Which Public School District?

Parent Q&A

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  • Best school culture East Bay & beyond?

    (3 replies)

    Hello Parents! 

    It is easy to look up school scores but am wondering if you know what public jr high and high schools have very good SCHOOL CULTURES overall. By this I mean, the students are engaged in school, value learning and doing well, but also there is not so much pressure that it breaks kids from the stress of mountains of homework and cut throat competition and grading. Schools where drugs and alcohol and bullying and violence are non existent or extremely minimal. Looking for a school that has a student body that is kind, inclusive and supportive of each other. Where a variety of extracurriculars are supported including the arts, dance, theatre, music, foreign languages, and sports.  Not sure if this exists at all but hoping maybe some schools come close. Would appreciate your feedback. Particularly interested in the following areas: LaMorinda, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Albany, Fremont, Berkeley, El Cerrito.

    Many thanks for your time and help

    My daughter thought the school culture at El Cerrito was fine. She felt academically challenged, not overly pressured, and felt safe. El Cerrito is not too big and has a closed campus, and she really thought that helped the culture. There is quality music, sports, dance, academics. We had the option of moving to Berkeley or Piedmont, and she did not want to leave El Cerrito.

    You're asking a very broad question, which is probably why you didn't get many answers. I think a lot depends on your family's values and what you prioritize for your child's education. That said, we've definitely thought a lot about this issue with two kids now in middle school and high school. We sent them to our local public school (not fancy) for elementary. No frills, bells, or whistles, and lots of kids coming to school not prepared to learn. We made changes for middle school; sent one to private and one to a higher-performing public district. The most noticeable difference is kids coming to school with family support/encouragement/motivation. The achievement curve is much higher simply because the families are backing up the teachers at home. The public middle school is more academic than the private one but I don't sense we're going to be in a Horace Gunn or Lowell pressure-cooker situation in high school (but ask me again in two years!). I don't hear of much negative social behavior although there was a very inappropriate Insta run by a student at the public middle that apparently was hard to shut down. This is leading me to think that there's not going to be any middle/high school "free" of bullying/drugs/alcohol, but certainly the latter two have not come up in our experience at either middle school yet. To sum up, you probably need to refine your list to your family's top priorities for education and go from there.

    It sounds like you are looking to move? Are you moving from within the Bay Area or out of state? I think it would help to drive around these neighborhoods and figure out where you want to live, and narrow down your choices. If you use a real estate agent choose one who specializes in a specific neighborhood and ask them about the schools, they probably had kids in that area and know the schools well. Maybe if you narrowed down your choices, you can get better responses about the specific schools in that city. 

  • My husband and I are planning a move from Austin, TX to the East Bay to be closer to family (and to escape the conservative TX politics), and I'm starting my school research for my sons (rising 7th grader and rising 4th grader, but likely not moving until academic year 2022-2023). I'm most concerned about my older son, who is currently in a wonderful Fine Arts academy as a creative writing major, but who is equally passionate about math, science, and coding. He's been lucky thus far to have had access to top notch public schools, with challenging curriculum and really involved teachers. I'm particularly concerned about leaving his Fine Arts academy, which is housed in a traditional public middle school, so also offers accelerated and advanced paths for core subjects. He's a very easy-going kid and makes friends easily, but he's incredibly dedicated to his schoolwork and I don't want to let that slip. My younger son is probably a little easier to place, academically, as he's more of a generalist than his older brother.

    Financially, private school for 2 kids is not an option for us, so we do need to pursue public education opportunities. I'd be most appreciative of any and all suggestions for late elementary - middle and high schools in the East Bay! I'm not even sure what city we should be targeting. Berkeley? Oakland? Emeryville? Alameda?

    For middle and high public school options, I think you'd be better off in Berkeley, Albany, Alameda; or Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Walnut Creek; or San Ramon, Alamo, Danville. Emeryville isn't known for public school options. Oakland has a few decent public middle schools (OUSD and charter options) but many OUSD families opt for private school for middle school. For high school, many want to get into Oakland Tech, some are ok with Skyline, and many (religious or not) opt for Catholic schools and other private schools.  Oakland School for the Arts is a popular arts magnet school offering middle and high school and must audition to get in. Priority is given to Oakland residents for OSA. 

    Public schools in Berkeley largely don’t have specialties like you’re mentioning. If private is something you’d consider I would recommend checking out Black Pine Circle, at least for your older child. They have rigorous academics that are balanced with a strong arts curriculum/focus — sort of exactly what you described. Perhaps one in private and one public? Also, it’s worth checking if you qualify for financial aid — given cost of living in the Bay Area, many people find they do qualify when they expected to not! 

    Berkeley (BUSD) doesn't offer accelerated or tracked classes--so every class has a wide variety of skill levels for math, writing, literacy, etc.and I think it causes issues for students and teachers, but that's just my opinion.

    In highschool, you can take accelerated math--it's just the regular math work, but you go through it faster.

    BUSD does have decent schools/middle schools by CA standards--they get good ratings and have a variety of classes. But some parents have issues with the lack of assistance for kids who enjoy a subject and might be more advanced in it.

    Another unusual thing about BUSD is they have a zoning system, so you have limited choices Abt elementary schools. Middle schools are based on address, but two neighbors could be assigned to two different middle schools.

    My daughter attended Oakland School for the Arts, with Creative Writing as her emphasis. She had a wonderful experience, and went on the get a BFA in Creative Writing. She graduated from OSA in 2015, so I cannot tell you what the program is like currently. 
    Oakland School for the Arts is a grades 6-12 charter school, and is open to students from all Bay Area communities. Her classmates were from Berkeley, Piedmont, Orinda, San Francisco, Richmond, Alameda, etc. not only from Oakland. Students audition for acceptance. 

    Check out Oakland School for the Arts. My daughter has been there from 6th grade and will be in 10th. Many of her friends also chose to go there. They have a creative/literary arts empathic among others. its free, a great school and you do not have to live in Oakland. They have changed the audition requirements. Lovely community to be involved in!

    Consider Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek. All of these communities have excellent public schools.

    Hello! Good luck on your move! Although I have heard Albany and Alameda schools are "good," as a Berkeley parent, I am an advocate of BUSD. The generous voters of Berkeley have consistently passed a parcel tax that provides an additional ~$2,000+ per pupil in funding. The majority of the funds go toward class size reduction, but it also funds an excellent Visual and Performing Arts program at the elementary and middle schools. The high school also has an excellent arts program, it is just funded in a different way. (It is known particularly for its jazz band -- Charlie Hunter and Joshua Redman are both Berkeley High graduates.) The high school is large, but it has 5 "communities" that students join after their freshman year -- thus it's a small "school within a school" environment. For middle schools, both Willard and King are excellent. King is the larger of the two. Our daughter goes to Willard, and though as a 6th grader she has yet to experience true in school learning, all of her teachers thus far have been excellent. (There is a third middle school but it currently does not have any feeder elementary schools aside from the one Spanish immersion school as it houses the Spanish immersion program at the middle school level. The district is evaluating whether to make it a zone school or keep it as a choice school.)

    The elementary schools are all good in my opinion. The district has 3 zones and you are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools in your zone. What's nice about the zones is that they create a diverse mix of students from areas of each zone, so no one school is "better" than the next. The trick you will find is that the application for the following school year is due around February 1st and requires proof of a local address. So unless you have family in Berkeley, you will likely apply later in the process and may not get a spot at your top choice school. Luckily, you don't really lose because they are all good, plus your younger will only be there one year. 

    I'm happy to provide more info on our experience -- just send me a DM.

  • My husband and I are struggling to determine our ideal location to move to a bigger house.  We have one toddler and are expecting another and value public school systems.

    Any parents choose Berkeley (north Berkeley or elmwood area) or Alameda (fernside area) over further east like Lafayette or Walnut Creek and why?   I grew up in San Ramon, did really well academically, took many advanced courses and went to top UCs for undergrad and grad school.   While I will continue to strive to be open minded to where my kids futures will lead them,  I also can’t help but owe a lot of my success to the resources, teachers, courses, friends and support I got through the school system.   My parents were supportive, but being first generation made it difficult for me to leverage their knowledge about navigating the system.

    It seems like Lafayette/Walnut Creek are similar to San Ramon, but will Berkeley or Alameda school system be so different than what I experienced? Is there way to understand these differences and trade offs?do you have insights that will help me?

    I have gone down many rabbit holes of research, forums, posts on parents groups to understand school options, and the nuances feel near impossible for the everyday parent to understand and make trade offs.   I understand and value that Berkeley would offer more diverse student base where families might come from more varied economic or racial backgrounds.  Also that Berkeley zones to multiple schools rather than one near your house (but it seems the schools are all equally preferred?).   Sometimes I read that if a child is academic or gifted Berkeley has no programs - but this is hard to determine when children are so young and trying to understand what these programs would or wouldn’t provide.  We obviously just want the best for our kids.

    We are trying to make a similar decision.  I think that so much of the nuance you're describing comes down to the variables that aren't at the district level.  Now that we have a kid in elementary, I can see how the approach of different schools within a district and most importantly different teachers within the school, makes all the difference.  That said, we've decided to zero in on Castro Valley for our next move.  To us it is the best balance of solid school options all the way from K-12, while still having some level of housing affordability and diversity.

  • Year round school or summer school?

    (2 replies)

    Are there any year round schools in the area...ones that don't take a break during June and July?

    Anyone know of summer schools that are in June and July? Not summer camps, but regular summer school.


    Some community colleges offer extended year programs for grade schoolers but my experiences are from the South Bay and I have nothing specific to offer locally here.

    East Contra Costa school districts run a modified year-round schedule. Brentwood/Oakley area.

  • What do you look for in a school system

    (3 replies)


    My husband and I are looking to relocate and want to a public school district that our son can stay in K-12.  Wondering what advice parents have for what they look for in a public school system? What are the top 5 things that make the biggest impact? Is is diverse student body? Is it offering specialized programs? Is it a focus on college readiness? It will really help me to be objective when elevating different districts. 

    thank you! 

    Hi. Here were my top considerations when choosing schools (in El Cerrito):

    1. Location: I wanted a schools that were walking distance or short AC transit ride to our house. This saves time for pick ups and drop offs and gives you and your child a great sense of community and friends close by. For middle and high school having the school close by is very important for the child gaining independence and it is great when they invite their friends to your house after school because then you know where they are. Also, I taught them how to prep dinner so there would be less for me to do when I got home.

    2. Neighborhood safety: I wanted to feel safe from crime, litter, and traffic when walking around the school. I also wanted this so my child would feel safe when they were older and walking around without me.

    3. On-site daycare: This was a deal-breaker for me. I transferred my kindergarten child between two academically equal schools because one had on-site daycare and the other didn't.

    Those were actually my only considerations. We lived in a class- and ethnicity- diverse neighborhood, so the neighborhood schools reflected this. Regarding academics and college readiness, I trusted the State Standards that apply to all public schools would be sufficient (they were). Regarding extras, I didn't consider this at all, figuring that I could add classes on weekends if the school offerings weren't sufficient. Although the school had art, drama, music, sports, dance, etc, my child chose to do more outside of school.

    I would really want a several things from schools. One, a good program to deal with bullies. Bullies have become an even bigger problem with social media. And bullying can lead to suicide, so I think this is especially important. Two, I like schools with green spaces that the kids can spend some time in every day. It is healthy to work and play outdoors. Then for high school, how do the teenagers find their tribe? Are there comfortable and welcoming spaces for intellectuals, jocks. actors and so on? 

    To be honest, really honest, the factors we looked at and the factors we actually were motivated by were not the same. When it came down to it, we chose proximity and conformity. Proximity equaled schools close enough that the kids could walk to classes. Conformity equaled schools where academic standards (ie test scores) are high and kids overwhelmingly are going to college. As much as we liked neighborhoods in Oakland we could never pull the trigger on buying a house in Oakland.

  • Recs for East Bay Public Elementary Schools

    (5 replies)

    We (multiracial family with same sex parents of color) are planning to move in the next month and are seeking suggestions on where in the SF Bay Area we might consider that offers excellent elementary public education. Our daughter will start kindergarten next year. Our criteria for excellence: 1) public health a high priority 2) diverse staff and studentbody 3) well rounded curriculum (i.e., promoting arts, physical fitness, and exploring nature) 4) social justice a core value 5) transparent, timely and accountable communication. We desire to stay in the East Bay but willing to relocate up to a 40 min drive without traffic from Oakland.

    Also, any tips on discovering the "real deal" about a school beyond the great schools site which we feel has its own set of limitations/bias in its rating system. We understand school tours and other more interactive research may be limited due to COVID-19 but wonder what would be accessible at this time. TIA for your referrals!

    I'd recommend checking out Redwood Day in Oakland, and Park Day in Oakland and Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito. All of those are pretty clearly aligned to your criteria. Oh and I almost forgot St. Paul's in Oakland, they also have a wonderful new Head of School! 

    Good luck!

    Cleveland Elementary School in Oakland meets all of your criteria. It is truly diverse. The school’s core value of responsibility and inclusion is reflected well throughout the community. We have eco-literacy program, arts, music and PE. It’s not a privileged rich school but we have a very strong and involved PTA that is committed to social justice and equity. PTA works very hard to raise an impressive amount of funding without pressuring families to write a $1000/kid check like certain “hills” schools do. 

    OUSD has its shortcomings and the pandemic response in terms of instructional planning leaves a lot of room for improvement. But I recognize that teachers are working hard and the district has so many challenges (contract negotiation, contractural prohibition for teachers to work in the summer, huge inequity among students to name a few). Sure, it’s frustrating to wait many weeks for the district and teachers to come up with a plan while our friends at private school are learning, but private schools don’t have to figure out how to feed kids and whether kids have lap tops or internet. we are staying in OUSD. We can afford a private tutor and if we pull out, we will be adding to further deterioration of public school. 

    Consider that in the public school system, you cannot always expect placement in your first choice of school. Depends on zoning / your zip code. 

    We are in BUSD (Berkeley) at Rosa Parks and really happy. Berkeley has three zones across the city, so that results in a very diverse student body at each school. All schools are very similar, so you can't really go wrong in Berkeley. Oakland works through neighborhoods, so there might be less diversity depending on where the school is located, less funding through PTA, hence fewer enrichment classes etc.

    By the way, the three schools mentioned by previous posted Dr. Mommy are all private schools.

    My daughter (multiracial) attended El Cerrito public schools; El Cerrito High School is ranked the 6th most diverse high school in CA, and Korematsu Middle School, ranked #20 among state middle school diversity.

    Regarding staff and student diversity, that is all online from the State of CA at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/dataquest.asp

    The curriculum is well rounded (CA public education is structured this way, you can see it all here, https://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/, every subject, every grade).

    Your other criteria is hard to tell during distance learning, and how that will play out for next year, but I recommend giving El Cerrito a look (https://www.wccusd.net/domain/2594)

    About 5 years ago I toured a (public) charter school in Alameda called the Academy of Alameda and also toured Maya Lin a regular public school also in Alameda. Both schools stick in my mind today for different reasons. The Academy is a school whose cornerstone is about diversity and social justice. Maya Lin blew my socks off because of the enthusiasm and passion of the principal and teachers for their art's based curriculum.

    The best way to discover the real deal is a lot of on the ground research.

    BTW I've only heard superior feedback on all 4 of the private schools mentioned by the first response. If you are able to afford them, they probably meet all your criteria better than any public school in the East Bay. 

  • Moving from NYC - which school district?

    (3 replies)

    We just relocated here from NYC and are trying to figure out where to target our housing search which is obviously impacted by schools (i.e., which cities/districts/schools to target, strong private options, etc.). In NYC, there were several individuals in each borough who provided "school consulting" - informing parents on the options in their neighborhood or how to optimize a housing search around schools. Since we're new, the number of district options (Berkeley/Piedmont/Oakland/Albany, etc.) are overwhelming, and we don't know the nuances with each (lottery/ranking/forced assignments/magnets, etc.)  

    There are a few recommendations for consultants like this on this platform, but they're old, and the folks cited are no longer providing the service. 

    Is there anyone in the area who is doing this currently? Should it help, we are primarily concerned with K-5, as that's the upcoming gauntlet.

    Thanks for any recs!

    Since you are new to the area, why not rent a house at a price you can afford, to try out a neighborhood? Then research school options in that vicinity (you don't say how old your child/ren are and when you need K-5 schools). An important thing to know about the East Bay that may be quite different from NYC is that there are microclimates here - the weather varies a lot by neighborhood depending on where you are in relation to the bay and the hills. Pick an area where the weather is to your liking, and go from there in terms of your schooling needs. Welcome to the East Bay!

    I agree with the previous poster, it’s a good idea to rent and then get ideas from neighbors and people who are like-minded. The East Bay is waaaaay more chill than NY, so you probably don’t need a consultant. In general, if you live in a “good” school district, then you can just send your kids to the neighborhood school. If you don’t, or the neighborhood school is not a good fit, you have to start navigating the maze of intra and inter district transfers, charter schools, and private schools. There is lots of school choice in CA, for better or worse, so you will always have options. I know plenty of people who moved to an expensive neighborhood for the schools, and then ended up in private school anyway, and the inverse is also true - plenty of families prefer the convenience and community of a neighborhood school and many of them offer excellent academics anyway. I also know kids who commute long distances to other districts or charters, and others who walk to school. Once you get a feel for a neighborhood and meet some people, you’ll have more reliable school info. 

    Hi and welcome to the Bay Area! I am not aware of schools consultants around here. As the mom of a current college student, my advice is live where you want to live. The house, neighborhood, commute, price, weather, should be what impacts where you live. Register for whatever the public school is in the locale you have chosen (Really. I know many families who "moved for the schools" and were OK but not overwhelmed with the result, and other families who stressed over the "perfect" private school and never found it, and other families who did send their child to expensive and/or highly rated schools and the kid did not end up at a college better than any other.) You and your children will benefit from the sense of community and place that result in living somewhere you enjoy and supporting your local public school.

  • We're planning to move from SF to the East Bay with our 3-year-old. We love the Oakland/Berkeley hills, and yearn for the feeling of being 'out in nature', but we do need to commute to downtown SF most days, and I don't want to spend hours in a car every day.

    So far, houses on Zillow that have caught our eye are in Kensington, Cragmont, Montclair, and Glen Highlands; but we haven't really figured out the school situation. Our daughter's currently at a private Montessori, but we want to send her to public school, as long as she will thrive there. A sense of school community, and an environment that fosters curiosity, are more important to us than test scores. 

    Someone mentioned Orinda as an option, so we're going to take a trip out there and see how it feels - I'm wondering if there's any other neighborhoods we're missing; or any in our current list that *don't* have good school options all the way through MS and HS, and we should avoid? Thanks!

    We live in Upper Rockridge (Oakland, zoned for Hillcrest which is a K-8) and love it. Much of the neighborhood burned during the '91 fire so won't feel as "woodsy," but there are exceptions, and many of the homes have views of the Montclair hills or the bay. Both my husband and I commute into SF for work (or at least we did, pre-pandemic) -- if you can swing a car with an HOV sticker, it's so worth it. With the sticker, my door-to-door driving commute to my office in Soma was about 30 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the evening.

    Have you considered Piedmont?

    Castro Valley may be a good option. It has a "being out in nature" feel, relatively very good value for money per sq footage of real estate, good rated schools and BARTable to/from SF.

    Lamorinda: Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda all have good schools through high schools and are hilly

    I live in North Orinda in Sleepy Hollow where the lots are large and so are the hills. Gorgeous views!

    Oakland Montclair from what I have heard only has good elementary schools but not good after that

    Also might be worth looking at San Ramon -- good schools, small hills in parts, very family friendly

    Have you considered Upper Rockridge in Oakland? It's a neighborhood just west of 13 (basically mirror location to Glen Highlands east of 13). We just moved here after looking in almost those same neighborhoods. When I mapped it, my son is in walking distance to the elementary, middle and high schools he is zoned to (https://oaklandfinder.schoolmint.net/school-finder/home, not a guarantee you'll get spots there, but that's another story), which I think is pretty unique for Oakland. Everyone we have met in the neighborhood talks up the local elementary, Hillcrest, which is walking distance from most homes in the area. We were hoping for Berkeley (school assignment is more equitable and school quality is more even), but lost out to all-cash bids for every home we offered on. 

    Our house is quite a bit smaller than the same budget would have afforded us in Montclair or Kensington, but we have a view of trees and the bay AND are still walkable to College Avenue (and the Rockridge bart station) in about 20 minutes. There is also a small market and coffee shop off Broadway Terrace, so that I can trick myself I still live an urban lifestyle when I want to ;-)

    If you are just considering schools, Orinda schools are more highly "rated" than Berkeley, Oakland, or Kensington. We visited a house in Orinda but it was too rural feeling for us. Best of luck in your search!

    You could check out Albany hill in Albany.

    The topic of public school is such a complicated issue I will not go into which neighborhoods don't have good schools. Public schools in general are underfunded, the more affluent neighborhoods have families with the means to make up for the short fall. So when you look at schools it's actually a reflection of the neighborhood. The home prices of a neighborhood is closely tied to the "quality" of the public school in the zone. This is especially true in Oakland and even the wealthy neighborhoods don't always have "good' schools because those families send their kids to private. 

    If you need to commute to SF then I would look at neighborhoods along the BART line that are within your budget. Few things to consider when looking at homes in the hills. 1.  Lack of flat yard space for the kids to run around in. 2. Expensive homeowner's insurance or difficultly finding an insurer for the home due to being in high fire zones. 3. Lack of sidewalks and narrow hilly roads, lack of street parking (having a car is a must).

    For similar priced homes, you can get a bigger house/lot across the tunnel with highly rated schools. 

    Orinda - Orinda BART.  Lafayette - Lafayette BART. 

  • Where to rent long-term for good schools?

    (2 replies)

    Hello! Even though I'm early in my first pregnancy, I'm looking to move from into a 2 bedroom and I really want to lock down a good k-12 school district (long term planning). Where do you suggest we look for rentals? Berkeley and Alameda districts I've heard are very good. What about Oakland neighborhoods? The headache of charters scare me!

    Thanks in advance!

    You can use www.greatschools.org and of course BPN archives as a starting point to research schools. Broadly speaking Albany, Piedmont, Castro Valley, Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Alamo, and Danville are often sited as having good public school systems as well as Berkeley and Alameda, in the East Bay. In Oakland, Tech is considered the strongest high school and Edna Brewer and Claremont are the middle schools that are always considered up-and-coming. I'll leave it to another to list their favorite Oakland elementary schools.

    Sorry to state the obvious, but if your objective is to stay for 18+ years in one school district, your best bet is to buy or you run the risk of getting priced out of your rental.

    Yes. Berkeley and Alameda are no brainers. In Oakland, I think two areas offer the best K - 12 OUSD experience. Well, it's really two parts of the same area (Rockridge).1) The hills area and some parts of upper broadway zoned for Hilcrest (K-8) which then feeds into either Oakland Tech or Skyline. Oakland Tech is considered the best high school in Oakland but Skyline is also beloved. Rentals are hard to come by in this area and most of them are larger single family homes. Lower Rockridge area that is zone for Chabot Elementary School (K-5) or Peralta Elementary (K-5) which then feeds into Claremont Middle School and then Oakland Tech High. This area offers more rental options. On paper, Edna Brewer is ranked higher than Claremont Middle School, but Claremont is smaller and the community is strong. Both areas are some of the most expensive areas to rent. Piedmont, obviously, has stellar public schools, and does offer a small number of rental options. We currently live in an area that offers good elementary and high school. We personally plan to do private middle school unless our child chooses to and gets into Oakland School for the Arts, public magnet arts school in Oakland.

  • East Bay Public School Options

    (1 reply)

    My family and I are currently in the Oakland area, and while the elementary school in our area is well-rated and well-thought of, the middle school and high school options are abysmal. We are considering moving to Lafayette, Orinda, San Ramon, Walnut Creek or Alameda where there are stronger K-12 options (at least, according to test scores/ratings). In terms of the actual neighborhood, we've spent the most time in Alameda so I lean toward moving in that direction, but I know the least about the Alameda school district. I'd very much appreciate hearing your personal experiences with living in any of these neighborhoods and your (and your children's) experience with the public schools. As a side note, as a biracial family, diversity (both in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic) are important factors we're keeping in mind as well in deciding our next move. Thanks in advance.

    Why not Berkeley? Berkeley public schools are very good, especially its high school. And Berkeley will be more diverse than most of the towns on your list.

  • Are there any public schools or districts in the East Bay that are intentionally low/no tech for elementary school? I work in education and have seen the heavy handed push of EdTech products that have zero impact for students other than some additional mindless screen time. I'm not against all technology (my M.S.Ed is in Online Teaching and Learning) but the real benefits come from older students using technology tools to create, not from plugging young kids into screens and calling it personalized learning. WCCUSD is testing a new curriculum at the elementary level that has the very youngest students doing homework online. I am 100% not okay with this for my kids, and it may actually push us to move schools. We would prefer to avoid private schools and charter schools, are there any public schools/districts you can point us to? Thank you.

    Because California state tests are given online now, I don't think you will find any districts that do not use technology at all in elementary. Particularly in districts grappling with digital divide issues, the push is generally in the other direction. Most use Chromebooks or other similar devices starting by second grade at the latest (and many start as early as TK/K, as you've found). In my experience, there are individual teachers who use less tech, but you can't be assured of getting that particular teacher. Maybe someone will weigh in with suggestions of schools where there are concentrations of teachers who are opting out of the technology, though.

    Agreed that because testing is now online, there will be almost zero public schools that use no technology in elementary schools. However, I think Berkeley schools (at least the school our kids go to -- Sylvia Mendez) has struck a nice balance. Kinders and 1st graders do not use computers unless they are accessing reading resources such as RAZ kids from home. In second grade, my son uses the computer during class time once a week to learn coding or typing and that's pretty much it. In third grade, kids get access to Google docs to start writing papers, but do not use email. They don't get district email access until middle school. My daughter is in fourth grade and they continue to use Google docs and the Chromebooks, and definitely on a more regular basis. I assume 5th grade is the same. However, as you say, it is for creating, not "curriculum" delivered via devices. I also have an M.A in Instruction Technology and am comfortable with the technology use in this school. Good luck on this decision!

    I don't have any advice for you but am in the same boat as you. I understand that we need to allow all our kids computer literacy but I don't believe elementary schoolers need to be on computers. In fact there's a growing body of research that shows it can be harmful. I know you said no private but check out Waldorf or at least a Waldorf charter school (there's one in Oakland). True Waldorf would not introduce tech until middle at the earliest. We're looking at these or homeschool for this reason (ideally Waldorf charter). 

    You mention you didn't want to go the private route but I wanted to second the message below about looking at a Waldorf school.  They make you sign a no-screen policy for you and your child.  

Parent Reviews

I was in same situation last year. I came early, established residency. District would not register children until they had a year end transcript. We ended up not knowing where they were going to school until a few days before school started.

I have seen little in the way of k-8 options, though I’m not familiar with sf, 

Good luck. It’s not fun.

Hi, I'm in the same position - moving from Toronto and when I visited the schools in January I was told it is impossible to enrol before moving. You must prove residency with a utility bill etc. and likely will end up in one of the over flow schools outside your district (which means no walking). Enrolment is happening Feb/Mar so if you have flexibility, I advise you to move ASAP to at least get into the lineup.

For this reason we are not taking a chance so instead of moving to our first choice neighbourhood, we are making a compromise and moving to our second choice and sending our son to private school. Then we may try again for the 2019 school year when we are actually there.

Good luck to you! :)

Hi There!

We did the same thing in 2010. Managing the lotteries in OUSD or BUSD will be impossible without an actual address. You could go private school for a year while you get settled and then start the lottery process in the fall once you have an actual address. We ended up in private school just for the reasons you addressed. You could also rent a house or apartment now, depending on your budget, so you have an address and go from there.

Two towns in the East Bay, Piedmont and Albany, both have good schools. If you’re committed to public school, you could move to one of those two towns and goto public school there. They will both be challenging to live in without a car though. Albany is a bit easier without a car and the kids can walk/bike to school from almost anywhere in Albany. Depending on where you live, BART can be a 10/15 minute walk from Albany.

Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Oakland vs. Berkeley vs. Danville for the schools?

April 2012

We are an Indian family( east indian from the sub continent of India) currently live in San Francisco in the outer mission area( so we suffer a lot of fog, and we drive everywhere)..we currently rent and have two boys( 4 years and 16 months), and my oldest will be starting K next year..we really cannot afford private education and would love to send our kids public all the way until High School?( we can probably do private for high schhol). The current lottery system in SFUSD is whacky..but we live in a low test score area and m ight have a good shot at a good elementary school..but not beyond. I am kinda getting tired of the fog, small home and lack of a useable backyard..we do have one but we hardly use it since it is mostly cold..we have veted the follwoing

1) Oakland hills: Love the area, the diversity and the beautiful green all around: Not sure: Crime in the hills, lack of middle school. We stumbled upon Hillcrest and was excited(k-8), we could probably rent there, but what if dont get in due to oversubscription to the school..we would have moved our family across( increase our commute:I drive to foster city two days a week), but still ended up with only an elementary option. Also it seems like the oakland hills is not very condusive to walking and we still might have to drive everywhere, and might not get a real yard..i so want Oakland to work for us..but it just seems like the odds are aginast us!!..or is it??

2)Berkeley:Heard that the 580 -80 interchange is really crowded in peak time and could affect our commute time..we dont actaully get a bigger house and is still lottery

3) Danville:Great house, great schools, great weather..but i am not sure we are ready for real suburbia yet..sometimes i think we should just do it and although we might not fit in there our kids would love the yard and benefit from good schools, but i worry about diversity.. Lafayette: I would have moved here in a heartbeat if I were white!..love the rural appeal!..but we are indian sand i am not sure how my kids would feel in the school, and how we would be welcomed in the community

So as you can see after several nights of debating, reading blogs, parents reviews of schools.we still have not found a place for ourselves in this is beautiful and expansive bay area???...

I don't know much about Oakland, but I know all of the Montclair area elementary schools are good, and even the middle school is good nowadays. (Montera?) You'll get more on that from others. But I also wanted to put in that the commute from Berkeley to SF is not bad at all -- there are a couple of public transportation options + casual carpool! It's going to be waaaay worse through the tunnel from Danville or Lafayette. And Berkeley is great, with good schools through all grades. Last but not least, we have friends whose kids are half-Indian (one parent Indian; one white) and they fit in just fine in Orinda. I wouldn't be worried about being Indian or Asian in the burbs -- just black or Latino. Why are we all so worried about schools?

We live in the Chabot Elementary School district, just down the hill from Hillcrest. I know people in Hillcrest's district don't always get in, my daughter had a friend who went to Chabot for two years, but who lived in the Hillcrest district. Her friend got into Hillcrest after a couple of years. Chabot, Kaiser and Peralta are all good schools, so you could take the position that if you move to the Hillcrest district you will most likely eventually get into the school, even if your kids have to spend a couple years at another good elementary school in the meantime. Having said that, my daughter has a coach who is also a teacher at Hillcrest and his impression is that not that many kids go to Hillcrest through 8th grade because it's small. I'm not sure what that means, but you might want to go to a PTA meeting, take a tour, to find out what the chances are that your kids will really stay through middle school. Oakland has decent middle and high schools, but if you are really relocating for the schools, and you're already thinking of living in a place where you will have to drive a lot, then maybe you should move to Danville. I think you would be surprised by how many Indian families live in that area. just know a little bit

I'm an Oakland public school teacher and connected with a wide range of schools in the district. From that perspective, I would strongly encourage you to explore many possibilities in OUSD, not just Hillcrest. It seems like a tiny handful of hills schools get a reputation as the be-all, end-all, only option or bust, district wide, but the most gifted, creative, and child-loving teachers I know teach at a large number of other sites. Check out Cleveland, Glenview, Montclair, Sequoia, Kaiser...the list goes on. Middle school is always a big change and a big challenge, but very good things have been happening at a number of sites. Best wishes to you! Oakland_Teacher

If you want walkability and diversity and a strong community that supports (and is built and held together by) its public schools all the way through, come on over to Rockridge! Chabot and Peralta are already high scoring schools, built on community support, and Emerson is growing and building itself up with the help of another group of hard-working, butt-kicking, community building families. A significant portion of these active parents then converge at Claremont Middle School and continue their community-building, student-promoting work there, supporting kids through the daunting middle school years and then sending them on to the great programs already well-established at Oakland Technical High School.

I spent a lot of last week driving in to appointments in San Francisco, and reminding myself how lucky I feel to live somewhere where I very rarely have to drive anywhere. We walk to school. We walk to the grocery store. We walk to the drug store. We walk to the library. And everywhere we go, we see friendly faces from our local public schools. I really love it. BART and the freeway offer relatively easy access when you absolutely must go over the bridge. Rockridge Public School Fan

If you want walkable neighborhoods and universally good schools, probably Berkeley or Albany are your best choices. The down side is that the houses are more expensive, but that's because more people want to live there. The commute to the South Bay is more difficult -- the interchange is crowded, and the more miles you drive the more likely you are to encounter problems. BUSD parent

As a berkeley mom, my thoughts are that ,yes, you would have to deal with a lottery, but each of the 10 elementary schools have good attributes...but not all neighborhoods are as walkable as others. For example, the Berkely hills are not so convenient. But northbrae and westbrae and thousand oaks and elmwood and other neighborhoods are. Berkeley is diverse ethnically and for income levels. But may be tough on your commute. No harder than Lafayette.

In the oakland hills you may find the area in the montclair neghborhood to be walkable, but just outside that are curvey streets with no sidewalks, and some with fast traffic. ..and dont limit yourself to Hillcrest. There are many other good elementary and middle schools in oakland.

Albany is very walkable and diverse., with good schools. Lots tend to be small, but many parks. Same as north berkeley for your commute. Alameda is very walkable and bikeable - very flat - with good schools that are sometimes overlooked. Nice to be by the water. May work well for your commute.

From what i know of lafayette, the area near to the shopping district is walkable. I beleive you would be very welcome there. The population is probably more open than you are imagining. Many well educated folks live there. it likely has more income diversity (middle to upper income) than in danville. It is probably also not as hot in the summer as danville. But to commute you would have to deal with the tunnel and then with the Maze or with hwy 13. Hope you find a nice spot in the east bay. Anon.

I think that your question is a good one! I bought my house 10 years ago in order that my daughter attend Hillcrest. For certain reasons not relevant now (campus under construction, half day kindergarten), I chose to send her to a private school for Kindergarten. Then when I looked into attending Hillcrest for first grade, I was told by the principal at the time that since I didn't ''track in'' at kindergarten, I couldn't enroll her because classes were full!!! I live ONE HOUSE away from the school! Imagine my frustration. So I kept my daughter in the private school until I could no longer afford it. I pulled her out after 3rd grade and tried again to get into Hillcrest (for fourth and fifth) but was told again by the principal and district that there was no room. After some protest, the district assigned her to Thornhill, which is another excellent school but I instead chose (and lobbied for) Montclair Elem school. I couldn't have been happier. So the long and short of it, if you can't get into Hillcrest, then there are a few other ''Hills'' schools which are just as good and maybe even better.... Happy Not To Be At Hillcrest


District Boundary Maps for AUSD v. BUSD v. WCCUSD?

Nov 2011


Hello wise parents of the BPN. I am in the midst of house hunting to relocate to Berkeley Hills/North and I am trying to find maps for Albany vs. Berkeley vs Kensington school districts. I have been to the websites for the school districts but still can't seem to find this information. Am I missing something? Thanks in advance! New to the East Bay

The AUSD website has a list of streets and street numbers, rahter than a map. Here is the link: http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=92418=d_ID=_ID=173231 Happy house hunting. Joy

It's very straightforward - houses in Albany use the AUSD, houses in Berkeley use the BUSD - Kensington, I'm not sure about, but would assume the same. I'd ask your realtor on that last one. That's it! East Bay Resident

The Albany school district is bounded by the City of Albany, i.e., if you live in Albany, you're in AUSD. That would be, more or less, any address in the 94706 zip code, though there's a small section in the east of the City that has 94707 (normally Berkeley) zips. AUSD parent

Boundary maps for WCCUSD are at http://www.wccusd.net/2277106213343997/blank/browse.asp?a=383=2000=0=56910&2277106213343997Nav=|=426 Berkeley does a lottery within zones. Not sure about boundary lines for elementary schools in Albany. getting ready for K!


Affordable neighborhoods with good schools?

Nov 2011


Hi, I'm considering moving from San Francisco to the east bay this summer, and will base my decision about where to live based on both a good neighborhood and proximity to a good school. I do not have a high income, so that rules out many locations with better schools. My husband (we are seperated) works in Oakland. What resources can I tap to start the school search? Or does anyone have any good recommendations for schools? clueless about how to start!

I don't think Berkeley does school assignments by neighborhood... for elementary at least, so where you live doesn't really influence where you get in Jean

We could not afford a neighborhood within the good school districts. We did move to one that had a decent elementary school with strong parent support. However, by the time our son was old enough for K the school was closed and we were rezoned to one of the worst schools in the district. After all our transfer requests were denied we ended up looking into private schools. We decided on St. Jerome in El Cerrito because their tuition fees are manageable and we are so happy we ended up there. ItC",E!s a wonderful school with small class sizes (my sonC",E!s class is 15), a caring staff, a good curriculum which includes art, music, Spanish, technology (smartboards in the classrooms and laptops for the students use), PE, and science, and a diverse student body. They also offer affordable before/after-care. http://stjeromecatholicschool.org/ St. Jerome Parent

If you're not yet using greatschools.org, that's where to start.

''Not a high income'' means drastically different things to different people. Here are some suggestions in different price ranges.

Alameda as a whole has mostly strong elementaries, and decent options for middle and high school too. It's also a lovely place to raise a kid, bit of a sleepy town without being blandly suburban.

Berkeley is another relatively strong school district, however elementary assignments are only partially based on residence. So not a good choice if you want certainty of a good nearby school.

  Strong elementaries in Oakland that draw from non-wealthy  neighborhoods: Lincoln Glenview Cleveland Bella Vista Manzanita Seed I think these all go on to Edna Brewer, which is a relatively good  middle school in Oakland. 

Good luck! bb


Alameda vs Albany Public Schools

Nov 2009


Hello, There are recent and older postings about Alameda or Albany schools, but we didn't see any comparisons of the two. We are thinking about moving to either Albany or Alameda from Oakland because of the good things we've heard about their public schools from k thru 12. We both work in Oakland, so the commute will not be much of an issue. We were wondering if anyone else had those two places in mind when choosing to move for the schools and how or what made them decide on one over the other. Also are there any pros or cons about either school districts or communities? We'd love to hear of your experiences. Thanks! undecided bet. Albany and Alameda

we were in the same situation two months ago when we started looking for a new home and ultimately, i think the school systems are comparable. what it came down for us, was location. alameda feels very far removed from everything else. and we like albany for the solano area and the proximity to berkeley. it feels more quaint than alameda to us. i don't think you can lose either way. good luck! been there

We just bought a house in Albany and did briefly consider Alameda (as well as Berkeley, but not Oakland due to the schools.) I work in Oakland and my husband works in S.F., so Alameda would have been more convenient for us, from a commute perspective, than Albany is. You also get more house for your money in Alameda than in Albany or Berkeley. Ultimately, however, we chose to not look in Alameda for two reasons. 1) All of Alameda is in the liquifaction zone in case of an earthquake (check out the shake maps online). 2) Getting on/off the island on a bike (our preferred mode of transport) with a baby in a trailer is very unpleasant and unsafe. I don't want to live in a place where I feel like it's a pain to leave. Now if there were just a bike bridge over the Estuary to Jack London Square.... my $.02 worth

I am a teacher in Alameda and have a child in the Albany School District. So, I am familiar with both.

Socio- economically Alameda is divided and the schools reflect that. The west side has one enormous school - Ruby Bridges, and a few moderate sized ones Haight, Washington etc. I would hesitate to send my son to any. Paden which is also on the west side has a strong staff and a more diverse enrollment. The east side is the wealthier side. Houses are more expensive and the schools have a better reputation. I like Edison. It is small and has a neighborhood feel, but students have been turned away due to overcrowding. Otis, Lum and Franklin are standard schools with diverse enrollment. Bayfarm Island has two high performing elementary school - Earhart and Bayfarm. The students there are generally wealthy, and the parents have high expectations.

The three Middle Schools are large and to me, seem very overwhelming. Some students do well, and some just get lost. The High Schools seem much the same.

That said, I live in Albany because I prefer it, and we love the schools. There are three elementary schools, and basically you choose which one you wish your child to attend. I have never heard of anyone who did not get their first choice, although it might be possible. You can tour all three any Tuesday without notice. Just show up at the office and let them know why you are there. My son attends Cornell which is medium sized with an ethnically diverse student body. The sense of community is astonishing, and the staff are caring and innovative - the Principal knows my first grade son by name (and not because he is a trouble maker :o) That said, it is not a fancy school. I like to say the parents are underpaid professionals, such as social workers, nurses, teachers, graphic artists etc.

There is one Middle School, and it is huge (900 students), but my friends who have children there are very happy with it. I'm not to familiar with the High School, but it has a good reputation.

BART was actually a big help in deciding to choose Albany. We really love walking to BART, and I've heard that you either have to drive or take a bus to BART from Alameda, or walk through a sketchy area. We walk 10 minutes to our BART station, and love it. (This has also allowed us to easily have only one car).

Another factor is that pretty much everyone in Albany sends their kids to the local public school, which is one of the reasons why they're so good. In Alameda, a lot of people use the public schools, but a fair number also send to private & catholic schools there. For me, that doesn't build community as much, and I prefer a higher ratio using the local public schools.

Otherwise, they're both great areas. We love Albany - Solano Avenue, playgrounds, friendly people, etc., but I've heard wonderful things about Alameda also. Alameda has some really nice houses, and beautiful Victorians, which we lack:( Good luck with your choice!


One parent's observations (1997)


    RE: local schools  My children have been in the Berkeley public school system since kindergarten - 9 years altogether - and I have generally been happy with their schools and their teachers.  To the parent who is just coming into the area, here are remarks I have heard over the years from other parents and also my own biased impression of the general situation:  There are a lot of excellent academically-oriented private schools but they are expensive ($500 and up per mo) However, it is possible  to get a private school education at public schools around here. And don't forget all the wonderful "supplements" of the Bay Area: concerts, cultural events, museums, parks, recreation, etc.  One person's ranking of local public school systems (1997)  1. Piedmont \tJust as good as private school but housing is EXTREMELY expensive \tand you may object to elitist "rich kid" mentality (which also \tmay be found at private schools) Virtually no rental housing. 2. Albany \tGreat schools but most neighborhoods are very homogeneous: white  \tand Asian middle and upper-middle class semi-suburban. Sizeable          contingent of grad student families and foreign students from         University Village. Housing a bit higher than in Berkeley (?)  \t(this varies) Rental housing can be scarce - mostly  \thomeowners and single-family dwellings. 3. Berkeley \tMany schools are great but it can be very variable; neighborhoods \trange from rich Claremont/hills area to poor flatlands. Not much of  \ta middle class. More desirable elementary schools are in the \twealthier neighborhoods: Emerson, Oxford, etc. Many families in \tthese areas do support & attend public schools. For some reason, \taffluent neighborhoods in N. Berkeley don't seem as supportive \tof public schools as the ones in Claremont/Elmwood neighborhood         so local schools there (like Thousand Oaks) aren't as of this writing \tconsidered as good as in SE Berkeley. Poor neighborhoods closer  \tto the Bay contain schools with lesser reputations.  However, this \tchanges from year to year depending on level of parent involvement \tand principal, staff at schools.  Both junior high schools  \t(Willard, King) are considered pretty good now, with many private  \tschool students returning for the 6th grade. Berkeley High is  \tconsidered alternately great (college prep academics, music, arts, \tteam sports) and terrible (PC politics, racial polarization) 4. El Cerrito/Kensington \tReportedly similar to Albany situation with more working class \tneighborhoods in El Cerrito. Few poor families. Kensington is  \tconsiderably more affluent but is in the Contra Costa school  \tdistrict - I don't know much about what happens after 5th grade. 5. Oakland  \tVery variable. Depends on the level of parent involvement.          Wild variations between affluent hills neighborhoods \tlike Montclair & Rockridge and depressed flats. Oakland school \tdistrict always in trouble financially so class sizes in even \tthe better schools can soar unpredictably and resources can \tsuddenly disappear. School board is prone to wacky political  \tpronouncements. Many elementary schools in "better" neighborhoods \tare great and, like Berkeley, are supported by families that can  \tafford private schools, but be prepared to pay private school \ttuition in some neighborhoods especially after 5th grade. 6. Richmond \tSome great neighborhood schools.  In other areas, \tbe prepared for private school tuition.  Note: many people choose to move over the hills to Moraga-Lafayette- Orinda. These are affluent neighborhoods reportedly with great public schools, but: you have to enjoy the suburban life, living around a  whole bunch of white people who may be politically more conservative than in the East Bay cities.  Housing is expensive, with few rentals.