Diverse K-12 Schools

Parent Q&A

  • East Bay Areas w/ great public schools for Muslim/Hispanic mixed children

    (16 replies)

    Hi BPN members,  I've been researching on my own for months and I feel like I need some advice on questions that a realtor just can't answer...

    our family of 4 is looking to move to the East Bay in roughly a year.  We work in the alameda area, bay farm island, next to the OAK Airport and currently live on the peninsula.  Looking to decrease travel time and increase family time.

    looking for a 4 bedroom house up to $1.5M, prefer a two story house, good schools - (great schools rating 8 and higher please) - safe area with entertainment activities that would appeal to our kids as they grow.  Our children are heading into middle school years and I want them to be able to have some independence as they get older and I'll of course feel more comfortable if entertainment like movie cinema, etc is relatively close by and safe.

    my husband and I both grew up in very urban settings with urban problems and we'd like a safer environment for our kids.  We're originally from the east coast but we've moved around a lot.

    our kids are great students, really kind people, on their way to being great citizens I hope!  Here's one of my biggest concerns though and something I can't really speak freely to a realtor about.  We are Muslim and my kids are currently the only muslims in their respective classrooms at school.  We are very liberal and progressive but as our children get older they make comments telling us that all of their classmates are Christian and they don't want to tell people they're Muslim, it concerns me, I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin.  

    I am a white hispanic and my husband is of a mixed Indian and Arab origin.  I speak Spanish and our current school is heavily Latino so most people assume our children are Latino but they don't speak Spanish.  They understand some Urdu, Arabic, and Spanish because of grandparents visiting for extended stays but they only speak English.  I feel like the middle and high school years are really tough and I want my children to feel like they fit, right now they feel like outsiders.  One of our children looks more like mom - white/Hispanic and the other looks just like dad - people often Assume Afghan or Persian.

    i've looked in Piedmont and Montclair but I just don't know if these are a good fit even though the commute would be easy and the schools seem good...  any advice would be very much appreciated.  Anyone in the same boat????

     The only other family I know that shares our mix homeschools, ha!

    There are many hispanic families and also families from the middle-east in BUSD. Some from working-class families and some from professional families. In high school the professional Muslim families tend to enroll their students in BIHS (the IB program.)

    Hi, just wanted to thank all of you who replied.  We haven't been in the area very long so you've all given me so much info and lots of new areas to explore.  Thanks again

    I've lived in the East Bay for 30 years, and I'm not sure I can think of a single neighborhood that meets all your requirements, but here are some ideas to explore: If you want walkability, restaurants and entertainment, Elmwood in Berkeley is nice. It's an urban neighborhood, though, and comes with the accompanying challenges, although I let my middle school kids roam there because they know the area well.

    If you want an ethnically diverse school where your kids will be able to find their crowd and won't be the only ones of any category they might fall into, we've had good experiences at Montera Middle School in Montclair, and Montclair isn't too bad a commute to Bay Farm Island. Montera isn't an 8 on the school score card, but the scores don't tell the whole story of any school - I'd urge you to check out any school you're considering in person rather than just going by what's online. As another commenter noted, any school that's big enough to be diverse is going to have both high-performing kids and struggling kids. Next year Montera is moving to an International Baccalaureate model, which should add even more interesting classes and rigorous academics, as well as an emphasis on diversity and cooperation.

    On the downside, Montclair doesn't have a lot of stuff for teens to do. For safety and a small-town feel where the kids can go to movies, etc., you can't beat Alameda - but I don't know how diverse it is; it's been a long time since I lived there. If you have time, it would be great to spend some family time in the places you're considering and see what feels most like home to you. Good luck with your search!

    Typically the higher the Great Schools score, the the more white and affluent the school is, because those scores reflect the standardized tests aggregates (which for a million reasons, aren't geared for the success of minorities or less affluent kids). So if high scores are you thing, maybe you should prioritize that.

    if you're looking for a truly diverse student body, there are plenty of schools in the East Bay that will fit your needs. Look at the ethnic composition of Glenview Elementary in Oakland, for instance. It won't tell you how many Muslims there are, but my daughter goes there and there are quite a few students in hijab in her grade alone.

    I don't think you will find much diversity in Piedmont. We live in Montclair and it feels pretty ethnically diverse, if not socioeconomically, but the great schools don't continue on into the middle and high school years and many families leave or go private. Maybe you could spend less on a house and budget more for private schools for 6-12 grade if you want to go the Oakland Hills route. Although Oakland Tech could be a great option for high school -- lots of strong programs.

    All of their classmates are Christians? I sincerely doubt that. Maybe they all put up "Christmas" trees in December, but that really has nothing to do with Christianity. It is a pagan custom adopted by the Christians. I bet that many of the kids have parents who are atheists or agnostics. Jews and Buddhists, too. How about you ask the teacher if you could come in and teach comparative religion for an hour. I bet that would open up conversations between the kids. 

    I suggest that you move to Bay Farm Island. Easy commute. 

    I know this may offend some people, but if you want great schools with high great school scores (which, really only tells you about the demographics and income of the family for the most part) you would find those schools in places like Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Danville *but* those communities are definitely not mixed race communities. I agree to try Berkeley, but that may be too urban for you. Great schools plus Muslim communities = Pleasanton, San Ramon or Fremont. Im sure those are too far out for your commute, but its what youre asking for.

    PS Piedmont and Montclair will have good schools but mixed race is questionable as well, but will be better than Orinda, Lafayette etc

    We are an interracial family,  live in El Cerrito and LOVE it.  My oldest is in first grade at Fairmont Elementary, where there is a HUGE diversity of students - Latino, Chinese, Nepali, Black, White, etc.  I haven't asked but would guess that many of the families are Muslim.  Several speak Urdu.  We have an annual multicultural community potluck/performance/celebration - the diversity is what many of our families love about Fairmont.

    Obviously my kids are much younger than yours, but I have read recently that Korematsu Middle School is the 6th most diverse school in California.  In terms of ratings, Fairmont, Korematsu, and El Cerrito High are all rated a 6.  Harding Elementary, also in El Cerrito, is a 7.  I think these lower ratings may have to do with having a high population of English Language Learners, as all the parents I've spoken with are very satisfied with the academics.  

    Close by, Kensington and Berkeley schools have 8+ greatschools ratings, and Albany, right next door, has 10 for all their schools.  I don't know anything about their diversity.

    Good luck in your search!  Feel free to contact me if you have more questions.  And I'll be curious to hear what you decide!


    There is a vibrant Muslim community in Berkeley. In my son's kindergarten class at Malcolm X, 3 of the 18 students are Muslim. There was a 4th Muslim student but her family moved back to Yemen. Many of these families are second-generation Berkeley residents, so they are a longstanding part of our city's community. 

    We're in Rockridge and our kids are at Peralta Elementary and Claremont Middle School.  There have been a fair number of Muslim kids at both schools throughout our time there (9 years at Peralta, 3 at Claremont).  The school communities are pretty diverse, both ethnically and economically (more so at Claremont than Peralta, but I'm aware of more Muslim families at Peralta than Claremont), and I would be shocked at kids in either school commenting on your kids' religion - most of the people we know at both schools either aren't religious at all, or if they are they tend to be liberal Jews or Christians.  I think you can still get a house in the $1.5 mil range in the Peralta/Claremont districts.  Good luck!

    Hi! You don't say how old your kids are, but my kids go to Mira Vista in East Richmond Heights, where you would def find a beautiful 4-bedroom for that price range, and literally, literally I have a mom-friend at school who is a Spanish-speaking Muslim. Our school is diverse and has a healthy-sized Muslim population, plus a healthy-sized Latino population. I saw that someone else pointed out that some schools score lower precisely because they are more diverse, and that is true for MV. We wear that badge proudly. And the Muslim population is diverse even within itself, people are from all over, many different countries and traditions. 

    We are Jewish and my kids also have that thing of feeling like the only ones in in the school, especially since we are so near Tehiyah, which eats up all the Jewish kids around here. It's painful for them! But that diversity is also valuable. When they complain about being the only ones not celebrating Christmas, I can at least say "Our Muslim friends are in the same boat." I really recommend you look around here. We are very near the Del Norte station of Bart which makes for easy commutes. And tho Richmond proper has some urban problems, honestly, I don't feel unsafe here (I lived in Brooklyn for 20 years - real Brooklyn, not hipster Brooklyn).

    Also, the "hidden jewel" of Point Richmond is right near the refinery, you're much better off up in these hills. And we're zoned for El Cerrito High, though honestly I would prefer it if the local parents would just force the issue and send their kids to Richmond and JFK to make them better schools but that's another story for another day. :D You can contact me thru this site if you want to talk further. I wish I had your budget, there are some houses for sale here that I'm drooling over. 

    Oh yeah, San Leandro is also a good place to look at! 

    What about Alameda? It would be a great commute for you, Alameda has highly rated and diverse schools. The main island probably has more of the diversity you're looking for - you could check in with our Islamic Center for thoughts. Encinal High seems somewhat more diverse than Alameda High, but you will certainly find other Muslim students at either, and at our several charter schools (Nea, ACLC, ASTI).  As far as housing goes, you could find a nice 4 bedroom house in that price range. Kids in my kids' classes speak several languages, are from many countries, and practice many religions. None of it phases any of the kids. Good luck with your search!

    Have you fully explored the middle and high school options on the main island of Alameda?  The west end schools may have some of what you are looking for in terms of diversity of both religion and ethnicity.  It also has some really good schools.  And it is a nice combination of suburban and urban.  As another poster said, it may be helpful to figure out priorities.

    I'd recommend Berkeley - the schools are probably a 7/8 (not that great IMO) but the inclusiveness and diversity is unparalleled.

    For commuting to Bay Farm Island and diverse with Muslims as well, maybe look at San Leandro or Fremont. Seriously don't worry about the schools being 8 or higher, the higher ranking typically the less diverse the school; all the schools, even schools that are a 5, will have at least 20% of the students being high-performing and have challenging classes.

    I've read your post a few times now and still can't quite tell what you're prioritizing. Do you want 1) an ethnically mixed school, where your kids' mixed race won't stand out? 2) to be part of a progressive/liberal high-income Muslim community? 3) to be in Alameda? 4) to be in a very high ranked school? 5) to connect with (or live near) other families who are Hispanic/white/Arab/Indian? I feel like you and your spouse should try to nail down which of these in the big picture are your top 2 or 3, and then hone in on areas that meet those needs first. Off the top of my head, I'd think the Peninsula might be a good bet, or Fremont/SJ, but I am not super familiar with those areas, nor with the progressive Muslim community.

    My kids go to an extremely ethnically diverse public school (WCCUSD) and it's great, but it is truly very mixed, about third Asian, third Latino, sixth Af-Am, and sixth white. It's also low-income, which may correlate with ethnic diversity. Is that okay with you? As I'm sure you know, these Census-based ethnic categories do not ask what one's faith is, so there's no way of measuring "Muslim" population as they may self-report as any race/ethnicity. You may want to attend Muslim cultural events in the East Bay/Alameda, and ask around where the kids go to school.

    In the meantime, as far as the East Bay goes, if I wanted cultural/ethnic diversity in my public school, and was looking in the $1.5M range for a 4-bedroom, I'd certainly look into Berkeley (can you still get a 4-bd there for under $2M?), or the hidden gem of Point Richmond, with bayfront views, a neighborhood which feeds to Korematsu JH in EC and ECHS, both quite ethnically diverse and academically solid if not the 8 you have targeted. Or you could try to get your kids into application-based magnet high school Middle College HS in Richmond, which is a 10 and can get your kids college credit as high schoolers. (Obviously a high score on GreatSchools does not mean a welcoming school to everyone, just check recent news articles about Albany High and Piedmont High.)

    Or move to Alameda next to your work, and spend more time volunteering at the schools and bringing the diversity personally.

    Lots of options once you figure out what's most important to you.

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  • Ethnically Diverse School?

    (2 replies)

    Hello BPN, My son is currently in the 4th grade here in Berkeley. Although we overall like his school it has been emotionally taxing as he is the only kid of color in his class every year. As I was raised in the south, Atlanta to be exact, I understand the importance of being around people who look like you. Any suggestions on a diverse school either for 5th grade or for middle and or high school? Thank you.

    RE: Ethnically Diverse School? ()

    If you're willing to drive a few miles north, check out Crestmont School in Richmond (www.crestmontschool.org).  My daughter is in second grade there, and we've been very impressed by the school's commitment to diversity. Historically a K-5 school, we're adding sixth grade starting this coming school year, and the plan is to be K-8 by 2019.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions, or want to talk to other Crestmont parents of kids of color.  Sue 

    RE: Ethnically Diverse School? ()

    Are you looking for Berkeley public schools, private schools, and/or public schools in another city? El Cerrito public elementary schools go up to 6th grade; Harding, Fairmont, Korematsu, and ECHS are very diverse, as is El Cerrito-Richmond's public Mira Vista is K-8.

    You can look up the diversity statistics for any public school at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/dataquest.asp

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Diverse Berkeley school for South Asian family

Dec 2014

I am hoping someone can give me advice on diversity at Berkeley private schools. We currently live on the east coast and are applying to schools in Berkeley remotely for next fall 2015. We will be renting and not sure where we will end up within the city (but definitely will be Berkeley), so are focusing on private schools for my daughter who will be entering first grade in September 2015. I have read all the school reviews on BPN, but I am still concerned about racial/ethnic diversity (or lack thereof) at private schools (she currently attends a very diverse public kindergarten; we are South Asian and there are two other South Asian families in her class alone). I would really appreciate any advice on how to get information on diversity at private schools in Berkeley, particularly percentages of minority students in the class, and in particular if there are any South Asian families in attendance at Berkwood Hedge; The Berkeley School; Walden; Black Pine Circle, or other schools in Berkeley. Thanks very much!

My son goes to Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito (we live in Berkeley and work on campus). He is hispanic and we are a multiracial family. His class has several south Asian students and other hispanics, as well as several Asians and mixed race kids. The school has a wonderful commitment to diversity and incorporates this into the curriculum. He has been happy there (and is getting a great education!). rainbow mom

I don't know much about private schools in Berkeley, but I'm assuming the diversity is similar to Oakland, which leads me to...you should definitely look into Oakland private schools. I toured many and saw a lot of diversity, but to speak to my son's school (Redwood Day), there's fantastic diversity. In her grade there are 32 kids (2 classes) and there are: 2 South Asian kids, 8 African American kids, and 5 Asian kids. I think you'll find quite a bit of diversity in the private schools. happy with diversity

Not sure why you'd want a private school in Berkeley. People move to (or pretend to) Berkeley just for the schools. Anyway, to answer your question you should look at Montessori Family School in El Cerrito. There are more So. Asians there than most of the private schools, this due to the lower elementary teacher who is also So. Asian. They have a bus that brings kids from the Preschool next to the university if you don't want to do the drive (about 15-20 minutes on surface streets). anon

Hello, I know you were wondering about diversity at private schools in Berkeley. However, I wondered why you were not considering Berkeley Public Schools. Our son is a first grader at one of the BUSD schools and we are so happy to have him there. We considered private when he was entering kindergarten, especially because I am a teacher at a private elementary in the area. Ultimately we decided that true diversity, not just a percentage of non-whites at a school, was just as valuable as the academic education he would receive. He has had two exceptional teachers (in the opinion of this very experienced teacher in both private and public) and wonderful connections with a variety of kids. And we have an active parent community at our school as well. I think it's the best of all worlds. Good luck with your search. Happy BUSD Parent

Hi! I'm a parent of a 3rd grader at Black Pine Circle. I asked a couple of school administrators about your question and got a few numbers. My family is caucasian but it turns out we're in the minority in the lower school (K-5) of BPS: 52% of families self-report as non-white. When you include the upper school (6-8) the percentage goes to 44% as non-white. There are a lot of multiracial families here; 31% describe their families this way. This is something I've noticed, the most common type of family here is where the parents are different races. As far as South Asian in particular, that category isn't broken out in the figures I got, but when I asked a mom of Pakistani origin what she thought, she guessed there are maybe 3-4 South Asian families in the lower school. (Overall Asian is 7%.) This sounds small...but it's also a small school with one class per grade. The social environment among the families is, in my experience, very Berkeley-feeling; that is, accepting and desirous of diversity. I'm sure you can get more details by checking out the website and calling the admissions office. Good luck in your school search! Livin' in 2040

OK, this is going to be overly general, but this is what I would tell you if you were my South Asian friend moving to Berkeley from the East Coast. As background, my 3 kids have attended a variety of public and private schools in Berkeley and Oakland over the past 15 years, and I know lots of parents, including South Asian parents, in nearby cities.

First of all, there are not that many South Asian families in Berkeley. UC Berkeley attracts scholars from all over the world, so there is a LOT of diversity in the city. I imagine everybody in Berkeley knows at least one South Asian family but there is not a preponderance of your particular diversity in Berkeley. If you are looking for SF Bay cities that have a large South Asian community then you want to live closer to the Silicon Valley, say Fremont and south. Or, in the suburban areas along 680, like San Ramon and Danville.

As a result, you are unlikely to find any schools in Berkeley that have a very big South Asian student population. Most of the larger schools, both public and private, will have some representation, say one or two kids per grade level. Smaller schools like the ones you listed, not so much. One of my kids went to one of the small private schools you mentioned. Of 80 kids total, there were two families in the entire school where one (not both) of the parents was South Asian. I imagine that is typical of Berkeley private schools. So if you really want to go private, and you want more than a couple of South Asian families, then you need to be looking at the really big private schools that are K-8 and K-12 with at least two classes for every grade. Those are going to be in Oakland, El Cerrito, and other nearby cities. And it's still going to be hit or miss, varying from year to year, with not much diversity overall. Based on private schools my kids have attended or I have visited, I'd say virtually all private schools in the area are 85-90% white/European, maybe 8-10% East Asian, and the remaining 2-7% are African American, Hispanic, South Asian, and other nationalities. Catholic schools tend to be more diverse than this, but still not close to what you'll find in public schools.

Public schools in Berkeley are much, much more diverse than any private schools in the area. My kid's public middle school looks like the United Nations. At a recent "Culture Fair" night, it seemed like every country in the world was represented. You really should visit in person before making your decision.

Again, sorry for the over-generalization, but that's pretty much the picture here in Berkeley! Local Mom

Truly socioeconomically diverse private school?

March 2014

I am not sure that such a school exists, but maybe you can enlighten me. My husband and I have taught at private schools in the Bay Area, and in the process have seen firsthand how so many of them are ''pressure cookers'' filled with kids whose parents earn astronomical amounts of money. Though this is not the case for all families, and I do not begrudge them their fortune, it is not the type of environment we would like to send our own children to. On the other hand, we have been equally unimpressed with the public schools in our city (we live in Oakland) and cannot afford to live in Berkeley, where I have heard that some are slightly better. And we do see that for the most part children tend to get more individuated and creative instruction at private schools (not a reflection on the teaching capabilities of public school teachers, just a matter of time and resources differences). So we are researching private schools in the area, but are really wanting to find one that is sincerely committed to economic diversity. Where it is not just a way of marketing their commitment to diversity, but rather an integral part of the school's philosophy and raison d'etre. I guess that would mean either exceptionally low tuition or exceptionally high amounts of financial aid? I'm not quite sure, and we are still in the nascent stages of exploration, but can the BPN community enlighten me here. I know we are not alone in a) barely making it financially in the Bay Area and b) being appalled at the rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and this region in particular and c) wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for our children to thrive in intellectually and socially.

Your instincts are correct...there are no truly socio-economically diverse private schools in the east bay (the exception being parochial schools, perhaps?), because in order to do that they could not survive. Do you REALLY value socio-economic diversity as part of your child's educational experience or just theoretically? Because if you REALLY do and you are sincere about 'b' and 'c' of your post, then donate the $25K+ a year tuition and your time/resources to your child's public school and truly change the lives of dozens of children. You are obviously very well educated. You are just the sort of person our public schools need. Please get involved in changing public schools. Please speak for those who can't.

Sorry to sound so harsh, but I'm just tired of people in the east bay wanting it both ways -- i.e., getting an educational experience catering to their child's every need, while easing their conscience about the inequity inherent in sending their child to private school. Give your public school a chance!

While we don't have experience in the OUSD, I would encourage you to investigate your local Catholic Schools. One thing you said really struck a chord ''wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for our children to thrive in intellectually and socially'' - that is truly at the heart of Catholic education - and while some of the schools may be more homogeneous, MANY of the Oakland catholic schools are incredibly diverse. Catholic schools educate the whole child, and that sounds like it might be a good fit for your family and worth investigating. I would encourage you to research some online and make an appointment to see them - you can visit www.csdo.org to find out more. Best to you! Happy Catholic School Parent

With all due respect I think when you visited the schools you may have seen a beautiful campus and kids with name brand clothing and parents with name brand cars - what you may not have seen are the individual children. You did not see my daughter, for example, when you visited the campus. If you had truly seen my daughter you would have noticed the 1999 Saturn wagon we drive so that we can afford for her to be there. You would also see 5 - 15 year old Hondas driven by parents and teachers alike.

My daughter attends one of the ''beautiful schools'' with ''wealthy'' families. What I know is that we are on a 75% scholarship. Many of the teachers teach at and are committed to the school so their own children can attend with a large reduction in tuition. Our daughter has friends and classmates that live in multi-million dollar homes, but it may be that the overwhelming majority of the families at the ''beautiful school'' give up family vacations, drive old cars with over 100,000 miles, eat pasta rather than steak, make due with older clothes and shoes because they value the educational opportunities their children are given.

The scholarship committee asks us every year to provide the information needed to grant our scholarship. Every year as we decide to go camping for a week instead of staying in a hotel, we are grateful for the opportunity our daughter has been given. When we see the foreign languages, the arts classes, the depth of the English classes with rich discussions because all students have arrived prepared and ready to discuss the material, the science labs and the depths of knowledge in history and current events we know we have made the right choice.

And like many other families who have made similar choices we would sell our home and live in an apartment to continue to give this experience to our daughter because in the end we know the difference. Our daughter was in one of the ''hills schools'' in Oakland in which the PTA raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and yet nothing compares to being in a class in which every student is working hard to his or her full potential and is prepared for the material that is presented. Nothing compares to having teachers who know the material they teach with such depth and complexity that they do not have to think about differentiating, it is just a natural part of the learning process for all students.

So before you take a wide lens through the whole school, take a magnifying glass instead. Look at my daughter and the boys and girls she plays soccer with at lunch. Watch as they sit not 'three under a tree for the diversity shot'' but their knees tucked up as they sit in the floor in the hall and discuss life in South Africa's apartheid and then tell me what you see. Four Languages and Five Science Labs for my Daughter

If you are open to being outside the East Bay, check out Live Oak School and San Francisco School (both in SF). I'm partial to Live Oak because my daughter went there - it is an amazing, nurturing place with a strong commitment to social justice. They give tuition assistance across a broad spectrum so their range of socioeconomic and racial diversity is wider than most private schools. I'm pretty sure SF School is even more diverse in both aspects but don't have first-hand experience with them. We still found that most families were above our income level (teacher and social worker), but nothing like what you see at many of the private schools, including the high schools where our kids go now. Even if SF is not an option for you, it might be worth a call to them to talk about the issue. The head of school at Live Oak is Virginia Pak. Julie

You say you are ''appalled at the rising inequality between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' in the world and this region in particular''. Private schools charge appalling amounts of money to provide an education that all students should be entitled to in a functioning democracy. No school that charges significant tuition is going to be ''committed to socioeconomic diversity.'' It just is not. Private schools are enclaves of privilege. Most will claim to offer lots of scholarships and value diversity, but they have a bottom line. I don't think there are any that have a need/blind admissions policy.

Public schools actually are committed to socioeconomic diversity. They are filled with teachers and parents who are committed to providing the best education possible to kids no matter the resources of the child's family.

If you are truly appalled, I recommend you do not feed the economic disparity monster. I love our neighborhood elementary school and have worked shoulder to shoulder with a great group of parents for years to keep it going strong. I am now in the midst of watching a big chunk of the students in the top economic crust of our local public school peel off and head to private middle schools. It is painful. It seems obvious to me that private schools are not just a symptom of the increasing economic disparities in our society, but a significant driver of these disparities. I advise anyone like you who is appalled at the rising inequality to jump into a public school and be the change you have been waiting for. Involved parents and families drive the improvement of our public neighborhood schools. Within our communities we have great power, if we choose to use it. Buying a path out of the public institutions may appear to be in the short term interest of your child, but I believe the long term interests of your child and my child and of all children are better served by parents who use their resources to help build functioning local institutions and who model a commitment to the whole community. Public Primary Education Fan

I don't know of any specific schools, but I have some ideas for questions to ask admissions directors.

1) How many children at your school would qualify for free or reduced lunch if this was a public school? If you're from a family of four and earn under 43k, you can get reduced lunch, 30k income makes lunch free.

Income guidelines here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/rs/scales1213.asp

For reference, BUSD schools, which are very balanced, have between 30 to 60 percent free/reduced-lunch students.

2) Is there diversity of parental education level? If there is socioeconomic diversity but everyone's parents are college graduates and above, there won't be as much of a climate of diversity.

3) Does the school have students who are English Language Learners? Does the school provide materials to parents in Spanish or other languages?

Have you considered Catholic schools? They seem to be way more diverse than the independent schools I'm familiar with, and of course tuition is dramatically lower. -A mom

It would probably be a geographic stretch for you, but I think the school you are looking for is Crestmont School in Richmond on the El Cerrito border. It is a parent coop; we have accredited teachers and a director, but other than that parents are in charge of keeping the school functioning. The coop model allows us to keep tuition much lower than is typical of private schools. Like other private schools, we offer financial aid to help make Crestmont accessible to low-income families. But as opposed to most other private schools, Crestmont tuition is doable for many middle class families -- those who would not qualify for financial aid but would still be hard pressed to pay a typical private school tuition. Crestmont also offers families opportunities to offset part of their tuition, for instance by serving on the board or participating in the classroom. Our school is committed to economic diversity and has a structure that allows us make this ideal a reality. Crestmont parent

Dear Apalled - If you are truly apalled by the lack of diversity at private schools, then I would strongly recommend that you go the public route. We are so blessed with numerous options in this area, so there is no question of needing to fit a square peg through a round hole, so to speak. My two kids went public for elementary and are now private middle school. I chose this route for various reasons, all of which were the result of my own children's individual needs, which I won't detail here as it's not relevant for you. It has been a good decision, and has worked out better than expected. It is also a stretch, financially. Of course, I do wish the schools were more socio-economically diverse, but as a realist, I understand that is not their mission. Their mission is to provide the best education possible as well as to remain viable financially, and to do so means charging a lot of money and that knocks a lot of people out of the running. Don't blame the private schools, blame our lack of public funding (prop 13!).

I'm not a public school booster, like so many people I know, who would only see the good in public school and the bad in private school. I see the good and bad in both. And c'mon, there is good and bad in both! But seriously, I don't think public middle school in Oakland (where I live) is terrible. Quite the opposite. I know many kids having positive experiences there. But if the economic diversity is a top value to you, and I 'get' why, then private school is probably not best for you. Give public a try first, it might pleasantly surprise you. Public/private, can't we all just get along?

You mention 3 things where you know you are not alone: a) barely making it financially in the Bay Area and b) being appalled at the rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and this region in particular and c) wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for your children to thrive in intellectually and socially. Well, guess what, in Oakland, you can be barely making it financially, be appalled at rising inequality (and DO something about it!!!), and have a stimulating social-justice-oriented environment for your children to thrive in. And you can do it in public school, right here in Oakland. I know because I've got 3 kids in public school here. I can't speak to all of the elementary schools in Oakland and I won't tell you the name of ours because I value my anonymity, but there are lots of schools in Oakland that you would fall in love with and then quietly say to yourself, Sheesh, I can't believe I was ready to pay thousands of dollars for something I can get for free! One responder explained very clearly why one cannot find truly socioeconomically-diverse private schools: it's just not their model. Period. And as to the sad state of public funding: remember that every single child who enrolls in private takes valuable resources out of the public school pot. Yes, public funding in California is an embarrassment to all of us Californians, but every child who enrolls in private rather than public is sending California public education further into crisis. The money leaves the public school with the departing students. And the departing students are almost always the ones with financial resources as well as higher test scores and personal connections that would lift up almost every student in public school, including those who come from homes where no one has attended college. Parents with means donate to the PTA, and every kid at that school benefits from music, art, social/emotional education, field trips, etc, even those whose parents didn''t contribute a dime. Even children in poor families deserve to be enriched. For every child that goes to private school, there''s another field trip not offered, another art teacher given a pink slip, and another school psychologist who is asked to reduce her hours and carry a heavier load.

I AM a public school booster, but I also do see the good and bad in both private and public schools. My children attend public in Oakland (elementary and middle), but many of our friends are in private. Yes, we do all just get along, but that doesn''t mean I agree with their decision to educate only their own children, while everyone else fights for diminishing resources. My middle-class white children will survive, go on to college, and be productive members of society, but what about those kids with far fewer resources than mine? Truly, the BEST solution to rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and in this region in particular is PUBLIC EDUCATION, but only if it is supported by all of us. anon


Diverse private school for Hispanic daughter

April 2010

We are looking for a k-8 private school in the Berkeley area. Our daughter is adopted from Guatemala and therefore diversity and other Hispanic students being part of the student body are both top priorities. A bilingual program is a plus but not necessary. Any recommendations for good schools which are k-8? Curious to hear other parents experiences and recommendations. Thank you very much.

I suggest you look at Archway School, a k-8 private school located in both Oakland and Berkeley. Diversity is reprensented in both its faculty and student body and children thrive and grow under the guideance of some of the best teachers in the east bay. (FYI- the spanish teacher is a native speaker and spanish begins in the lower grades). If your child is entering k-4 contact their Oakland campus at 510-547-4747, and contact their Berkeley Campus at 510-849-4747 if entering 5-8. I think you will find the Archway community a good fit. a happy Archway School parent

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

We have been very pleased with The Berkeley School (formerly Berkeley Montessori) for the diversity of the students and their families and their support of adoptive families. Our two girls were adopted from Cambodia and both have felt the support of students, faculty and staff and the sense that their cultures are celebrated and honored. Throughout the years, the girls brought presentations of Cambodian culture and holidays and their adoption stories to the classroom.

While there is no bilingual program, Spanish is integrated at the Early Childhood Center and in all levels of elementary and middle school. There are TBS families whose first language is Spanish (among many languages represented in the school community). Finally, the flexibility of the progressive education at TBS gives teachers the opportunity to spend time exploring a particular culture and issues that develop around adoption and family. We have been very lucky to have a teacher for the past three years who is also an adoptee.

The Berkeley School is a respectful community where differences are celebrated - I hope you'll give them a look. Catherine

Hi, If your top priority is diversity and/or the presence of other Hispanic students, I'm afraid you will be disappointed with the local private schools. A few private schools are still conducting tours - please visit and you'll see what I mean. At best, you might see one or two Hispanic kids for every 30 or so students at some of the bigger private schools.

Where you will find diversity is in your local public schools. Possibly a parochial school. Good luck! Mom of 3