BUSD Central Zone

Parent Q&A

Choosing elementary school in Berkeley Jan 19, 2022 (1 responses below)
BAM vs. Washington Oct 3, 2021 (1 responses below)
Thoughts on BUSD Elementary schools in central zone? Jan 7, 2021 (2 responses below)
Berkeley elementary schools -Washington compared to Malcolm X May 20, 2019 (2 responses below)
BAM, Cragmont, Oxford, and Washington 5th grade May 17, 2019 (1 responses below)
BUSD Central Zone Dec 12, 2018 (2 responses below)
Berkeley Elementary Schools Central Zone Nov 18, 2017 (5 responses below)
  • Choosing elementary school in Berkeley

    (1 reply)

    Hi, at this moment my wife and I are on the process of enrolling our oldest son in the Berkeley school system for kindergarten. Our 5yo son is active, happy,a bit shy but always ready to play with friends once invited and speaks mostly Portuguese, but do understand and speak English well enough to communicate.We just moved to Berkeley from Albany and most of our friends have kids in the Albany school system so we don't have much of feedback on schools in Berkeley. Is there any thing that we should be looking at? a way to visit the schools? We are in central Berkeley school district and have to choose between Cragmont, Oxford, Washington, Berkeley Arts Magnet, Malcolm X and truly we don't even know where to start. We live by San Pablo park and definitely a school closer would be more convenient but where should we go. Any input is very much appreciated and will ease our stress choosing the right place.

    Thank you for the help


    Hi Geraldo, we are also in the process of enrolling our 5 year old in kindergarten next year and are in the Central zone too (also near San Pablo Park!). Have you been able to attend any of the Zoom info nights?  Those were very helpful -- most have already happened but the one for BAM is tomorrow. More info here: https://www.berkeleyschools.net/admissions/information-nights/.  We went to the info nights for Malcom X and Washington and I'm happy to fill you in on what we learned. 

  • BAM vs. Washington

    (1 reply)

    Hi Berkeley parents!

    We are located in the Central zone and will be applying to elementary schools in 2022. I am particularly curious to hear parents’ more current (Covid era) experiences at BAM and Washington, please.
    Thank you so much in advance!


    RE: BAM vs. Washington ()

    We have had a fantastic experience at BAM both before and during COVID. The teaching staffing is amazing. The community is kind and welcoming. The after school staff is wonderful. The PTA funds art enrichment (visual arts and performing arts) as well as other activities. It's an excellent school.

  • Hi there,

    My son is entering BUSD as a 1st grader and we’re in the Central zone. I’m leaning toward Malcolm X because it’s closest to our home but I’m wondering if folks can speak to how they decided on public elementary preferences in the central zone, pros/cons of the different schools, and what your experiences have been. 


    We put Oxford down as our first choice, both because of the size (small) and because we heard positive recommendations of other parents. After 3 years I can say we’re very happy with that choice. Beth Rhine, the principal, is truly wonderful and very involved in all aspects of the school. She sets a great tone and hires fabulous teachers! There’s an active PTA and a sweet feeling of community. 

    I've been in the Central Zone at Oxford for 5 years (K-5th). I don't think there are many differences among schools, your kid's experience will be defined by their teacher. Some teachers are great and some are not that great. Proximity to school is important as it will make it easier for you to attend events that are taking place in the evening hours (PTA meetings, etc.). Before joining BUSD I had heard great things about Berkeley Public Schools but in my experience there is nothing special about them. The past 10 months have shown the true character of Berkeley schools. The teachers' union has incredible power and that's why Berkeley schools will not reopen this year and I doubt things will go back to normal in fall. Good luck!

  • Hi all,

    im new to this group so forgive me if I’m missteping on protocol or repeating a question that’s been asked before but we are a queer divorced co parenting family with an 8 year old (with a new diagnosis ADHD and general anxiety disorder) and a 5 year old about to move from SF to Berkeley into the central district and wondering about these two schools and based on our needs with our 8 year old and our family structure which school might be best and why. Thanks in advance for your thoughts/perspective/insight. 

    Hi there, I don't know about Malcolm X (although my son have friends there and they are very happy) but I can tell you about Washington. My son is in kindergartner and he loves going to school. It's a very friendly community and they organize a lot of things for the kids and for the families to be involved (the next big event is the Washington mini Pride!).

    I think both are good schools. A thing to keep in mind though is that Malcolm X is a very big school, that was what brought me to choose Washington instead. Good luck!

    We moved to Berkeley two years ago. Moving at the end of the school year, our daughter was placed in 2nd grade at Washington while our son was placed in TK at Malcolm X.

    In the first few months we had 3 conferences with the Washington principal. One after our daughter asked a boy not to cut in line and he demanded she apologize or he would go get the gun in his bag and "shoot her in the face". This was reported to us as him being "verbally mean". Did they not think that she would tell us the details? Another was about a different boy who had been bullying her since day two of school. We reported it immediately, but nothing was done, and went in after he said he would break her arm if she didn't give him a communal item. The third one involved her being punched in the face on the school bus home, by a third boy. That is an automatic suspension in BUSD, but it did not happen in this case. In every case we were told to consider the difficult home life of these boys (of course no details could be shared). Meanwhile, at MX, our son was enjoying forest school days, show and tell ... and no-one threatening him with gun violence or pretending it didn't happen.

    After talking to other Washington parents, including an early childhood educator who moved her daughter to a private school because they also could not get a resolution to bullying and threats, we did as advised and went to the district office and talked very loudly at the desk about what was going on. We were quickly ushered into a back room and told that our application for a transfer would be taken seriously. Our daughter was re-assigned to MX at the end of the year.

    Second awesome year at MX for our son, and first one for our daughter. A very diverse and welcoming teacher and parent community. Gardening classes are particularly wonderful. My kids actively want to make kale salads, and they'll tell me all about ecology while we make one. Art is great. Dance classes, some music education. Lunch is the low-point: The cutbacks to BUSD's budget are so severe they can't afford to pay the teachers for a day long enough for more than 15 minutes scheduled for each class to eat. No access to you food outside of that time. On a day some PTA members dropped in a large number of children who receive free hot lunch weren't even given their lunches, because things were behind schedule. So teach your kids to each fast. Also, we were somewhat dismayed when 7 gunshots heard clearly in the yard did not lead to a lockdown because it wasn't happening on school property. SW Berkeley can be gritty. But kids aren't the target. Read Berkeleyside.

    All the above is anecdotal. I believe many children at Washington were having a better experience. But the way things were handled by the principal inspired no confidence, and we were not the only ones to move their child. Today Berkeley's public school teachers are in Sacramento demanding a livable wage. I could not do what they do, and thank all of them for their service to humanity.

    We divorced during this time, and our son received an ADHD diagnosis, though unusually neither of his teachers suspected it based on his behavior. We've not pursued an IEP yet, so I can't provide feedback on that aspect. But at all times our family has been treated with dignity and compassion at MX. Not so much at Washington.

  • Hi. I will be enrolling my son in BUSD to start 5th grade in the Fall. We are in the Central Zone and would love to hear from current parents at BAM, Cragmont, Oxford, and Washington -- thoughts (both positive & negative) about 5th grade at their respective schools. Are the teachers caring and effective? Is there any bullying among the 5th graders? My son's had a rough 4th-grade year at his current school, so we are really hoping that his experience in 5th grade will be much better....

    My daughter is a 5th grader at Washington this year and we couldn't be happier. She has truly amazing teachers and is thriving socially, academically, and emotionally. Her class is a true community and the teachers pay a lot of attention to students' social and emotional growth along with academics. I have not seen or heard about any bullying and believe it would not be tolerated. She has only been at Washington for one year so I can also attest that it is a welcoming, inclusive environment for new students joining late in elementary school. 

  • BUSD Central Zone

    (2 replies)

     I’d be interested in hearing advice and experiences from parents in the Central zone in BUSD. I’m having difficulty ranking the schools because they seem pretty similar. Other than size and start time, are there significant differences other families have observed? Because we live in a rental, selecting a school purely based on proximity seems pointless.

    RE: BUSD Central Zone ()

    You are right, all schools are very similar. That is the point. The district puts a great amount of effort to make sure all students receive equal quality of education. The only difference can come from site funds and PTA funds and how each school chooses to spend these two tiny pots of money.

    RE: BUSD Central Zone ()

    We live in Central and visited. We ruled out Cragmont because we live in the flats. Prob basing it on start time and size might be the best. Or yard. MX felt like it did a great job in showing off to parents during the open houses.  It felt big- nice yard I think.   BAM started too late for our morning larks.  No trees it seems.   We liked the trees in Washington, apparently planted by the grandparents of its current students.  Oxford seemed to have too many stairs but it’s nice and small. 

    We we ended up choosing largely by location. We’re within walking distance to Washington which makes a big difference. As you say they’re pretty much the same. You’re not going to go wrong. We were particularly happy with our kinder teacher (and the chance social connections she ended up being a part of). Good luck!

  • Berkeley Elementary Schools Central Zone

    (5 replies)


    We are moving to Berkeley in December with a 10 year-old boy and a 7 year-old girl. We intend to enroll the kids in one of the public (elementary) schools in the zone we’ll be living. In order to fill the Parent Preference Form I’ve selected three schools that are near to the house we rented, and I’d like to have updated reviews about them. I’m considering ranking the preferences also based on the size of the school, as our kids are used to a small school here and we prefer a similar experience for them in Berkeley. The schools near our house are: Washington Elementary, Malcom X Elementary, and Berkeley Arts Magnet at Whittier (BAM). Any comment on them?


    The quick answer is that all Berkeley public schools are great, so you can definitely rank your preferences by convenience or size. I ranked by proximity, got my first choice (Malcolm X), and am very happy. It does not bother me (or my kindergartener) that it is a large school. Best wishes with the application!

    We attend Washington and love it!

    All of the elementary schools in Berkeley are awesome - and I'm not making this up. But if you are looking for a small campus, Malcolm X is the biggest one in Berkeley. But the bottom line is that you will get a spot for your children in the school with the most available spaces for them. Wherever they wind up, rest assured that the teachers are great and the parent communities vibrant and involved.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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