. Few white, relatively affluent children are going to be so sheltered in life that they will never have to work with (if not socialize with) folks not like themselves and if all you know are people just like yourself - you will be inadequately educated as well (different perspectives, whether cultural, socio-economic, learning style, life-experience, or talent-based, add to academic rigor). And, if you are of color and/or lower income, feeling comfortable and networking among whites/more affluent folks will certainly increase your ability to be successful in what is a world dominated by wealth and a nation dominated by wealthy whites ! - and being part of a diverse student body will help you with that. In terms of equity, the southwest Berkeley neighborhood schools would have fewer resources - both financial: (PTA/private funds are increasingly an important inequity factor between schools across the state/parents that can make donations and help do grant writing and leverage outside $) and in terms of parent involvement (reality is that many families would be lower income, service industry/paraprofessional single parent headed households, with less job flexibity than professional workers and more stretched in terms of time - many of the most active parents across the District are stay at home or part time working moms or those with very flexible jobs - other parents may volunteer to go on field trips or attend an event, things that directly impact their child and have specific time commitment, but find it difficult to deal with school wide, on-going time commitment). And, since lower income and kids of color are higher risk for academic failure for more reasons that I'll go into here - without integration we would have a concentration of high risk students in schools with the least resources (I won't even get into the likely high concentration of students with special needs or special circumstances, such as being in foster care). I daresay in those circumstances, it would be harder to attract and retain excellent teachers as well. Given this scenario, very many families that could opt out to private would - taking ADA $ from the District and taking their relatively greater financial/volunteer resources from southwest Berkeley neighborhood schools as well. And in terms of the $ that the District spent defending/is spending on implementing the current school choice plan - I have no doubt that the District would be facing serious legal challenge if the District decides to abandon having a volunteer integration plan.

So, while I'd love to have a neighborhood school for my children to attend, I see a bigger picture. And, I've come to see our across town school as being part of our family's community if not part of our neighborhood - and its a better community because of its diversity. part of the other perspective

My child is wait-listed at the school her sibling goes to

June 2004

I need some Berkeley public school advice...my child has a spot at Cragmont for kindergarten in the fall, while my older child was placed on the waiting list with a sibling priority for a third grade spot. She is second on the list. Parents Access office doesn't have any new information to give me, and as the summer progresses , I am feeling anxious about the uncertainty! Does anyone know of a second grader leaving Cragmont for another school? If so, could they kindly let the BUSD know so their spot would free up for another child (and nervous mother)? Any advice to give me from others who have gone through this? Much appreciated!

We went through exactly this scenario a couple of years ago, but at Jefferson. Son accepted for kindergarten, daughter wait- listed for third grade. I religiously called or visited the parent access office every other week throughout the summer. They said it would not make a difference, but I was afraid they would forget about her.

As of two weeks before school started, when we went on vacation, there was still no place for her at Jefferson, and she was slated to go to Washington. The office told me that there are almost always openings during the first two weeks of school, because some people who moved away have not told the district office. But they wait two weeks to see if they might show up (they said some people don't quite get the message that school starts before labor day and don't show up till after, and they don't want to give away their spots.) We didn't like the idea of moving our daughter to a new school during the third week. So we braced ourselves for having two kids in two different schools and started introducing her to the yard over at Washington.

The day they said they would post the class lists, my husband and I kept running over to check. Finally they were posted -- we were there and reading over the shoulder of the poor person taping them up! Not reading, actually, but counting. Our daughter's name was not there, but we counted each third grade class -- twice -- and one of them only listed 19 names. It was about 4:30 pm, and we sprinted home and called the parent access office to tell them there seemed to be room for her at Jefferson.

They said they would check and get back to us. You could hear the phones ringing off the hook over there. They called us the next day -- about three days before school began, I think -- to say that yes, she was in.

We spend the entire summer in an unsure state, and the anxiety got worse before it was resolved. But it did work out. People say that it's all done by computer and it doesn't matter what kind of communications efforts you make, but I don't believe it. Whatever you do, be really nice to the person at the parent access office. It's a hard job, and they get a lot of anger thrown at them. I always joked about taking her cookies. I never did, but always was friendly and nice -- ''just checking in to see if there is any new news.''

It will help to be very clear on your plan B. A third grader is old enough to understand that the first choice might not work out. Decide if you would be willing to move her after two weeks. And good luck to you. It is a screwed up system that has siblings sweating like this!


Requesting a transfer to a different BUSD school

Switching to a different school for 1st grade

Nov 2009

Our child is enrolled in Kindergarten at John Muir Elementary in Berkeley. We are not too happy with the school and would like to switch to Emerson Elemenatary (in the same zone) next fall. Has anyone done this successfully? Are there any tips for doing so, especially since Emerson is so popular? Thanks in advance. anon

We had a successful experience switching our first grader from another school in the south zone TO John Muir Elementary School. We were lucky to get in since there was a long waiting list for the school, and our daughter has been very happy there. I can't say that the transfer process was an especially easy one: in fact, it was something of an emotional roller coaster. Spaces for first grade were extremely limited, especially with increased enrollments due to families leaving private schools and entering the public school system. My daughter's name was third on the waiting list for six months, and we thought for sure she would get into John Muir before the first day of school. We were disappointed when she didn't, and felt very up in the air. From September to December, our daughter was first on the waiting list. Her transfer was finally approved mid-year, which was really difficult because by then, she had bonded with her class. We accepted the mid-year transfer, and thankfully the students and faculty at John Muir were very welcoming. My daughter's first grade teacher bent over backwards to make sure that she had plenty of ''buddies'' to play with at recess and lunch. We fell in love with the parent community, too, so this is a story with a good ending. Still, I wouldn't recommend a mid-year transfer if there's anyway to avoid it.

I definitely think transferring is worth a try if John Muir isn't a good fit for you and your family. Every school in BUSD has it unique strengths, and finding the right one for you is important. I don't feel comfortable identifying myself since I am hesitant for anyone to figure out which school we left, but if you ask around at John Muir, you can probably find me. I have do some tips, but again, it would be much better to share them offline.

I also wonder if you have spoken about your concerns with your child's teacher and the new principal, Javier Mendieta. They are first in line to help you and your child have a positive experience at school. Mr. Mendieta seems very accessible and responsive. In addition to approaching the teacher and the principal, you can also talk with PTA and SGC leadership. There are structures in place to support you, and I encourage you to reach out. Whatever choice you end up making, I wish you and your child the best. BUSD parent of a happily transplanted child

Transferring 4th grader to another BUSD school

Sept 2009

We are trying to get the BUSD to transfer our 4th grade daughter to another elementary school, but have run into a wall. She has been at her current school since kindergarten. Two weeks before school started she confided that she could not bear to return, due to longstanding problems with certain students. We went to the BUSD Parent Access office at the busiest time--the start of the school year--and filled out the paperwork, listing several schools we would transfer to. I wrote out a lengthy explanation of the reasons on the back of one of the forms. When we followed up today we were told that our daughter could not be transferred out of her current school if it altered the representation of our demographic at the current school. Then the person said, ''but maybe your daughter's group is over-represented.'' I understood this to mean that the 3 categories--race, income group, and parent's education--are taken into account when we are asking for a transfer for cause. This does not seem fair. Has anyone else had experience with trying to transfer within the district? We are very disheartened because we know for a fact that there is a small minority of students of our daughter's particular race at her current school. Why doesn't the BUSD consider the merits of our request, namely the serious harassment she has been exposed to, in makng their decision? Any advice is appreciated. Berkeley mom

I am not able to give advice, but as a high school assistant principal (not at BUSD), I may have some insights. It would be a shame to transfer your daughter without giving her and the other students a chance to address the issue. Your daughter did not share this with you until two weeks before school. If you had not known anything was wrong last year, this tells me that while serious and valid to your daughter, the harrassment is not to the extent she is in danger. That being the case, this is a tremendous opportunity for your daughter to bring this to someone's attention and move beyond this. Through guidance, she can learn to speak up for herself and work through problems. This also gives the school a chance to address the bullying. Bullying is unfortunately a problem at many schools. I encourage students to let me know so that I can address it and so that the bullies have consequences. It is hard to see our kids suffer and I know the tendency is to get rid of the problem, but this will come up again in some form later. Giving your daughter the tools to deal with this and live through the experience may be the silver lining in this. Anon

Sounds like this involves emotional safety for your daughter. I think safety trumps all else, and it may be worth appealing to highers up -- up to the superintendent if necessary. Key is couching it as a safety issue -- they aren't going to do it for you, but should sit up and at least discuss it with you if you mention ''safety.'' (due to liability concerns, if nothing else). Good luck.

I want to trade schools with another family

Aug 2009

Greetings Families: I have a child that attends Le Conte Elementary. They will be entering the 4th Grade this September. I would like to transfer to Berkeley Art Magnet, North Berkeley. My decision to transfer is solely because Berkeley Art Magnet is closer, and in walking distance of our home.

I'm currently driving to South Berkeley every morning and afternoon just to drop off and pick up my child. I have no other business in that area in the mornings or afternoons. Environmentally it is better for us to attend a school closer to home.

I'm seeking a parent that is currently attending Berkeley Art Magnet, that possibly might be living in South Berkeley and would like to attend Le Conte. My child is on the waiting list for BAM, but I was wondering if I could make anyone's life easier by maybe switching with a parent who would like to go to Le Conte? Le Conte is a great school; it is out of my way and is in opposite directions of where I live, and where I need to drop my preschooler and 4th Grader. There is a possibility, that my child might get into BAM before school starts in September, they are #4 on the waiting list. BAM is already full for the 4th grade, which it's also possible that they might not get in.

I hope there is a parent out there that can consider a trade. I really need to make this happen. Thank you. Really wanting to be environmentally sound!

Having been on a waiting list for a BUSD spot, I can appreciate your stress. However, I question if BUSD would allow your plan to trade 4th grade spots and if I were in a spot above you and you attempted unfairly to ''cut in line'' I would feel rather upset. anon

I understand that you are seeking a family to switch schools with, but I fear your quest is misguided. The BUSD does not allow student families to pick who will replace them. Replacements are pulled off of waiting lists, regardless of which school they are moving from. It is good that you are on the waiting list and know what position you are in. I think the best you can do is to encourage all families that are enrolled in the BUSD schools (or any school for that matter) but are not planning to use their student's spot, to let the district know right away, rather than waiting for the district to figure it out after school begins. This, of course is common courtesy, and makes every child's and parent's life a bit less stressful. BUSD mum

How to change Berkeley middle school assignment?

April 2006

Our daughter, who is now in 4th grade and in a local private school,will go to a Berkeley middle school when she reaches 6th grade. We have lived in Berkeley for many years, but I confess we know little about the school assignment process in the Berkeley public schools. We have heard that parents can list 3 choices for elementary schools, but what about middle schools? The BUSD web site says that kids are assigned to middle schools based on their home addresses. Do we have to send her to King, which is near our house, or can we request Willard? If we request Willard, how likely is it that we will we get in? (our race is caucasian). What is the process for appealing the school assignment decision? Is there a waiting list for the middle schools? We are very concerned that King, which is so big, will feel too overwhelming for her, coming from a small private school. She also has dyslexia, which I think will not be well-served by placing her in a school of that size. Any information would be helpful. We realize that this process is months away, but have some friends with 5th graders at a local Berkeley elementary school who have just received their middle school assignments, and they told us that there is virtually nothing we can do to alter the BUSD assignments for middle school students. Is this true?
Clueless mom

I think you will hear from most people that is is virtually impossible to change your middle school assignment in Berkeley, and it is based on your home address, but that may be because most people in Berkeley who are trying to change, are trying to change INTO King, not out of it, and there is a huge wait list. I have heard that that is not true of Willard, although I don't know for sure. You should know, though, that Willard is almost as large as King, such that the difference would hardly be perceptible to someone coming from a small school. Also, there are many kids at King who come from small schools, including my son (elementary school had 60 kids). He has 4-5 kids from very small schools in his class. He has adjusted quite well, and it is a huge advantage to be very close to home, in so many ways, for the middle schoolers. Also, I did request of the administration at King that he be assigned to a classroom together with the one kid he would know in the entire school, and they accomodated that request. He's made friends quickly and does not feel overwhelmed. Oh, also, he receives special services for a speech impediment at King as well. If you'd like to find out more, feel free to contact me. Raissa

Moving from one BUSD zone to another

Jan 2005

We currently live in Berkeley and my daughter would most likely start kindergarten at Oxford or Cragmont in the near future. We hope to buy a house in Berkeley eventuallty but might not end up in the Central District. Does anyone know if she would be grandfathered in to the school? I called the BUSD and the response I was given was a tentative ''I think so''. Is my daughter guaranteed a spot for the rest of her elementary school years no matter where we live in Berkeley? Thanks.

The BUSD enrollment form states that ''BUSD students currently attending the school and living outside the attendance zone'' have 2nd priority, which is pretty solid. It's a priority even above siblings of current students. So I think you can feel secure in your child being able to stay in the same school even if you switch zones. Mimi

Once enrolled and attending a specific Berkeley Public school, you daughter would likely not have any problem remaining there, if you move elsewhere in Berkeley. The priority for enrollment at Berkeley schools I beleive is 1) current students who live in the school's zone, 2)current students who don't live in the school's zone, 3) student's siblings who live in the schools zone...etc, etc. [you need to check with BUSD to get the exact prioirty list wording yourself] I can't figure out an example that would cause them to want to move your daughter out of her school. So,if it were me, I would not worry about it at all. The folks at the BUSD office probably felt it neccessary to give you that response as they did not feel comfortable giving an absolute response. - BUSD Parent