King Middle School


Public School
operated by Berkeley Unified School District
1,000 students
Phone: 510.644.6280
1781 Rose Street Berkeley, CA 94703
Editors' Notes: 

Parent Q&A

Does King Middle School have a twins policy? Jul 9, 2018 (2 responses below)
Adjusting to middle school math expectations Jan 4, 2017 (5 responses below)
Need advice re 7th grade at King Middle School Dec 18, 2016 (1 responses below)
King middle school homework and academics Sep 20, 2016 (4 responses below)
  • My twin daughters will enter 6th grade at King in the fall. Does anyone know if King has a policy for twins or other multiples being in the same class or different classes? I know some schools have policies, others have recommendations, and others leave it entirely up to the parents. 

    I'm not looking for advice on the topic, though feel free to chime in if you feel strongly about the issue. I just want to know what position King takes on the subject and what is the right point in the enrollment process to for a parent to communicate a preference.



    Hi - I have identical twin girls who are now juniors in high school. It sounds like you haven't formed a strong preference for whether your twins are placed in the same class or not. My feeling is that it depends on what kind of twins you have (identical, fraternal, boys, girls, etc.) and what their relationship is like and how co-dependent they are (which can be a function of the kinds of twins they are).  We always had ours in different classes in the public school, and then we sent ours to different, private middle schools. That was a learning experience as we thought they were quite independent but it turns out that one was quite dependent on the other socially, so being in different schools was difficult for one, but for the other it was liberating. I'm a big fan of having twins establish their own identities with others and have different educational experiences, that's hard when they're in the same school, even when in separate classrooms. Because the material covered and homework assignments by the different teachers are exactly the same, there is still a lot of comparing going on. In any event, you should be able to ask the school for them to be together if you really want them to be, but even if they're apart they will see a lot of each other, and getting them used to being apart will be very useful and important for when they eventually go to college. 

    My understanding when my kids started at King (they are now at BHS) was that the school would put them in different classes with the same core teachers.  So for 6th grade they had the same two teachers for Eng/History and Math/Science, but at different times.  The advantage of this is that you can schedule conferences at the same time and go to one welcome event instead of two.  After 6th grade it was more uneven and my kids ended up in some of the same classes but for 6th grade that was the stated policy.

  • My child is a new 6th grader at King Middle School. While things seem to be going well and as expected with the transition to middle school, I'm finding myself a bit concerned with one of the teachers and need a sanity check from other parents. My student is struggling with math. He didn't have any problems in elementary school and we haven't received any communication or concern thus far. He came home with a very low grade, not even approaching where he needs to be. No comments were listed. In reaching out to the teacher, we first had a heck of a time receiving a response, then when we did get a response the answers were extremely stand-offish and curt. She had no explanation except for us to go through the Powerschool site through every assignment listed and graded and see where he was missing points. We did this and it turns out that he was missing some points with incomplete homework and low scores on tests. While I admit we have not been checking Powerschool, we have not seen any tests or homework returned that indicated low scores or missing work. The only place it was listed was Powerschool. It was never communicated that this is the primary means of monitoring progress. Needless to say, my son is less than enthusiastic about this class. He is not an overly emotional child by any means, but feels the teacher is cold and can't be bothered. I'm truly taken aback at how "self-service" things seem to be. In addition to having a very substantial homework load nightly, my kid is now having some anxiety about even approaching the teacher with clarifying questions.

    Can someone get my expectations in check? Is it too much for the teacher to provide more insight than to send a link to powerschool? While we aren't expecting her to be warm and fuzzy, we truly have the impression that she cannot be bothered. I am going to make a point of scheduling a face to face meeting with her, but was hoping for some support and insight. 

    I feel like it's appropriate for you and your child to lower your expectations for how much a teacher is supposed to manage. You may not like the teacher's personality, but as for your being responsible for checking Powerschool and communicating with your kid about those earlier test scores, that really is on you. Was there a back-to-school night? If this wasn't communicated then, then that's certainly a problem, but -- teachers are slammed, they have too many students, and it's unrealistic to expect them to go down a list of students and follow up with parents on moderately low performance. 

    I think you have to make a distinction between the reasonable expectation that there is less hand-holding in middle school, and your dislike of this teacher's personality and style. 

    Hi there. I have a 7th grader and he probably had the math teacher you are talking about. Even if your son has a different teacher, 6th grade is just a whole lot different from the Elementary experience: kids are much more responsible for their own learning and it is not a warm and fuzzy place. Even so, I would really suggest setting up a meeting and going in and talking to his teacher, and just be honest, not defensive, just honest. I found her to be very concerned and helpful under the stern and offputting exterior. 6th grade was an adjustment for our whole family, but we are all doing better this year. Best to you new Cobras!

    Depends on the teacher, school and district.  Hate to say it but your experience is more the norm now.  Don't  blame the teachers, not their fault, this is how our education system now operates.

  • Hi Parents,

    My daughter, currently in 6th grade, has attended a very small private school since Kindergarten. For a variety of reasons, we are seriously considering moving her to public school next year and we're zoned for King. Many of the reviews I have read talk about how the school does a great job of helping the 6th graders acclimate. What about kids who transfer in at 7th grade?  She has been with the same small group of kids for many years and I worry that the transition to such a large environment will be very difficult for her.  I'm wishing I had moved her at the beginning of 6th grade when all of the other kids were adjusting, too.  I'm wondering if she would be better off at Willard since it is smaller but she does have several friends who attend King (not that I'm sure she'd have classes with them) and it's a 5 minute walk from our house.  I'd love to hear feedback from parents who have had kids transfer in at 7th grade or from any other parents who have thoughts/advice to share about 7th/8th grades in BUSD middle schools.  I'm brand new to thinking about public school in general and don't know what to expect at all.  I don't even know if she would have academic issues because she has never done Common Core Math, etc....?

    Thank you in advance for any help you can provide!

    Our daughter started at King halfway through 7th grade due to a move, going from a fancy school that was smaller and calmer. She adjusted very well - there are tons of kids coming and going during the various years - kids of professors in town for only a year, etc. It is a large school but there aren't the same kind of restrictive cliques that formed in her old school; it seems everyone can find friends, and there are no norms you have to conform to. Depending on your attitude toward education you might find it moves more slowly and teaching is less uniformly good than in the best schools in elite districts, but our experience has been that by 7th grade kids are finding their own motivation and level, and the environment is stimulating and the quality is good. 

  • King middle school homework and academics

    (4 replies)

    My daughter is in 7th grade at King. I am surprised by how little homework (close to none) she has each night and how little school work she ever has to show. My daughter is bright and academically motivated, although probably not particularly gifted. Am I crazy to think the academics at King are lacking?I have seen almost no writing, minimal math and very little science since the year started. She is getting top grades in her classes so I know she is completing her assignments. 

     Looking for reassurance. 

    Homework is supposed to be an extension of what's been learned in class and there is research that shows that homework is not necessarily good for kids, especially too much of it. Since its the beginning of the year some teachers may still be reviewing last year or setting kids up for the routines they may be working on this year. There may be more homework coming or her teachers may take the "less is better" approach. As far as class work coming home- CA has adopted the Common Core state standards which focus on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Learning in the 21st century is about having deep conversations about topics/issues/problems and understanding them conceptually and being able to share and explain your thinking with others, solving problems in different ways using different strategies, etc. Its about going deeper to gain knowledge not just filling out a worksheet or knowing an algorithm. This may be the reason work isn't coming home. Teachers don't really teach with worksheets anymore. If you go to your daughter's classes ask to see some of the work she's doing in class. You may see different kinds of journals for  writing, math, reading.. you will probably see graphic organizers which are just a way to organize your thinking about different ideas. She's probably having alot of small group, partner, and whole class discussions (hopefully). this type of learning does not translate to papers coming home in a backpack. 

    I have an 8th grader at King and she had almost no homework last year. Even less than in 6th grade (which was even less than in 5th grade). I am not a fan of homework, so this aspect would not have bothered me had she been really engaged and challenged during the school day. Unfortunately she wasn't. 7th grade was really hard, and the academics (or lack thereof) were a big part of it. I know some of it was the mix of teachers she got because some of her friends had more interesting things they were working on. This year seems better already, though homework is still minimal. I still think she should have to work a bit harder for those 4s, but then again it's just middle school ;) 

    The new style is "no homework." I doubt you can change the minds of the teachers. I would make sure that at least my kids were reading and writing every day. Read books together and discuss them. It can be books about anything: politics, history, art, novels, science, biography. And writing every day. Maybe a sort of diary on a subject that interests her like clothes or makeup or sports. 

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Our older child went to King, had a great time, went on to BHS and then Cal. Our younger child was distracted by the somewhat chaotic atmosphere at King - somewhat the students but even more so the teachers, as she had subs constantly. She went to a small private school and loved that, then on to BHS, which she's thriving in. So it's child-dependent. Regarding peer pressure and behavior - the private school was worse - kids with privilege seem to misbehave more. Vaping in school, smoking weed, all of that. But it was all avoidable; she never got involved and had a very supportive friend group and involved teachers.

If it’s going great, I would not switch schools. I have an 8th grader at King. It’s been fine for him, but it was not fine for my daughter. She hated it. I would see no point in moving my child, especially for the last year of middle school, if things are currently going well.

I hear you. If you are concerned about those things (and your child’s school has managed to keep social media, etc. in check so far), I would not recommend King. Students there are exposed to a lot early, and almost all of them have phones. Issues about social media use are inevitable and there are of course many pros and cons to the increased exposure to life’s realities, which kids do need to learn and know how to manage, but the questions are when and how. If I were to do it again, I would have chosen private for middle school, and public for high school. My two cents.

This is a great question. The experience at King vs a smaller private middle school will be vastly different. And I'll say that the choice really depends on your child. My daughter went to King, then Berkeley High and then a large UC and thrived at each school. Knowing what we knew about King, we didn't send our son there. He instead went to a great all-boys school in Berkeley (East Bay School for Boys) that focuses on teaching the whole child, maker culture, self-advocacy where he would be seen and held to account, among other things. Both are good schools. But not the best options for each of our kids. (And a side note, one of my son's classmates decided that after a year at EBSB he wanted a bigger pool, and transferred to King.) Good luck to you.

I know you asked about private schools, but FWIW, King Middle School in Berkeley is getting ready to return to in-person instruction (tentative date, Mon 4/12), and they have a strong SpED department with special attention to dyslexia (grade level teachers and instructional aides with special training, running small groups) - I believe they are using Wilson Language Training, if that helps.

Try to get your child into King Middle School!  Having been a happy King parent (and still a King volunteer), I can honestly state that King offers the kind of education -- and support -- for which many parents across the country pay thousands of dollars per year.  Frankly, all three public schools in Berkeley are so good that I don't see any reason for any Berkeley adolescent to attend a private school (unless it's a religious one).

If you don't live in Berkeley, try for an inter-district transfer. Good luck!

You might in your considerations give thought to the importance (or lack thereof) of academic acceleration in middle school. These years are so much about social development, and where it feels happy counts for a lot. Not sure if you have older children, but as the parents of highly-academically successful kids, our experience was that what happens in middle school is not going to make or break your child's academic trajectory. Our oldest child did the private route and our youngest went to King. King was by far a more rich learning experience overall and there are consistently wonderful teachers there. Overall, King was the happiest school experience either of our children had at any level. All the BHS middle schools do a great job of making 6th grade still feel safe and "small". So, not judging or critical of your process - just suggesting that if you are "huge public school advocates", to be open to the possibility they do serve your needs for these years.

RE: School for "nerdy" boy? ()

Hi there,

I'm SO sad to hear that your son is going through this. Which school is he at? I have a nerdy kid at King in 6th grade and was just thinking about what a great place it has been for her and her nerdy friends (boys and girls). If he's at King, PM me and maybe we can strategize ways to get him hooked into her group of sweet friends. Has he tried the different clubs and after school activities? My daughter does organized activities most days at lunch and does several after school classes with like-minded kids. It seems to me no matter which school a kid is at the important thing is to find some supportive friends to navigate the mine fields together.

RE: School for "nerdy" boy? ()

As the parent of two "nerdy" boys who survived middle school bullying--one thriving at Princeton and one pursuing his artistic passion successfully--I want to say that your son sounds like a wonderful person who will be appreciated and valued as a friend and human being and have a satisfying life beyond eighth grade.

But the truth is, middle school is where bullies rule, and you owe it to him to do what you can to reduce the stress and toxic environment. One option is private school. East Bay School for Boys is well-regarded in terms of being sensitive to social issues. Some of the other private schools have bullying issues, but may be more responsive to concerns when problems occur.

A friend's child was seriously bullied at King Middle School and the teachers and counselor didn't really do anything until the family said they would pull him out and file a grievance. Then the intervention picked up, the bullies were dealt with by the school, and the problem was solved to the point the student stayed for three years. Families in BUSD hesitate to file a grievance and kids certainly shy away from attention, but the truth is, this is the only way sometimes that the intervention procedures can be activated. It's good for our kids to see how they can stand up for themselves, and it's good for the bullies to be called on their behavior. You might talk to the counselor asap and say this is serious, something must be done or you will file a grievance, which by the way is not a mean, personal whine, but part of the district process to be taken seriously. This isn't the jungle, the adults at the school know better and we need to hold them to their public avowal of a safe environment for all students. Outside counseling might help, too, because bullies do inflict harm that deserves support and understanding. I hope your son finds a place where he can be himself and feel safe very soon!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Recommendations and Advice Related Pages

2010 - 2015 Recommendations

In the Willard zone, wanting to get in to King

Oct 2015

Does anybody have any success stories about getting into King from the Willard zone after being on the waiting list? My son is devastated at the idea of having all of his friends go to a different middle school while he starts a new one without knowing anybody. Thanks

 Hi there, I do know of a couple kids who made it into King through the waiting list. My daughter goes to King. I would really encourage you to give Willard a chance though.... King is SO big, I almost wish we had been assigned to Willard, even though King is close to us and a lot of my daughter's friends go there. It's been pretty daunting. And this year, in 7th grade, since it is so huge she doesn't really know many of the kids in her classes. With more than 300 kids in each grade, that's how it goes. There are so many new friendships made in the first year of middle school.... and in a smaller school, I imagine that they are even easier to foster. I bet your child will be just fine. MiddleSchoolMom

While I don't have advice about the King waiting list, I must say that many kids may be telling your child that they are going to King, when in fact they are zoned for Willard. Many kids just don't know. The same thing happened to my daughter, who was in a school very close to King, so most of the kids talked about going to King, but when the letters came out in the spring, MANY kids were surprised they were going to Willard! Also, my other daughter went to Longfellow, and started in 6th grade with NONE of her close 5th grade friends. HOWEVER, as the year moved on, she made some very close friends, and is still very close to them at Berkeley High. With the bigger pool of kids in middle school, your son will find his niche... Kids LOVED Longfellow & Willard!

Hi, I have experience being exactly in your shoes when my now-8th grader at Willard was a 5th grader. Every single friend from school was going to King, and we did not get in off the wait list. It was fine!! Within a day or so at Willard he'd met some kids, within a few weeks he had real friends, he discovered there were familiar faces around from non-school classes and activities, plus kids from elementary school who hadn't been ''friends'' but were acquaintemces. He kept up friendships with the best of his elementary school friends and guess what-- all those guys who went to King didn't stay tight, they made new friends and were in new groups etc anyway. Now a big time 8th grader, my son is happy to have gone to Willard-- it's smaller, a big plus, and now he knows kids from more than one school and will have a lot of friends on that first day of BHS next year. My main point: middle school is a time of transition for everyone, no matter what school you're at, no matter what friends you do or don't have around you. Support your son in meeting this challenge-- have the new friends over, keep connected to the old gang, etc. He'll be ok!! happy Willard mom

Hello - I'm a parent of a current Willard 6th grader who was devastated not to be admitted to King. I had one child go through Longfellow already, who had a great experience there, and I feel even more positive about Willard, so of course it's frustrating that my younger son was so single-minded about wanting to go to King. According to BUSD and to word on the street, students who aren't in the King zone aren't admitted, period. Consequently I didn't even try it. School leaders have shared with us that it can take the first three months for students' social life so we're just trying to be patient, and planning playdates with his old friends on the weekends. He recently reported to me that he has two new friends at school. I'm thrilled with all his teachers and I like the administration, so I hope he learns to love it. Just sign me as: So tired of the King mystique

My son was one of 5 very close friends at his elementary school, but when middle school happened, they ended up at 3 different schools. My son and the one other boy who went to King stayed friends but they stopped hanging out together, as they soon found other friends with stronger similarities to their changing personalities. That's something I think is common: in elementary school, often kids are friends because they are in the same class, or their parents are friends, or they just end up with each other a lot. At middle school age, they're figuring out more about themselves as individuals, and finding like-minded friends on their own. We liked King a lot, but our friends at Willard really liked their experience as well, and they also made a great bunch of new friends. Give it a chance - he'll probably find good friends soon. -jmf

Bullying at King?

July 2015

Dear King parents,
We're considering moving our son from private school to King for the 8th grade. Most of you have had wonderful things to say about King. The only negative thing I've heard is that there's a lot of bullying. Two separate sets of parents used that word. Any experience with bullying? What might these two parents be talking about? Physical? Social?
Many thanks, Elisa

In our family's experience, bullying was a problem for our oldest son, who graduated five years ago. He is artsy, very creative and was pretty socially awkward. He had a rough time socially the first two years, though he did eventually find his people. When a group of boys jumped him in seventh grade, the school administration responded well, providing counseling, and worked with all the kids involved so that our kid felt safer and supported. He had terrific teachers thru out his time at King, and he had great relationships with them. Eighth grade was pretty good for him. And now, he has good memories of King.

Our youngest son is at King now. He is a talented athlete and good student. He's also a nice kid. He has had zero social problems, and says he has never noticed bullying at King. So, I think much depends on your kid's personality. It's a very good school. It's not perfect. And the teachers are mostly very good to excellent. Alison

King has transitioned a lot in the past few years, from what I understand. The administration for 4 years has been led by a very proactive, concerned principal, who takes any kind of social misbehavior very seriously. My son, just finishing 8th grade, is an introverted, sensitive kid who really doesn't like negative confrontation. In his experience, the worst it's been at King has been the noisy, pushy behavior that happens between classes when kids are trying to get stuff from their lockers. There's always been a small group of very loud and physical boys, who slam their way through the halls until the monitor gets on them about it, but it doesn't appear to ever have been directed maliciously at anyone. I hear less about the girl dynamic, but my son has said that the hardest thing about their groups is when they hang out talking in front of their lockers and make it hard for a quiet kid to get to his own locker. But that's it. The grounds are so big, there's a place for everyone, and the student body is so big, there's a cohort for everyone. My son and his nerdy friends are left to themselves, just like the other little social groups are, because there's staff everywhere, and no tolerance for bullying. At least that's been his experience for 3 years. ---now let's see how BHS is!

Theatre Arts at MLK Middle School vs. OSA?

May 2015

Our daughter has a passion for acting and is slated to attend MLK Middle School in Berkeley the year after next. We would love to learn more about the Theatre program at MLK. We have also been hearing about The Oakland School for The Arts and are considering that as an alternative. Any thoughts? Curious Mom

Even though my own child is not interested in it, my job is in theater, so I took a close look when we started at King. The teacher, Mr. Silberg, is passionate and professional, and garners a lot of devotion from the students. All 6th graders take his drama class for a quarter, and even my son [who I think refuses to do any theater on his own because it’s a good way to rebel against his theater loving parents] loved the class. I really respected the stuff they did in that class too; it wasn’t just a bunch of touchy-feely improv. My son came home every day with a new quote from Shakespeare, and he could tell me what it meant and why it was still of value today. Mr. Silberg also teaches a popular afterschool drama class, as well as a full year elective open to 7th and 8th graders. Those students take part in the performances, one of which is a well-developed student-devised work performed in the Spring. I’ve been very impressed with all aspects of those productions. They don’t do much in the way of scenery, but they don’t really need it. It seems to be a pretty good program.

Editor Note: a review for OSA was also received

Dec 2014

RE: BUSD Middle Schools

My son graduated from King last year and it was probably the best possible middle school experience he could have had. We loved the King community, even though it's a big school the principal makes a point of getting to know each child by name and greeting them at the front entrance. My son had mostly wonderful teachers all 3 years. I feel like staff really go the extra mile to ensure kids don't fall through the cracks. The cooking program and Edible Schoolyard that are part of the curriculum each year are both amazing and unique. My son learned how to tend a garden,grow vegetables and cook!

Zero period (before school) is open to anyone. Music programs, Jazz Band, chorus, drama and a few others are only offered zero period. It's early (7am?) , too early for my son so he never participated, but many kids do. The Kind Jazz Ensemble is pretty amazing if your kid plays music.

After-school care is well run and there are too many activities offered to list. Kids choose the activities they want to sign up for each quarter (there are dozens). The school encourages every kid to participate in the afterschool program at least a few days a week. It's a great place for kids to hang out with friends in a supervised environment, explore new interests and get academic support and tutoring if needed. They do offer homework help and the library is well stocked. There are also plenty of after-school sports to choose from in addition to the regular after-school programs and clubs. The program is very affordable and cost is based on family income.

King worked surprisingly well for my quiet, introverted kid who previously disliked school and had few friends. A lot of attention is paid to socio-emotional wellbeing and they have a strong anti-bullying curriculum. Kids learn early and often the importance of standing up for what's right and having a voice.

I know how scary middle school can be for us parents but it was SO much better than I imagined. I especially liked that the 6th graders are somewhat separated from the rest of school. There is a big difference between an 11 year old ''kid'' and 14 year old teenager! They have different lunch periods, separate entrances for the 6th grade buildings and more supervision/handholding. It was a nice, easy transition from elementary school.
Happy King alum

Pros and Cons of King Middle School

May 2014

What are the big pros and cons of King Middle School? How are the academics? Are kids ''known'' by their teachers? Are kids under significant peer pressure to grow up too fast? Are the kids happy? What is the social scene like - inclusive, cliquish, overwhelming, etc? Thank you!
Hopefully a future king family

Our child is finishing up her first year at King. It has been a phenomenal experience so far. She has been challenged and her teachers have been unbelievably fantastic. She is definitely ''known'' by her teachers. All of my friends with kids there are also raving about it. They do an exceptional job helping ease 6th graders into the school.

I've yet to see any peer pressure, but she is only in 6th grade. There are such fantastic kids there that it seems like they are able to find a broad range of friends. And I love the diversity -- you can find nothing like it in private school -- or even many other public schools for that matter. The kids look happy to me. She speaks about a group of ''popular'' kids -- but kind of tongue and cheek and she doesn't feel excluded by it.

I honestly can't believe it is a middle school -- she is thriving and completely inspired. The only thing that I think could make it even better for her is if there were a few more long term projects. The homework has been extremely light (which I don't mind at all!) but it doesn't seem like they really dig their teeth in like she did in 5th grade. I've heard that they make the academics light the first year to help with the big transition, which I think is smart.

I would strongly consider it! king parent

I have two students at King Middle School in Berkeley. It is great and I hear the other two public middle schools in Berkeley are strong too. You wanted to know if academics are good. I have found academics to be strong for the most part. Many teachers are very good. Some are amazing and a few were not preferred by my students, but isn't that how it is at most schools? Students connect well with some teachers and not as well with others. Regardless, the teachers know who the students are and are responsive to emails and will meet with parents if you ask. I have found the principal and the counselor a to be great resources. Are students under pressure to grow up fast? I suppose some might be but my kids do not feel that pressure at King. The school educates the kids about drugs and sex ('social living' class) which probably complements what you talk with them about at home. Kids know what other kids might be doing around berkeley but it does not mean they feel pressured to do the same. The counselors are there for them to speak with if they need to. As far as cliques, I would say there are lots of different groups that overlap to some degree. Some kids navigate middle school quietly and some loudly. Kids seem to be tolerant of others for the most part and no one is specifically thought to be top of the heap. There are enough kids that you can find a niche. My kids love it - not absolutely everything about it, but they love being there A King Parent

King has been a very good school for our 7th grade son. Leadership is strong, positive and visible, which is important, especially in a school so huge. I'll get the 'con' out of the way quickly: King is huge, with over 900 kids on an enormous campus. Our kid doesn't seem to care much, but it's been a challenge for me to figure out how best to help out, and how to form a community with the other parents. [It was so easy in elementary school!]

Despite the size, the kids are known, not only by their teachers, but by the grade-specific vice principals and many counselors, and even by the principal. We have a very shy, quiet child, who has always disliked being the center of attention, so he avoids speaking up as much as possible. And yet his teachers not only know him, they care about him. Two of them in particular have been very active in helping him find comfortable ways to engage more in class. And they all have been extremely willing to meet and communicate with us, which has been great.

Academics have been great from our point of view, which I mostly attribute to the teachers. Our son has had several excellent teachers, with just a couple who were less than stellar. The new standards bring a different style to some of the classes, but so far only the changes in math have really presented a struggle for our family. Science, computer, and history have been especially engaging classes for the boy this year; the material we've seen has been interesting and really well presented.

As for the students, you ask about cliques, peer pressure, and general happiness. As I mentioned, we have a shy boy who gives little thought to his wardrobe or appearance, and goes happily off to school with track pants that are 3 inches too short, and a giant head of tangled hair. I'm pretty sure he's not getting a lot of peer pressure to 'grow up too fast'. He seems to be very OK with himself just as he is. We were worried that he would be lost, wouldn't meet friends, and would feel completely overwhelmed. I guess that was just us. He has never once mentioned feeling overwhelmed or complained of any teasing, and he has a really nice group of friends who run the gamut from total geek to total babe. The student body is so big that any kid can find friends, even my shy guy. There doesn't seem to be a big 'cliquish' thing really. I'm sure that they exist, as it's middle school, but maybe because the school is so big, they just aren't a big deal for many kids.

---BUSD parent

Middle School options after private school

April 2014

Starting to look at middle school options in Albany, Berkeley, maybe Oakland? If you have any thoughts on these public middle schools, please respond. My child is currently in private school and we want to switch to public middle. His strengths are math, science, and music. Very active but not in sports (maybe swimming or track). He needs extra help with written output, but is improving. He would benefit from a structured environment with some social-emotional support. Any impression on how a child's individual needs are attended to, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each school would be appreciated! Worried

If you do not live in berkeley it is very unlikely that you could get into king MS. It is at capacity. That being said, it is a great middle school - as are Longfellow and Willard. We like most of the math teachers. All are switching to common core. Science is fine. Strong garden and kitchen are integrated into curriculum (At king these are funded by a foundation and programs are expected continue). Berkeley schools have one shared music department. At middle schools music is offered at zero period beginning at 7:45 am. Band teachers are good. At king they have 3 levels of band, two levels for string, chorus and after school have jazz band and also modern music. They have an active cross country program in the fall and track in the spring and a newly surfaced track. Some students go do swimming after school with city of berkeley at the adjacent king pool.

My student's humanities teachers have been very supportive when approached for special assistance for my student. The teachers generally communicate well by email and in person.. The counselors a are excellent. School is big enough that kids can easily find a niche. Lots of different kids with different interests and styles and seems to work well. It is a big school with lots of programs and it somehow feels homey. I understand the two other Berkeley middle schools are similar, but smaller.

Our child is at King, having come from a smaller BUSD elementary school. You will certainly hear a lot about King athletics [and it does have a really great program], but it's a great school for non-sports kids as well. The after school program is filled with options -- you can see most of the current choices on the website. Their music program is very well supported, and is attended by about half the kids at the school. It is offered in zero period before school, and in a few more programs after school. There is a lot to choose from.

As for how our son's academic needs have been met, we have been [for the most part] quite pleasantly surprised. He hasn't had a lot of homework [yay], but what he does have is mostly interesting -- no busy-work. His classes are well taught and most projects have been engaging; in particular, his science and computer classes are favorites.

He did begin falling behind a bit this year; he would forget to turn things in, forget to write down homework assignments, and just generally forget to pay attention. He can be very distracted and is very disorganized, and it caught up to him in the more independent 7th grade. We discussed it with his teachers and most of them have been great. They have welcomed communication with us, have been very good about emailing or phoning, and have been trying very hard to help him through this tricky period. Some of them have really accommodated him: they've been open about accepting his work late, set up post-class meetings with him, offered lunchtime/advisory help sessions, and more. We've been very pleased with how attentive they've been with our one student among so many that they teach.

King's strengths are in its terrific teachers and staff, in the beautiful grounds, garden & kitchen, and in the truly diverse and sincerely nice kids -- at least the ones I've met through the boy and while volunteering. The school has a stellar counseling staff, who, like the vice-principals, are assigned per grade so that they can learn their students and stick with them for all three years. Its weaknesses include the size of the student body, which can make it tough to feel like a community - especially after being at a small elementary school. We came from a preschool and an elementary where parents were extremely involved and constantly present. I know every middle school has somewhat of a parent-community decline, but it still feels weird to me. Another weakness is in the basic public school fact of standardized testing. My kid isn't bothered by them, and I don't think the teaching suffers [I've not yet seen one who ''teaches to the test''], but it still feels bureaucratic somehow, which bothers me. They may not be much of a problem for us, but I'm also not sure how useful it is to dedicate every morning for a week to them.

If you have the option to choose among the schools you listed, it seems like you'll do pretty well no matter where you end up. jmf

King Middle School after Prospect Sierra

Dec 2013

I am wondering if anyone could give me insight into how well their child fared at King MIddle School in Berkeley after being at Prospect Sierra (or any private K-5 elementary school). How was the transition academically and socially? Thinking Ahead

I know our experience isn't exactly what the original poster was hoping for, when asking about King after P.S., but since there were no replies at all, I wanted to chime in a bit about our now 7th grade son's experience after attending a small public school in Berkeley. He arrived there with only one good friend [his other friends went to Willard and private], and we worried a lot about how he would do, as he's extremely introverted and doesn't have an easy time meeting people. He has since made some great new friends, has been challenged academically, has had mostly excellent teachers [who have been good communicators with us], and has had many opportunities for non-academic experiences.

I've spent some time over there [volunteering and field trips] and, at least among his peers and the students I've worked with, I've been impressed by how nice and respectful the kids are. It's still pretty loud in the halls when they're switching classes, and at that age, you can't avoid the occasional bad language. But our son has had only positive experiences with the other kids, and he hasn't witnessed any bullying or fights. The principal has got to be the best around. She is amazing. The kids all know her and respect her, she really likes them, and she has earned an enormous amount of respect from the parents. She and her staff work exceptionally hard at making the school a positive place, with an emphasis on a community environment.

The rest of the good stuff about King, like the kitchen and garden programs, the beautiful facility, the strong counseling staff, and the excellent after school program are all things anyone can hear about on the tours, and read about on the website:

It's working well for our family. And it's been interesting to talk with the parents of my son's friends who are at the other schools, both public and private, and find that their experiences are very similar to ours. We are lucky to have so many great options here in Berkeley. Good luck with your decision! -jmf

Sports at King

March 2012

My son has played soccer on a local rec. team for the past couple of years. We've not been thrilled with the experience and are hoping he will be able to join the soccer team at King Middle School when he starts next year. He enjoys soccer (as a sport but also for the team atmosphere and friendships) and plays rather competently. But he also has other interests and while he enjoys the competition, we're not looking for a super-competitive environment. Any impressions on how competitive the tryouts are at King, and possible advice as to best prepare for it? Not quite a soccer mom

I have a daugter at king middle school who plays sports. I do not know specifically about soccer, but typically in 6th grade, anyone who wants to join a team can. So this should be a great fit for your son. It is also a great way to get to meet other students at the school.

In the spring, your son might be interested in ultimate frisbee, too. The coach is great, the sense of the field is similar to soccer, and it is a very supportive environment. The cross county and track coach is also great and very flexible.

For sports at king middle school, you will need to have your student's doctor fill out a form (get it in beginnign of the year at the school) and pay the afterschool program fee. Right now it is about $100 per month, and less for families with lower income. Very affordable. After school offers a bunch af classes, too.

The city- run swim program is at the pool next to the school. It is swim workout. No meets. Kids can do it one to five daysa week. Practices go from 4 to 5:30. Check the pool for rates. Welcome to King! It is a great place. My student loves it. Go Cobras! A king middles school parent

My son played soccer at King about 5 years ago and it was a pretty relaxed environment. Middle school soccer is coed and usually coached by parents so it is very similar to rec league soccer. I think fewer than half the kids came from Class I teams and most came from rec league or Class III. --Former soccer mom

Jan 2012

Re: Your Impressions of Berkeley Public Middle Schools
I have experience with King. My kids love it. They have had some excellent teachers. The sports program is strong. The edible school yard garden and kitchen are wonderful. One kid loves the afterschool sewing/knitting/beading classes. It is near the soon to be reopened north berkeley library. The food is good. It is the largest of the 3. It has a strong drama program afterschool for 7th & 8th graders. Before school music is well attended. Willard parents have told me that they like the school well. Hopefully a parent will respond. Longfellow is also as strong as the other two. Some of each grade are continuing dual spanish-english classes for core subjects. Hopefully you will hear from these parents too. Probably does not help you make your decision, but at least they are all a good choice! BUSD mom

Jan 2012

Re: Where does your middle-schooler go to school?
All three of my kids went to MLK Middle School in Berkeley and loved it. They got good academic preparation for Berkeley High, made lots of friends, and participated in after school activities. There is a lot going on at King for lots of different types of kids. Check it out. happy in BUSD

March 2011

Re: Worried about homework in Berkeley middle schools
My 3 kids all went to King and found the homework load to be very reasonable. All three played sports at King and also did extra-curriculars outside of school, and never seemed panicky or stressed about the amount of homework they had. The teachers make sure that larger writing assignments and projects are well scaffolded and broken down into ''chunks'' so kids can work on them one step at a time. My kids are all fairly organized and that probably helps, but the load did not seem unreasonable at all. --Happy MLK family

My son is a 7th grader at King, attended a BUSD elementary school prior to King. The amount of homework at King varies by teacher, but in general, starting in seventh grade, the kids have different teachers for different subjects, so the weekly homework workload is not necessarily coordinated among teachers (my son might have a history project and math test due the same day, for instance). In general, teachers at King are very good about giving feedback in terms of a student's work habits and progress in class.

Each student is given a wire-bound ''academic organizer'' from sixth grade on, and I find that my son has to be very organized to stay on top of his homework--and he's an organized, conscientious student as it is. I have more concerns about how his more scattered, dreamy younger brother, who may follow him to King in a few years, would handle the workload there.

The students at King are certainly not coddled. If anything, if they are able to keep up with the workload at King, they will be well-prepared for the rigors of high school and college.

Yes, I did see ''Road to Nowhere,'' BTW. King parent

Feb 2011

Re: Longfellow vs. Willard
I'm not sure about Longfellow vs. Willard; but I can speak to the Longfellow vs. King question. My child had a hard time socially at King, particularly in 6th grade; while her friends who went to Longfellow had an easier time forming cohesive friendship groups. Most of her current friends are friends who went to Longfellow, though things are much more socially open at BHS. Academically, I would probably choose King again, but the social ''scene'' was very rough for a smart, shy, self-conscious child (lots of teasing about being ''smart''; though I wonder if other kids were teased about other differences). What is unclear to me is how much of this is middle school (friends with children in the private schools have spoken of similar problems), how much of this was the specific school, and how much of it was the child (who is thriving in high school). anon

Jan 2011

Re: King in Berkeley vs Portola
The 6th graders at King, where my student goes, are well buffeted from the rest of the school and spend their whole day with the same classroom-group of kids. The group moves from class to class together as a clump. Everyone, pretty much, stays in the 6th grade wing. We think King is great, with good afterschool class opportunities and great sports and perfomring arts. Anon

Feb 2010

Re: Moving to Berkeley Summer 2010 - middle schools?
I've had experience of both King and Willard Middle schools in Berkeley - and both those experiences were good. My daughter was in 7th grade when we moved and thrived at King, loved the big size and the demanding teaching. My son went to Willard because we had moved closer to there, and also thrived, made great friends and was well prepared for high school. Willard is much smaller than King and he liked that he knew everybody. There are certain programs at King (such as dance, jazz band and French) that are not offered at Willard and the facilities are bigger, but as there are more kids and my son was only interested in sports, it basically balanced out. On the other hand, I found the King administration more intimidating to deal with, although I believe this has improved at both schools. I'm currently working with some Willard teachers on starting a chorus program, and have been highly impressed by their enthusiasm, energy, and dedication. Fiona

Band vs. Orchestra at King

Jan 2010

My daughter probably will be starting at King Middle School in the fall. She is coming from a private school and does not yet play a musical instrument. We would like to take advantage of King's great music program, so plan to start her in private music lessons so that she can join either the orchestra or the band in the fall. My daughter wants to try either viola, which would put her in the orchestra, or clarinet, which would put her in the band. Since she is open to either, I was wondering if I should try to nudge her in one direction or the other. Is one teacher better than the other, especially for a new student? Is the band vs orchestra experience at King significantly different? Any insight greatly appreciated. ready to play

That's an excellent idea to get your daughter private lessons before she starts in the band or orchestra. A good way to find out if she will like the clarinet is to try playing one, or get a comb and paper to mimic the ''buzzing'' feeling of the reed in the mouth. Some kids like it, some kids don't. A viola is best for a perfectionist rather than a ''near enough is good enough'' kid - because they have to get the notes exactly right from the start. A clarinet has keys for the notes, but requires a good amount of breath (eg I played the flute but often had trouble with my asthma). King also has a chorus which is an option for a non-instrumental kid. Also, listen to various types of music, plus watching the school concerts live or on you-tube, to get a feel for the type of music she's going to like. Fiona

As the orchestra director at King I can answer your question. At King there is a 6th grade band, a 7th/8th gr. band, and the orchestra, which includes all 3 grades. While none of the above groups is small enough to afford individual or even small group instruction for students, you might consider several things in your decision re. which instrument to choose. Does your daughter have any prior musical training? Can she read music and rhythms? If her musical knowledge is low or nonexistent, then you might opt for the less complicated (for beginners) instrument, the clarinet. A stringed instrument demands intricate coordination and reads a different clef than piano or recorder. However, it is possible to learn viola (or clarinet) well enough in the remaining school year plus summer to reach the level of other 6th graders who have had 2 years of group instruction in the Berkeley schools.

At King we provide the kids with instruments, but until then she would have to rent one. A and G, Oakland, and Forrest music, Berkeley, rent wind instruments and can recommend teachers. Ifshin violins in El Cerrito would be the place to rent a viola, and they will size it appropriately to your child.

All that being said, we also have a fun chorus at King, which is quite popular with its students. Good luck, and feel free to contact me off-list with more questions: madeline_prager [at]

You can come through the west gate and visit music classes any day from 7:45 - 8:30 a.m..
Madeline Prager King Orchestra Director

I know a lot of children and parents who are very happy with band. The teacher seems to be having a great time with the kids, and they play fun, upbeat music. I know the teacher from having her daughter in my child's class several years too, and she is a super nice person, good with the kids and seems to have great values and a good way to transmit them. happy mom of child in music at King

In response to King band vs orchestra question, here is a response from friend who is a BUSD music teacher: Both band and orchestra have strong teachers. Orchestra consists of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. There are two bands: 6th grade band, and 7th/8th grade Concert Band. Each group is approximately 50 members strong. Most of the students have come through the BUSD music program, which means that they started their instruments in 4th grade. If your daughter starts an instrument at King, she should have private lessons until she feels that she can play at grade level with the other students. Otherwise, with the size and varied instrumentation of each group, she won't get the individual attention she'll need to get started. Also, in choosing band or orchestra, you should consider the style of music that your daughter gravitates to. Orchestra primarily play orchestral pieces with occasional transcriptions of jazz or pop tunes. Band plays wind ensemble music, along with pep band tunes, eg. jazz, rock. Good luck! BUSD parent of happy musician

2005 - 2009 Recommendations

Soccer at King

Nov 2009

My son will be starting at King Middle School next year as a sixth grader, and is interested in joining the soccer team there. He has played on his Mersey soccer team since first grade, now in class III. I would love any feedback opn the King soccer team. How is the coach? Does he yell/intimidate the children or is he supportive emotionally? Is he skillful in developing players' soccer skills? How is the skill level of the team? And when are practices and games? On a sideline, he also has an IEP because of dyslexia, so weekday games may be hard (with Mersey all games are weekend). soccer mom

I have two soccer boys, one just graduated from King and one is still there. The soccer team is relaxed and friendly. It's co-ed. The coaches and quite frankly everyone involved with sports at King are just delightful people. There is good training but it's not as intense as league soccer (my boys have played Mavericks or class III). King is an extremeley friendly and positive school. I think your son will be happy playing there. The season has just begun. I happen to have the Varsity schedule on my desk! Practices are 3:00 pm 11/4, 11/10, 11/12, 11/19, 11/24, 12/1 12/3 at the track. Stop by and hang out. Games ARE during the week, 11/18 is a game at King, also 12/7 and 12/9. King often wins just by virtue of how large of a school it is - with a big pool of soccer players - so it's fun for them. Ask for Skylar to discuss your son's potential special needs. He runs the afterschool athletics and is a lovely, caring person. Happy King Soccer Mom

March 2009

Re: Returning to Berkeley after 10 yrs - which school?
My 6th grader at King is having a great year. The academics are challenging enough. The school does fine with test scores. Most kids from King are quite well prepared for the rigorous classes at Berkeley High. The school feels fun and safe. Athletics are quite well-run. Swimming afterschool is offered by the City of Berkeley at King Pool, too. There are several kids from Europe who are here in Berkeley for just one year or less while their parents are in town on academic sabatical. They seem to do fine and the American kids seem to enjoy having the new kids around. The kitchen classroom and garden classes are amazing (google ''edible schoolyard''). The new lunch building produces fabulous nutritious lunches that kids love (believe it or not). Seems like the school is big enough for each kid to find others with similar interests. By the way, in Berkeley, many private school kids opt for Berkeley High. The public schools in Berkeley work well for us, and leave us with money left over for travel.

Nov 2008

Re: The low-down on King & Willard Middle Schools
Hi, I taught at Willard last year and my child is a 7th grader at King this year. I think the teachers are equally good at both schools. Willard is in a more urban environment near Ashby, whereas King is in a mostly residential area. My child really likes King and loves the zero period music program. My child is an A student and is in the Honors Math program. They find it fun and challenging and look forward to taking Honors Geometry at BHS next year, in 8th grade. My child says making friends at King is the easy part. Making the right friends in King's diverse community is the hard part. King has lockers. At Willard, you carry your stuff around all day with you. King has a really nice new lunch room with homemade breads, salad bar, soup, etc. As a parent, I feel more at home in the King community. King parent

Regarding MLK only since I have no experience with Willard: my kids had both great and terrible teachers there, they thrived in the sports programs, and made lots of friends. King has lots of extra-curriculars and Jason Lustig, the principal, actually gets to know every single kid in the school by name! There are no special programs for GATE kids in any BUSD schools as the enrichment is allegedly in the classroom via differentiated instruction. I would suggest you visit both schools, see some 8th grade classes, hang out at lunch time, think of questions you want to ask, and meet with an administrator at each site. --MLK mama

Nov 2008

I have a 5th grader who is in a public elementary school, and I'm wondering whether people have comments on King -- does it work for most kids? My child can get easily distracted, though this year seems more academically focused, in part because of a great teacher. I hear King has great teachers, but that classroom management is a challenge and a lot of time is wasted on just trying to get kids to focus. How are the academics? Do you have to be really self-motivated and organized to succeed?

I also wonder about the social dynamics -- do kids get enough adult attention/support/guidance to address the social issues that come up at this age? Is it easy for a child to just get lost in the mix of so many kids?

Thank you for any insights! anon

I have a 6th grader at King who was at a Berkeley Public school for K - 5. I am very impressed with the academic organization method they are using at King. Evey 6th grade (and probably olkder grades, too) got a spiral notebook from Franklin-Covey that was printed specifically for King. The notebook is a planner with a place for assignments. The kids are taught to write down their assignments for each subject each day, and the parents are supposed to initial each day after their kid finishes homework. The planners go in a 3 ring binder that each kid brings to school. Handouts are kept in the binder. A lot of attention is given to setting up this system at the beginning of the year. Students who are less organized are helped greatly by this system.

In my kids class, there is a wide range of skills and abilities, but the teachers are fabulous at working with the kids and there is an aide in the class to help the kids with challenges. The principal, vice principals, counselors and special ed. teachers seem to work quite well as a team.

When I felt my kid needed more specific attention on an academic item, it was easy to communicate with my kid's teacher by email, and then in person, and get the item resolved. Lots of teachers there said that when they were getting a credential, King was the school they dreamed of working at some day, and now they are sooo glad to be there.

The staff put a lot of energy into helping the 6th graders step up to middle school. All the parents I have spoken with are very happy with their 6th grader's experience at King. I highly recommend it. King Parent

King's a mixed bag, but on balance it has been a good experience for my daughter, who came there from a small progressive private school that was too much of a petri dish of pre-teen social dysfunction. Translation: a lot of mean-girl problems at the private school, despite all sorts of proactive social-emotional education going on. At King, and I think generally at middle school, you can't expect much support for your kid's social interactions. It's their business, they are supposed to manage their relationships, and the teachers are there to teach. However, paradoxically, my daughter has found that the diversity of kids and the larger social pool has made for a much smoother social experience, and I think her emotional growth has been accelerated as a result. But really, it's on the kids at this stage, unless huge problems arise, for which there are counselors available. Fortunately we haven't had to deal with that.

As to's public school. I don't think their main goal is getting kids to Harvard or Yale. There are some great creative teachers, some enhh worn out teachers. All of them well meaning, but, you know, they're dealing with a crazy bureucracy, crazy laws, classes that are larger than they should be, five minute parent teacher conferences, etc. etc.

One nice thing at King is the band program, which has been a strong anchor for my daughter. If your kid is musically inclined, consider it, even though it means getting up at an ungodly hour. The sixth grade band teacher in particular is a bit of a nut, quite demanding, but in retrospect my daughter feels she got a lot out of his program. Hope this all helps a bit. c.s

In response to another replier - Yes the King music program is great and the teachers are very dedicated and some are even really funny.

For the parent who asked about King, the before school music program begins at 7:45 am and goes until 8:30 and then regular classes begin at 8:45. The time slot is called ''sero period'' The kids can take band, orchestra or choir. Sixth graders have their own band. There is also a jazz club that kids can do (whether or not they take morning music). It seems to me that doing music at zero period is a great way for the kids to build a cohort. And it can get them ready for the great music at Berkeley High.

The sports at King are very good, too. And swimming is offered next door at King pool at 4 pm. Anonymous

Oct 2008

would love to hear more recent updates on King Middle School and any changes that have occurred with the new principal. anon

My son has only been at King since the start of the school year, but I have to give the school an A+ at this point. He has skilled, engaged teachers for all subjects (even PE), he's making new friends from all over town, he's excited about the fine new dining commons and is actually buying (and eating!) school lunch.

Academics? Well, the jury is still out. We've been in public school since the beginning, and I have always wished there was more of a challenge. However, there is finally some real history and science (!) and that is keeping him happy. Also, a fine elective called ''What's on your Plate'' for sixth graders is really helping to teach critical thinking, Berkeley-style.

The campus is really beautiful and well cared for. The place has a very good vibe. I like the way the grades are kept separate at lunch and activity time - lessening opportunities for hazing. There are a lot of rules and they seem to be rather strict in enforcing them. The parents are much more engaged than I had expected at such a large middle school.

We have talked several times about the drug/alcohol issue. He says the principal has made at least one announcement about it, and my son has been asking more questions about drugs and drug use (great opportunities for guidance!) I gather there is still a problem with availability nearby and perhaps on campus, so it's something we'll have to watch closely and keep communicating about. The bigger issue I have right now is that there has been a rash of locker break-ins. The boys say there are kids with listening devices that crack the locks. This has them pretty upset.

Even with these problems, I get the impression that my son feels quite safe there, but is aware that there are things he needs to watch for. We have long experience with the principal (from elementary school) and trust him to deal with these issues aggressively. Pleased so far

Sept 2007

Re: Pros and Cons of Berkeley Middle Schools
My 8th grade daughter has had a great experience at MLK Middle School. Middle School Open House took place last week and we were impressed. Other parents I spoke with were similarly upbeat. Some of the highlights: excellent, dedicated teachers, the fabulous Edible Schoolyard and cooking program, and Spring after-school enrichment classes in subjects like architecture, solar cars, dance, and more. The whole academic and social environment at MLK seems a lot more positive than what I experienced in a suburban district where schools were supposedly great. My daughter had one teacher she didn't care for last year, but that individual is no longer at King. One kid said King is ''exciting,'' which is a pretty positive statement coming from a middle schooler. King Parent

Pros: diverse student body, committed, gifted teachers, wide variety of programs and offerings, not cash-strapped. Cons: huge schools! Email me if you'd like more specific info about King middle school in Berkeley. Raissa

July 2006

Re: Best BUSD Middle School?
I have zero experience with any Berkeley Schools. However, I have had a great deal of experience with Bob Whitlow, who will be a 6th grade teacher at MLKing Middle School in the Fall. He has been the much beloved and truly amazing director of Aurora Elementary (an East Bay Independent School) for a great many years and decided he wanted to have his own classroom for a change. Everywhere he goes, he creates an atmosphere of community, tolerance, open-mindedness and creative approaches to learning. If you end up near him, you will be lucky indeed ---Long-time Aurora parent

June 2007

I have a daughter in private elementary school and am considering Martin Luther King for middle school. I've heard some good things about King and plan to check it out. Meanwhile, I would love to hear of parents' experiences with King, good or bad. Is the curriculum challenging? Are classes kept under control? Is the school safe? Is it so big that kids get overwhelmed? What's the social situation like? What do you wish you had known before your child started school there? If you started in private elementary school, how was the transition? Any information--about any of these questions--will be much appreciated. Thanks! Elementary school mom

Our daughter has been very happy at King. Great teachers, lots of new friends. With so many kids from so many schools, everyone gets shuffled around in 6th grade. When she was in 6th grade, only one of her close school friends came from the public elementary she had attended.

The 6th graders have only two core classes--the same teacher teaches English and History, another teacher for Math & Science. They also have PE and various other subjects like art and drama. 6th grade lunch is separate from the 7th/8th graders, which is nice--all in all it is an easy transition from 6th grade. It is only in 7th grade when they have different teachers for every subject. Teachers seem to make a point of providing projects that challenge students.

Another good change from elementary school is the expectation that the kids are responsible for their own homework--starting right away in 6th grade homework assignments are frequently stamped in daily, and if you don't do your homework, it will affect your grade, which many students find motivating. We did need to sign off on her homework once a week, but you will probably find that you will not be nearly as involved in cajoling your student to do their homework.

No middle school is going to have the students sitting like statues in classes, but as far as your questions about classrooms and the schoolyard are concerned, our experiences have been very positive.

A few other comments: The new principal is very well-regarded, having been at Cragmont in Berkeley a number of years. We like the fact that the school is diverse. The Edible Schoolyard (the big garden on campus) is integrated in the science classes--that includes both growing and cooking food. The new, long-awaited, dining commons is expected to be open in the fall, I believe. Good cafeteria food, if your child is willing to nutritious food (salad bar, etc). The Band and Orchestra programs are available to any student. They are ''zero'' period, meaning you have to be there by 7:45am, but are well worth getting up for. The kids learn a lot, and sound great. There are various after-school enrichment classes in the spring--the production of the Odyssey was especially amazing. Various sports teams too. Overall a very good school! Happy King parent

Middle school should be much more than a place for our children to meet with friends or to learn tolerance. King Middle has many shortcomings for a school with so much going for it. There are many great teachers and some outstanding programs, such as garden and kitchen, yet children of all socio-economic and learning abilities have fallen through the cracks. It is our belief that much of this could be due to the fact that King has the highest number of ?reported? incidents of any school in the district, numbers which haven?t include theft since the thieves were to be caught for the incidence to be accepted as a report. King is a large school with approximately 900 students, three vice principals and will fortunately have a strong new principal who is moving up from Cragmont Elementary this fall.

Due to discouraging numbers and classroom disruptions, some believe that attempting to teach to ALL children though differentiated instruction is impossible. As a result it's a wonder BUSD hasn't lost more students to private. Several years ago at district wide meetings the superintendent brought up the subject of the exodus to private, and instead of highlighting improvements in academics or accountability, tolerance became the primary focus. In our house, BUSD?s tolerance rant became a joke as we questioned tolerance of who or what ? Society and varying lifestyles, governing bodies (such as BUSD), mediocrity, lack of accountability, thievery, and/or violence?

The general lack of control of wayward or slacking students (more groups we?re to be tolerant of), and/or the 50% of students who score low or failing on state standards math tests, dictate remedial math as the standard in 6th and 7th grade. Add into the mix CPM (College Prep Math) books utilized by the district, which were linguistically too difficult for most of the lower and middle achieving students to comprehend, and the recipe for low test scores then becomes clearer. We?ll admit achieving students were offered extra work in order to achieve A?s (A work or problem of the week), but we found this was usually without additional class-time instruction. Plus, in middle school there is still no belief in tracking or separating children by ability in any subject until they are in 8th grade math, and even those classes were at risk. Everything is still age or grade based, with no separation based upon maturity or ability. This led our child to wonder if his knowledge or ability was expected to rub off on other students by osmosis, while he was left helping instead of learning.

As it pertains to a previous post by a teacher regarding academic placement in 7th grade honors algebra, we?d like to offer the majority good luck. We found that gaining access for our bright child to the only program for achieving students, honors algebra, was impossible with the previous principal, as placements were limited to less than 3% of the students in the 7th grade. Entry was dependent upon high scores on a variety of specialized tests and the recommendation by their 6th grade teacher. Eleven students out of nearly 300 gained access, the remaining were subject to remedial math. Not very specialized or even-handed when equity has also been touted as a concern.

Alas, according to the district all this is supposed to change this coming year as they are finally making changes to the math program. Please note that parent requests for inclusion in this decision making process were ignored, yet we still have high hopes for progress. Should anyone be interested in the changes to the math program they are available on page 45 of the school board minutes noted below.

Since most kids won't complain about classes being too easy, what we've heard from parents is that everything seems to be ok. That is until parents question curriculum or math placement, or their child is booted out of school for physically defending their person. It also depends upon the personality of your child, whether they are complacent or eager to learn. Question and listen when your child tells you they are bored, the class is too easy, or their grades are slipping. Look at their homework. Sit in on a few classes. Or just sit in your car once the bell has rung to see how many kids walk in late from the store on MLK with sodas or chips in hand. Only then will you understand, as we have, that there is much room for improvement of accountability at King.

Again, I would encourage all parents to get involved, make sure your children are able to finish their homework, but never assume all is well just because there aren?t complaints about school. If you believe your child is under-challenged even district GATE personnel suggest tenacious parent advocacy for a more challenging or differentiated curriculum.

One last note. Before the school year ended an elementary school parent with a friend who teaches at King told me, ''Everything is great at King, the principal only comes into the classroom maybe once or twice a year.'' What I wondered was whether they heard themselves when they made this statement. We're absolutely certain the new principal will be more visible and open to the King community, and gain a grasp on the problems previously faced at King. Looking Forward with Hope

April 2005

Can anyone give me an idea of the comparison between Willard and King middle schools academically? My child has been offered a place at Willard, and I am thinking about asking for King instead - but with not much enthusiasm after the things I have heard. I'm wondering why Berkeley public schools are so poor academically - is everyone who wants a good education for their children sending them to private school? And how can people afford this? It's enough to drive one into teaching... anon, as my frustration is surely not politically correct

Maybe you know something I don't know, but my daughter's had some great teachers, and a good experience over all at King. I've also heard good things about Willard. I would guess that academically they are probably not that different. What is different is the Edible School Yard, which has added a great deal to my daughter's experience at King. The kids love the program. If you do end up asking for King, good luck getting in. King mom

First of all, just about any really candid response to questions like these risk attack by the ''P.C. police'' who are so prevalent in Berkeley. So I proceed with some trepidation. But having put two children through the Berkeley schools and having spent considerable time volunteering in the schools, I believe my experience ''qualifies'' me to have my say on these issues.

What the Berkeley schools have attempted to accomplish is noble, in my opinion. Unlike some other school districts, Berkeley tries hard to render all of the schools within a particular grade level range reasonably similar in terms of ethnic mix and overall quality of teaching staff. I also think that there are a lot of excellent teachers and programs in the schools, and that any child who attends Berkeley schools has the opportunity, at least, to get a good education, *provided there is adequate support within the home environment*.

However, reality intrudes and creates real problems. Most recently, of course, has been the brutal round of budget-cutting that has led to the slashing of programs and the teachers' ''work to rule'' collective action. These things definitely hurt in the classroom.

But the problems in the Berkeley schools are certainly longer-standing than this. The most fundamental problem, as I see it, is that the schools are being asked to accomplish things that are simply unrealistic--most notably, they are expected to transform, single-handedly, the behaviors, attitudes, and achievement levels of disadvantaged children, who comprise a very large percentage of the Berkeley school population (and this proportion is made larger by the large percentage of wealthier parents who have put their children in private schools).

I have come to believe ever more firmly that children's basic orientation toward learning and achievement starts in the home; if they are not truly supported at home to do well in school, the schools will fight an uphill battle to win their hearts and minds and will almost always lose. For whatever reasons historically and sociologically, many (certainly not all) parents in disadvantaged neighborhoods apparently are not able to support their children sufficiently in this way. Whether it's because of hostility, lack of confidence, being too busy and overwhelmed, or whatever, too many parents simply do not and perhaps cannot provide the support their children need to do well in school. While volunteering in the schools I saw that by the fourth grade, far too many children apparently had already made some kind of internal decision that achieving in school is ''not their thing.'' And it gets worse later on.

The result here is that teachers are trying to cope with classrooms including too many children who are largely tuned out from learning and achieving. Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time volunteering in the schools knows that a few disruptive children can affect negatively an entire classroom and drive an otherwise conscientious teacher crazy. Almost every day my eighth grader at Willard comes home and tells me about the disrespectful and downright mean things that some students routinely say to teachers, how some kids apparently pride themselves on how often they are given detention or are otherwise disciplined, how so many students virtually never do their homework and don't seem to care, etc., etc.

And of course, in terms of the superficial ways that some people measure ''school quality,'' the presence of low-achieving children from non-supportive homes lowers the district's test scores and makes it appear that the overall quality of education is poor.

The truth is, a child can (still) get a good education in the Berkeley schools. The number of students who depart annually for excellent universities after finishing their Berkeley public school educations attests to this. But the pathway through the public schools can be a difficult one to follow for many children and for their parents, as well. Some children have the temperament to ''tune out'' the negative stuff, but some do not. I will add that the situation in the public schools would be far better if some of the parents who have placed their children in private schools returned them to the public system. Those children and their parents are resources that the school district could certainly use. But I understand that parents want to do what's best for their children, and in too many cases the perception is that their kids will be better off in a private school environment. That's sad. dag

I have heard very good things about King, including their math program and their garden program, to name specifics. I don't think that they are poor academically (and it is not politically incorrect to think otherwise, it is simply a different opinion. It's okay to not agree). I think that plenty of kids get great educations at Berkeley public schools...not all the kids...but most of them. In my opinion, there IS more to an education than is reflected in ''top'' test scores. If you want your child to go to a school with top test scores, then you will have to move to another district, or you will have to put a lot of money into one of the top notch - but unscored - private schools. If you want your kid to go to a great high school that sends many kids on to great colleges,a nd has great sports, thenyou may want to keep them in Berkeley schools. I want a good education for my daughter and I am sending her to Berkeley public schools. IF I feel the need to accesorize her education, I will be able to do so, because 1)I won't be working full time (to pay for her private tuition) and I can spend more time with her; and 2) I can use some of the funds I do have to pay for camps and other activities that I don't have the skill to teach her. Also, I know what a great deal I am getting by sending her to public schools, so I put some funds into the public schools with donations of money and goods AND of my time and effort. Each kid and family are different, and so is each school. I hope you find one that meets your needs. If you do choose to stay in Berkeley schools, please help your kid's school out in any way you can. If we all help (even those of us without school kids) then the schools will improve and our whole community will benefit. You CAN do something about it. Another anon. Mom (and thats okay)

My daughter is graduating from Willard in June. She has been at Willard for 3 years. I feel like she has gotten a fair education. It probably would've been better at an academically-oriented private school, public school educations in general would probably be rated mediocre. BUT that said she has had some WONDERFUL teachers at Willard who inspired and supported her. She has alternatley said she ''loved'' this or that over the past 3 years. The staff has been completly supportive in hard times. She made a great group of friends, that I wouldn't trade for any fancy private school. Social life is really important at this age and your child will flounder anywhere if they don't have the social support. Middle school is hard for everyone anywhere. I don't know if one school is better off than another, they will all have their areas of strength and weaknesses. There is a lot of parent involvment (could always use more though) at Willard. That is also a key to how comfortable you are. If you get to know everyone, then they don't seem so strange and you can more easily call on them for assistance in times of need. There will be a new principal in the Fall, so that is an unknown factor. There is also going to be construction going on for improvements. To add this bit: I felt our family fit in as artistic, lower-middle class, and divorced. There is such a range of families at Willard, it's great! Believe that it will work out and it will! happy Willard parent

2004 & Earlier

July 2004

Hi, My ten-year-old daughter (summer birthday so she will be eleven by september) is starting King Middle School in the fall and is very worried and upset about it. She says she does not want to got to middle school at all, but she really doesn't like King in particuar. She hates how huge the school is and does not like that she will be changing classes now. She is a moderatly well-adjusted child who gets excellent grades and is top of her class right now. She does have a good friend going there, that is not an issue. My daughter has heard that you have to 'run the mile' every week at King for P.E. ( which she doesn't want to/thinks she might not be able to do) and is upset that the swimming program at King has been cut. My daughter is worried that there will be a lot of troublemaking kids at King and that because the classes are so big she won't get any individual attention from the teacher. She hates the gardening and cooking program and even though she is good at both, because ''It is a waste of academic time''. Please any advice on how to help make the transition easier for he (For the record, she has always hated change and getting older or having people expect more from her). Laura

When i was going in to 6th grade I too was worried about these sorts of things. Maybe not the lack of acedemic time when in kitchen or garden, but worried about the teachers expecting more from me and the such. I am now an 8th grader at King and find that my worrys were for nothing. In kitchen we learn plenty. It is quite acedemic in the ways of cooking and lots of time to socialize with your peers and teachers. You always learn something new there. Same with garden. As for the mile run, it isn't that hard because the P.E. teachers take time to built you up for it. They don't just say ''run a mile'', they make sure that every kid in the class is ready and then they have you run a mile. I don't even remember running a full mile in 6th grade, it wasn't until the middle or end of 7th grade that the P.E. teachers started us in the mile run. Changing classes isn't that hard once you get used to where your classes are. 6th graders only change after breaks, so if you're worried about not getting to class on time, don't. In 7th and 8th you get about 12-15 minutes to get to your next class and even then, most teachers still give you a little slack if you're late. The school isn't that big. there are many different groups of kids that hang out together and once you find yours, you tend to stay with them throughout the year and the other kids don't bother you unless you bother them. It's as simple as that. As long as you raise your hand, the teachers will eventually get to you and give you as much individual attention as you need. There are also a few other classroom helpers most of the time. Not having a swimming program isn't that bad. Beleive me. Sorry this was so long, but I just wanted to get my point across that king isn't as bad as you might think. sincerely, Roxanne

Our daughter also was extremely nervous about entering King. She suffered with hives for the first few weeks! She had been very happy with friends at elementary school and a top student. She didn't want to grow older; she wanted to things not to change. The thing is, things do change at middle school. Friends shift, kids meet new kids, there is more work to do, more awareness of the outside world. That said, my child received a great deal of one-on-one help with math, her difficult subject, from her teacher at ''Homework Club.'' Many teachers give so generously of their time at King and it is up to your daughter to take advantage of it. I also kept in touch with her teachers by phone and email. You should also know that, for the most part, the sixth graders don't mix with the older kids at King. Also, they mainly have two teachers. I think she'll be OK with the garden and PE stuff, it's so much fun and a relief from the classroom. The sixth-grade trip to Pt. Reyes is a wonderful way to kick off the year and brings the students together. My husband went on the trip so he could get to know the teachers and some of the kids. Finally, because middle school is truly a transition time of presenting and sharing the self, girls have a very insecure time of it. In addition to not wanting to accept that some kids were ''dating'' (holding hands, sitting together at lunch) and that some kids were ''changing,'' my daughter was befriended by someone who tried to separate her from her old elementary friends. The result was a loss of confidence and belonging to a group (very important.) When seventh grade began, we decided she would benefit from counselling. She saw a wonderful young therapist for several months and grew much more accepting of change and her place in it, ending seventh grade with a terrific group of old and new friends and a great zest for living.
a sympathetic mother

June 2004

I would like to hear from other parents of kids at ML King Middle School in Berkeley. Our two oldest graduated relatively intact, and we have always spoken highly of the school, although we knew that some of their friends did not fare so well. This year our third child, who seemed to be doing well, (achieving high grades, behaving well, etc.) suffered a major emotional crisis and we discovered he has been using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, on a regular basis, AT SCHOOL. Apparently, he learned through the grapevine that he could obtain drugs on the King campus and has been doing so since he was in 5th grade.

I am concerned that other families should be aware of the situation. My son first confided with the school psychologist, who is familiar with the ongoing situation and informed the administration. However, even after my son was hospitalized for a month, the principal looked me straight in the eye and said, "We don't have a drug or alcohol problem here. We would know if we did. We don't have incoming sixth-grade parents saying to us that they have heard there is a problem here."

So, I guess I'd like to rectify that situation. If other families have had similiar problems at King, I think it's only fair for incoming families to know. (Among the community of mental health professionals the situation on the King campus is an open secret.) One of the things I've liked best about our six turbulent years at Berkeley High School is how things improved BECAUSE all the problems were made public. I am really disturbed by the apparent effort of the administration at King to keep up appearances, making each family feel individually responsible, rather than taking an honest look at the situation on campus, and how it might be improved for everyone's benefit.

For my son's sake, I hope this can appear anonymously -- and I would love to see responses posted here and archived for general reference.

Thank you. concerned mom

I'd like to address some of the points made in your posting. I have a son at King and my daughter graduated. First, I believe it's a mistake to blame a school if your child does not do well during his/her years at King. Three years of middle school, from about ages 11-14, can be turbulent due to dramatic physical and mental changes going on within our children, and the effects of this on parents, teachers, friends, siblings, not to mention the many other factors that affect theirs and our lives, make for some trying times. Therefore, when things go terribly wrong with a child, we should not lay all the blame on the school.

With that said, I feel the administration at King needs to be more proactive and affirmative in responding to the parents of its students. In my opinion, it seems that there's an insular attitude within the administration at the school -- attempting to stay above the fray in taking on controversial issues like drugs and bullying. This rather insular attitude makes me as a parent feel ignored when what I'd like to have is an ongoing open, communicative dialogue with the administration. I'm sure it's not the administration's intent to ignore parents or be insular. The fact is that many kids will be doing drugs by ages 11, 12, 13, and parents may be aware of it, or not, and certainly educators who have taught middle school for many years are aware of it. If several hundred kids are coming to school drugged out, the problem is obvious. But, it's hidden, and not a topic you just bring up with other parents, so the only way to be aware of the problem is for parents and administrators to know the kids you're dealing with -- talk to the ones who get caught, find out how many kids are using by listening to kids, talk generally to kids, talk with the parents whose kids are using drugs -- and get to know and listen to concerned parents who bring up these issues. Certainly, you don't expect the principal to make an announcement saying drugs are being sold on campus. However, in the end, the way in which the administration communicates to you as an individual parent with a middle-school child who has a drug problem, and to the community of its parents about all kinds of issues, makes a huge difference in the perception and reputation of the school for incoming sixth-grade families and those families already at the school. Please post anonymously since my child is still at King. --Anon

I want to comment on the letter by concerned mom whose son got involved with drugs/alcohol while at King. My son, now 18, also attended King, and though he never got involved in substance abuse, told me many times that drugs were readily available and easy to purchase. His friends have also corroborated that drugs are available on campus. A couple of his friends ended up in rehab after starting their drug career at MLK. I just want to put this out there, because there is a problem and your child most certainly is not alone in finding drugs and alcohol at that school. I'm glad you caught the problem and hopefully your son is on his way to good health again.

My daughter graduated from King Middle School a couple of years ago and if I had it to do over again I would have taken her out after 6th grade because it was such a negative experience for her. The abundance of drugs and alcohol on campus was unbelievable. So much so that I actually didn't believe it until late in 8th grade when it finally became obvious.

There are many wonderful and devoted teachers there and they do a lot to try to engage the kids, but the powerful undertow of the need to experiment, the need to rebel, and the allure of alcohol and marijuana is too much for many kids to resist. And yes, there is a very very strong tendency to blame the parents and the children, to hide the problem in the individuals involved, making it seem like there are just some bad kids making bad mistakes. All of this is devasting for parents, especially single parents like myself, and the level of guilt and shame is overwhelming, which of course only compounds the problem. I don't know how it could be turned around. Kids who are making the choices to experiment with ''substances'' can't let teachers or administrators be supportive. The identification of school as the enemy seems to be built into the whole system, for children who choose to rebel.

In short, yes, there is a serious problem of alcohol and marijuana at King Middle School, and it is not being dealt with in a way that supports change. (Whatever that might be--I sure don't know...) Let me also reiterate that there are teachers there who give 100% to their students and who are true gems. anon

The staff and I were genuinely concerned to read the letter about the use of drugs or alcohol at King. While I am familiar with the specifics of this situation, I would rather address the issue as it effects all parents and students. Parents should be aware that research has shown that experimentation among middle school students is not uncommon. However, most experimentation occurs off campus and outside school hours. Although there have been isolated incidents on campus, this type of behavior is not the norm. Parents should know that all of us at King are concerned and vigilant, and we would appreciate hearing any specific information that you might have that could help us address this issue more effectively. Please feel free to contact me or any of the following people at school: counselor Jan Sells, vice principals Doreen Sing, Jimette Anderson and Diana Penney, Home School Liaison Marsha Montgomery, ELL lead teacher Patti Rathwell or any teacher. We will handle any information you provide us sensitively and confidentially. We want to work with you on these types of issues to ensure the well being of all our students.

Kit Pappenheimer, Principal, King Middle School

Reading some of the posts - and the reply from the school alarms me!

My son is 13 and i am aware this is a tough time for kids in general. that is why we chose to put him in an environment where the possible harmful choices he can make are reduced - e.g. don't put a puppy in a china shop!

I do believe the school administration has to take a stronger position in not only regulating the presence of the drugs/alcohol on campus (which they seem to minimize re: the response) but also encouraging an environment where kids can make better choices.

What can be done as a community response to change the wave? i too have a friend who's kid was sucked into drinking and drugs at MLK and ended up dropping out. Let's not delude ourselves - experimenting and becoming a regular drinker/smoker are two very different things. My sense is that more of the latter is happening than should be the case.

It's tough enough as it is to maintain a good relationship w/ our kids at this age. putting them in an environment where bad choices are more the norm just creates more stress for the parents and endanger's your child. they are still kids at this age - and some kids are wired to try risky things.


My older two son's went through King. It is very dishardening to find out that the problems with drug and alcohol still isn't being addressed. This past year my sixth grader talked about the smell of marijuana on campus, and the shooting of dice that happens during the lunch hour. So, I have to disagree with the principal's statement that most happens off campus. And, because the experimentation among middle school students is not uncommon, it somehow makes it okay at our school. Four years ago the district had an excellent and successful drug awareness program. Javone Strong was the director. I would like to know if King is proactive or reactive in address the problem. The reporting of incidents seems to me reactive and punitive.

My son just finished 7th grade at King. These are tough years. In my opinion, one of the major problems is the size and anonymity of the school. Class size is much too big and teachers several times have called my kid by someone else's name. During conferences, I was not always convinced that the teachers knew for sure who my kid was (hard to blame them when they have 160 kids to worry about every single day). As a parent, I have basically no relationship with either the teachers or the administration. Since I'm never in the school (tried to volunteer in my kid's class in 6th grade but was discouraged), I don't know too many of my son's peers either even though we're coming from a Berkeley public elementary school.

In that climate, it's easy for trouble to brew. If kids are in an anonymous environment, they will feel freer to act out and disrespect both teachers and other kids and ultimately themselves. They will feel that if they can get away with something, then why not try? and at that age, they want to try it all.

During the elementary school years I knew what was up; now, since my kid does not talk much, I have no idea, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping he'll remember to do the right thing at the critical time.

One added factor that makes the situation even more out of control is that many kids are completely unsupervised after school until their parents get home. I insist that my son come home every day after school and he hates me for it since hardly anyone else is under such restrictions.

I generally agree with King Principal Pappehheimer that it is after school in such situations rather than during school that kids with complete freedom and no supervision get into the most trouble.

This being said, I find that King is a mixed bag of a school with good and bad teachers, and a pretty weak curriculum, particularly in English. From my limited knowledge, the drug/alcohol issue exists at King but does not appear worse than at other middle schools where friends' kids go.


It is both sad and amusing to read the very different perspectives held by parents and staff at King Middle School regarding the availability of drugs and alcohol at King. Some parents believe that drugs and alcohol are rampant at the school whereas the staff believe that use is rare and usually off-campus. It would be useful for parents if some actual data are presented to bridge these very different viewpoints. For example, the administration at King could talk with the counselor and VP's and then present data regarding the number of episodes of these problems for last year. How many students were involved? More importantly, they could outline what their plan is for dealing with drug and alcohol availability on campus and summarize the effectiveness of their plan for the last year. Perhaps this type of self-evaluation and public reporting would encourage the administration and staff to determine how much of a problem they have and whether their ways of dealing with it are working. This could spur new efforts by staff, keep parents informed, and lessen the spreading of incorrect or exaggerated information. Anonymous

April 2004

After a rather tumultuous first year at King Middle School with a teacher who has had major difficulties in the classroom, we're hoping to appeal to our child's counselor to let us ''suggest'' teachers for next year. I would appreciate hearing any recommendations for outstanding 7th grade teachers at King in any subject, especially in terms of their ability to manage a diverse classroom while at the same time providing a stimulating environment for students who have a high academic potential.

There are so many excellent teachers at King for 7th and 8th grade. 6th grade is a different experience because the kids only have one core teacher. In 7th and 8th grade your child will have a completely new experience with working with teachers for specific classes.

Don't lose heart. My child had many SUPERIOR teachers at King in 7th and 8th grade. I don't think it would be fair to mention the specific teachers my child had since she only experienced one teacher for each subject. My daughter went to private school in elementary school and I was hesitant to send her to King. However, I am now convinced that the private schools my friends kids went to did not have teachers who were any better or even as good as the many excellent teachers my daughter experienced at King.

As we all know, there are classes from HELL for the teacher as well as for the students who want to learn. Your child may not have had a very experienced teacher and/or it could have been one of those classes teachers hope never to experience again. A particular group of kids can ruin a class for those who really want to learn.

If your child has "high academic potential", he/she will be taking classes next year which will separate her from the kids who take the easier road. Don't despair. My daughter has pals from King who I am sure will be accepted at Harvard or Columbia three years from now. And I believe their teachers for King can take credit for inspiring the kids to work to their potential.

My daughter was crazy about most of her teachers at King in 7th and 8th grade. If she wasn't in love with them, she realized at least she was learning alot from them.

I will be forever greatful to the teachers at King who inspired my child to write even longer papers than assigned because she wanted them to be thrilled with her. I am thankful to her advanced math teacher who was not young or cute, but such a good teacher that she could really acknowledge him for that! I am delighted that her Spanish teacher was so charming that it was fun to learn. And the history teacher that was so funny with the stories he made up that she couldn't wait to get to his class.

You don't need to "suggest" to the counselor...I think your child's academic success will create a situation where he/she will be with other good students with good teachers.


February 2003

Re: Middle Schools with a strong math/science department
Martin Luther King Jr Middle School has a strong math department where 6th graders can test into 8th grade Honors Algebra for their 7th grade year and take Honors Geometry at BHS for their 8th grade year. Eventually, if they stay on this track, they can take math at UC berkeley during their senior year at BHS. jamie

As for public middle schools I know that students at King Middle School (and, I assume the other BUSD schools) are able to accelerate and take challenging courses, including Honors Geometry at Berkeley High in 8th grade. I have heard good things about the math teachers at King. Lucy

Jan 2003

I have two boys, one of whom is a sensitive, emotional kid and withdraws in tough social circles; the other likes to be hip and cool and seeks out those hip, cool kids who aren't bullies. They both have the potential to excel academically and do so when they have talented teachers who take the time to learn what works with the individual kids in their classes. I'm trying to get a sense of how what MLK's strongests programs are, how good the teachers are, and how my kids will fit into the social environment(right now they are 2 years away from starting middle school). Perspectives from MLK parents would be greatly appreciated. Louise

I'm interested in hearing feedback regarding King Middle School. I'm particularly interested in hearing about academics at King. My son is a 6th grader in an independent school and is advanced in math. His current school moved him into it's advanced 7th grade math class this year. The teacher confirms that this arrangement is working well. He is also a prolific reader. I'm wondering if King can challenge him academically. We're all happy with his current school, but it would be nice to put those tuition dollars elsewhere in our budget. anonymous

My daughter is in her third year at King Middle School (8th grade)and loves it there! Yes, it's a huge school (nearing 1000 students), and yes, it has its share of ''problem'' kids, but it also has a terrific staff and faculty who seem to always be on top of things. There are vice principals for each grade level that stay with the kids from 6 through 8th grade, and they really get to know them as individuals. My daughter has always been an ''A'' student and she continues to be challenged by the King curriculum. Her teachers have all showed personal interest in her, and have even called me at home to discuss any problems she may have with her work or social issues. King is an excellent school and good training for life. laurel

This is in response to the the queury about MLK Jr. High. My son attended MLK, and his experiences were generally pretty good. he is not an academic achiever by any means, but he received a solid middle school education there. I won't go into details, but I do not respect the principal and did not get along with him. However, the counselors at MLK are fabulous. They are accessible, reliable, caring and work very hard to meet the needs of their students. There are also many good teachers there, in particular Mr. Freeman, who not only teaches science, but also makes himself available as a friend and mentor to students who may not even be in his classes. He has been there since I went there a million years ago! There are some good, challenging classes for GATE students, and they have a good drama department and the Edible Schoolyard is wonderful. Overall, MLK offers some fine opportunities both for academically inclined and disinclined students, keeping everyone engaged in school in one way or another. There are, of course, some problems -- a lot of fighting, bullying and groups of kids who pick on the ones who aren't ''cool.'' This can be very intimidating for some kids, but the school has a hardcore Zero Tolerance policy that is enforced. They also offer student moderated conflict resolution, which I've heard is quite effective in some cases. Heather

My son is now in 8th grade at King, and it has been a great experience socially and academically. He's been allowed to accellerate his learning in math, and at the end of sixth grade he tested into 8th grade honors algebra and now takes honors geometry at the high school.

He has excellent teachers, especially in French and science. The geometry is particularly challenging, but, again, he has a great teacher who keeps him interested and on his toes.

King also has early morning band, after school homework, help and a wide variety of after school sports. There is also an amazing garden and my son never tires of going to the kitchen and cooking upvegetarian masterpieces.

As far as social activities, It could use a few dances, but all in it's been a rewarding excperience. happy King parent

My daughter went to King for 7th and 8th grades. Although I was a little apprehensive I can only say that it was an excellent place for her to be during those difficult 'growing up'years. Just about everything that one reads about the Middle school years was true and I really believe that it makes little difference which school a child attends; they still have to face the hurdle of growing up; dealing with Peer Pressure and finding out where they fit into the whole melange.

As she is a bright kid my first concern has never been with academics. I have a basic belief in the old adage that you can't take away ability, although so often, the potential is not reached. From my own life and the lives of my friends I can see that the ultimate happiness is not reached through academics but by finding out just what motivates and brings the most satisfaction. How many adults are doing work in the area that they initially started out in? I wish she would work harder and be more motivated to excel but on the other hand she is socially adept with good self esteem and alot of commonsense.The school climate at King is better than most Middle schools. Most of the teachers are doing a wonderful job and of course I hold the previous principal, Neil Smith, in the highest regard.

Parents get bogged down with a variety of concerns but if they remain positive and supportive of the staff and their child's efforts I feel that the outcome will be good. It is definitely worth mentioning that the advice I found the most useful is;

  • know who your child's friends are and make them your friends
  • know where your child is after school
  • keep them busy without overwhelming them
  • keep things in perspective... we were all teenagers at one time!!! D.
    Both my kids attend King. I think it is a fine school academically --in particular they have an outstanding math program, although writing is kind of back-burnered until 8th grade. Both love the garden and cooking programs, which are really integrated with other subjects, and have gone out for school athletic teams. As former private school kids, they love the diversity of programs available and having school friends who live in their neighborhood!

    My younger child, a bright, eager student who makes friends very easily, is *very* happy there. I will say that this is a kid who is not easily bored --loves school, always ready for something new, and looks for academic ways to make school more interesting.

    My older daughter is also happy, although she has less cause to be. Academically, she does pretty well despite a minor learning disability. As always, there are some great teachers who provide the minimal additional support she needs to exceed, and some who seem to think she should just 'try harder'. Socially, however, she is an inept, nerdish, and inappropriately childish sweetheart. She has been physically attacked at King, had her life threatened (''but we were just kidding''), and been teased at levels from the annoying to the troubling. The school moved swiftly to respond to the physical attacks, although I still worry that the verbal stuff is not dealt with directly and consistently.

    King works for us because the academics are as good as they get in Berkeley at the middle school level,and because we already learned that private school is not a panacea for social problems. (At Pacific Academy she was truly viciously teased one year out of three *with* the concurrence of the teacher.) While there is less opportunity for really bad things to happen in a smaller school, they also have less variety in their academic, sports, and after-school programs. Clueless teachers can happen ANYWHERE, and the dollars paid for private school don't translate into more attention paid to parental concerns.

    The administrators at King are consistently good, you can actually talk to a vice-principal who knows *your* kid and will be with them for three years, and the diversity of programs available make it *much* easier for your kids to find something to engage them personally.

    Nervous Mom Who Still Likes King

    There are some really excellent teachers at King especially in Maths, science, art and English/History. My daughter felt encouraged to go as far as she wanted (and that was pretty far) in any area she was interested in. Coming in halfway through, from a much smaller school, she was initially daunted by the number of other kids and their behavior, but came to terms with that and found a terrific group of like-minded friends (something she'd never really had before). Now in high school, she describes her experiences there as ''wonderful! amazing!'' As far as the GATE extension courses, they were nice but not a big part of her life. fiona
    To the parent wondering whether to transfer her son to King from private school in 6th or 7th grade:

    I have two kids who went to Walden School- a small K-6 private school and then went to Longfellow Middle School in 7th grade. I don't know much about King- but I will say that both my kids adjusted easily to Longfellow. As a teacher myself, I think there is a real advantage to 6th graders being with younger, rather than older children, and both my kids really benefitted from being at the top of the school in their 6th grade class. They received more personal attention from the smaller environment at a vulnerable time in their lives and were more than ready to move on to a bigger public school.

    I've watched a lot of parents in K-6 private schools making this decision, and overall, it really seems like the kids who get the extra year at the smaller school benefit much more than the kids who transfer in 6th grade. There is a short period of awkwardness that first month of 7th grade, since the majority of kids have come to the school in 6th, but I think it's well worth the maturing they get to experience as sixth graders being the oldest, rather than the youngest in their school. I'm sorry BUSD went to a 6-8 middle school format, because research shows that middle schoolers benefit greatly being in schools with younger children. Good luck. Emily

    To the parent seeking advice about whether to start her son at 6th grade or wait until 7th from a private school:

    Having a child similar in nature to yours (he was in Montessori pre-school, very athletic, but has been in public school since kindergarten), and having friends whose sons went from private to King in 6th and 7th grades, my advice is to begin his acclimation to public school from 6th grade because the 6th grade teachers and curriculum at King are excellent. I have a 19-year old daugher who also went to King, and when my son started 6th grade this year, there were some of the same teachers from 6 or 7 years ago and more recent hires, who I've observed throughout this school year, are excellent. I believe Neil Smith, the previous principal, did a good job of hiring newer teachers over the years. Unless your son knows several kids at King and is sociable, I don't believe starting him at King in the 7th grade is a great idea. My friend regrets to this day that she had her son at a private school through 6th grade, and when he went to King at 7th grade, he didn't adjust well. By the time he adjusted, he was ready to start 9th grade, and didn't do well adjusting to 9th grade at BHS. However, this is just my viewpoint, you really have to take into account what you know about your son, what he knows about himself, and discount some of the things a private school administrator might say to you due to their own self-interests. Good luck. J. A.

    Walking distance from King; in the Willard Zone

    Oct 2000

    As was mentioned in some of the posts regarding riding AC transit, we live in walking distance of King but are in the Willard zone. Also, most of my child's friends will be going to King, so it would be great if he could go too. I checked the BUSD website and found out we would be Priority 5 (one notch above people who don't live in Berkeley!) - that sounds like we have very little chance of getting in. Ethnically, we are "other" so I'm not sure what impact that would have. Does anyone have experience trying to get into a middle school outside of their zone? Also, is there any information about construction plans at King over the next two years? Thanks! Anonymous

    Frankly, forget it. I need to remain anonymous because I'm afraid of repercussions. We had a horrible, awful, traumatic experience with the Parent Access office. The parent access office certainly does not care about your child; only in looking at what numbers of what kids are at each school. Period. My child is now at a private school and we'll return for Berkeley High. I know there are kids who live in south eastern parts of Berkeley who have to take public buses to get to King, when they're closer to Willard. And parents who live right near Longfellow who couldn't get into that school and had to go to King.

    I can offer two suggestions. First, lie about your address. Sounds terrible, right? I regret not doing that. You'd be amazed at how many kids there are at King who don't live in the King district, and don't even live in Berkeley. The administration may tell you this is not so, but it is. Ask the kids. I also suggest taking up the issue of offering a bus with school board candidates. There's a meeting at Malcom X next Tuesday. If the school board wants to provide a bus, that's the only way it will happen.

    We also live very near King, and faced the same issues over the years. Bottom line is that unless you have time to raise hell for months, and organize a group of people to challenge this absurd situation, it will not change. Neither of my kids are white, which actually made it harder to get into King, because this whole arrangement came about years ago, when Hillside was closed, and the district wanted to divide up the white kids between King and Willard.

    As it turned out, our daughter wanted to go to Willard, so spent our limited energy fighting with other parents for a school bus for her first year, since you have to transfer on AC transit, but she quickly became AC transit literate. My son, who is now in 8th grade at Longfellow, had no desire to go to Willard, and most of his friends are either at King or Longfellow. I think Longfellow is really good, his teachers this year especially are great, and he either takes the bus or walks, a long hike but he enjoys it, at least until the rains!! In sixth grade, he took the school bus, which Longfellow provides, since it is a magnet school. By the time they are in 8th grade, they really don't want to be on the school bus!! If you want more info about this, you can email me at chilp [at] I would personally vote for Longfellow- all the construction is done, teaching staff is very good, and since its smaller, it feels less daunting than the other 2 schools.

    We had a similar situation last year - we wanted my son to go to Longfellow (both because of the technology program and because it was right around the corner), but he was assigned to King. After many frustrating calls and visits to the Parent Access office, they finally assigned him to Longfellow. I think it helped to be persistent, or maybe we just got lucky. After getting what we wanted, though, his experience at Longfellow was disappointing. Because so much time was spend on "classroom management" stuff, he was bored a lot of the time. Most of the homework appeared to be busy work, and the teachers seemed unwilling to consider any compromises about homework arrangements. This year, I finally gave up on the public school and my son is now going to New Age Academy. He loves school for the first time in his life (whew!). I'd be happy to provide more information to interested parents. Diane

    Afterschool Programs


    Re: Math Tutor
    Have you tried the King homework club? They have teachers available Mon-Thurs afterschool. My daughter, 7th grade, has received lots of help. Her math teacher stays late every Thursday to help students. There is also before school tutoring every morning and the primary focus is math. Dionne

    Nov 1997

    My daughter graduated from King Middle School last spring, and was very pleased with it, as were her mother and I. The principal, Neil Smith, is excellent, as are some of the teachers--Mr. Delepine (math) and Mr. Stanley (orchestra), to name two. The weak points would be social studies (which seems usual in California schools) and the science department--Ms. McCullough is very good, but we're still digging up gems from another science teacher (the first was that Archimedes designed the Trojan Horse). Watch out for teachers who are too fond of the kind of "group work" that is really one or two students per group doing the assignment while the rest goof off and the teacher catches up on paperwork or takes a nap.

    Regarding boredom in school, it seems to have been endemic at least since Shakespeare's time:


    "Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books, But love from love, toward school with heavy looks."
    There is repetition, but at least some of it is unavoidable: some kids are unprepared. (One of the drawbacks of having a good math teacher in 8th grade is that you hear a lot of the same things again in 9th.) Some call for stringent academic standards to deal with this, but I favor moderation: I would rather see some repetition in 9th-grade math classes than see kids kept in middle school another year until they get the Pythagorean Theorem right.

    And 14-year-olds as a group tend to complain a lot; a hopeless-ennui hormone seems to kick in around then. I certainly attend to complaints of boredom, try to find their roots, and suggest or take measures to deal with them--but at that age a person is more than old enough to take some responsibility for their own education. If they're bored, they should do something about it--either on their own, or by rattling adults' cages till something happens. That's my take on it, anyway.

    Regarding 6th-graders in middle school, the Berkeley schools as a whole endorse the idea: the layout now is K-5, 6-8, high school. How that works for a particular kid varies, of course; most seem to benefit from the wider horizon and greater challenges of middle school. John

    April 1997

    I have one child at Longfellow and one at King. My son, 13, was at Longfellow for Elementary School but King seemed a better choice for him because I felt he was ready for an intermediate step - more like high school - which King is. I also wanted him to be able to take part in more sports, which he loves, and King provides much more of a setting for that - it has a pool and lots of acreage for all sorts of field and court sports, which Longfellow does not. King seems like an excellent school. I am happy with the level of instruction and the principal seems really on top of it. We have had no threatening or scarey incidents and I believe my son feels safe there. He has made lots of good friends. Barbara