BUSD Central Zone

Archived Responses: 
Questions about the Central Zone Advice on Related Pages  

Berk. Central Zone Elementary Schools

May 2014

W're considering moving to Berkeley Hills, to an area that would place us in the Central District. Most of the feedback on the public schools (Berkeley Arts Magnet, Cragmont, Malcolm X, Oxford, Washington) is from 2010 and prior. So much can change in a matter of years. Does anyone recommend schools to request or pass on, based on your experience at any of these schools? We'll be looking to find a nurturing, warm environment for our active, curious, but very sensitive rising kindergartner. Thanks for any thoughts at all. All feedback welcome, whether on culture, diversity, academics, enrichment, anything.

I work at one of the Central zone schools and also have 3 kids who have gone through there (one's still in elem.) I think they are all great schools; 10 years ago I probably wouldn't have said that, but the district has done a lot of work to make every Berkeley school equal in quality. I think you will be happy no matter where you land (though it's a lottery, so you don't have full control). My first priority, if I were you, would be to try and get into a school that is close to home; there are a lot of events at the schools, and you'll be more likely to want to attend them if they're close by... BUSD mom of 3

It almost doesn't matter which school you prefer in Berkeley's Central zone. You can research this to death, get all excited about a school, and then enter the ridiculous Berkeley lottery and get assigned your last choice school. Berkeley then insists that you attend the school they gave you (even if you adamantly oppose it) for 2 weeks to be able to remain in their waiting list. After forcing your child to move around in their kindergarten year, you may/may not end up with a school you like. Personally, I think that Berkeley knows that families living the Hills will send their kids to private if they don't get into a school they like, and intentionally stick them with a school on the bottom of their list to force this point.

Because Berrkeley is obsessed with ensuring the few poor minority kids in the district have an equal-opportunity experience, they they are willing to forgo any sense of community with schools. Everyone's driving across town and taking the bus. There is almost no walking to the local school (ironically burning fossil fuels and impacting the environment). -- But who am I to say? Just someone who lost the Berkeley lottery and left.

I'm a big fan of the Berkeley hills, but think about if you are willing to take whatever you get. Because that's what you'll get. disillusioned with the system

Only know about Washington Elementary. New principal this school year. He didn't do the normal 'push' to try and get families to turn in an important funding related form, and the school lost many thousands of dollars it was counting on for the 2014-15 school year. It is the only one in Berkeley that actually lost funding. I'm surprised there isn't more outrage from the parents as it is probably going to affect many of the programs. Concerned parent

I hope you enjoy Berkeley. I live in the Central Zone and have had kids at BUSD for nine years now. I've been a PTA president at one school, a member of the PTA Council and active in fundraising at both my kids' schools. Some thoughts: 1) All BUSD elementary schools in the Central Zone have become much more equal in terms of quality since we started. 2) Schoolwide test scores are a poor indicator of how your individual child will fare. 3) For better or worse, your kid's teacher each year & the other kids in his/her class will have a much greater impact than the overall school atmosphere. Teacher assignment and class composition are TOTALLY RANDOM. 4) Your satisfaction with your school will rise or fall each year depending on how you like your kid's teacher. Teachers come and go. This is not something you have control over. 5) Choose the school that you feel good about, but remember that schools change over time. You may not get your first (or 2nd or 3rd) choice, but things are likely to work out fine anyway. This is a stressful time so try to go with the flow! good luck

All the central zone schools are fine in Berkeley, so don't worry. And like you say, so much can change in 2 years, so .......so much will depend on what you and the other incoming parents do, and the positive supportive spirit you carry into the school. Welcome to Berkeley. Thanks for taking an active role in your child's and the whole community's education.

Also, if you are here about middle school zones, don't worry The two geographic middle schools are equally great, as is Longfellow (non-geographic).

Many of the schools are having spring weekend carnivals in May. You can call the front offices and find out when they might be having a carnival, and you can check out the school that way. Another BUSD Parent

All of the schools in the central zone are fantastic. Washington School has a fabulous group of staff and teachers, numerous enrichment programs and a very diverse (in all sense of the word) student population. This year there's a new principal and we have some concerns with how he is running the school. Washington Community Member

We live in the hills in central zone and didn't initially get *any* of our top three choices in last year's lottery. So I would say, yes, do all the research you can do and have a good idea of which school you want, but in the end, you will be at the mercy of the lottery system, which I think is quite well-meaning but can be impractical. We were lucky enough to get in to our top choice, Cragmont (down the street from our house!) when we got on the waitlist (which we were 7th on). But that was partly because BUSD added K classrooms to three schools, of which Cragmont was one. So as a result, in the 2013-2014 year more hills kids got in to Cragmont than would normally (they were most of the folks on the waitlist!). I am not sure if next year Cragmont will have 3 or 4 K classrooms.

The nice thing about Berkeley is that no matter which school you get in (especially in Central Zone!) you should be happy with the quality of teaching, the class sizes, the diversity, and the enrichment programs. We are super happy with our experience so far, as are my friends with kids at Washington, Malcolm X, BAM, and Oxford. So you can't go wrong. Good luck!

We are in Central and LOVE our school, Washington Elementary!! Our new principal is great and doing a great job of learning the environment and supporting parents, kids and teachers! Really All Berkeley Schools are great thiugh each has its own ''personality'' based on the pricipal and parent community. At Washington many families are very engaged. It is a welcoming atmosphere and the overwhelming majority if the teachers are fantastic! Happy Washington Parent!

Washington parent here. I felt compelled to respond after reading the replies. I'm a parent of one of the district's ''few poor minority kids'' one of the posters mentioned. Maybe BUSD's ''obsession'' with ensuring a good experience for my kid is the only reason why Washington is going so well, but I don't think so.

I visited several of the Central Zone schools. I truly would have been ok with a few of them and feel very lucky to have my kid at Washington. Teachers have been outstanding and I think the new principal is doing a great job. I'd recommend visiting schools; I think you have good options in the Central Zone. Happy Washington Parent


Recent feedback about Central Zone?

Feb 2010


We've already submitted the forms for the BUSD lottery, and now we're in that nail-biting waiting period until we receive our daughter's school assignment for next year. I'd love to hear some recent feedback about the schools in the Central Zone (Oxford, Cragmont, Washington, BAM, and MX). Thank you so much! Devra

Devra - So glad you chose to send your child to BUSD. Best of luck with the process! To answer your question about Central Zone Schools... Each of the Central Zone Schools have great attributes: Strong parent involvement as volunteers, SGC, PTA and other special group/event participants (they will welcome your participation); Caring administration, teachers and other staff; Skilled teachers and some that aren't as skilled (like in any school), and a wonderfully broad range of learning styles and strengths in the student body. I believe most of them have afterschool programs, and some that start at 9 am have before school programs (like Cragmont). If you prefer an earlier or later start time, that may make a difference (Cragmont starts at 9 am). if you prefer to walk to school, then that may make a difference. If you prefer a smaller school (Oxford), or a school with more kids and classes per grade (cragmont), then that may make a difference. Each has enrichment programs (Cragmont has visual art, dance and science/gardening during the school day). And each school changes a little bit each year depending on the particular mix of staff and kids and their parents. I think there is a high potential for a great experience no matter which school your child lands at, especially if you get involved, communicate with your child's teacher, and are supoportive of the staff to your best ability. Our kid is having a great experience at Cragmont. All the best for a great Kidnergarten year for you and your child. Cragmont Parent


Chances of getting a spot at Oxford or Cragmont?

Nov 2006


We just moved to Berkeley and our daughter will be entering the school system next fall. We are in the zone that includes Cragmont and Oxford, which I know are popular schools. Coming from SF, where the most popular schools are almost impossible to be assigned to, my question is, how likely is it we will get either of these schools if we put them as our top choices? Are there any statistics as to how many people apply for these two schools for kindergarten versus how many spaces are available? Anecdotal evidence would also be appreciated.

I would recommend that you expand your search beyond Cragmont and Oxford to include other schools in your zone. We were amazed how our tours of each school in the district changed our assumptions. We were pleasantly surprised by Washington, for example--it was our second choice after Cragmont--and Berkeley Arts Magnet was our third. Test scores tend to be misleading, as well as school locations. Most researchers correlate high test scores with demographics (affluent and/or educated parents), so they don't accurately reflect the great teaching going on in the classroom. School tours will tell you where you should send your child more than anything else.

No one knows for sure what your chances are of getting into Cragmont or Oxford cuz no one (not even the Berkeley Unified School District knows) how many spots will be open and how many of those will be taken next year by siblings of current K through 4th graders. It would be a nice bit of data for decision-making, and I asked if they had it 5 years ago....but they didn't then & they probably don't now.

In my opinion, if you do not put one of these as your first choice, you will not get it assigned to you in the first round. I do not now the current stats from the district as to how many folks get their first choice, and how many get in off the waiting list before school starts (like we did). You can call Francisco Martinez, the manager of the Admissions and Attendance Office for BUSD and ask him these questions. He is at (510) 644-6504. You can also ask him when the schools are doing tours, and when he is doing presentations. Then you can chat with principals, parents and/or Francisco in person. I do know that a few kids on waiting lists do transfer into Cragmont during the year when spaces become available. That goes for kindergarten and upper grades. I also feel it is important to note that Whittier/Berk Arts Magnet and Washington (and other public elementary schools throughout Berkeley) have some great teachers and great programs. Cragmont and Oxford may not be the best fit for your child. I know folks at both Whittier and Washington that are happy with them. Please visit the schools and speak with their families. Whittier/BAM's principal changed last year, I think, and is well received. It would be great if any Whittier/BAM or Washington parents out there could provide a bit on why you like your kid's school. Anon

This was our experience applying for Kindergarten in the Berkeley Public Schools last year. Everyone's experience is different - it just depends on the luck of the draw and what category you're in. We put Cragmont Spanish Immersion Kindergarten as our #1 choice, regular Cragmont Kindergarten as #2, Oxford #3, and BAM/Whittier #4. We ended up getting into BAM/Whittier. We stayed on the waitlist all summer for our first 3 choices. We were waitlisted between #15 - #19 for our first 3 choices. By September of this year, I think we only moved up one spot at the Cragmont Kindergarten list, no change in our waitlist status for the Cragmont Spanish Immersion, and I think we moved up 2 spots up on the Oxford waitlist. You probably have less of chance of getting into Oxford/Cragmont if you are in Category Three (living in the hills) simply because the people in the hills are overrepresented in the pool of applicants - they naturally want to apply to the schools close by. See the previous discussions on this below.


Central Zone: our closest school is Oxford

June 2004


Hello, We are planning on moving to N. Berkeley from SF. The closest school for our daughter, who will be starting 4th grade in the fall, would be Oxford. Do any of you have kids at Oxford now? What are the general feelings about the three central zone schools, Oxford, Washington and Cragmont? We've read through the BPN archive, but would like to hear some more current opinions. Our daughter has been a Waldorf kid since preschool, so we're a little nervous about public school, but we are also excited by the possibility of offering her a different, potentially enriching experience and by the possibility of living close to her school. We're having a hard time deciding which way to go, so if any of you have any words of wisdom, please send them along!

This response deals primarily with the Central zone, because of your particular question, but the same patterns exist in all three zones. I hope others will find it useful.

Berkeley uses a system that divides the city into diagonal stripes that cross the city from bay to hills (NW, Central, SE). In addition they are now assigning enrollment priority levels to ''neighborhoods'' based on the average income and education level of residents, in addition to their hue. These micro-climates are within the three geographic zones. So, your child will enter the BUSD with a designation like ''Central, 4''... or ''SW, B'' (or similar) in addition to being race classified.

What this means for you is that the likelihood of attending your ''good'' neighborhood school (Oxford) is not great, unless you are of an unusual race for your neighborhood, since race and street address are still the top factors used in assignment. It seems your chance of attending Oxford would be better if you lived at the other end of your zone.

Why is all this hard work necessary? Because of what you already know to be true -- if all things were equal, the vast majority of families would want the ability to walk to school, near home. Because neighborhoods are imbalanced, the District must balance schools artificially.

Having had kids in lower grades at both Oxford and Washington Schools in the past, I would give you the following recommendations:

What really matters to your child's ''education''?

1) the teachers your child has 2) whether the teachers and administration have a healthy relationship 3) how involved a parent group there is at the school 4) adequate (safe, commodious) facilities, and 5) how the district perceives your school.

The last year my child was at Washington School, 20 ''new'' kids enrolled during the first two weeks of September. Even in the best of circumstances that would be disruptive, but generally kids in the best of circumstances are not changing school after the semester begins. Many of these kids had custody and housing issues that demanded significant support from both the district and social services, not just from a busy classroom teacher. The school was overburdened, but coped. As a magnet school Washington cannot currently be used that way, but they did receive a large influx of Franklin School ''refugees'' when that school closed. Schools that open and operate at capacity from the first day of the year don't seem to have this problem.

Once we left Oxford, the lingering negatives associated with that school were 1) that most children of color enrolled there did not live nearby. Between the ages of 5-10 years old (or even older) proximity has a lot to do with who your child's friends will be. Washington School is one of the few elementary schools in the City built in a truly multicultural neighborhood. 2) In your zone, Oxford and Arts Magnet bear the onus of being schools of choice for the pickiest parents. Very few parents have ever said ''if my kid DOESN'T get into Washington (or Rosa Parks, or Thousand Oaks, etc) s/he'll go to private school!''

I mention parents because they vary from site to site much more than the kids do. One thing the BUSD will teach you is that kids are really just kids...Left to their own devices most of them know more about integration and getting along than their parents and the adults they will encounter here ever will.

Parents will always be an issue in the success of the kids in your school. Frankly I find both ''entitled'' parents and those with socio-economic concerns (or priorities) that prevent their participation in the schools to be equally disruptive to the process of educating all our children. Wherever your child ends up, find a way to help out and become part of the school community. It benefits you as much as it does the school, and it helps your child, and all the children even more.

Kids in every school in Berkeley have the potential to be great -- not every kid (there, I said it out loud!) but the vast majority. If you can find the school best able to identify and effectively deal with the occasional truly disruptive child (and demand appropriate help and support for that child from both the system and the family) so that the teachers can teach, I would recommend you enroll your child, and then post a note here so everyone else can do it too. Such a school would be even better than one you could walk to!

What doesn't matter? The school's average test scores and any public perception of the school ''oh, that's a GOOD school...''. Neither has much bearing on how any one child, including yours, will do in the school.

Good luck! Heather