Black Pine Circle

Community Subscriber
Private School
315 students
admissions [at]
2027 7th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

Parent Q&A

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  • Dear BPN Friends:

    We are looking for an updated perspective from any current or recent families with kids at Black Pine Circle school - specifically their middle school.  We have a 5th grade child who is applying for BPC’s middle school.  Application results come out in a couple of weeks, so we were hoping to get some BPN perspectives ahead of time.

    In particular, we would like to understand how much academic pressure there is, the expectations for kids and families to keep up vs school-provided support, and the social-emotional well-being of kids.  Some of the specific areas include

    1) What is the homework level from 6th-8th grade like?  

    2) What kind of support do the kids get with homework, or if they are struggling with a particular topic in a class?  (Our kid can need assistance with math specifically and with executive functioning in general.) 

    3) does the school do a good job of knowing the kids, and managing the social emotional well being of kids?  What kind of support/intervention does the school provide when there is inter-personal conflict?  

    Any other middle school-specific advice/commentary about BPC?  Feel free to DM us if a quick chat is easier. 

    Hi there. We have a sixth grader at BPC (she attended public school K-5). We have had a great experience. The school provides an academically enriching experience while keeping stress levels low. The sixth grade math teacher is my daughter’s favorite teacher. There is a strong focus on social-emotional development and there are counselors on staff. Homework is roughly 30-60 minutes/day, and the teachers coordinate so that big projects are not due the same day. The math teacher helps kids during the lunch hour. All kids get a planner and instruction in how to keep track of their assignments. The head of the upper school is very focused on the students’ well being and I would trust him to handle interpersonal conflict in a supportive and affirming way. It’s a great school. 

    I have a 6th grader who started this year at BPC. We were worried about him being ready academically, as he'd gone through a public elementary, with Covid loss, etc.

    1. For 6th graders, I would say the homework levels are pretty light. He usually has 15-20 minutes a night. Not all teachers give homework. He usually has reading for English and some math problems. They have some time during the school day to work on homework as well. I have heard homework levels go up as they get to 7th and 8th, but not dramatically.
    2. For math specifically, the 6th grade teacher offers math help two days a week at lunch recess. She's also been very communicative with us about how our child is doing and what he needs.
    3. The students have an advisory group of around 15 kids. Their advisors know them well, they meet every morning at the start of the day and for a longer period once a week. We haven't dealt with any conflict yet, but I have found teachers to be responsive overall. There are also a couple school counselors, who I haven't worked with yet.

    We have tried to allow our child to manage his own time and homework, something he wasn't able to do at all in 5th grade. So far, he has really stepped up. Whatever the teachers are saying seems to be working for him. I wouldn't say there is a lot of academic pressure. The students are expected to do their work and show up ready to engage in class, and the teachers are there to support them in this. Happy to chat more if you'd like to dm me.

    We are a happy BPC family who joined in 6th grade from a public elementary school. We've loved the strong math program, incredibly dedicated teaching staff, thoughtful administration and general kindness of the community. Our outspoken and assertive kid loves the Socratic dialog encouraged in most classes and has developed great relationships with teachers. In our experience homework has been completely manageable, ramping up slowly from 6th grade to 8th. BPC is great at teaching kids to self-advocate and teachers offer re-dos on tests and extensions on assignments if the student communicates their needs ahead of time. We're lucky to have an academically strong kid but I get the sense that teachers are proactive at providing support if a student needs it. The faculty and staff are wizards at managing the interpersonal issues that inevitably arise in middle school and our kid weathered the socially dicey middle school years with a strong group of friends, including many kids who have been at BPC since early elementary school. We couldn't be happier with our choice!

  • I have fallen completely in love with Black Pine Circle.  Everyone I have spoke with loves it and every comment I have read is glowing.  It can't all be unicorns and rainbows, can it? No place is perfect?

    Does anyone have any constructive criticisms, negative feedback or complaints?

    I am ready to dive in head first, but want to make sure I don't have completely rose colored glasses on (which happens sometimes)!  


    No place is perfect, but BPC is close. My kids are in HS and college now and have very fond memories of their years at BPC (K-8). More importantly they were well-prepared for HS and beyond. It is a wonderful community. Go for it!

    We didn’t have a positive experience but my kids were in the lower school. Friends who stayed were very positive about the upper school ( middle school). You may want to ask about retention - like how many stay in a class or leave to go elsewhere. We found that many of he K-5 teachers were good at reaching the middle of he road students but not outliers. If your kid is average or bright side of average they could do well. Super bright probably not a good match. Also, can be hard for sensitive kids as classrooms small and noisy. As a reminder this only applies to elementary school.

    You don't say if you are talking about the lower school or the upper school. Our son is finishing his first year at BPC, 6th grade. It IS  wonderful and he is very happy and academically challenged and supported. But here are some cons, since you ask: The upper school campus is small. Our kid doesn't get to run around at recess so has lots of excess energy at the end of the day. The 6th grade boys all seem to play and watch each other play fusball at recess, which is kind of a bonding experience and prevents the issue of new kids not knowing who to each lunch with, but it is kind of limiting. My son says that the 8th graders take all the basketballs and hoops, so younger kids cannot play. The only other complaint we have heard is about the "wheel" classes. The kids love ethics with Mr. C but the teachers/curricula for Habits of Mind and Wellness could use improvement -- it seems like such a lost opportunity. Maybe others can speak to the lower school experience.

    All in all, I highly recommend BPC!

Parent Reviews

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We are a happy BPC family who joined in 6th grade from a public elementary school. We've loved the strong math program, incredibly dedicated teaching staff, thoughtful administration and general kindness of the community. Our outspoken and assertive kid loves the Socratic dialog encouraged in most classes and has developed great relationships with teachers. She weathered the socially dicey middle school years with a strong group of friends, including many kids who have been at BPC since early elementary school. Since your kid likes acting, they will probably appreciate that drama is taught as a class every year. The extracurricular band program is demanding but excellent. Another response mentioned that at Park Day the head of school stands outside in the morning and greets people -- same at BPC! He also showed up at the airport at 10pm to greet the 8th graders coming back from their study abroad with a box of donuts and is a fixture at performances, sports games, etc. We couldn't be happier with our choice.

Current BPC parent here. I don’t have experience with the other schools, but we love BPC. If your child likes theater, BPC could be a great fit. Sixth graders have two hours of drama class every week as part of the standard curriculum. And there is an after-school drama club as well. The academics are more rigorous than what we saw in public elementary school. The math faculty in particular is fantastic. There is a competitive math team that your kid might enjoy if they like math.

There is a very engaged and supportive parent community. Families seem to really love the school and get to know each other really well. The staff is very supportive and goes above and beyond. When my daughter left her violin at school during a school break, the head of school picked it up and dropped it off at our house. You probably can’t go wrong, but BPC is a great choice. 

As independent school open houses and info sessions for the 2024-25 school year go into high gear, I wanted to share how happy we've been at Black Pine Circle these last couple of months as a new family entering with a kindergartener. We came from an all-outdoor, play based forest pre-k and were worried about how he would do at a more traditional school, and he has been thriving. His head teacher is everything you could hope for, and the assistant teacher is sweet and adept. They are very responsive to questions and any issues that come up. The kids get art, music, library, and gardening once a week, plus Spanish and PE twice a week. The community has felt instantly welcoming, warm and kind. There is a real sense of care and special attention paid to getting to know new families. While it is a private school, there is a very down-to-earth feeling. Unfussy is a word that comes to mind.

We appreciate their holistic approach to learning, an emphasis on nurturing independent thinkers who know *how* to think and formulate a sense of self while making space for everyone, as well as the social-emotional focus.

BPC just celebrated their 50th anniversary and is a true hidden gem in the Berkeley independent school scene. There is a kindergarten info event on Sat, Nov 4. Go if you can!

BPC open houses & info events


On tour, take a look around and see if all the kids are looking happy and  engaged during free time, and not a lot of kids sitting around looking like they are disconnected. This will help get an idea of how well the school does at helping the kids make connections with eachother.

Ask about parent involvement because a school that has an active parent involvement generally means that parents are seen as a valuable member of the school's team.

See what types of clubs the school has since this can be a reflection of what the student body is like, their interests.

If it is important, ask where most kids go after leaving middle school.

Find out what kind of field trips the classes take which may show where the priorities of the school are.

Check to see what the backgrounds of the teachers are, if they have a specific grounded education in the subjects they teach or if they have a background in general teaching with a personal interest in a subject that they go on to teach without intensive subject training.

Black Pine Circle might be a great fit. The class population for each year is about 70 students, split into 3 clusters to make it an even more personal experience. The teachers really get to know your kids well and it shows in the report card comments (and 6th grade doesn't give letter grades to allow for the adjustment to middle school.) There are a lot of group projects with enough time to finish them. It is a challenging enough program with great social-emotional supports at every level.Teachers, administrators and all support staff are there to support every students' needs to help them learn. The social emotional learning tools are mostly incorporated into the day to day rather than provided as a separate unit - they walk the walk.

Drama and art are part of every year's curricula with experienced and passionate teachers offering really creative projects.

PE was only 2 days a week (for better or worse) with a PE teacher that is outstanding, prioritizing acceptance of everyone at their own level and sportsmanship and encouragement instead of competitiveness and single-mindedness for winning- he takes this very seriously.

The music teachers are great, too- all are very passionate and great at what they do.There is music incorporated in to every  school year with nontraditional instruments including steel drums and ukuleles! (Just be ready for early morning practices and last minute practice changes if in jazz band as an outside activity. But it is worth it!)

It has an awesome after-school, award winning Math Club. This is a reflection of the outstanding 7th grade math teacher and his team. He can be seen as intense by today's standards but he meets students at their own level, challenging those who he sees as capable, guiding those who need the extra care and guidance. His expectations are perhaps "old school" but he has high expectations in terms of paying attention and doing the work. But he is there, making himself available to those who do the work but need more help. Additionally, there is a math support specialist if more support is needed.

And last but not least, the sense of community is pretty fabulous. The school offers morning coffee social gatherings for parents to mingle, w/ heads of staff present, evening presentations, communicative grade level "room parents", monthly community matters meetings via zoom, family organized camping trips. Really nice folks, all around.

Black Pine Circle is a private school in Berkeley that fits this description! My daughter just started sixth grade there and loves it. We have friends with kids in the elementary school and they highly recommended it to us. They have a great support staff in addition to the classroom teachers and one of the school themes is “you can be yourself here.” 

I can't praise Black Pine Circle highly enough. They opened their doors to families wanting to transfer for the 8th grade. Our child was welcomed in the community; the teachers put no penalty on her for being new to the school or the system. The students were kind and welcoming to our child. The school leadership sets the right tone; they are very good people.  There seemed to be little self-stratification of the students by ethnicity, class, hometown, etc. As for the academics, I just don't know what to say. The humanities courses pull off an impossible combination of teaching rigorous thought and opening the students up to difficult conversations. Our student was profoundly motivated to learn history and literature; we were astonished by the new depths of her interpretations. This was the result of the teachers' own depth of understanding and their ability to create a classroom culture where the students worked hard to explain or even defend their interpretations and ideas to their fellow students. In short, the school fostered a true love of collective learning. Many have already pointed out how truly excellent the science and math education are. It would be one of the greatest strokes of luck in any kid's education to have Black Pine Circle's 8th grade science and math teachers. Science combines conceptual learning with lab work; students are excited that they can now understand everyday phenomena in new ways. Algebra is taught rigorously while applied math problems that draw students in are taught expertly. I really doubt that one can find a better middle school academic faculty in the East Bay. Black Pine Circle was a dream school for our eighth grader; she had to make a difficult change, and we expected a difficult time. She felt at home almost immediately, made great friends, and was prepared for the most rigorous high school curriculum.

p.s. Ah, how can I forget to mention the camping trip they made to Yosemite. It was cold; the tent got a little bit wet; and the food was challenging. But she came back self-confident, and smiling from ear-to-ear, happy to have shared beautiful vistas with classmates. The school gets in its bones that reverence and awe of the natural world are key to a kid's happiness. 

p.p.s. I can't believe I forgot to mention the independent project that 8th-graders do. The school has confidence that the students can be self-motivated by what interests them; they are not treated as incurious delinquents that have to be told what to learn. And the students pay off this faith and confidence in them with spectacular projects. 

If you are interested in looking at private schools nearby, our family was very happy with Black Pine Circle.  Lovely community of parents and kids.  The head of school, John Carlstroem, is amazing (and his daughter went to BPC), and he really sets the tone and vision for the whole school.  Teachers are excellent and experienced.  Great science program.  In the lower grades (K-5) they teach Spanish; once your child gets to middle school (6-8) they can take Spanish or Mandarin Chinese.  I highly recommend you check it out.

Black Pine Circle School has an excellent math and science program. In addition to great classroom math teachers, they have a math team.  This team does well in state-wide competitions, despite having only 60 students per grade.  The science program is also fantastic.  They recently built a state-of-the-art science center with classrooms devoted to biology and physics.  Kids have talked directly to scientists from places like the CDC in Atlanta and the Advanced Light Source at UC Berkeley.  There's a very active maker community, which overlaps with the math and science curriculum in that kids do 3D modeling and printing.  Check it out!

Our family lives in Pinole and our son has attended Black Pine Circle since kindergarten.  He’s currently in the 5th grade and attending BPC was the best choice we could have made for him.  Black Pine Circle offers a high quality curriculum with a strong focus on Socratic Methods.  The school’s curriculum is engaging and meets the needs of every child.  Our son comes home eager to share with us what he had learned at school.  BPC offers acceleration as well as additional learning support for students who need more support.  Black Pine Circle has allowed our son to thrive in an array of areas from mathematics to music.  The teachers at BPC are passionate and committed to ensuring students thrive academically and support strong social-emotional development. Every teacher will know your child’s name in the BPC community.  The leadership team at BPC is excellent and John Carlstroem, the head of school is a visionary leader.

Black Pine Circle offers an array of after-school programs including robotics, chess club, Taekwondo, drama, math club, band, and much more. I would highly recommend Black Pine Circle and it's definitely worth the commute.  Schedule a tour to gain additional insight on BPC. 

Have you considered Black Pine Circle School (BPC) in Berkeley? Both my kids went there for middle school (6th-8th grades). My daughter (now a senior in high school) is also a person who loves building things. She always has several projects underway, even now. In addition to being an academically and socially wonderful school which encourages kids to be creative in their own ways, BPC has a Maker Club that I suspect your daughter would appreciate. The club is run by one of the (amazing) science teachers. The kids are encouraged to be as creative as they would like be. There is a great deal of interesting equipment for the kids to use (e.g. 3-D printers) although all forms of building and "making" are encouraged. I would strongly suggest visiting BPC -- you'll get a real sense of the school and the kids. My kids couldn't be more different from each other and both had great experiences at BPC.

Check out Black Pine Circle.  Its a progressive, private K-8 school in Berkeley.  Its been amazing for my son and we are sending our daughter there next year.  

Our children, now 16 and 18, attended Black Pine Circle starting in kindergarten.  We loved the school, which combined excellent academics with music and the arts.  Each year Black Pine Circle hosts an event for high school seniors about to go off to college, which my daughter attended last spring.  Many students go on to UC schools, often Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz.  Alumni also were headed to private schools such as Yale, Brown, and USC (my daughter).  

We have two boys (8 and 11) who are also high energy.  They are thriving at Black Pine Circle.  I'll try to respond to each question:

1) The student population is probably as diverse as it gets for a private school.  There are many children (up to 50% in some grades) on financial aid.  The school community (which includes teachers, students and administrators) is ethnically and gender mixed. 

2) Ahh, boy energy!  The teachers expect many of the children to have lots of energy.  In some classes, the teachers let the kids run a lap on the yard if they can't concentrate.  My younger son was given fidget toys in class (like play doh) and allowed to work on math problems on the rug instead of in a chair. The first grade classroom has wiggle chairs that the kids can choose to use. The PE teacher (Coach Michael) is just amazing--boys and girls just love him.  PE is three times a week 1st-5th grade and 4 times a week for K.  Recess happens twice everyday.

3) I think everyone at BC feels as though they are part of a community.  We mourn the loss of community members together, we organize family camping trips together, we even plan moms/dads nights out.  We also invite parents and children to do community service together, go to afterschool parent education nights, and to have family maker nights.  The idea is that you can be as involved as you want in the school and in the community.  Some of our very closest friends have been made at the school.  

4) The areas that need improvement really involve space constraints.  I think the school would benefit from a dedicated music building--younger children play strings and older children are required to learn to play the recorder, ukulele and the guitar.  The band and orchestra programs could use space of their own with great acoustics.      

Hope this helps in your decision making!

I have two kids at BPC. We love the academics, teachers, and community. BPC has recently expanded their learning services so that kids who need extra help get it, and kids that need to be challenged more are. The things my kids have learned at BPC are remarkable, and they come home every day and tell me about something fascinating- Antarctica, the layers of the earth, Greek mythology, extracting DNA, etc. I also love how friendly all of the kids are- the older kids say hi to and look out for the younger kids, new kids are made to feel included, and there is virtually no bullying. The administration is very open to hearing suggestions from parents. I've never seen a school where the administration is so approachable. It's an all around inclusive environment- everyone has a voice.  We couldn't love BPC more.


BPC has everything kids and parents need, from a great education to great lunches, from great aftercare fun to fine strings tunes. Everyone knows that BPC is academically strong, and one can meet many kids from BPC at, for example, the UC Berkeley Math Circle But the real strength of BPC is the community: with families from different backgrounds and ethnicities (yes, BPC is as diverse as Babylon), we raise kids together and support each other on major projects and everyday routines.

Everything at school is organized wisely (not surprising, as they’ve chosen the Socratic approach): PE after math almost every day; outdoor aftercare where kids of all ages play together (great way to progress socially and emotionally!); delicious hot lunch from Nourish You - every picky eater finds something interesting to eat. Teachers are bright and engaged, everyone is a character you would never forget or confound with someone else. Mr.B., Mr. C., Mr. G. to name but a few. Our favorite is certainly Coach Michael! We were pretty sure our daughter would learn to read one way or another, but PE was a challenge. We can now enjoy the results of his amazing work.

There is, however, one issue with BPC: it’s difficult to take kids home after school! So, prospective parents, don’t come early and waste your time waiting, your kids will always ask for 15 minutes more!

Black Pine Circle expands from an enrollment of ~20 (in 5th grade) to an enrollment of ~60 (in 6th grade.)  So 2/3 of the 6th grade class is new to the school.  The newcomers integrate well with the students coming from 5th grade, energizing and tripling the class size. It's a great school!

Hi there,

we did exactly as you are doing.  Our two younger kids moved from BUSD to Black Pine Circle for middle school.  They had a wonderful experience there ....socially and academically.  It was small but had plenty of opportunity to make friends.  My younger is now a senior at BHS.  Both girls transferred back into BUSD for high school.   Here is something they each said to me going back into the public system for high school :  The found  it more difficult in HS socially as many of the peer groups/friend groups get solidified in middle school.  They made friends n high school but they mostly hung out with other private school kids entering into the public system.  My older daughter told me she regretted going to private school for those years even though we though it would serve her better that staying in BUSD.  I dont know if we did the right thing.  It certainly was not something we thought bout or considered when we were making that decision.  We thought since she continued with soccer and other outside activities that connected her with her public school peers, she would have those relationships already in place.  We were not exactly correct in that.  


My nerdy son (now in high school) thrived at Black Pine Circle School.  Avid learners were certainly encouraged, and found their peers!  He loved the science, math and Maker programs at BPC.  He is still not particularly socially mature, but a sweet, friendly kid, and lacking in teenage drama.  

Black Pine Circle's middle school has been a fantastic experience for our daughter.  Highly recommend it.  We came to the school in sixth grade, and we liked that the sixth grade cohort had 2/3 new kids and 1/3 kids moving up from 5th grade, so our child wasn't the only one new to the school.  Great academics, with an emphasis on kindness to each other.  The head of the school (John Carlstroem), and head of the upper school (Patrick Nelligan) are thoughtful, smart, accomplished, and approachable leaders.  Amazing teachers here who really love teaching middle school.   There is a great new science building (the Q Lab), which was completed on time and within budget.  Strong math and science here.  The student culture is centered around kids who love to learn and who are nice to each other.  Also, there is a nice parent community (and a lot of very accomplished folks in the parent body).  I can't say enough good things about BPC.  Check it out for yourself!

You have got to check out Black Pine Circle!  I cannot imagine a better school for a STEM-oriented child, particularly girls, and on top of that, their arts program is also quite strong.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

April 2015

RE: Which Middle School for STEM?

I highly recommend Black Pine Circle School! My daughter is currently in 2nd grade at BPC. We couldn't be happier. The science and math in the lower school are great, and only get better in the middle school. The teachers are amazing. The kids are regularly competing in and winning math and science competitions, and were even invited to the White House last summer. They have interesting visitors and speakers on a regular basis- they recently had a parent that works at a solar company come and give a demonstration, and they had a guy from Pixar give a talk about how he uses math to make movies. BPC even offered a coding class after school that my daughter took. It was taught by the director of technology with help from some of the eighth grade students. BPC is also in the process of raising funds to build a new science and technology building that will have room for kids to do science experiments and even a maker space where the school's four 3D printers will be housed. The head of school, John Carlstroem is amazing, and was a marine biologist before he became an educator. Torrie

Oct 2014

Re: Schools that offer 3-D printing classes

Black Pine Circle School has been a leader in 3D printing in education. They have four 3D printers, all of which are maintained (hardware and software) and operated by students. There is a ''Maker'' component in the incorporated into the middle school science/technology curriculum. As part of this, students worked with the ALS at Berkeley Lab to scan materials (such as an egg shell), and print magnified versions so they could examine their structure. There is an after school Maker Club which includes 3D printing along with other maker activities. Black Pine Circle makers were part of the White House Maker Faire this summer, and exhibit at both the East Bay Mini-Maker Faire and the full scale San Mateo Maker Faire. Check out their 3D printing blog at Karen

Black Pine Circle School, a K-8 school in Berkeley, has a strong maker culture, with a middle school Maker Club,, and the entire school is immersed in Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math at all grade levels. The middle school science teacher is a really cool woman who could be a wonderful role model to your technology-interested daughter. BPC is hosting a viewing of the ''Maker'' documentary with a discussion afterwards. - Sharon (parent of BPC and CPS graduates)

Feb 2014

Re: Private schools for gifted child
My son was way ahead in math and we found a good match for him at Black Pine Circle. My kids each switched schools at least once during elementary school or middle school, it really wasn't a big deal. They both found kids they already knew at their new schools, made new friends and continued to be friends with kids from the old school. anon

Ecole Bilingue vs Black Pine Circle

Feb 2014

I'd appreciate hearing other people's experiences with these two schools and any thoughts on which school was 'better' for your family and your child. We are considering these schools for our K-age child who currently attends a language immersion pre-school. What we like about EB: language immersion, global focus, solid academics. What we like about BPC: small school/family feel, great balance between whole child and academics, music and performing arts starting in K. Our concerns about EB: it may be too big for our child who is 'mild/shy'; we perceived a lack of socioeconomic diversity - is that the case? It looks to have a more 'traditional' curriculum, and it's 20% more expensive (is the difference worth it?). Our concerns about BPC: the facilities didn't impress us, and we have questions. Is there enough focus on globalism? How much screen time is in the classroom from the early grades? Is the air quality poor from being close to Pacific Steel? They're both great schools, and we're fortunate to have these options, but it's hard to know which will be best for our child. Any thoughts/advice is very much appreciated. Thank you. Debating dad

Our daughter went to Black Pine Circle for two years. She didn't have a terrible experience, and I thought the music program was great, but we were dissatisfied in a few areas. Her class had a fairly significant problem with bullying and social exclusion. Our daughter was fairly popular but was disturbed by the mean behavior she witnessed, and I brought it up in our annual parent/teacher conference our second year. The teacher's response - ''oh, it's normal, they're just sorting out their pecking order.'' My response, ''they're not chickens, they need a little help in this process.'' In short, I didn't think they were quite strong enough on the social/emotional side of things, but it may have gotten better.

I also wasn't that impressed with the opportunities for differentiation, especially for highly gifted students, although it's probably better than what you would find at many public schools. I didn't find the lower school administration to be particularly flexible or willing to work with us on these areas of concern. It can be a great fit for some kids, and I think the middle school in particular has its strengths. I like the seminar style Socratic approach in the middle school, and I think overall the school can be a good fit for bright students who prefer a quieter environment and don't have any special learning issues or social problems. Overall I liked a lot of the other families, it tends to attract a fairly creative intellectual crowd and a lot of Berkeley faculty send their kids there, which we enjoyed as a fellow faculty family.

I had co-workers that had kids who went to EB and loved it and went on to CPS afterwards. Some kids thrive in that sort of environment and some don't, it's just something to think about. former BPC family

We have been a Black Pine Circle family for more than a decade. Although my daughter did get into both schools, and we chose BPC, and I have no experience at Ecole Bilingue.

We have loved BPC. The academics and music programs are great. The school community is wonderful. With the small class size, your child gets to know everyone. My daughter is a graduate, and she was very well prepared for high school.

I think BPC has taken a thoughtful approach to ''screen time.'' There are chromebooks available for classroom use, but they are generally used when a teacher decides they would be an asset for a special lesson or project.

As far as ''globalism'' BPC students certainly study other cultures. For example, in first grade, there was a focus on Ghana, studying the culture, communicating with a class in Ghana, etc. There is a Spanish program starting in kindergarten.

It's true that BPC has a small yard, but it is put to good use. The beloved PE teacher (Coach Michael) gets all the kids up and exercising. There are enthusiastic games of soccer, wall ball, kick ball, etc. playing every day before school and at recess. We didn't find this to be a problem. As far as other facilities, beyond the classrooms, there is a library, a music, a science room, and the children use the lovely art room in the Middle School.

Honestly, there is a lack of socioeconomic diversity in all local private schools. All local private schools would love to have a more diverse student body, but finances are a driver. Some schools charge higher tuition, and give more financial aid, but this can create two groups of student (one paying full tuition and the other on scholarship.) Some schools try to keep tuition down, hoping to draw some families who couldn't afford private school otherwise.

As for air quality, both Black Pine Circle and Ecole Bilingue are near the freeway. We have never noticed the influence of Pacific Steel because the wind blows in the opposite direction. BPC Parent

My 12-year-old daughter has attended Black Pine Circle since Kindergarten and I can honestly say that sending her to BPC was one of the best decisions I have made as a parent.

Black Pine Circle has a welcoming, stimulating and creative environment. There is a high value placed on caring for one another and participating in making the world a better place through kindness, caring, inclusion, friendship and environmental stewardship – and BPC students take those principles seriously. If you have visited the school, you probably noticed it pretty quickly.

Among the many things that we love about BPC, one trait that really stands out is the size. My daughter started as a quiet student who could have easily become lost in a crowd in the classroom or on the playground. With 20 students per grade, there was no way to get overlooked. The kids in her class formed a tight bond and know each other like family members.

(By the time they got to 6th grade they were ready for more. In the upper school there are almost 60 students per grade, and that is perfect.)

BPC teachers are amazing. Over the years my daughter has had teachers who have written books, produced films, performed in theater productions, traveled around the world, shared experiences growing up in other countries and been recognized as outstanding teachers in their fields. They are the kinds of people you not only would want as teachers for your child, but as friends. Interesting. Thoughtful. Smart. Kind. Creative.

Whenever my daughter struggled socially or academically, the teachers and administration were always supportive of her and communicative with me. In the early years, they were quick to jump in and help navigate the social dynamics in the classroom and on the playground. In the classroom when students struggle (or excel) with reading, math or science, teachers provided individual help. I can honestly say that each of her challenges has lead to growth because her strengths and challenges were always seen.

The playground has been one of my daughter's favorite spots from day 1. In her early years the climbing structure was an important part of her morning and afternoon ritual, later the outside deck and the cozy corners became her home base. After that her enthusiasm was for dodge ball and wall ball. Now that she is in the upper school she insists we get to school the minute the gates open so she will have plenty of time for 4-square. It's not that she is a sports nut, but she loves the social connections that happen at recess and the comfort she feels.

We chose BPC because we loved the small campus, the Socratic method, the administration’s focus on respecting children’s thought process and the commitment to diversity. We wanted a school that was strong academically, and also offered an opportunity to develop close friendships and thrive socially.

Pleasant surprises along the way include: learning violin in Kindergarten, performing in plays several times a year leading to comfort in public speaking, making a film with her classmates in 2nd grade and continuing to point out cinematic elements when we watch movies years later, learning math and science in a whole new way, loving creative writing and history, loving her PE coaches, having a true global perspective, developing friendships with other families, embracing diversity in a fun way and continuing to feel connected to such a great community.

Six years later, I never forget what a privilege it is to be a part of such a warm, thoughtful and engaging school. Happy BPC Mom

My child attends BPC, so I can't speak to EB. My child, however, also attended a language immersion pre-school, and I also debated the value of continuing that 2nd language and more international exposure at a language immersion school, or sending her to a school that would be the best fit for her and our family's needs. I ended up choosing BPC. My daughter has been attending for 2 years now, and I am even more grateful this year than last for all the ways BPC has been supporting the intellectual curiosity, emotional growth, confidence and joy of my child. For me, watching my child struggle at a pre-school that I as a parent chose because I admired its community and ethos, made me re-think what kind of school would be best for my child (my child is also shy). Strong academics for me were at the top of the list, but equally important was being at a school that would give her the emotional resilience and confidence to excel in the areas that are her natural gifts, and tackle those things that are not. The small family environment BPC's faculty and afterschool staff have created, provides this in spades. Every adult and many of the older kids greet, hug, chat up, leave notes of encouragement for my child every day. Could there be more focus on globalism? Maybe, but I can also provide that. Would language immersion be better? Maybe again, but I started learning a 2nd language in high school and am pretty proficient in it. Can I be there every day to make sure my child is being supported in a multi-faceted way? Unfortunately no, but ever since my child started at BPC, I have never felt I needed to be. Hope this helps, and best of luck w/ your decision. If you have any more questions about BPC, please feel free to ask the moderator for my email. (On a side note re the air quality -- our pediatrician at Berkeley Pediatrics sent their kids to Duck's Nest which is even closer to Pacific Steel and wasn't concerned.) BPC mom

BPC all the way. Super down-to-earth parent community. Innovative teaching and excellent curriculum. Many BPC students, like my own kids, are on significant financial aid. School prioritizes all kinds of diversity. I would estimate about 70% of each class is comprised of international families in which at least one parent, if not both, are from a country outside of the US. Most kids in the classrooms are bilinguals in English and a home language. My parent friends are from Israel, Iceland, Nepal, Cuba, Sweden, China, Hungary, Mongolia, Singapore, Iran, UK, etc. Never experienced any bullying and the school has made recent efforts to include more socio-emotional curriculum. BPC parent who also applied to Ecole

Editor Note: reviews were also received for Ecole Bilingue

Sept 2013

Re: What schools have differentiated instruction?
My husband and I looked for a school with differentiated learning beginning in Kindergarten. We found it at Black Pine Circle. Differentiation in Kindergarten began within the first three weeks of class. BPC also has a learning specialist whose sole job is to work with kids who need even more individual attention than what is found in the classroom. The learning specialist works with children on both ends of the spectrum. she works with children to help them catch up and she works with advanced learners to keep them challenged. Happy Parent

June 2013

Re: Middle School for boy into history/philosophy
Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley sounds like it might be a good fit for your son. BPC is very strong in many areas, including history. They offer an 8th grade Philosophy class and 7th graders learn to ''map the world''. You also said your son is interested in Chemistry and strong in Math. BPC has an award-winning math team and a great hands-on science program. They even have a 3-D printer that students get to tinker with (think ''Maker Faire'' type activities). - parent of 2 BPC graduates

Jan 2013

Re: Which private elementary for highly gifted child?
Hi there, I wanted to strongly suggest you consider Black Pine Circle -- it sounds as though you already are. I have two children at the school, a 3rd grader and a Kindergartener, and I cannot say enough wonderful things about our school. We looked at all the schools you mentioned, as well as a number of others, when my first son was entering school. I felt that BPC was the one that truly combined outstanding academics with a deep and thoughtful arts program -- so that in addition to wonderful math and science enrichment classes,, students also are inspired by a terrific music and arts program, strings lessons starting in K, etc. After 4 years there, I am so happy with our choice. Because there are 2 full time teachers in each classroom, there are many opportunities for small group and 1:1 teaching, and opportunities for enrichment abound for kids who are advanced in different areas. Even better, the school is extremely non-competitive and very collaborative -- kids want to learn, get excited about learning, get used to working together a ton, and generally don't really know or much care who is ''ahead'' and who isn't. The focus on socratic inquiry means that there is always something more to explore -- which is great for a gifted kid, or really for any kid -- rather than just trying to get the right answer, teachers are always probing kids to think a little more deeply about their answer, to take things to the next level. We haven't gotten to middle school yet, but I am really looking forward to that as well -- in many ways, I think that those are the years where the ''socratic'' teaching really takes off, and the work that I've seen from the students there is pretty impressive. I think it's quite hard to pull all this off -- to create a space that nurtures each child's individual personality to the fullest, while maintaining a very high level of academic excellence in a positive and engaging manner. BPC really pulls it off. BPC parent

Dec 2012

Re: Seeking excellent music program for 8 year old
Black Pine Circle in Berkeley, a K-8 school, has a fantastic music program. They have excellent teachers and put a strong emphasis on music. All the kids learn to play the violin and read music. They have several orchestras in the school (and a funky band in the middle school). If your child loves singing and playing music then BPC would be a great fit. Great school in every other area too!

Hi! For an elementary school with a good music program and solid academic program, you should check out Black Pine Circle in West Berkeley. The music program there was one of the main reasons we chose it for my son, who seemed not only musically inclined but also a quick study in math. Starting in kindergarten, the kids can take string instruments as an option (during the school day) and on top of that everyone has a regular music class 3 times a week. Drama and visual arts are also emphasized, and the arts are considered as vital to a basic education as strong academics. As the kids get older, there are lots of different ways to develop musically, with junior orchestra for 2nd and 3rd graders who have been playing an instrument at school since K or at home with private lessons, and then moving on to advanced orchestra, band, and chorus. At the middle school level they can participate in solo and ensemble concerts. We just had the school winter concert for K-5 today, in fact, and it was so fun to see the kindergarteners handling their instruments and the progress up to the 5th graders playing demanding classical music or rocking out in band. (The band teacher is especially great!) I really like how much a part of everyday school life music is, with a large portion of the school body toting around instruments from the youngest age--it's just the norm. Anyway, check it out. It's an independent school, but tuition is on the reasonable side among East Bay independent schools, under $20K, and financial aid is available. Sarah

Dec 2012

Re: Schools that foster creativity?
You might want to take a look at Black Pine Circle School, a K-8 school in Berkeley, for your ''super creative'' kid. In addition to strong academics, they have amazing art, music, and drama programs. They have a beautiful art studio, art all over the walls, regular music (vocal and instrumental) classes and performances, creative drama activities and shows, and more. Also, you said your daughter likes writing. Many of the students at BPC are deeply involved right now in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). My son and daughter graduated from BPC and I am so pleased with the creativity that was allowed to blossom there, hand in hand with the best math and reading/writing programs in the Bay Area. - Sharon

Nov 2012

Re: Black Pine Circle vs Prospect Sierra
We took a serious look at both Black Pine and Prospect Sierra for our child. Prospect Sierra seemed academically rigorous and seemed like a great environment for playing and learning. We were impressed with the teachers and the curriculum at Prospect Sierra, but we chose Black Pine for our child because of the school's willingness to differentiate learning. Black Pine really strives to meet each child at his or her academic place. There are times every week that our child is taught one-on-one by a learning specialist who is tailoring curriculum specifically for our child. I don't have any knowledge about bullying at either school. I believe both schools have a no tolerance policy. Either choice will be a good one!

March 2012

Re: so many good schools to choose from - which one?
My child has been at Black Pine and Park Day so I will speak to those two. I think you have to know your kid. My nerdy boy who is gifted in science and an avid reader is much happier at Black Pine Circle. At Park Day there were not as many potential matches for friends. In general I think the social environment at BPC is better than at Park for gentle and sensitive boys in particular. We had far fewer problems with bullying at BPC than at Park Day. The playground at BPC is small, but in our experience, that means it is much better supervised. Park does not, I think, screen for academic preparedness, while I think BPC does. There were definitely more ''spirited'' boys at Park. The classroom environment at BPC is definitely more structured than at Park and to my surprise that too was a huge benefit for my child. The math enrichment at BPC is strong. The creative writing and writer's workshop seemed stronger at Park Day and the afterschool program at Park Day was richer in terms of offerings. There is a kind of joyfulness in the air at Park Day, as well as a lot of kid sense, and that is definitely worth a lot. If, however, your kid is not a good fit -- and if you have any anticipation that your child might be a target for bullying -- it could be very difficult. another mom

Feb 2012

We have applied for admission to Black Pine Circle School and The Berkeley School for next year and would be interested in hearing from parents at either school or ideally, a parent who has had some experience with both schools. They seem similar to us in that they both promote academic excellence and incorporate the arts into the curriculum. But we have the impression that perhaps Black Pine has more of an academic focus, while The Berkeley School may be more attuned to teaching the whole child and promoting social and emotional development. Does The Berkeley School have a more laid back vibe? Does Black Pine Circle seem more academically rigorous or comptetitive, especially as the students progress to the upper grades? Any feedback or insights would be appreciated. Thank you! prospective parents

My son is an 8th grader at Black Pine Circle and we have been really happy there. It is a wonderful community; nice kids, fabulous teachers and a really responsive and thoughtful administration. My son was not particularly academic when he started at BPC in 6th grade. He has blossomed in ways I couldn't even have imagined. The teachers are so passionate and engaging that when you walk into a classroom all the students are paying attention and participating. It is an academic school but not in a boring, conformist way. There is a school culture that supports being smart, creative and hard-working. It is cool to be smart but it isn't about getting all - its about stretching and challenging yourself. This is a school that turns out deep thinkers who are thoughtful and curious and comfortable questioning the world. They also have terrific music, drama and p.e. programs. One other thing I like, they bring in a whole new class of 20 additional kids at 6th grade so your child isn't one of a few new children. That makes a big difference in terms of integrating into a new school. If you have a child that genuinely likes school (or you wish they did), Black Pine Circle will be a great fit. Happy Mom

My children (now in 5th and 7th grades) have attended Black Pine Circle since kindergarten. While Black Pine Circle does have an academic focus, it is not competitive, even in the upper grades. The school strives to allow each student to reach their own potential, and the students support each other. It exudes a strong feeling of community, and definitely promotes social and emotional development. We have been very happy with the school. (I have no experience with The Berkeley School, so can't compare the two.) Karen

Feb 2012

Re: Finding a school for a well balanced education
You asked: ''Is it silly to want a private school that has strong academics but also offers art and PE to its younger children?'' No, it's not silly at all! There are schools around here (both public and private) that offer art and PE in addition to strong academics. Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley is one such school. The school was founded by folks who wanted an equal emphasis on academics and the arts. ALL STUDENTS in grades K-8 study art, music, drama, PE (and other subjects like tech and gardening) in addition to their regular academic subjects. BPC has a dedicated art studio, all-school music and drama performances, a rock climbing wall, math and science specialists, a podcasting studio, and much more. The mathematics program at BPC is particularly strong (and award winning!). My son and daughter are both BPC graduates in high school now, and I think BPC is the best school ever! - Black Pine Circle mom

Feb 2012

We are considering Black Pine Circle School for our child. I have read the reviews on BPN but am hoping that some BPC parents can comment more specifically on music and math, e.g., how good are the violin and cello lessons in the lower grades? what is your experience of the orchestra and/or band? does your child like the math circle? does the math circle have an even gender ratio? any other thoughts? Anon

I have two children at BPC. My son is in the 7th grade and my daughter in the 5th grade. Both have been attending since K, and both were enrolled in the cello and violin programs in the early years, and the teachers were outstanding. Other parents whose children have continued on to the orchestra or band programs will be more qualified to comment, but as a spectator I can tell you that I have seen many of my children's classmates blossom in both programs, and it is always an amazing experience to go to the concerts and watch Mr. Djemilev conduct the orchestra of students as young as 4th graders through complex and beautiful pieces, or having so much fun at band jamming with the incredible and energetic Mr. Kennedy. I am sure that you have already read about the amazing Math program at BPC. My daughter, now in the 5th grade, has started Math Club with the legendary Mr. G, the middle-school Math teacher. There are several girls in the club, and although I cannot honestly say that my daughter ''loves'' going to Math Club (Mr. G, an incredibly talented teacher, is very demanding and not the cuddly type), I have seen her confidence in math soar, and getting a compliment at Math Club means the world to her and makes her very proud of herself and her achievements. It was so incredible the other day when we were out hiking and she looked at a plant and said, mom, look, the Fibonnaci spiral, I learned about this in Math Club. Talk about integrating Math in the real world. We love Black Pine Circle, the school and the community! Maria

Jan 2012

Re: Where does your middle-schooler go to school?
My middle-schooler, a boy who was having social difficulties in BUSD, has been very happy at Black Pine Circle School. BPC is strong in academics, but we have especially appreciated the staff focus on promoting kind interactions between kids. About half the 6th graders are usually new to BPC, with the other half attending since elementary school. Very pleased with BPC

Nov 2011

Re: Private schools in Berkeley
I noticed your post because I am from Spain, but live here and my children attend a wonderful private school in Berkeley. It is called Black Pine Circle, and it's a small, intimate, and well-rounded school, with an outstanding arts (plastic arts, music and drama) program but also very strong academically. Thirty percent of the student population receives financial aid. Check it out at My children are in 5th and 7th grade and have been attending since Kindergartner. We absolutely love the school. Also of interest to you may be the Escuela BilingC Nov 2011

I have two daughters who attended Black Pine Circle upper school. I was very impressed with the creativity and intelligence of the faculty. They inspire a love of learning, intelligent, critical thinking, and a connection to the school for which everyone-- teachers, parents, administrators, students--seem to feel a huge amount of pride. The teachers know how to reach kids of this age and create vibrant learning environments in their classrooms. BPC cultivates a warm and nurturing environment where children feel seen and respected and understood. Students seem to really love all aspects of school at BPC. It is a happy place. BPC continues to exceed my expectations, both in terms of the sustained value my high schooler feels now that she is in a very academically challenging high school, and in terms of my daughter who still attends the school and has blossomed and thrived both socially and academically. Jamie

Nov 2011

My son has had a really extraordinary middle school experience at Black Pine Circle in Berkeley. People toss around the words "engaging" and "stimulating" but how do you describe the joy your child has in going to a school? In the classroom kids are paying attention, participating, working hard and smiling. It has a really supportive school culture and kids are nice to each other (not your typical middle school experience). The classes are small and teachers are interesting, challenging and really know their students. Math and English are hugely popular classes because they are so well taught. History has been absolutely fascinating and I have learned things along with my son. My son is going to Costa Rica this spring with his Spanish class. The school has a rich music and arts curriculum (the elementary school kids all learn an instrument and the school has several orchestras and bands of varying ages). Everyone does drama Cb from Shakespeare to playwriting and improv. Even PE is fabulous. The whole school does a community service day together, the community actively supports a shelter for homeless families and 8th graders work weekly at a local school for developmentally disabled children. The head of the school is absolutely fabulous and so is the head of the upper school. This is a school where your child will be known and appreciated and parents input is welcome. BPC has managed to draw my son into intellectual exploration and encouraged curiosity about the world. He works hard as a student not for the grades but for the pure pleasure of it. This school has been our dream school and I am grateful every day I drop off my happy child that we found it (and check out the lower school for elementary!).

Oct 2011

Re: Middle School for son with advanced math & science
Our academically advanced and intellectually motivated kid has been very happy at Black Pine Circle Middle School. It you have a kid who likes working hard, is motivated, and would enjoy being surrounded by a lot of very bright and motivated kids, it is a great fit. The only complaint I hear about the school is that the kids are expected to do a lot of work. That being said, the work is interesting, the teachers are really tremendous, and the work pays off in what the kids gain intellectually. BPC parent

March 2011

Re: Good Elem School(s) for Sensitive Boy?
From the way you describe your intense, bright, sensitive boy....I could have been you two years ago! We searched for the right school to address this set of personality traits and looked at all the places you mentioned, plus others. We were coming from a large, loving but chaotic preschool that had, in retrospect, been a pretty bad match for our kid, and wanted to make sure that he would be able to settle down, fit in, and focus in Kindergarten. We chose Black Pine Circle and two years later, I could not be happier. It is the PERFECT school for this type of child. Nurturing, with great attention given to the individual child (2 full time teachers in each class), academics that challenge and engage (starting in K there are specialists in Math, Science, Spanish, music, art, computers, great PE every day, gardening -- it's amazing), AND a music/arts program that is really unparalleled. The community is great -- from the Friday assemblies, where the classes take turns putting on a play for the entire school, to the interclass ''house'' activities, a great focus is put on building friendships and community across grades. The school is filled with children like your son -- smart, quirky, down to earth individuals -- and the teachers really ''get'' each kid for who they are, and expect them to be their best selves. And it works. My son LOVES school and he is learning a ton. His change in attitude compared to preschool has been astonishing. Oh -- and last but not least -- John Carlstroem, the head of school, is the real deal. An exceptional educator, scholar, thinker, and just an all around really good guy. I could go on and on (already have, haven't I?) -- coming to Black Pine Circle is really one of the better parenting decisions we've made for our own ''sensitive'' boy. Please feel free to email me if you want to discuss more details. Emily

Dec 2010

We're considering applying to Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley for our two children entering first grade and sixth grade next year. Appreciate advice from people with recent experiences in the lower and upper schools at Black Pine Circle. Thanks in advance! Hopeful Parent

Black Pine Circle ( is an extraordinary place and one of the very best schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two years ago, when we were looking at kindergartens for our now-first-grader, we checked out just about every private school in the East Bay and all of the public schools in our Berkeley district. When we stumbled upon BPC, we knew almost immediately that it was where we wanted to be. Some of the highlights:

--Small intimate school where all of the teachers know my kids (including my preschooler who isn't even attending yet)--and we know them.

--Two top-notch, inspired, respected teachers in every classroom of 17-20 kids on average.

--Most importantly, we didn't want to have to choose between a school with strong academics and a progressive school attuned to the social and emotional development of every child. With BPC we got both.

--About a third of every day is dedicated to the arts: music, visual art, dance, and drama, and the arts are integrated throughout the curriculum. I absolutely love that our son has been playing cello and performing since kindergarten. Educational research shows clear connections between the study of music and math/science, so it's no surprise that the upper school math team consistently ranks among the best in the entire state. No small feat from a small school.

--The Socratic method isn't just talk. Kids are learning through rigorous questioning.

--It's a diverse school and most families have two working parents--the common thread is that they're all committed to helping their children get the best possible education and to become actively engaged with the local and global communities of which we're all a part.

--John Carlstroem, the head of school, is the real deal--an educational visionary and talented administrator with whom you'd also want to hang out over beers. He's dramatically increased the scholarship fund in the last few years and has made a very serious commitment to continuing to build diversity at all levels. Plus, he personally teaches a history of philosophy course to the eighth graders!

BPC is a school where no child is left behind because they're over- or under-performing. I don't know of any other school like it in the East Bay. We couldn't be happier. Seth

My two children have been in Black Pine Circle since K. My son is now in the 6th grade and my daughter in the 4th grade. We absolutely love the school. Apart from the fact that it provides our children with a fantastic education (equally strong in academics and the arts), both children absolutely love the school. They genuinely feel like it is their extended family. I specially appreciate the teachers' dedication. As an example, this month the 4th grade assistant teacher spearheaded the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). She went well beyond the call of duty to ensure that all 4th and 5th graders met their word count challenge. I watched my daughter, who was initially very anxious about writing in general, enthusiastically finish a 3000 word novel in a month. The transformation was incredible. My daughter is now much more secure about her writing abilities, and I am forever grateful to this young teacher for having so tirelessly guided her and her classmates through this challenge. Black Pine Circle faculty and staff celebrate my children's unique strengths and talents every day, while they lovingly guide them through their shortcomings and challenges.

My children have between them been to several independent schools in the East Bay, and Black Pine Circle is the one that has my heart. What I really appreciate about the school is that although the academic culture is not at all competitive the students are intellectually very engaged. When my son was in 3rd grade, for example, the boys made up oxymorons for fun during lunch recess. It's a great place for a kid who gets excited about ideas, a very rich and creative environment.

The school seems to encourage students to have a strong conceptual framework. This year, for example, my son's fourth grade class is engaged in the obligatory study of California history. His teacher had the students make relief maps of the state of California so that they could think about how the physical features of the geography of the state affected patterns of settlement. It was such an interesting way of approaching the obligatory study of the Miwok, the missions and the '49ers. I have especially appreciated this focus regarding students' conceptual strengths in math. The lower school students have one session a week with a math specialist, who also offers a math club at lunch recess and in afterschool. This has been so important to giving my son a sense that math is more than just manipulating numbers and memorizing math facts, that it can be conceptually engaging and even beautiful.

I knew about the award-winning math program before we began but had no idea that the science program would be so strong. The lower school science teacher, Cris Mytko, is very gifted and really knows how to inspire the kids. My son often comes home bubbling over with information about the science experiments he has done. Ms. Mytko trusts the kids with materials that most elementary school students don't get (they dissected a cow's eye in 3rd grade and experimented with dry ice in 4th). This summer she won the Iron Science Teacher competition at the San Francisco Exploratorium (it's patterned after the Iron Chef; they give science teachers raw materials and tell them to devise an experiment for students on the spot). When she teaches a unit, my son ends up having a better understanding of the material than his parents, with their remnants of college science.

Both the lead teachers and assistant teachers are very dedicated; my son's assistant teacher spear-headed the class's involvement in NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) and wrote alongside the kids at write-ins at various Berkeley cafes in the evenings and on weekends.

When I ask my son about his day at school on any given day, he gives one of three answers: ''fun,'' ''great,'' or ''good.'' Then he'll start talking about the novel-writing competition (''best part of the day'')or tell me about that day's science experiment (''did you know that graphite conducts?''). One couldn't ask for much more. Sophie

Sept 2010

Re: Private Middle School with strong academics
When I read your post, it felt like you were describing Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley EXACTLY! My two kids both graduated from BPC (they started out in an Oakland public school before transferring to BPC). I'll try here to address all the items you asked about in your post.

BPC has an exceptionally strong middle school math program, with algebra and geometry in 7th and 8th grade, and individualized programs during regular class time for students who are ready to go beyond that. Also, their (after school) advanced math team is top notch. Science is very hands on at BPC, with earth science, chemistry, and biology. (Our lower school science teacher won the ''Iron Science Teacher'' competition at the Exploratorium this summer!) In addition to all the hands-on lab work, sometimes the gardening teacher devises hands-on lessons in conjunction with the science teachers as well. The Head of School is a marine biologist who used to be the chairman of Save the Bay, and he is passionate about science.

All students take three years of Spanish (taught by native speakers). All middle school students take Art, Music, AND Drama (no electives; everybody gets these important subjects). All students take part in community service and all 8th graders complete a ''master work'' project before graduation. This is a hands on project designed by each student around something they are passionate about, and supervised by their masterwork advisor. BPC also has technology classes in their computer lab, as well as podcasting in their podcast studio. The beautiful BPC library is staffed by two MLIS-credentialed librarians. BPC uses the Socratic Method of teaching which allows plenty of room for differentiated learning.

As you can see, BPC offers everything on your ''wish list'', and more. The teachers are so caring and committed to the students. Check out their website and go on a tour to see for yourself. It's such a gem of a school. Happy parent of two BPC graduates

Hello, I have had 2 kids go through Black Pine Circle MIddle School and I think both of them had an EXCELLENT math education. Mr G, the 7/8th grade teacher is one of the most inspiring math teachers they have experienced. Go visit this fall and good luck. anon

I have a chld who is in 7th grade at Black Pine Circle middle school, coming to BPC after public elementary school. I think it is a tremendous setting for intellectually curious and gifted children. From what I see, the school is able to challenge and engage the kids in those subjects in which they are particularly strong, and also keep them engaged and working hard in those subjects that are more challenging. There is also a strong focus amongst the kids themselves in learning and intellectual curiousity, which is really lovely. There is very little private school pretense, just a lot of smart, engaged kids who are eager to learn. good luck BPC Parent

Hello, This post is in response to the Oakland mom looking for a middle school. I have 3 children who attended Black Pine Circle School. My eldest graduated last year. My 2 younger children are still at BPC (7th grade and 4th grade). All three of my children love their BPC education and are always excited to come to school every morning. They are constantly engaged and challenged by their lessons that require deep thinking and reflection as opposed to mere memorization, repetition and testing. The middle school has a rigorous math program. Our school was awarded Gold Level status last year and our math teacher Mr. Gulimovskiy was awarded the Edyth May Sliffe Award by the Math Association of America http:/

Our kids started Spanish at Kindergarten level all the way to 8th grade. They also have drama, art and sculpting as part of the curriculum.

The middle school has a community service program that the kids participate in on a regular basis. The school has affiliations with organizations within walking distance from the school. My kids have volunteered at VIA (a program for kids with diabilities), a senior center nearby, a homeless shelter in Berkeley, coastal clean-up days, helping out at the Alameda Food Bank etc. etc. Overall, my kids are getting a rich, down-to-earth education. They receive a challenging curriculum and also gain an understanding of the world around them. Not to mention the loving, nurturing, artistic, creative environment that is all a part of the Black Pine Circle community. Hope this helps. Best, -Monique

April 2010

Re: Diverse private school for Hispanic daughter
My two children (half hispanic) are at Black Pine Circle (BPC) and we could not be happier. Diversity at the school has increased dramatically in the past few years. Spanish is begun in kindergarten and integrated into the curriculum. BPC is a wonderful K-8 school, strong academics, lots of art and music (strings are begun in kindergarten), with a strong parent community. Check it out. BPC parent

March 2010

Re: School for Gifted 6 Year Old
After happy and not so happy years in a very good public school, we decided to send our gifted child to Black Pine Circle for middle school. It has been a great fit. I think the school's focus on inquiry frees kids, and especially gifted kids, to learn and explore in a deep and meaningful way. The school seems to be able to meet and challenge kids wherever they are. Although I haven't had experience in the lower school, I would strongly recommend taking a look. happy parent

Dec 2009

Re: Private Middle School for a math enthusiastic son
For middle school, my son attended Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. All of the academics at BPC are strong. Kids are challenged and engaged. The math program is stellar. There is a very active math club and a really strong classroom program. The school wins competitions and awards for math performance. Many of the kids test into honors programs or advanced math in high school. I would strongly recommend that you check it out. Former BPC parent

Nov 2009

Re: Challenging Progressive School?
We are at Black Pine Circle in Berkeley at Addison and 7th. I think this could well be what you are looking for. It is progressive while maintaining high academic standards. We are very happy with it. My daughter is currently in the 1st grade and could not be happier. There a lot of early readers and really bright kids there so I don't think your child would be usual there. Another school with a similar reputation (so other parents tell me) is The Academy. andrea

Oct 2009

We love Black Pine Circle. For us it is a combination between progressive and academic. It manages to be developmental without sacrificing the academics. It also has a very strong music program- probably the most music in any curriculum outside Crowden. My daughter is flourishing there and we could not be happier. I feel it gives her room to be a kid while still engaging the mind. The PE teacher is amazing- and kindergarten has PE 5 times a week. The school always receiving high marks in national math competitions. andrea

March 2009

Re: Black Pine Circle vs. Prospect Sierra
I didn't see the original question, but since no voices from Black Pine Circle have been heard, I thought I'd add mine:

We looked at BPC and PS for middle school and for us, after multiple visits to both, the choice ended up being very clear. We were blown away by the classroom energy at BPC (focused, happy, engaged); we loved the nonconformist ''be yourself'' ethos; and we appreciated the obvious brilliance and commitment of the teachers (I would single out the superb English teachers and the deservedly famous 7th-8th grade math teacher, the amazing ''Mr. G.''). Now in our second year with the school, we are very very happy with our decision!

Getting input from other parents is helpful but there's no substitute for visiting classes, walking around the campus, and generally seeing for yourself. The more time you can spend at a school to get a sense of the ''fit'' for your kid, the better. Happy BPC Parent

Since no one posted about BPC, I had to respond. My daughter is currently a second grader there, and we are extremely happy with the school. Yes, it is small, but that is one of the main reasons I chose it for my daughter, knowing a bigger school would overwhelm her. Only one class allowed her to get to know all of her classmates really well and in the three years we've been there it's been interesting to watch their development and social skills blossom. Certainly, more opportunity to have friendships to choose from is an advantage for schools with more than one class per grade, but I find my daughter has more than enough opportunity to meet other kids in her after school programs and classes/lessons that she takes elsewhere. In addition, BPC has a buddy program that, each year, each student is hooked up with one of another grade, allowing them opportunities to interact with those kids/classes. Finally, at BPC, there are ''houses'' represented by color and mascot (think Harry Potter) which are composed of members of each class that sponsor activities each month. It's a great way for the kids to get to know each other.

Your question about whether the curriculum is as creative as at PS surprised me. I think of the two schools as inherently different in style and approach. At any rate, one of the things I love about BPC is how the curriculum is interrelated - themes are carried through to each subject: math, science, art, social studies, etc. The inquiry- based learning approach that BPC is founded upon not only inspires creativity and creative thinking when problem solving, but also, and most importantly, a love of learning.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I was looking was to meet and talk to the 7th and 8th graders. If you liked what you saw, it was a pretty good indication of what or how your child might develop at the school.

Finally, on a personal note, I've never come across a group of people more supportive and generous in my life. The lack of pretentiousness is also astounding to me and was one of my only fears going into the private school arena. The community there, I think, is a better representation of what our kids will face later on in the ''real world.'' But like anyone, you have to decide which school is best for your child overall. Whether or not there is more than one class, I don't feel, should be the reason why you do or don't send your child to that school. Good luck with the decision. I know how difficult it is! Been there, happy now.

Feb 2009

Hello -- would appreciate feedback from families who've had children at BPC's middle school -- It seems very strong academically, how does it work in terms of social relationships since it is such a small school? Does it work for a range of personalities/temperaments? How about the fact you have the same teacher for each subject for both 7th and 8th grades? I saw the USA Today report on schools and air quality, and am also wondering if the school has had any response to this. Thanks anonymous

Greetings, I currently have a 7th grade girl at BPC and an 11th grade boy who attended this middle school years there as well. These 2 children are very different socially and both thrived both academically and socially there. My current student is outgoing socially and has found her friends there as well as keeping an active relationship with her former Cragmont friends and soccer community. I have found that the class size per grade of around 30 makes it big enough to find some good friends and yet small enough to give them a more protected learning environment(which I feel is especially important in the middle school years). Academically, both are doing/did great. The math in 7th/8th grade (Mr. G) will be some the best math/teaching they will get during their schooling. I think having the same teacher for two years added depth to the student/teacher relationship and enhanced learning in the process. In terms of the Air Quality Issue, what I do know is the data listed in that article was not current and not currently accurate. I would encourage you to talk to BPC'S Administration about this issue. Good Luck!! We have done both public and private school for our family that includes 3 school age children and BPC has been a consistent bright spot in our children's education. Best wishes! shojo

I have a son in the 8th grade at Black Pine Circle. He has been there since Kindergarten and it has been great for him academically and socially. The kids at BPC are expected to be good citizens and they live up to the high expectations. They are very kind and respectful of one another - like a family. There are many different types of kids (academically motivated, sports-oriented, outgoing, shy, etc.) and, thanks to the close attention paid to each one by the staff, all seem to find their niche. The smallness allows for them to build self esteem in a safe place so that, when they leave, they are ready to handle more challenging environments. The kids that enter at 6th grade seem to integrate very well. My son's closest friends are kids that came in at the middle school level.

The kids do not complain about having the same teachers for a couple of years. In fact, some of the favorites are teachers that they get to have more than once.

The school has done a thoughtful and comprehensive job of responding to the Air Quality concerns raised in the USA Today article. In spite of the fact that the article seems to be based on questionable scientific conclusions (no samples at school sites, no consideration of air flows in the area, etc.), a task force was immediately formed including parents and others who are professionals in the area of environmental science. The director helped to create a consortium with other schools in the area and has met with Berkeley city officials. Parents were kept informed at each step of the process. The school produced a complete report which was shared with all parents. I think that it is useful to note that numerous parents with related scientific credentials and expertise did not express any interest in taking their kids out of the school after reviewing all of the data.

Hope this helps BPC Parent

Nov 2008

Re: Academics in Private vs. Public School
I wanted to respond to the post about math skills in public vs. private schools. My daughter started in public school and then transferred to Black Pine Circle. The public school she attended was great in many ways, but it was not great for her. I think it is important to look at schools individually since not all public or private schools are the same.

I did not know about BPC's award winning math program when I picked the school. I wanted a school that provided a well-rounded good education. My daughter loves art and does best when she has strong relationships with her teachers and peers. I loved the feel of the school, the small class size and the fact that the students spend many hours of the day in music, art, drama, library, reading, science, social studies, computers, gardeningVand math. I loved the parent community and the attention given to caring about people.

While at BPC, I have learned about the amazing math program. In the last 7 years BPC middle school students have won the championship in the Oakland All-Star Mathletes Competition. This year BPC Math Teacher Anatoliy Gulimovskiy received an award administered by the Mathematical Association of America for Distinguished Teaching. The award says, in part, [Mr. Gulimovskiy's] effort has placed [BPC] among the top [schools] in the region.

BPC has a math specialist who works two periods a week in each K-5 class q one is for enrichment for the whole class, math games and activities that promote problem solving and critical thinking skills. Then her other session in the class is to work individually or with a small group more on remediation. BPC approaches many subjects in this manner (individual attention & group learning).

My experience is that Black Pine Circle has created a culture that integrates math into the larger school atmosphere. I have not seen anything that looks like high-pressure learning or geeky math professors. Instead it seems like there are real pros that see math as fun and interesting who are inviting kids to join them. Happy BPC Parent

Oct 2008

Re: Looking for a good K-8 school
I'd like to put in a plug for Black Pine Circle. It is a small, intimate K-8 school. Our daughter is in first grade and is thriving. It is a very loving place and the curriculum is very broad, yet balanced. One of the aspects of the school I admire is their commitment to the arts -- 1/3 of the child's class time is devoted to music, singing and visual arts. It creates an atmosphere where all children have a place to explore their gifts. The community is very warm as well. One of the things that was notable to me and my husband almost immediately was that every time we saw a child from BPC out in the community the child would approach our daughter who was in kindergarten and say ''hi''. It speaks worlds to a school which nurtures kindness in children ... perhaps the most important thing to learn! ramsey

Sept 2007

Re: Private middle school that will be challenging for daughter
I would suggest you look at Black Pine Circle as well if it is in your geographic area. I looked at many schools and one of the things that impressed me the most at BPC was how intelligent and self-possessed the girls seemed, at all grade levels. They use the Socratic method, so even shy kids learn to express themselves, but they are also very nurturing. I saw very little make-up or trendy clothes among the middle school kids, unlike many of the other private schools. They have a fabulous math/science program, and many of the other science faculty we know at UC Berkeley send their kids there. Diversity has probably historically been their weakest area, but they are actively trying to increase the diversity of the school and I think things are better in the middle school. Our daughter is in the lower school but we've been very happy there so far. I've also heard good things about Windrush, but it was too far a drive for us. happy BPC parent

April 2007

Re: East Bay Schools for child of same sex parents
I would heartily recommend Black Pine Circle in Berkeley. The school is actively looking to expand the diversity of its community, which has been very welcoming of our particular variety of difference. The community is commited to environmentalism; the arts, particularly music, and academics are strong, and the new director has a clear vision of ways in which he would like an already excellent school to become greater. Please feel free to email me if you would like further information. ckab

December 2006

I would like to get updated information on how parents with children at Aurora or Black Pine Circle are finding things with the (relatively) new Heads of School in place. Thanks

My child goes to Black Pine Circle - in the middle school. The school has always been great but the new heads have made some improvements like starting a student council, study hall period and diversity committee. The Upper head is very very communicative and available and great with the kids. My child loves school.
Very pleased parent

My son entered BPC upper school for 6th grade this past September. I have been incredibly impressed with John Carlstroem. He definitely knows each student very well! John, (and BPC staff in general), has been very responsive to my son's social/emotional needs and is very supportive of jointly creating solutions that help my son. In a recent situation that involved communicating difficult information with parents, his integrity, sensitivity and honesty re-confirmed my impressions that he is a strong, knowledgeable and ethical leader.
Happy at BPC

re: New Head at Black Pine Circle. We have two children at BPC's lower school. The previous Head, Mr. James, was one of the main reasons why we were sold on this wonderful school. So we were a bit wary when it was announced that Mr. James was retiring and we would get a new head. But we could not be more pleased with the new Head, Mr. John Carlstroem. He is warm, approachable, and you can tell that he really, really cares about the students and the school community. He has brought families' participation in the school and the community to a whole new level. Not only he came full of new energy and fresh ideas, he has also already put many of these ideas into practice very successfully. He has only been there for a year, but it is amazing how much he has accomplished in so little time. We absolutely love Mr. C (who is also a fellow parent at BPC!), and our children do too!
VERY happy BPC parents

Nov 2006

Re: Stong music program for entering kindergartener
Have you looked into Black Pine Circle school in Berkeley? My child is not musically inclined, but I am always amazed at the ability of the children at the various concerts, such a delight to see the kindergarten class with their cellos and violins! Maybe check the school calendar online and attend a concert.
Hope this Helps

March 2006

Re: Academically strong and liberal private school
My son is in 1st grade now at Black Pine Circle in Berkeley. He LOVES it. This is the first school he has ever wanted to go to since being in daycare and preschool since he was 6 mos old. We had a bad experience in preschool -- he is very smart and very physical with lots of sensory integration issues resulting in some aggressive and disruptive behavior. I was very upfront about it from day 1 at BPC, and during kindergarten, the staff at BPC were amazingly supportive and professional and wanted more than anything for our son to succeed. They could see beyond the behaviors to the very sensitive, funny, curious boy that my son is (much much more than I can say for the preschool staff but that's another story). The music, art and academics are fantastic. The teachers are amazing. The principal is wonderful. They other families are, for the most part, people we really want to have as friends and socialize with. Many families are affiliated with UC Berkeley. The one downside is the lack of racial diversity. They have hired a diversity coordinator and hold monthly diversity committee meetings, which my husband attends, but I'm not sure how much progress they've been making.
Happy BPC Parent

September 2005

I am trying to collect as much information as possible on Black Pine Circle in deciding where to send my September 2006 Kindergartener. Many of the past entries on BPC have been positive, but there have been some mixed feelings as well. I would be grateful for anything you have to offer. Thank you! Looking for Information

Hi. My daughter attends second grade at BPC, and we are very happy with the school. I'm not sure from your post whether you have any specific concerns about the school. If so, please feel free to contact me directly. Generally, I'll say that we were looking for a school where our daughter would be challenged academically but not pressured, and I feel BPC is a good fit for her. We love the music program; she plays violin in the ''junior orchestra.'' Each lower school class works with the Spanish specialist 3x/wk (except K, but the teacher is bilingual). There ! are other specialists as well (art, music, computers, garden). BPC just built a wonderful new building w/ 2 classrooms & a greatroom/library. The long-time, well-loved director just retired, so a a new director has started this year. He seems very enthusiastic and interested in parent input. Although the kids in my daughter's class seem to get along very well, there's an excellent conflict resolution program if problems arise. I'm particularly pleased that BPC recently hired a coordinator for diversity enrollment & community outreach. The school is not as diverse as it could be (although diversity can be tough to achieve in such a small school)and I think it's great that BPC is willing to work harder to improve the situation. Hope this helps. Lisa

I have two children at Black Pine Circle this year -- one in the lower school (K-5) and one in the middle school (6-8). Since our family chose this school, we obviously were impressed with it, but I'm really surprised at how much better it is than even we were expecting. Black Pine Circle really is a hidden gem. The academics are outstanding and the children are taught at a high level, but at the same time there isn't pressure like some of the other academic schools.

Children at BPC are really taught HOW to think, not just memorize facts, and they will never be bored. Homework is not excessive and there is no ''busy work''. The school strives to be a close community, and has many optional social events for parents and families to help achieve this. Children in all grades (K-8) are placed into ''houses'' (similar to Harry Potter's Gryffindor, Slytherin, etc.) and have activities with their ''house'' to foster multi-age comradery. The school has specialists that teach art, music, drama, Spanish, computers, gardening, PE, and science during the regular school day. They also have an after school program with many options, including a large variety of music choices (choir, band, orchestra, private lessons, etc.) The middle school is small, but functions like a real middle school with a school newspaper, yearbook, lockers, team sports, and changing classrooms each period.

About the only downside of Black Pine Circle is that the don't have a large amount of outside space, although they do have a garden and a brand new play structure. There are two parks nearby, however, and the children do walk there sometimes. Their website doesn't do the school justice, but you can find out more at Then call the school and come on a tour. Good luck! - Sharon

First let me say it is such a relief to be on ''this side'' of the kindergarten decision, my child is in kindergarten at Black Pine Circle. We could not be any happier with our choice, our child loves to go to school each day and we think the classroom and school are wonderful. Since it has only been three weeks I can't offer much on our experience, however about half of the current kindergarten class have siblings in the other grades. There seems to be a good feeling of community at BPC. The kindergarten seems to be a special place with wonderful, nurturing teachers. Mom of a BPC kindergartener

August 2005

Could any Black Pine Circle parents out there help me out? I'm considering BPC for my daughter for grades 3 or 4 (depending on our family situation). I have the following questions (again, specifically to grades 3 and up) and I can't find responses in the current posting that address them all.
1. Does the Socratic method work for shy students? (I tried my best to understand the message posted on BPC website, but I'm no educator and have to admit my stupidity in not understanding ''progressively spiral'' and many other terms used there...) My daughter has done very well in K and 1st grade, but her weakness lies in the fact that she is shy and does not tend to speak up in class without teacher's prompting. Would her personality stop her from succeeding at BPC?
2. What kinds of families fit in at BPC? Would working moms and dads fit in?
3. Is the school safe? What does BPC do to ensure the safety of all students? (Such basic questions, but I have to ask!)
4. How is the academic program? I understand that math is strong. How is English? How is the emphasis on individual learning vs. group learning?
5. Are there bully problems at BPC? How do the school and the teacher deal with this problem?
6. How are the kids? Will they befriend a transfer kid who is shy? Are there prevalent clique problems? I'm particularly worried about how my daughter will adjust to the new environment and make friends.
I appreciate any advice you have. Thank you.
Worried Mom

My daughter started the BPC middle school last year and loves it. She is also shy and while her grades were mostly B's and a couple A's, every teacher remarked on her report card that class participation needed improvement. Meeting with various teachers extracted ways (bringing relevant articles to class,speaking with the teacher outside of class) around it but we're still working on the problem. Can't vouch for how this plays out in the lower school.

All kinds of families there, wealthy entreprenurs, art types, gay couples - not very culturally diverse though. The school is very safe and secure. The academics are very good. I've had no bully problems and a girl who arrived mid-year was warmly welcomed. I too was worried about clique problems but so far so good. Hope this Helps

I am the parent of an incoming 1st grader, but my niece will start 3rd grade at Black Pine Circle next month. I'll briefly answer your questions here, but feel free to contact me, and I can put you in touch with parents of 3rd and 4th graders.
Socratic Method: Black Pine Circle offers small classes (20 students with one full time teacher and one full time aid), so each student will be prompted regularly.
Families: As with most schools in the area, there are all kind of families at BPC. In my daughter's class, more than half the families have two working parents.
Safety: BPC is a closed campus. You take your child in to the fenced area through a manned gate. At pick up time, you retrieve your child from the teacher inside the fenced area. (If anything this is a little too concerned with ''safety'' for my tastes; I would be happy to let my daughter go in and out by herself.)
Academics: We find the school to be VERY academic, in English as well as math. There are times the children work in groups and times they individually.
Bully problems: No. The school has an excellent curriculum about conflich resolution, and we have had no problems.
Cliques: My daughter's class has a girl join mid year, and she was welcomed, and it's now as if she has always been there. Karen

April 2005

Re: Kids of GLBT: Where do they go to School?
We were in your shoes a year ago-searching for a school. A couple of years ago (maybe even last year) there was a school open-house event specifically geared to LGBT families. The impression I got was that most of the East Basy schools were very gay positive with LGBT families attending. It was difficult to get a feel for actual numbers but I know Park Day has many families. After being admitted to schools we asked to talk to LGBT families. That being said it was just one factor in our school decision. We choose Black Pine Circle (our son will start in Sept) based on a whole array af factors including, but not limited to LGBT families and tuition costs. We would love to have more LGBT families there.

December 2003

Re: School for highly gifted 7-year-old
Black Pine Circle (K-8) in Berkeley is an appropriate school for a gifted child. It is challenging and stimulating, never boring, and full of content. Children are never held back from exploring their own potential. It is also very accepting towards the unusual - individuality is valued and encouraged. However, if your child is uncomfortable socially, it will not be the perfect school - it is a school for individuals but not misfits. BPC Parent of a gifted child

I am responding to the Black Pine Circle parent who noted that BPC is a good school for gifted children but then went on to state that ''if your child is uncomfortable socially, it will not be the perfect school - it is a school for individuals but not misfits.'' Can people please comment on whether this attitude is prevalent at Black Pine Circle? Does the school, overtly or covertly, foster the attitude that social awkwardness makes one a ''misfit?'' This kind of intolerance seems the antithesis of a good school for any child.
- a very concerned parent

I am responding the question about Black Pine ''Does the school, overtly or covertly, foster the attitude that social awkwardness makes one a ''misfit?''''' From our experience, this is not the case. My daughter was extremely shy. She found Black Pine very warm and welcoming. After three weeks there, she remarked, ''I didn't know such a perfect school for me existed!'' It's a great school from a social and academic perspective, particularly for families that want to encourage their children to learn how to think rigorously.

In respnse to the concern that BPC would not be the perfect school for a ''misfit'', I think too much was read into the comment, and actually the person that originally posted it really meant to say it was a perfect place for the more independant individualistic kid who is pretty bright or even gifted, and that there isn't alot of social pressure to conform at BPC, but didn't have any special corner on working with kids that may be very bright but have severe difficulties with social interaction. We have plenty of ''truly originals'' there, kids that could be made fun of were they in an environment that put a high plus on conforming. Although it is a stereotype that its a school for the offspring of artsy academic types, this is a crowd of kids and parents that values, and is very comfortable with, quirkiness- I don't think a ''misfit'' would be viewed as such. If a child has Asperger's syndrome for instance, it wouldn't be the perfect school in part because the social demands of any school might present a challenge, and there is no formal therapy program for those sorts of issues, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a good school for them.
Parent of 2 quirky BPC kids

In response to the person who asked whether Black Pine Circle ''foster(s) the attitude that social awkwardness makes one a ''misfit?''''

I have had a child at BPC for several years, and have met many kids there who have what might be termed ''social awkwardness.'' In my experience, they are welcomed and make friendships in school. It is a small school, with just one class per year, which I find makes the kids more tolerant of each other's differences.

November 2003

To the parent who wrote: Where do the kids who end up at high schools such as College Preparatory School go to middle school?

My son and two of his friends, all now Seniors at CPS, were well- prepared at Black Pine Circle. Colleen

I have a child at Black Pine Circle School (K-8) in Berkeley (a historic former glassworks and town hall on 7th St. near University) and we both are very pleased- she doesn't want to come home. The school makes no apologies for strong academics (kids perform highly in state math competitions and history is another strength), but it also has a great fine arts program. It attracts parents in the arts and academia, and diversity is adequate, but parents and staff would LOVE for the student body to be more reflective of its West Berkeley neighborhood. Tuition is low-moderate for local private schools.

Class size is 20 with a teacher and a uniformly wonderful aide. My child has mild dyslexia, assessed by the school's own learning specialist, but her teachers have really downplayed her differing abilities and developed strategies to help her move along. There is specialist-taught PE, Art, Music, Computers and Spanish starting in K. All K-1 students can elect to take violin or cello during school hours twice weekly- great for trying it out without much hassle. At weekly assembly, one class performs a play or musical.

The school promotes Socratic teaching (more in middle school)- teachers pose questions toward helping students explore topics and build on their knowledge to find the answers. Topics are used to teach reading, math, science, social studies, and art in an integrated fashion.

The headmasters have been very ''available'' to parents in formal and casual settings. This was one of the things that attracted me most in comparison to other schools I looked at. During parent tours, they both sat down for a long, free-ranging conversation. I also didn't feel they were trying to skim older or ''easier'' kids for admissions (mine are spirited summer-birthday kids).

There is good community within the classes but no pressure to be a strong presence during school hours, so working moms don't feel excluded. Parents have a long tradition of twice yearly class camping trips. The kids have older grade buddies to do projects and take field trips with.

A weakness of the school is recreational facilities- no gym onsite and, although servicable for PE, I wouldn't describe the schoolyard as park-like. But this summer, the schoolyard will be upgraded, along with an additional new building to include a ''great room'' for assemblies etc.

happy BPC parent

My son is currently in 8th grade at Black Pine Circle, having been there from kindergarten on. Our experience there has been consistently positive throughout. When we were taking our first nervous, uncertain steps looking for the right school for him, we immediately felt at home at BPC. It seemed to have the right mix of academics and the very important ''extras'' that round out and make an educational experience meaningful. More importantly to me, the staff and administrators really did seem to care, and, thankfully, this has proven to be true. Choosing BPC has been the best decision we've made in memory. af

My two children, who are now attending Berkeley High, went to Black Pine Circle School for their elementary and middle school years, starting with fourth grade. We arrived at the school quite by accident -- word of mouth from friends and an abrupt decision to abandon the public school experiment -- but were quite pleased to find a community of like minded parents and educators. Parents were mostly Berkeley types -- academics, artists, musicians, architects. The school curriculum was a traditional and fairly rigorous academic program, with an emphasis on the Socratic method of teaching. Lots of open discussion, challenge, debate.

I'm less familiar with the lower school these days, as my kids just graduated from middle school, so I can't report on the current state of affairs there. The middle school has a very strong math program, but it is a tracked program and some parents aren't happy with that aspect of it. The science teacher is great, english and history teachers are terrific, and the drama teacher is unbelievably fantastic. My kids left the school two years ahead in math (my ninth grader is in Berkeley High's honors Algebra II). They are both self assured and self aware kids who learned at BPC to think critically and to analyse problems creatively. In my opinion they were well prepared for the academic challenges of any public or private high school in the Bay Area.

They both loved the school and the friends they made there. Cons? the sports program has been uneven, the dances were too small, the after school program too restrictive for older kids. Pros? the school is a bit less expensive than its local competitors. With two kids, a bit less adds up to quite a bit less.

pleased BPC parent

February 2003

Re: Middle Schools with a strong math/science department
There are two middle schools that I can say with certainty have fantastic math programs: Black Pine Circle and Bentley. They both have fabulous dedicated math teachers, Mr. Gulimovskiy at Black Pine, and Mr. Lubliner (I think that's his name - they call him Mr. L) at Bentley. Both schools just placed first and second in the East Bay Math Counts competition and will be sending teams to the State competition. This has been the case for years now.

I can only speak about the science program at Black PIne Circle where my sons attend(ed) - the current teacher is a Microbiologist who returned to teaching after doing a Post Doc because she loved working with kids. It is a very sound, serious science program that is developmentally appropriate. There is a science fair every year in which all students must particpate. Lucy

Dec. 2002

I've checked previous recommendations about Black Pine Circle and Windrush schools, but have found the entries from 1997 - 1999. Since schools/teachers change, I'm wondering if anyone has recent feedback about these 2 private schools (especially kindergarden, since much of the feedback is on the older classes). thanks betty

I am one of the people quoted in the archive about Black Pine Circle School. My older son has since graduated and is a junior at Berkeley High, but my younger son is still there, now in 6th grade. I can't actually address the kindergarten issue since my younger one started in the 2nd grade, however, I CAN say that everything I said before still holds true. The school is very stable these days and changes are minimal. Yes, teachers come and go, for various reasons, but the overall philosophy and atmosphere of the school has stayed unchanged. Lucy

I have a son in the lower grades at Black Pine, and I can't say enough good things about the place. The subjects are taught in a really engaging way , with a lot of variety. There seem to be a large number of trips, with activities and lessons ahead of time to augment what the kids do. My son didn't start at Black Pine, and both the staff and the students have been very welcoming. It is urban and somewhat small, with no ambitions to get much bigger, but I think this is overall a plus. Black Pine Parent

Black Pine Circle deserves some good press, because they try really hard and their hearts are in the right place. I have had kids at three other private schools, and to me, there's nothing fabulous or awful about BPC, it's right down the middle, pretty reliable, with a wide variety of kids, and people who work really hard at what they are doing. People are accessible. My child is in 8th grade, has been there for three years. anon

Re: School for 3rd grader with Selective Mutism (Dec 2002)
Although I love the school, I do not recommend it for that child. Although it is very accepting of differences, it is not a school for children with problems. Specifically, the Socratic discovery method requires a significant amount of class participation. Someone who doesn't speak would have alot of trouble. My recommendation would be to stay in public school where there are resources for children with special needs.

Jan 2001

Are there any parents out there with strong opinions or feelings about Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley? I'd like to hear about first-hand experiences. Looks very interesting "on paper." Thanks very much, Claire

My son is a 4th grader who moved to BPC from a Berkeley public school in November. Everyone has been most kind to him, and to us. BPC is small enough that it may be fun to see a new face now and then. His class (and the others) = 22 kids and a good teacher, plus specialists for music, art, p.e. and computer. After the glorious chaos of his last school BPC seems very quiet -- and that's good. The challenges are mostly academic. He is learning more in class, and less on the playground. If you are looking at other Berkeley private schools you will be able to find one where your family feels most at home. We also looked at Berkwood Hedge which seemed less traditional and more "Berkeley". I think we made the right choice for this particular child. Hard to know. Heather

My son is in fourth grade at Black Pine Circle, and my older son graduated from the Upper School last year. Let me first say that there is no perfect school for everyone. One needs to find the school which is the best fit for the child. The important thing is to figure out what matters most to you in a school, and find the school which will best meet those needs.

For us, Black Pine Circle HAS been close to perfect. Both my sons spent an assorted number of years previously in the Berkeley public school system, which is my point of comparison.

Here's what we were looking for: a school with a rich and varied curriculum full of content where our sons would learn something not only every day, but every hour, if not almost every moment. We wanted a school which had both strong academics and a strong arts program.

We wanted a school which actually taught science and history. We wanted a challenging environment which inspired our sons to push themselves. We wanted a peer group of inspiring and creative kids who were excited about learning. We wanted a school where passions were encouraged, but also channeled. We wanted a school that was not afraid of academic competition, nor of saying something was wrong or right. We wanted a school without political or educational dogmas. We wanted a school with dedicated interesting and inspirational teachers.

We wanted a school where our sons would be valued and where their self-esteem would come from achievement, not pats on the back. We wanted a school where our sons were encouraged to think for themselves and where learning would be a continuing joy. Lucy

In response to the query about Black Pine Circle School: While my child is not at B.P.C. being too young, I run an Actor's Centre under their auspices and know many students there as well as the principal, Lawrence James. My impression has been entirely favorable. They have a committed and diverse staff, and I know the principal to be a very sincere and dedicated individual, with a strong personal commitment not only to providing his students with a well-rounded and multi-cultural education, but also to doing the right and honest thing in every situation. Susan-Jane

Lucy's assessment of Black Pine Circle was right on the mark, as far as my husband and I are concerned. For our child (now graduated) we wanted an environment that was academic without being stuffy, where excellent work was demanded but originality of thought and a sense of humor were also valued.

Laurence James, the head of the school, is a remarkable administrator---honest, charming (gives short speeches), dedicated, adored by the kids, enjoyed by the parents. The teaching is, for the most part, superb.

Of course no school is right for every kid/parent. The cozy but lively atmosphere at BPC suited our child well. He loved the school and has found himself well-prepared for difficult high school work. Colleen

April 1999

My daughter is in kindergarten there this year; we have been extremely pleased with the school and my daughter loves it as well. Susan