Moving into the Berkeley School District
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Moving to Berkeley - which elementary school?
Hi, We are moving to Berkeley in 10 days. I would love to hear about the public elementary schools. Which is the best well rounded school ( both academics and extra curricular ) . Which is the most sought after school ? My son is good in Math and reading, I would love to keep it up. He will be entering Kindergarten. We will be living in Central Zone.
Thank you SO much! sinpin
I've been at a BUSD school in the Central zone for nine years now with my two kids. I'm very active with Berkeley Public Schools. When we first applied to schools, there seemed to be qualitative differences among the schools. But for a least the last five years I've seen the quality of the central zone schools to be more or less equal. I would feel pretty confident with my child being placed in any of them. As for how well-rounded the experience is, your school will provide your child with options for music, dance, art, chess, sports, etc. either in during the school day or during afterschool enrichment options. Every school offers something a little different but all of them are filled with variety. So have confidence that your child will have all kinds of enrichment. BUSD parent
All of the schools in Berkeley are great. They use busing and demographic surveys to ensure student populations at each school are balanced socio-economically. They work hard to ensure consistency in curriculum and philosophy among schools. Most families only have experience with one school so there's not much basis for comparison. That said, they are public schools. Plenty of parents supplement their kids' school days with tutoring or extracurricular activities in areas of particular interest. We are fortunate to have a lot of great options in that area too, organized by the PTAs, the city community centers, UC Berkeley, and various other private & non-profit organizations. Welcome to Berkeley
Summer Move to Berkeley for 3rd Grader
Hi there, We're a family of three, with one soon-to-be-third grader, moving to the East Bay this summer and need information on entering BUSD this late in their lottery process. They must have a track for people who transfer for work, who weren't involved in the February lottery, but it's been a lot of phone calls with no return info. We're looking for an apartment or house to rent in central or north berkeley starting July or August 1, and will be out in May to confirm, but wonder who the point person may be at BUSD to get us connected with the school options. If you know the school placement process personally or can advise on the protocol for family transferring into the system, I would be glad to hear from you. Suzanne
As a parent of a child who also started third grade in Berkeley after moving to the area in July, here is my advice: don't worry. You won't be able to tour the schools, and depending on your situation, you may not even be able to register until well after you arrive. You need several documents to prove Berkeley residency, and it can be difficult to get all of these right away (drivers license, utility bills, etc.). But rest assured that your child will get into a school and you will probably be pleased with the experience. All Berkeley schools have positive attributes, and lots of kids move in and out of the system due to job changes, etc. My son made good friendships and enjoyed his time at the elementary school he was assigned to, about which we knew absolutely nothing in advance. Good luck - it will work out! Zen about School Assignments
Considering a move from Piedmont to Berkeley
We currently live in Piedmont but are thinking of moving to Berkeley, and are looking for opinions comparing the two public school systems. We're especially interested in the experiences of those who have moved from one district to the other--i.e. who can really compare pros and cons of both systems rather than just speaking to one. Both my husband and I are college professors: Academics are very important to us, but so is socioeconomic and racial diversity and exposing our kids to real-world experiences. We've lived in Piedmont for a year and have found it a bit country-clubbish (though everyone is very ''nice''). It just doesn't feel like the right fit for our family. Our older child will start kindergarten in a year. Thanks! Piedmont parent
I haven't been in both systems, but I would say that my daughter (now a senior, and in BUSD since K) has developed a deep appreciation of diversity. She's mentioned it as one of her considerations in choosing a college, and is aware of diversity in other organizations she belongs to/programs she attends. Her closest friends seem to be fairly similar to her in parental educational background/class background; but she has classroom and activity friends from a much more diverse group of students. She is very aware of her own relative privilege, while I think with the same family income, she probably would feel deprived if she was enrolled in private school or a well-off public school district. (In real terms this means, she no expectations of $100 pairs of jeans.) In terms of achievement, I think BUSD has mostly been positive -- she has had high PSAT and AP test scores (without any prep for the PSAT, and just the classroom work for the AP). Often in elementary/middle school we did have her enrolled in enriching aftercare programs/classes, and in ATDP for the summer. She's almost always had academic peers in her classes, as well, and at high school it has become quite competitive in her program (and in the honors math/AP science options.) At times in elementary school, the curriculum was somewhat repetitive, but usually her teachers would let her do more open-ended projects, or projects/reading of her own devising. I'm not sure this would have been any better in less diverse district, like Piedmont -- it would have depended on how open the teachers there were with modifying the curriculum for gifted students. For our family, it has turned out well, with occasional bumps -- our family could provide additional intellectual stimulation, but not the true experience of day-in/day-out diversity without being part of the school community. anon
Re: Moving to the Bay Area - which public school system?
You should really take a good look at Berkeley. BUSD has very good schools from K-12. They are not perfect, but we are educated (dad is Ivy-trained physician; mom has Master's degree), and are very happy with the education our 3 kids are getting. It is a well-rounded, enriched district, with gardening, art, cooking, dance, PE, music, excellent teachers, principals, & staff. Each school varies slightly in which programs they offer, but all offer a variety of ''extras''. There are no ''bad schools'' in Berkeley. The city buses the elementary kids, to ensure racial and economic equality across the city. BUSD mom of 3, ages 7-12
Hi, Thanks for creating this wonderful network. We have benefited a lot from it, in areas such alternate medicine and child care.
We will be moving back from India to California at the end of 2012, relocate to Berkeley and apply for admissions in BUSD for our two girls (5 and 8 yrs old) for academic year 2013-2014. Our questions are related to our older daughter, currently 8 years old, and studying in a school in India. She is Sept born, and will be 10 years old in Sept 2013. We would like to know the following:
a. Which grade she will be eligible to enroll in? She would have completed her 3rd grade in India school by Mar 2013.
b. Are they any mark-sheets or reports required from the school in India?
c. Are there any testing requirements from BUSD before she would be considered for enrollment?
Looking forward to your responses. Thanks KK
Your daughter will be eligible for 5th grade in the Fall of 2013. My children have been in school abroad and in the states-just remember the academic standards are much higher outside of the U.S. Our friends that have come over here with school age children have been disappointed at how easy the schools are! Even if your child is finishing 3rd grade in India-s/he may very well be prepared to go into 5th here and will be the right age. I'm not familiar with Berkeley Unified School District, but for our current district, I had their vaccination & dental information readily available and their marks (although they may request one directly from India as well). My children had a test to determine their English language skills (bilingual home) to see if they requiered extra support. See the link below for frequently asked questions. Hope this helps.. http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/berkeley-school-admissions/required-enrollment-documentation/ anon
It would be best if you begin with contacting the admissions office at berkeley unified school district. Thre web page is http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/berkeley-school-admissions/enrollment-faq/ If you cannot get an email response you may have to call them during pacific time business hours .. But not at lunch. They would be able to confirm testing requirements and age cutoffs. some kids skip ahead or repeat, but they may first try to figure out which grade is the best match for your eight year olds age. Berkeley Mom
We are moving to Berkeley July 1st and have secured a rental property to live in. Of course, I am anxious to get our 8 year-old enrolled in a school right away (he'll be in 3rd grade next year). We'll be living in the Central Zone, which I believe has some excellent schools. My main concerns are as follows: 1) How can I make an educated decision about which schools to list as my top choice when I won't be able to tour any of the schools before we arrive? 2) Does it even matter if I come up with a list of ''top schools'' for my son, given how late in the process we will be enrolling him? 3) Are we guaranteed a school within our zone, or does the late date of enrollment mean he just goes wherever there is space? 4) Even though we have a firm address for our residence starting in July, do we really have to wait until we have lived there long enough to receive bills, etc. before we can start the enrollment process? I am consoling myself with the belief that any Berkeley elementary will be ''good,'' but I'm still feeling a little overwhelmed and confused. Any and all advice about navigating this process would be much appreciated! -Stressed about schools
Hello. My daughter is in 4th grade at Berkeley Arts Magnet, one of the Central Zone schools. I don't know what BUSD will do next year, but in the past BAM has been the school that students new to the zone have most frequently been assigned to. It is a wonderful school. Of the other three schools, Cragmont and Oxford always have long waiting lists although upper grade kids might possibly be in a different situation than kindergarten kids. I have no idea about Washington. Anyway, as you found out, they're all good schools. There is ONE difference which concerns some parents: BAM and Cragmont start later (9:00+) and Washington and Oxford start earlier. If that is of concern to you, you might discuss it with BUSD when it comes time to register. Francesca
1) All the schools in the central district are good, so go for the one with the start time that fits your schedule best and/or the one closest to your rental, and then see if you get it.. 2) It all depends on how full 3rd grade is at a given school. 3) your student is pretty likely to get a school the central District. 4) ask the district if you have to wait until we have lived there long enough to receive bills. Not sure but a rental agreement and proof of residence may be enough. Is there an electrical company down payment aor water bill down payment that you can use for proof of residence? Ask the district. Welcome to Berkeley! Anon
Hello, We are moving to North Berkeley from San Francisco in November 2011. We are wondering how the school placement would work. Our daughter is in middle school and our son is in the 4th grade. Is school placement based on where you live? We are considering purchasing a home in North Berkeley. Not sure where I should start w/regard to schools. Our kids are coming from private schools in SF. Thanks for any advice. Emily
BUSD elementary schools are divided into 3 geographic areas. Jefferson, Thousand Oaks, and Rosa Parks (which also has one of the District's Spanish dual immersion programs) are in the northern zone. School assignment is through lottery, with consideration given to socio-economic diversity (BUSD's integration plan has been upheld by the CA Supreme Court). All of the northern zone schools have API over 800. However, as the northern zone has 3 rather than 4 schools as in the other zones, some students are assigned out of district due to capacity issues (9/11 of the District's elementary schools have API's over 800 and the 2 that do not are within 20 points of doing so). Busing is available to students that live more than 1 1/2 miles from their assigned school. Note that due to busing logistics, the elementary schools have staggered start/close times. All of the schools have after school programs, for a sliding fee scale.
There are three middle schools - two are geographic based, with the northern zone school being King. Any student can apply to Longfellow (which also has the District's dual immersion middle school program) through a lottery. All 3 middle schools have API's over 800. King has 900-1000 students while Longfellow has about 425.
More detailed information, such as how to apply to the lottery should be obtained from the District's administrative offices (there is also information on the District's website). Hope this helps guide you in making an informed decision for your children. I really encourage you to visit all of the schools that your children could potentially attend. Visit classrooms, check out hallways during transition times, check out the playground/lunch room time, go to a PTA meeting, etc. This will give you a good idea of which school best fits your child's needs (while academics are fairly equally strong, each school does vary in less tangible ways) based upon personal knowledge. There are a lot of urban myths and old information out there about particular schools - good and bad. Check it out yourself! And, look forward to your family joining our District community! School Board Member Karen Hemphill
Hi, Welcome to Berkeley! First, I must say there are no ''bad'' schools in Berkeley. There used to be quite a disparity between several schools, as far as quality, but that has greatly evened out, and children thrive in all of them now. If you're planning to move to N. Berkeley, you'll probably be in the North Zone or the Central Zone, for elementary (K-5). The North Zone includes Cragmont in the hills, and Rosa Parks, all the way across town, south of University and west of San Pablo. There are 4 or 5 schools in each zone, and they are assigned by lottery. The Central Zone includes schools that are closer to N. Berkeley geographically, but now also includes Malcolm X, which is on Ashby a few blocks west of Shattuck. Middle schools are also assigned by where you live (but completely different from the elementary zones) --the 2 default schools are M.L. King. Jr., and Willard--you either live in one zone or the other. Then there's Longfellow, an arts & technology magnet middle school, and that's where my daughter is--loves it, and thriving. Anyone can apply; it's also assigned by lottery. We live way up the hill by Grizzly Peak, but the drive isn't bad. Berkeley's a small town, compared to SF...even ''across the whole city'' is just a 15 minute drive... And like I said, all the schools are pretty darn good. Email me if you want to chat more...Heidi--mom of 3 kids, 6, 9, & 11. heidi
Hello, I am a San Diego resident relocating to the Berkeley area for school. I have two boys, currently 4 & 6 yrs, who will be coming with me and I would greatly appreciate any guidance I might receive regarding schools/neighbrhoods in the area. I am coming from a small beach town where my oldest son attends a small public school that has a wonderful community feel. I live in a very safe area that borders some relatively affluent areas but also provides some diversity. I am looking for the bay area equivalent, but unfortunately, no one I know in the area has children and therefore they do not have much to offer in the way of advise for schools. I am a single parent, need to live somewhere with relatively decent access to transportation (although this is not a first priority), need to live somewhere where my children can safely play outside (family friendly), but do not need to be directly next to the UC Berkeley campus. I am willing to travel to school if need be...depending on the accessibility of public transportation. I would like the most well-rounded neighborhood & school possible...which equates to a quality education, a safe area, diversity, arts, parks, and so forth. Does this wonderland exist? If so, where shall I look? Thanks so much for your time & response. - Erinn
Good news, bad news for you.
Bad news: you'll likely not have much, if any, choice of schools. Kids have already been assigned by lottery & many schools are "full". If you're moving to Berkeley during the summer, you may simply be placed into a school that has a spot. (That's my understanding, but talk with BUSD Admissions.) Don't assume you'll be assigned to your neighborhood school, or even one in your zone. Berkeley is divided into 3 school "zones" with 4 or 5 elementary schools per zone, (so you can live right next to a school, but get assigned to school across town that is also in your zone).
GOOD NEWS: Berkeley Unified is a desirable school district with great elementary schools that are well-rounded, generally small (less than 400 students) and diverse. Our schools are generously supported by the community through BPEF, PTAs, taxes... Thus, many schools have been able to continue enrichment programs (such as cooking/gardening, music, arts). While enrichment may differ by schools the general core curriculum is the same at each school. Naturally, families have different priorities/preferences as to schools, so advising you on which schools are best for you is difficult (but I would recommend all the schools in our Northwest Zone). We based our school selection initially because we liked a larger school, it was convenient & the playground had grass. Turns out there's a whole lot more to love about our school, namely the teachers and the community. As far as well-rounded neighborhoods, generally North Berkeley or anywhere in the hills. Public transportation is fairly good throughout the city. Hope this helps. Mama of 2 Thousand Oaks Kids in NW Zone
Hi - We are moving to Berkeley from the East Coast and are wondering in which section of Berkeley to rent. What is considered to be the best zone for elementary and middle schools? Thanks! -Jason
Welcome to Berkeley. It is a great town with schools that welcome parent involvement and interest. In Berkeley there is no ''best zone''. Sorry that your task may not be as easy as you hoped. The good news is that all three middle schools are good. The two that have geographic zones are ML King and Willard. Longfellow is the middle school that has some of the Spanish immerision classes but also English-only classes. All three middle schools have music, sports, gardens, honors math, etc. They all have a good share of strong programs. They all have challenges (like any school). By the time your younger student(s) reach(es) middle school, boundaries may have changed.
Regarding elementary schools, there are 3 zones, each with a few schools, each school with its strengths. Each zone crosses lines of household income, and parent education level; and has a mix of ethnicities. Students that attend a given elementary school come from throughout the zone. These zone boundaries can change over time, too.
Given all this, you may not want to base your decision about where to rent on which school zone you will be in. THey are all about equal. Which ever elementary school you end up at, please try to find time to volunteer. As you are likely aware, it will help you become a part of your new community faster, and it will help you better understand and support your student's school. There are also many great opportunites for volunteering at middle schools (writer's coach, fund raising, gardening, libraries).
And the high school is good, too, despite its own challenges. Welcome to Berkeley! another berk. unified schl dist mom
By far you want Kensington. We are also form the east coast (MD). We just got here in January. We are in Kensington, and our real estate agent guided us to Kensington because of the schools. If you go by kid population, it seems to be supported. LOTS of elementary kids in this tiny neighborhood. It's also supposed to be where the Cal (Berkeley to you) professors live. Can't really prove that yet. Wendy
Jason, unfortunately, in Berkeley you don't get to choose the schools that you want your child to attend; the district chooses for you. You have the option to rank your first 3 choices when you register for school, but that does not guarantee that you will get any of those 3. We did not get any of our first 3 choices and were assigned a school far across town (not a very green decision on the school district's part as our first choice was 3 blocks and walkable from our home). You can be put on a waiting list for the schools of your choice. In my opinion Oxford School is one of the best. Good luck. Choosing private school for kindergarten
We want our kids in public school all the way through high school (also, can't afford private), and currently reside in a neighborhood with a very bad school. So, we are thinking of moving to Berkeley from Oakland.
I've learned that there are 3 zones in Berkeley and within each you don't necessarily get your neighborhood elementary school or your top choice. So, can anyone comment upon which zone has the best elementary schools or, conversely, which has the worst?
Also, if anyone has experience with the middle schools and can comment upon which are the best/worst that would be appreciated too.
We value diversity and good solid teaching tailored to the children above mere standardized test scores (although I know this differs from the State's approach to public schools). Thank you!
We love Berkeley Arts Magnet, which is in both the North and Central zones. The kids and parents are really kind and friendly, and the teachers are inspirational. I don't know any parent in BUSD who doesn't like their kid's school though. bpn fan
We have been very happy with Cragmont Elementary (central zone) and King Middle School. Great families (more important than I knew!); dedicated teachers providing an excellent education in math, reading, history, science; many extras (art, field trips, PE, drama, music music music). Yes, the kids take the standardized tests. No, teaching is not tailored to the test scores. It is tailored to the state standards, which are pretty rigorous.
But I believe these good qualities are true at all BUSD schools --- we know BUSD families at pretty much all of the elementary schools and middle schools and most of those families are for the most part satisfied. Frankly I would not believe anyone who said one zone is better or worse.
That is not to say all the schools are identical. But different does not mean better or worse, just different.
There are only 10 elementary schools and 3 middle schools. Go on a few tours, attend a PTA meeting, visit the school during one of the many school events: spring carnivals, concerts, etc. You will not know what is right for your family until you check it out for yourself. Good luck BUSD parent
My husband and I and our two children (5 and 2) will be living in Berkeley for 6 months from July - December while my husband is a visiting fellow at UC Berkeley. We live in sydney Australia and our 5 year old son Max has just started Kindergarten here. We would like to enrol Max in kindergarten while we are in the States, but are having difficulty finding any web information regarding processes for international student / short-term enrolments in elementary school. (eg we can't find any information on the Berkeley Unified website re this and haven't been able to get in touch with Berkeley Unified staff through emails / phone). Our other issue is that our accommodation isn't finalised yet but we are waiting to hear about a place in the Southeast district.
So I thought I'd try this email list just in case there is anyone out there who can provide any pointers which would be fantastic! thank you
My understanding is that once you have proof that you will be renting in Berkeley, and you have proof that your child is of school age, that you can have them enrolled at a Berkeley school. You will likely not be able to pick a specific school, but all of the Berkley elementary school have great things going for them, so don't worry. There are lots of families that come to visit Berkeley for a portion of the year, so there are standard procedures in place to deal with this situation. Here is some information to help you access the office. Just keep calling.
Admissions and Attendance Office Central Administration Annex Building 1835 Allston Way Berkeley, CA 94703 Phone: (510) 644-6504 E-Mail: Admissions [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us Hours: 8:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00 P.M. Closed Tuesdays at 3:00 P.M. http://www.berkeley.net/enrollment/
Greetings, All. My family and I have been exiled in LA for the last 3 years. We are in a public charter school down here,but now my husband is out of work and wants to move back to Berkeley. While I am happy to move, I don't want to move the kids mid-school year, so we have agreed to wait and come back next summer. Here's the prob: We need to have a Berkeley address by Feb 6th in order to get into the first round of the lottery. We can't afford to maintain two households, so that isn't feasible, which means we'll either make the second round, which is in May or something, or just come back in June and take our chances. I spoke with the admissions folks at BUSD, who pointed out that we're going to have an additional challenge , as we will have a 3rd and a 1st grader, so the spaces will be limited anyway. This is all for background,here are my questions: 1. Has anyone moved in the summer and still gotten the school they wanted, or at least one of their preferences? 2. Am I mad to just let go and let God, so to speak,rather than trying to move heaven and earth to make it all work in time for the first lottery? I could move by Xmas and home school for the rest of the year. 3. All the schools (elementary) seem to get good reviews of one sort or another, so is it reasonable for me to relax about it? Abbi
We'll be glad to see you back in Berkeley, Abbi! I think you should move heaven and earth to make the first lottery round. You should give yourself the most time possible to try to get your kids placed together in the school of your choice before the school year starts,and obviously the first round is your best shot. It is indeed a challenge to find a spot in an upper grade in a school where you also want your little one. And it's nearly impossible to move kids together mid-year. E-mail me and we can discuss more. Heidi
Abbi, I turned my application in to BUSD on Feb 4 with my new Berkeley address where I was due to move in about a week, with a letter from my new landlord confirming my address and a letter explaining my situation. But, BUSD did not accept it for the first round of lottery even though I ended up turning in all proofs of residence only a few days after the deadline. I had been frustrated about school assignments for a few years so this time, I decided to just let it go, and let God take it from there. Lo and behold, BUSD gave me my second school of choice, for third grade.
I wouldn't think you are mad to just wait and see what happens. I wouldn't stress my family and myself too much over making a certain date on a calendar. If you have the option to do homeschooling after you move back here, that's great, but I would still go to the BUSD office and try to enroll the children mid-year (no lotteries involved here.)
With a little faith and God's holy intentions, you will get the school that is best for your children. Wishing you the best.
My experience: When my daughter transferred into the district in 3rd grade, she got her third choice school. I was not that pleased, but we ended up being very happy. My perspective: I think that since it's a crapshoot anyway, it might not be worth all the trouble to get a Berkeley address by Feb. Good luck! Anon
I'd say, relaaaaaax. There are only so many things you can control, and which school your kid gets into in Berkeley is not one of them, and fortunately, you are correct, each elementary school in Berkeley has a lot going for it. Educated families are a part of each school community. Families who care deeply about their kids are a part of each school community. Each school has children from all backgrounds and income levels. Each school has its own personality and none are perfect. I know families at every elementary school here, and it is definitely not worth stressing about. So get here when you get here, and let the school know when you are here. Don't lie to the district as it will backfire on you. They check addresses even more now than in previous years.
The key is to get involved in your kids school, and pick one thing (at least one) that you can dedicate time and energy to there each year.
Welcome back to Berkeley, in advance. Whichever school your family lands in, and wichever neighborhood you land in, will be glad to have a caring and supportive family. Mom
Hi, we are in the process of buying a house in Berkeley. We have two girls, ages 4 years and 7 months. We would like to send our kids to public schools if the public schools are a decent option. My husband has heard that the schools work on a lottery system. Is there any particular area in Berkeley where we should look for a house to take advantage of the public schools?? Thank you for your help! Lori
You are in luck! Berkeley has excellent public schools in all of its 3 zones, Southeast, Central and Northwest. There is a lot of information on the BPN website about the ins and outs of the lottery system, probably more info then you want. My own anecdotal experience has been that in talking to parents all over Berkeley there are great teachers and involved parents at all schools. Some of the schools with the ''best'' reputations do not necessarily live up to them, while some of the ''worst'' schools are pretty terrific.
Best thing to do is to visit, and then suss out your lottery choices based on that. And be prepared to be involved in your child's education. Busy BUSD parent
We are planning to relocate from Seattle, to Berkeley/Oakland area in the new year. Depending on the job situation we may move as early as Jan/Feb, or else later on, probably early summer. Either way we'll need to enroll our current kindergartener in school. I would appreciate ANY advice/first hand experience, on what to expect about this situation... I have heard that the Oakland schools are supposed to keep a few slots open for mid-year entries, but I expect at the more popular schools these may be gone. I haven't been able to find any info for Berkeley.... Vanessa
Google the berkeley unified school district and find the phone number for the Parent Access Office (if that is what it is still called). Francisco is the director. You should call and speak with him before the winter break.. He may be able to tell you which schools in the central zone have current kindergarten openings. Your future address is important (I think), although i saw something on BPN (this list serve) that after December the schools don't need to do the balancing. I imagine that there are waiting lists for some of the schools. You need to talk with Francisco and see what info he can tell you. You may need to actually be in town and have proof of residency before they will actually finalize your assignment. Francisco and his office can tell you what the procedure is for a mid-term new student. Welcome to Berkeley - it's a bit like a smaller Seattle, but with more sun and longer winter days (thank goodness!)
My husband, two children(girl 6, boy 10) & I will probably be moving to the East Bay in about a year--my husband is a tenured position here in Minnesota & has a lateral offer at UCBerkeley. We will be visiting with our kids in August & would like to focus them on areas we might like to live.
I would like feedback on the following questions: 1)Where should we be looking to buy (or rent for awhile, then buy) a house within an esy commute to Oakland/Berkeley if we are interested in maintaining our kids in public schools? and 2)If public schools really aren't an option, what private schools should we be looking at? Comments on aftercare available in conjunction with these schools would be appreciated, as would thoughts on housing prices. (Do not exclude the "pricey"--let us do that.
Background: we are a biracial family (white/Asian) as our kids were adopted from Korea as infants. They have been in multiracial, multicultural environments since infancy and have attended a public Montessori "magnet" school in St. Paul since age 4. Our son will be entering middle schoool (a crucial age) and has needed alot of attention--he is a pure kinesthetic learner (or at least he was at age 4 when he was tested) and has trouble staying focussed--not ADD according to his teachers, but at the restless end of normal. We think our 6 year old is gifted & her biggest problem will be that she is wilfully girlish & is going to have to be pushed to achieve. Mary Ann
Welcome! Here are some quick reactions to your questions.
Albany schools are well-thought-of. Nice, safe neighborhoods, but the town is mostly smaller stucco houses; three-bedrooms are rare and more expensive.
Berkeley middle schools, especially King and Willard, are good; Longfellow is smaller, newer, getting its act together. Will probably improve by the time you come. Elementary is more of a mixed bag, but you can do very well. You'll be at a disadvantage, though, registering in the summer. Berkeley K-5 school assignments are by zone (north, middle, south), and are done in March based on proof of residency supplied in February, so if you come in the summer, you'll get assigned what's left in your zone.
Oakland schools have some bright spots, but the overall picture isn't pretty.
The west Contra-Costa school district (Richmond, El Cerrito, etc.) has a lot of problems, except for Kensington's elementary school, and some folks like Harding in El Cerrito.
In any of these communities I wouldn't think your family would stand out as "different-looking". I'm a single white mom of two Peruvian boys, 11 and 8, and in our north Berkeley neighborhood and school, we're an entirely normal family. The same is not as true of communities over the hill (Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, etc.,) or in Piedmont, where the schools are better, but much less diverse (although what diversity is there tends to be Asian).
There are lots of private schools of every flavor in the East Bay, including several Montessori ones. But these are also much less diverse than the public schools (although they all claim to want more diversity). My experience is that private schools are not as good as public schools at handling kids that may need special ed. There are a couple new private schools just for girls that you may want to investigate for your daughter.
Afterschool care is pretty much school-specific; each school I'm familiar with has two or three options either onsite or reachable by district-supplied school bus, but you almost need to know the school you'll be in before you can get into specifics. There's Albany-Berkeley YMCA Kids Club, the Berkeley-Richmond JCC, several City of Berkeley programs, PTA-sponsored afterschool classes, etc. Quality and cost vary.
Housing prices are outrageous everywhere here, buying or renting, but are higher where the public schools are good (over the hill, Piedmont, and, to some extent, Albany). Most of the houses are older; lots of Berkeley and Oakland houses may remind you of the Twin Cities (I used to live in Mpls.).
Hope this helps. Jane