Berkeley Public Schools vs. Oakland Public Schools

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We have our choice of Berkeley or Oakland - which one?

April 2011

My family just moved to Berkeley and we have Oakland services so our choice of school districts. I am wondering which is better for elementary school. My daughter is entering K and has been assigned Kaiser in Oakland. We await the Berkeley June lottery. John Muir and Emerson are both very close by. Assuming she can get one of those, which is better - Oakland or Berkeley elementary? Is this apples and oranges?

Full disclosure - I am a Berkeley School Board Director. I will leave more subjective discussions of this topic to others BUT will say that Berkeley public schools are generously supported by citywide parcel taxes that have greatly assisted the School District in maintaining a lot of programs, such as small class sizes, music and art, enrichment classes, sports, and academic support that other school districts, such as Oakland are no longer able to support. While upcoming State budget cuts will undoubtly impact Berkeley, they are likely to be devastating to Oakland as Oakland has already had to reduce programs and even close schools to meet PAST budget deficits (Berkeley has been able to balance the District budget with minimal impact to classroom learning as yet). Also since Berkeley has a school assignment program designed to balance schools socio-economically, there is far less disparity among school populations and resources between schools than in Oakland. Karen Hemphill

It is a difficult question to answer (Which is better: Emerson (BUSD), John Muir (BUSD) or Chabot (OUSD). Ideally you'd find a family with exactly your family's needs and interests, that had a child or children that attended all three schools. But, there are, perhaps, too many variables: Each child's own needs and strengths, each family's interests and concerns, and the fact that the exact community that was at a school in the past will not be there next year. The combined community of families, students, principal and teachers changes every year to some degree. Given that, I encourage you to not seek which is ''best'', but discuss the attributes of a given school community with families that have been there for more than a year. Also ask them about their school district, and how they feel the individual school will do in the face of budget cuts at the state and district levels. Do they see continued community support for the schools? How is District leadership? Will the PTA and others be able to continue picking up the slack in funding? Is there a broad-based diverse and active PTA? Are parents and other community members involved in the classroom? And then consider what your daily routine will be like getting your student to and from school. Is there an after school program on site? How is the parking (if you need to drive). Anon

Personally, I think that Berkeley schools are great. Thanks to higher property taxes in Berkeley, Berkeley public schools are better funded, so they have lower teacher-student ratios (20-1, plus teacher's aides) and more money for all the extras (libraries, music, gardening, cooking, PE, theater, etc etc). You'd be in the Berkeley SE zone which has three fantastic schools and one good school (with a fantastic principal so it's probably on its way to becoming a great school). Good luck with whatever you decide. BUSD fan

If I were you, I'd go with Kaiser. In Oakland, most kids get to go to their neighborhood school, which means kids can walk to school together, have playdates after school with kids in the neighborhood, and hang out at their school's playground outside of school hours. In Berkeley, there are no neighborhood schools except for the very lucky or the very persistent.

I live in the Southeast Zone just down the street from John Muir, a one minute walk from our house. Emerson is 15 minutes away on foot. We were assigned to Le Conte, which is a 35 minute walk from our house. We never met any kids at Le Conte that were from our side of town. Every playdate we had, we were driving to the other side of town or to Oakland. This might not be a big deal for you, but for us, it was a pretty big disruption. I don't know any families in Elmwood or Claremont who were assigned to the schools in Elmwood or Claremont. Many of the families ended up not staying with public school. It sounds like you live in this area, so the odds are that your kid will NOT be assigned to the two schools you mentioned. But you can always wait to see what you get in the lottery. OTOH Kaiser has an excellent reputation, and there are so many benefits to being in a neighborhood school, that I would go with Kaiser.