Gifted Children and Berkeley School District

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi,

    Our family is moving to Berkeley from Seattle... we have a flexible timeline, but likely before the 2021-22 school year. Just from on-line research we are looking in the Albany, Berkeley, Alameda neighborhoods (we will be making a family visit in May). We have 2 kids (entering 1st grade and 3rd grade). Our older kiddo is in an advanced program in Seattle public schools (2 grades ahead in math and reading) and our little one is at a neighborhood school learning at her grade-level. We would love to be in a neighborhood school that could support both our kids. We are open to any neighborhood in the East Bay. Any recommendations for specific schools (I know Berkeley is a lottery system) and/or neighborhoods would be appreciated so we can check them out during our visit in May. 

    Thanks so much,

    Family in Seattle

    If you can afford it, I recommend Piedmont. If you are willing to be on the other side of the tunnel, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette would be better. If you need to stay in the three areas you mentioned, Alameda would be better than Albany or Berkeley for the advanced learner. For the grade level learner, all three areas you mentioned would be good. But, you are not guaranteed to attend school that is closest to you in Berkeley and the class size has been very big in Albany due to its popularity. 

    Consider El Cerrito! Great, diverse schools and no lottery. Just next-door to Albany/Berkeley. Great community feel, lots of parks, hiking trails, etc. I'm not familiar with any public schools in the general area with advanced programs at a young age so you may need to supplement that. Kensington may be another good option (the elementary school is highly rated but you lose some diversity compared to Berkeley/El Cerrito)

    We moved from Seattle to Berkeley three years ago and couldn't be happier. Our kids are also advanced and unfortunately unlike the Seattle area, the schools here don't have gifted programs. We ended up sending both our kids to private school. If private school doesn't work for you, you might want to look at Piedmont, Lafayette, Orinda or Moraga. They also don't have gifted programs, but they will probably be able to accommodate your kids better. 

    Piedmont is wonderful in many ways but we do not have a gifted and talented program.  Unless you plan to skip grades he won't get any specific support for his advanced learning and you'll have to supplement on your own.  I haven't done much research on surrounding districts but my impression is that gifted and talented programs are out of vogue and fairly limited around here.

    I recommend calling the school district offices to see how your older child will be accommodated for his advanced learning. I’ve personally found in BUSD (Berkeley), there do not seem to be any programs that support or nurture advanced learners. I believe it is to keep things “equal” and not give students special treatment. There is a big focus on bringing kids up to the standard level, and if your child is already there, then great - but they’re not challenged any further. GATE doesn’t exist in Berkeley. There is a private GATE school or private schools in Oakland that would probably be able to nurture his learning, but they are $$$.

    For the advanced learner I would not recommend Berkeley with the exception of the high school. Especially if your advanced learner has a tendency to have behavioral problems when bored. I’m not sure about the other districts.

    Thanks for all the suggestions. We'll make time to visit all the locations mentioned

    To the Anonymous responder from Seattle- is there a way to connect about your experience moving to Berkeley? I would be interested to learn about what private schools you are enrolled in.

    Hello, not to be a downer but based on what you have written here, I would recommend looking into an independent and more differentiated school for at least your older child. As others have mentioned you may also want to look into Orinda and Lafayette. Or plan to supplement after school with activities and determine ways to bring in your own materials for your child to complete if they are bored by their classroom work. I'm sorry to be negative, I just think you may be disappointed in the public schools in areas you mentioned that they simply cannot offer an advanced program and it also becomes a major equity issue.

    Places like Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek are definitely good options but the weather is on avg 15+ hotter on that side of the tunnel so AC becomes a must.  I've generally found that those areas also have less diversity compared to berkeley/albany.

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Looking for public elementary with strong gifted program

March 2014

My feeling about Berkeley Unified is that my child's teacher has not been interested in hearing about our gifted child. The feeling, imho, is ''Great you have a smart kid! Enjoy it and be thankful your child isn't in need of special services.'' We have experienced some public schools that have been better than others and some teachers who have been better than others, but the end game in my child's class has been that those who have been at the bottom have received the most attention and services. Is that bad? Not necessarily. It's a wonderful and noble approach. But it still left our child's needs unmet. We experienced lip service to meeting the needs of ALL children. But that's not what happened for us, imo. If you want your gifted children to have what they need, again, imho, you should check out the private schools. There appear to be many wonderful and very expensive private schools in the area. The city of Berkeley has many, many wonderful assets for gifted children. The public school we attend has not been one of them for our gifted child, again, imo. Parent of a gifted child


Berkeley elem. in Central zone for gifted 3rd gr?

Jan 2014

We are moving to Berkeley, and my highly gifted child will be in 3rd grade in the fall. Which schools in the Central zone are good for gifted kids? Please don't say ''private''! Berkeley mama (to be)

Your gifted child will do well in BUSD and you will find many smart kids there. But you don't get to choose which school. The district will assign you to one of the schools itself.

Based on my eight years (two kids) of experience with one Berkeley public elementary school in the Central Zone (Berkeley Arts Magnet), I'd say it's more a question of how individual teachers work with highly gifted kids than anything about the school in general. Visit some schools, look in the upper-grade classrooms, talk to parents if you can and then just pick one (without discounting the importance of start time and transportation). Robin

You don't get to choose which school your child goes to in Berkeley, so it really all depends upon your relationship with the teachers. A school could be great at dealing with your gifted child, but you don't get to choose to send him/her there.

Dear parent of a gifted child. All of the BUSD public schools have the same budget and similar class sizes. None of them that I know of have ''gate'' classes. Most of the extra money at any of the public schools is being spent on kids who are behind or having trouble learning. NOT on the gifted kids. Pretty much the expectation is that if you consider your child gifted, the teacher may make suggestions for additional work or study subjects at home. There may be a teacher who would agree to figure out an accommodation for your gifted child on an assignment by assignment level, but those teachers would not be the norm. Because of BUSDs diversity, the teachers at these schools have some of the widest ''learning gaps'' of any schools in the nation. Parents have to take an active roll in finding enrichment activities outside of school if the current curriculum doesn't meet their kids needs... That said, you are going to find that there are a lot of kids who are high achievers at BUSD, their parents may or may not consider them gifted, but I'm sure your child will find similar learners.

If this is a concern for you...I would suggest you go to a private school that caters to gifted children or has smaller class sizes if you don't think your child will do well in a normal 3rd grade class. Frankly, a lot of people at BUSD get tired of the parents who talk about their ''gifted'' kid all the time. You might get some eye rolls. anon

As the parent of a gifted student, I can recommend Berkeley Arts Magnet in the Central Zone. It was a good fit for our kid, and contrary to what was stated in an earlier post, if you request it, I believe that you have a good chance of getting in, at least eventually. I would try in 3rd grade rather than 4th, because there should be more room in the classrooms (they consolidate in 4th). There are a lot of academic families from all over the world passing through, so spots do open up, especially at the end of semesters.

While no Berkeley Public School can offer you a gifted Program, as I'm sure you know, BAM has lots of gifted/academically advanced kids, maybe in part because of the proximity of the University, or maybe that is true for all the Berkeley Schools, I can't say. Anyway, our kid found friends who enjoyed the same kind of imaginative jokes, games, etc., which was huge, and not found everywhere, in our experience.

Gifted kids are known to be more sensitive (our kid definitely is), and the environment at BAM really worked great for us. Now I know other families have different experiences, but we found that BAM did a great job at keeping negative behavior in check, even with challenging scenarios. This was huge, too. The school works hard at this, with a variety of positive reinforcement strategies, recess supervision, etc.

Before BAM, our kid went to an ''elite'' private school, the type which may seem to offer more for a gifted child, but the competitive scene was not good for our sensitive one. The aggressive kids were not kept in check with the same consistency, there was more of a tendency to sweep things under the rug.

Like most schools, the innovation of the teaching will rest with the teacher. There are some great teachers at BAM. There is an effort to keep some of the Arts going, they have visual Art class for half the year and BAM kids do seem to be up on stage often, performing in class plays or the Talent Show, etc. Music is offered in all Berkeley Schools. There is a Volunteer run gardening program in fourth grade, offered by a superhero named Kate. There is an amazing range of Afterschool classes run by another superhero named Sandra: rock band, theater, robotics, chess, yoga, Spanish, etc.

So, you can't expect a ton of differentiated instruction (although the reading program is set up that way), but the teachers are used to having unusually advanced students every year. If you don't want to commute to Marin, Oakland, move through the tunnel, etc., BAM could be a good option. It was for us. Good luck!


Which Berkeley public schools good for gifted kids?

March 2013

I'm wondering about what Berkeley public schools are good or not so great for my highly gifted (IQ 145) child. Considering moving to Berkeley from Oakland for the public schools, but would love any insight into whether it's worth paying probably at least twice as much in housing costs. Thank you. Smartypants' mommy

In Berkeley, school assignment is by lottery (the city is split into three zones, and you're assigned by lottery within your zone), so you have no guarantee that your child will attend a school near your house. Thus, just because someone identifies a certain school as being good at dealing with highly gifted students doesn't mean that you'll get to go there. In other words, when looking for a house in Berkeley, it's not worth buying one near a school that you really like, because it won't increase your chances of getting into that school.

Regarding which berkeley school is best for a gifted kid, the several BUSD elementary schools are similar in level of achievement and each has slightly different programs; same for the 3 middle schools. Although there are not enough GATE funds to offer specific GATE programs, the many gifted students seem to be well challenged. Some who are little academic geniuses are not little social geniuses and have plenty of opportunity to become more proficient in social skills. Most of the GATE kids i know at berkeley schools do fine in the district. At middle school there is opportunity to skip ahead in math. At berkeley high a student gifted in science, humanities, theater, music, language, visual arts, etc. can get a wonderful and very challenging education. A gifted athlete can shine. I know one gifted kid who went to a very small private school for gifted kids. After 2 years of adjusting he made friends. He missed his old buddies a lot and his parents spent lots of time keeping connections up socially with old peer group. Not an easy task. Gifted academic geniuses at berkeley high also learn how to navigate skillfully in a vibrant urban environment with folks from a wide range of incomes, ethnicities, religions, and academic skills. An important life skill. BUSD Parent

Which BUSD schools are best for gifted kids? We hope the answer soon will be ''all of them,'' thanks to a new parent-led group known as BALSA: Berkeley Advanced Learner Support and Advocacy. To learn more about BALSA's mission and/or to join our online community, please visit We look forward to welcoming you to one of our upcoming meetings! -Rachel Hurwitz, Founder and Chair of BALSA


BUSD challenging for highly gifted kids?

Jan 2013

Are the Berkeley Public Schools a good place for highly gifted children? I've heard their better at differentiation than Oakland, but am curious to hear from other parents of highly gifted kids. We are considering whether to pay for private school or move from Oakland to Berkeley after having lots of trouble with OUSD for our gifted kid. Thanks. jenn

My son is in Kindergarten in BUSD. I know K is really early on in the school process, but our experience makes us hopeful that BUSD will work out for the long haul. My son entered K reading at a 5th grade level and well above grade level in math. His teacher does some differentiation in class: he has his own box of books, is given harder stuff during math, etc. At the same time, a big effort has been make to keep him part of the group, which we appreciate. His homework is very differentiated. He keeps a journal in which he writes down questions from non-fiction books of his choice (he's into space), we help him research the answer using other books/internet, and he writes down the answer. In our (admittedly short) experience with BUSD, we've found the teachers and principle to be extremely proactive, respectful, and knowledgeable about fostering his academic abilities as well as his social/emotional needs. You may want to consider touring some of the BUSD schools and ask the principles how, specifically, they would meet the needs of your child. Good luck! BUSD parent

Your child certainly won't be the only highly gifted child in the class in BUSD. I think that's one of the best things about being gifted in the Berkeley Schools. My gifted child has always had intellectual peers. The teachers did a reasonable amount of differentiation, and usually had open-ended projects in at least some subject areas, and allowed our child to pursue their own projects after the classwork was completed. That said, we did our own enrichment through the library, ATDP, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley Rep, Math Circles, etc. I think whatever school system/private school your child is enrolled in parents actively need to help the child follow their interests. For our gifted child school was good socialization and did teach some skills, while other intellectual interests were pursued independently. In high school students have more opportunities to follow divergent paths both in class and outside (AP courses beginning Sophmore year, Philosophy club, math team, etc.) It has also been invaluable for my child to be with students whose strengths are not academic so as to learn how to appreciate everyone in the community. anon

My son was in a BUSD elementary school. He was always a voracious learner and I tried the best I could to peak his interest at home. By the end of 3rd grade though I could no longer fool myself that this very good school was going to be able to meet his needs. AFter I had him tested and did some digging around I found that there is so much politics around ''giftedness'' - ''well every child is gifted!'' and ''what a gifted child needs is to fit in with other kids!'' I see it still. And still more stuff was my own -- I'm not a private school person, I believe in and am invested in the public school system, and yet when it came down to it I had to get over myself, be there for my kid and give him what he needed.

We've found that in spaces at GATE Academy (until recently Dunham Academy) up in northern San Rafael. My kid has been there now for over 3 years and is thriving. As I meet more and more families struggling with this strangely misunderstood special need, my initial feeling is confirmed: that when these kids aren't seen, and given the vast, deep knowledge they crave, they start to feel like something's wrong with them. I've seen older postings on BPN about Dunham, some negative, but all I can say is that my son can't wait to go to school, every day. He is lit up by learning and is surrounded by really good friends who see the world in the same rich way he does. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Parent of thriving child