Which High School?

Parent Q&A

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  • My daughter is looking for a high school with a strong Theater program as well as a strong writing program. Any opinions on O'Dowd vs Bentley? She isn't into musicals as much as non-musical plays.

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  • Hello parents of current frosh and sophomores at St Marys College HS, Albany High, and El Cerrito High. Looking for current thoughts on academics, campus/classroom control, extracurriculars, COVID safety and adherence to protocols, other thoughts on these three high schools in particular or others within a reasonable commute! BHS not an option (can't transfer in there, I hear). Let's assume the student is average, but serious/not prone to goofing off, and not a religious family but heritage Catholic on both sides. Into band and math. Not into most other organized activities, alas. Thx for your thoughts!

    I've had kids at both AHS and St. Mary's. I think it depends on your kid but for us, St. Mary's was a much better, more supportive, more engaging school. Albany High is great for kids who are internally motivated and don't need lots of individual attention. It's not great for kids who are super bright but not motivated - my child definitely was not seen and had a pretty bad experience at AHS. The school culture is improving but wasn't great when we were there (graduated 3 years ago). My child came in to Albany as a 9th grader and had a really hard time making friend and breaking into the social scene (despite being pretty social in elementary & middle school). St. Mary's was a great experience for my other child, in terms of social-emotional, school spirit, engaging teachers.  However, it was not that academically challenging. That didn't bother us, though, as our child is very internally motivated and did great. We are not religious at all (atheists) and had no issues with the Catholicism. Good luck!

    El Cerrito High is a perfectly fine public high school with a lot of very good teachers, an involved parent community, a good principal, and it generally feels safe and is a nice place to go to school. I have a 2021 grad who is at UC Berkeley now and a current student both of whom had/are having good experiences there. Band and math are actually particularly strong at EC, especially advanced math. There are band and jazz band classes, along with an after school beginning jazz band class and the Gaucho Band that plays at the home football games. The band also goes on trips pretty often and is a social place for many kids. EC is on a block system so kids take either 3 or 4 classes each semester, doing a year's worth of work in one semester. There are pros and cons to the block system, but our family has liked it. Band and dance both are half blocks so kids take these classes all year. The block system means kids can double up on math or science in junior or senior years if that's something they want to do, taking for example, Calculus AB and BC in one year. The languages are Spanish, French and Japanese--my kids take Japanese and love the teacher. This year class sizes have been reduced somewhat and we got two more counselors, one who just focuses on college and career. At about 1600 kids, it doesn't feel too big or too small. Vaccines have just been mandated in our district, everyone wears masks in and out and kids eat outside only, there is COVID testing every week (it's been kind of a mess setting it up but I think it's working now). Good luck with your decision.

  • What's important in a high school?

    (2 replies)


    My kid and I are debating on which high school will be a better fit for her.  We moved into a supposedly "top" area with a "great" high school, which often boasts 10/10, high achievers with high tests scores, and lots of AP classes.  Sounds good, right?  Well, our experience has been that the schools are actually underwhelming and the success of the students are driven by the parent's drive and usage of tutors for all courses. I am not opposed to the parents drive to help their kid succeed if they are not getting the instruction needed at school. We have experienced that many of the classes are not actually taught effectively because the kids are already expected to know the topics already.  Also, our home high school is known for its high pressures.

    We have an opportunity to switch to a neighboring high school, but their rank and scores are not as high.  I am not sure if this is due to the less intensity, less school and parental pressures or if it is related to something else.  Unfortunately, the other neighboring high school also has less classes that my kid are interested in, in terms of electives and AP classes.  The home school would have all the classes and electives she is interested in (however, it doesn't mean our kid will get to take them).  

    I guess we are feeling a lot of pressure to pick a school that is a good fit for our kid.  Our high pressure, high-scoring home school is also not diverse at all.  The neighboring school is much more diverse in terms or race and social economic classes, which we like.  Also, the neighboring school is known to be "less intense, " in terms of pressure from the teachers and students.  Many folks I have talked to ask us why we would move our kid to a lower performing school when you are already at the "best." 

    These folks also say that colleges and UCs look at the school rankings and reputations.  Is this true?  We really do not want to decrease our kid's odds to getting to a UC or other colleges because of the school's overall ranking or reputation. Statistically speaking, when comparing the admission rates to UCs at these 2 high schools, there is a 10% difference in acceptance rate.  That does seem significant.  

    I am looking for your experiences or advice on what is important in a high school in terms or fit, class availability, and ranking for college admission.  If you could give me your opinions, I would greatly appreciate it.   Thanks for your advice!! 

    My daughter recently graduated a low-mid-ranked, very diverse high school and is doing very well in college. The high school is somewhere around the 4th most diverse high school in California. The academic environment was intense for those who chose for it to be that way (about 25% of the student population). The school had a variety of classes and its music, dance, and computer programs were highly regarded. In her opinion, the most important factor is small class size. She said that off into the future, she would not choose any school for her children that has more than 25 students per class (this school and the feeder middle school had some classes with 35-40 students per class). Curriculum is basically all the same at any high school, thus my daughter is adamant that nothing else matters except class size, because if there are too many students it is impossible for the teacher to impart the curriculum in a meaningful way.

    I understand from your post how "folks" feel about this. And I get the idea that you are on the fence. But what about your daughter? When you say you are "debating" are you both sitting the fence and discussing or does she want something different that you do? More than anything else, I would take her opinion seriously. Teenagers need to feel in control of their lives. If she gets to choose, she will probably do better no matter where she is. 

    Perhaps you value diversity, but the kids form groups with people just like themselves: jocks, nerds, band, whatever. Your daughter will find friends on the same wavelength no matter what school she attends. 

    In regards to college, she clearly has your support, which will make all the difference no matter where she goes to high school. 

    I'm not sure what you mean in regards to "fit." You may want to consider the physical environment at each school: the buildings, landscape and surrounding area. You may also want to consider the commute. It can also be a real plus to have neighborhood friends who go to a different school and are caught up in a different social cauldron. 

  • Orinda Academy or Maybeck Or...?

    (5 replies)

    We are currently seeking out high school options for our daughter for next year. She has been in a mainstream private school and is dealing with some severe mental health issues that make me question whether she should continue at a high-pressure school with a lesser focus on social-emotional support. She is a hard working, high achieving student with a mild learning disability who is very "basic" in terms of her social presentation and relationships. I think she perceives the smaller more alternative schools to be for kids who don't fit in socially at larger schools. For those of you familiar with Maybeck or Orinda Academy, how do you think somebody like her would fit in? Are there other schools we should be looking at in the East Bay or elsewhere that is easily accessed by BART? 

    My son attended one year at Maybeck and, while having smaller classes does offer certain benefits, I cannot say that he necessarily received more emotional support during his time there. He also struggled to find a peer group of Individuals with his interests. I think at any high school, the student needs to feel that they can “find their people”. I would also about the level of support for students with your daughter’s health issues. 

    I'd highly recommend Mentoring Academy in Oakland. It's a tiny school right near Rockridge BART. My teen, who has had similar struggles, has been successful at the school. The high teacher / student ratio is awesome, the school has been flexible with special needs, and the entire community is very welcoming of differences.

    Bentley and Mentoring Academy!

    Bentley was very supportive for my anxious son, and had a wide range of super nice kids.  Mentoring Academy was the other place that he almost went, and we have a friend with a kid there now.  It is very one on one, perhaps there is a way to get the vibe of the place--some of my son's friends went to a one week summer session there and got a lot out of it, but didn't "click" the way my son did (he didn't want to go to the open house, and then we couldn't get him to leave).  Both will give your daughter a chance to go as far as she wants academically, but also will focus on a supportive community.  One caveat about Bentley is that one of the learning specialists who helped my son a lot is no longer there, having set up private practice, and she was key to his thriving there.  But her replacement might be excellent, too, I simply don't know.  Bentley has a bus from Orinda BART and Mentoring is at Rockridge BART.

    The Athenian School in Danville is worth a look.  My daughter attended both the middle and upper school. They provide bus service from Rockridge BART, Lafayette and Walnut Creek.  Lots of bright kids with a full range of learning styles go there, so it isn’t just a college prep curriculum.  Many teachers live on campus and it’s not so small that one can’t find a friend group.  My daughter graduated in 2018, so I’m sure much has changed but it was an enriching experience for her. 

    Our son currently attends Orinda Academy. If you ask him why he likes OA he will tell you: it’s a nice community, OA has small classes (which he prefers), and the teachers are nice. He immediately felt welcomed by students and staff on his first visit to campus! I believe at any school – large or small – you will find students who are more social than other students, but I think it’s the school community that can make a huge difference for a student feeling connected to their school. The students at OA are truly a community where students can be who they are. OA’s supportive community of teachers, staff and administration take the time to get to know the families and most importantly each individual student.

  • ISO Public high school

    (6 replies)

    We can move to any neighborhood, and are looking for which public high school might be the best fit for my daughter.  We have time to move to enter 2022, but would like to move sooner rather than later as am looking to buy a house.  Daughter is coming from an independent middle school, Afro-Latina, ADHD, loves sports and music, sensitive to socio-emotional environment (some place warm, supportive and inclusive vs cliquinsh or competitive), average learner vs high performer.  Would prefer a smaller school vs large, but not too small that doesn't have sports.  Diverse and left leaning preferred.  I work in Oakland, so something within easy commuting distance.  Are there any public HSs with relatively smaller class sizes?  Would El Cerrito High meet these criteria?  What other schools would you suggest?  Thank you!

    Let's see, if I've done the math right, my 7th grade son is the same age so take all my info as the secondhand report that it is from someone at the same stage of research. We live in EC and I am not inclined at this point to send him to ECHS mainly because of large class sizes and his learning disabilities (including ADHD diagnosis), and I see class size is one of your criteria. However, maybe for somebody new that might be a plus as they will need to meet other kids. ECHS does have a counseling center "on site" (or did, pre-COVID) which is unusual and probably a benefit. We'll see when the time comes; I haven't made up my mind for sure. Middle College High School is the smallest WCCUSD public HS I am aware of near El Cerrito. It is on the campus of Contra Costa College and the students graduate with an AA, very diverse student body, no school sports, it is considered to be good on academics but to be painfully honest, if your daughter's middle school was academically challenging at all, I think she'd be fine. We went to a secondary school fair last year and it had administrators there who seemed very warm and welcoming. You might also look at Hercules High, relatively small in the WCCUSD family, and move asap as the junior high is very integrated into the HS. Albany High is on the small side but had very public racial problems two years ago, and a reputation as an academic pressure cooker. I have been hearing good things from friends who have a 9th grader & 12th grader at Jesuit (? I can't really tell my Catholics apart) St Marys College HS (Albany-Berkeley border), both with learning differences, so I will be looking at that in detail next year. Everything around here leans left so that wouldn't be a big deciding factor.

    A public school outside of your designated area and district is going be challenging —,the majority of schools are at capacity with their students. 

    you can try charter school

    summit K2 high school is the smallest in WCCUSD - the school has 400 students total and is relatively in a safe location - 2 blocks up the hill from del Norte Bart station

    the other option is private pay schools but they are ridiculously expensive 

    Just a note about a previous reply: the Albany High Instagram incident happened during the 2016-17 school year, not two years ago.  This means no one who attended AHS during that time will still be a student there in 2021-22. The freshmen from that time graduated last spring. These involved were mostly juniors, I believe, so they finished HS several years ago.  I don’t think it’s really representative of the current school climate. But it can be kind of a rat race academically, that’s true.  

    I would recommend checking out Encinal High School in Alameda. It's a smaller public high school (~1,100 students), with the full range of sports and music, and with a diverse student body, and a supportive environment. I'm not sure exactly what the class sizes are, but I think they are consistent across all Alameda high schools, and I know there has been a lot of attention to creating smaller class sizes when possible. Nice community on the west end of Alameda (where Encinal High pulls from), and quick commute to Oakland.

    For small public schools in Oakland, check out MetWest, and the charter school Latitude. I don’t think either have a sports program, though, but I think they have special arrangements with Laney and Merritt Colleges for kids to take PE (and other classes) there. I know Latitude has an outdoor program with class camping. All private schools have financial aid so it doesn’t hurt to look at those! Maybeck High School, near College and Ashby in Berkeley, is private and only has about six kids per class (110 kids in total). It has a robust outdoor program with a dedicated outdoor teacher and it has an arrangement for kids to participate in PE or sports at Berkeley High if they want to.

    Hi there.  Your kid sounds like my kid, Latino with a learning difference who did elementary school in progressive private schools.  He goes to K2, an El Cerrito charter school mentioned in one of the posts.  We picked that HS for a few reasons, but one big one was that it was time for him to connect with people that looked like him.  No matter how sweet the private school or how much they push the diversity and inclusion angle, the fact is that they are mostly white and middle class.  If it's important that your daughter start to build her identity as a person of color, then you should put her in an environment that will allow that.  So back to K2.  There are pros and cons.  The staff are very left leaning and the school is majority minority as the school draws from local community.  The principle is Afro-Latina. The curriculum is rigorous and well tested, and they have a strong college admissions program.  There are out gay and nonbinary kids there, and nobody seems to care. The kids have mentor groups with one adult that gets to know them throughout HS. The cons are that sports are limited to soccer and volleyball.  There are no music or drama department; instead they have clubs and electives where kids could do things off campus.  The other thing is that the school seem chaotic at times and it's takes a while to adjust to the online curriculum. Don't underestimate the transition; if you're both used to a gentle, mostly white private school, you may be in for a shock, even if you think you're woke and ready.  Have you looked at Holy Names HS in Oakland?  They have lots of sports and extracurriculars and are genuinely diverse.  EBIA is a charter in Oakland you might look at.  They would keep your commute short.

  • New in town from Brooklyn

    (1 reply)

    Hello everybody,

    We just arrived from BRooklyn and are living in Richmond. We are looking for a good high school and some activities for our 14 years son who is into chess, soccer, basketball, martial arts, surf, skate, and hiphop

    he is easy going, peaceful, cool boy, where to hang out during pandemic, any summer camps, day camps?

    thank you,

    much love,


    Welcome! For chess, definitely check out the Berkeley Chess School, with both in-person and virtual camps. In non-Covid times, they had weekly tournament games as well: http://www.berkeleychessschool.org/

  • Hi I’m am a single parent of a 14 yr old 9th grade daughter looking to move to the Bay Area to work in San Francisco. I cannot afford to live in SF so I’m hoping to get a few recommendations of decent public high schools in Oakland, Berkeley areas, etc to give me an idea of where best to narrow my search for 2 bedroom apartments? Thanks in advance for your help!

    [moderator note: see also past advice: Where to Live for a Job in San Francisco]

    I live in El Cerrito and would recommend looking into Albany or El Cerrito. The cities and high schools are smaller than Oakland and Berkeley. Both Albany and El Cerrito are very walkable, near Bart, and the schools will likely feel less overwhelming to a new student. El Cerrito has the main high school and a charter high school, Albany has one high main high school.

  • Hi Community,

    Our daughter is in 8th year and last year was really bad. We are hoping with supports she will do ok this year but are seriously looking for alternatives for Berkeley High next year. We feel the size and the open campus downtown will be way too stressful for her. She is smart, social and creative when her anxiety is not getting in the way. We are especially interested in a possible intra District transfer to Albany High or Alameda High School, Piedmont High, Alameda Community Learning Center or others near Berkeley that are not cost prohibitive as we are not rich enough or low income enough to go private at this time. Any information on these schools, how to do a transfer, your experiences there especially for kids with high anxiety would be helpful.  

    Have you looked into Berkeley Independent Study? My daughter recently graduated from Berkeley High Independent Study Program and she loved it. It is basically homeschooling but through BUSD. Students meet with teachers in small classes or one-on-one with teachers once or twice a week (or more, depending on the class). Many students who have anxiety find that this program works really well for them. Please give it a look: https://berkeleyindependentstudy.wordpress.com/

  • Any advice on High Schools in the Bay area/East Bay with very small class sizes but also extensive class offerings?  The one-on-one option offered by Tilden and Fusion is too extreme for my son.  The same character traits that make him introverted and quiet also make him feel uncomfortable being taught alone. However he gets lost in a public school size class.  The alternative High Schools have great small classes but very limited class options.  Does anyone know of a happy medium?  ie small class sizes but lots of class choices?  He is smart (GATE kid when in public school) however he has executive function deficits and is only motivated when working on something he loves. He would not be competitive for one of the top 5 schools e.g CPS or Bentley.  We have tried that before and he just won't open up and talk during the selection interview.

    Any advice gratefully received - we are moving and can relocate SF downtown, Marin, East bay.  San Jose probably not an option as our jobs are downtown SF.

    Our son began Orinda Academy in the 8th grade and is currently in the 9th grade.  Like your son, he is academically successful, has had executive functioning challenges, and may or may not respond fully to the interview process.  Classes at OA are typically small groups of kids and certain classes are offered in a supervised, online process.  The kids tend to be generally warm and inclusive, and the faculty seem to genuinely care about each student, so that feeling of "getting lost" does not apply here.  We'd encourage you to visit the school and see whether you imagine that your child would do well there.  We recommend it highly.  

    Have you checked out Holden High School in Orinda? They've got small class sizes and lots of different electives. Lots of the classroom teaching is project based learning. (I'm not sure about all of their tech offerings, but I do know they have a ProTools class that teaches digital music production, and a photography class.) 

    The kids at the school and the staff are super friendly and very inclusive. Maybe schedule a tour to see if it vibes with your family? 

  • My brother is moving his family from eastern Europe, where his middle school aged daughter is attending a very rigorous school, and they are looking to find the right high school for her.  She is very smart, very advanced academically, but has been bullied due to being "different" (being half American) and so she needs a challenging school that is also known for being kind and welcoming.  She is also probably a bit sheltered in terms of moving to a big American city.  Any suggestions, both public and private?  They don't have a ton of money.  Thank you so much.  


    San Ramon has wonderful High Schools which are very rigorous.  The most rigorous is Dougherty High School but the other High Schools are rigorous also.   San Ramon is generally safe.   The community is diverse, the public schools are fantastic, it is safe and a family oriented community.  San Ramon has apartments but they also have very affordable townhouses and free standing homes.  The town houses are much less expensive than the free standing homes.   San Ramon is only 25 minutes from Oakland.  San Ramon has lots of neighborhood parks and Las Trampas East Bay Regional Park.  San Ramon is building a new outdoor shopping/walking around plaza which will feature a combination of living space upstairs (rental units) and shopping and a luxury eat-in movie theater 10-plex downstairs. Here is some information regarding the new plaza called City Center in San Ramon http://www.citycenterbishopranch.com/.  There are also a lot of small businesses in San Ramon.

    I definitely recommend El Cerrito High School and living in El Cerrito. El Cerrito is small and walkable, and with two Bart stations so it is easy to get around if you want to. The middle and high school are smallish, diverse, and welcoming; she should join a club or team right away, it is a great way to make like-minded friends. The high school is as challenging as the student seeks, they can take more or less challenging courses as they choose.

    For private schools, it sounds like your niece would fit in well at Maybeck in Berkeley.  

    As for public schools, most East Bay public schools are pretty good.  Schools in Orinda, Walnut Creek, Dublin, and San Ramon are all excellent.  But I also highly recommend schools in Piedmont, Berkeley, and Albany.

    If your family ends up in Berkeley, they might want to sign up for BIHS -- Berkeley International High School -- which is part of Berkeley High. Many students in the school have parents from Europe (and also the Middle East.)  

  • Hi all,

    It seems that all these schools--CPS, Branson, Lick, Head-Royce, and Bentley--pretty much tout about the same things (diversity, inclusiveness, excellent teaching, sporting dynasty, academic rigor, etc.). Because of this, it has made our high school search difficult. If you have a kid in any one of these schools (or multiple), please share your experience/impression with us. What is the student culture like: Relaxed? Highly driven? Sociable? What is the distinct flavor you pick up when your contact the students of that school? And how tough is it at each school? If your child is really busy with schoolwork, do you feel that it's just busywork? Or is the work really meaningful in your view?

    Tell me about your school, something that's uniquely your school. What does your school do really well than its peer schools?

    Both of my sons have gone to Lick-Wilmerding High School, and it is very special. The motto Head, Heart & Hands has special meaning, particularly hands with the incredible technical arts classes (wood, metal, electronics, art & science of computer science, jewelry). Students come from all over the Bay Area (>60 middle schools) and almost 40% of students receive tuition assistance through flex sliding scale tuition (double that of other schools). My sons have both been very well prepared for college with thoughtful coursework, the athletics are fun and inclusive, and the community is very strong, particularly for a high school (dozens of different events put on by the Parents Association for parents, for example). More than 900 students apply for 128 spots, so it is very difficult to get in, and it has been a big commute from North Berkeley to Balboa Park BART. But we feel it has been well worth the commute. I encourage you to sign up for an open house and shadow visit early (August?) and visit to get a better feel for the school.

    I have one child at Bentley and another at Urban.  We choose to send our son, who was admitted to both, to Bentley over Urban.  

    We find Bentley to have very good academics without having quite the homework load of Urban.  There are definitely differences in homework load at the schools on your list! For example, CPS and Urban have more homework than Bentley.  At this level of school, there really isn't any busy work at all.  So those CPS/Urban students are actually learning more during those extra hours of work.  The question you have to ask is how much homework do you think would be good for your child. We find that Bentley has been much more willing to consider and often honor our requests in term of things like class schedules.          We find that Bentley is much more open to meeting with parents, while Urban insists that students advocate for themselves,  This sounds good in theory, but when confronted with a panel of teachers/administrators who have all the power, it is extremely difficult for a lone 14-year-old to argue with them.  (This occurred because the student wanted to take a higher level science course, not because the student had done anything wrong.)   There is also the issue of the commute.  Not only does this take time from the student's day, it impacts their social life.  My son gets to spend more time with his Bentley friends because they are all in the East Bay.  If you send your student to school in San Francisco, most of their friends will be less accessible. Feel free to contact me if you have more questions.

    Traditionally, CPS is the toughest, followed closely by Head Royce. Bentley is much less selective and I've never heard of Branson. One thing that's changed since I went to CPS (a long time ago) is that O'Dowd now offers some seriously tough courses. It's not just a safety school anymore. At half the price, it's well worth a look.

    These are all great schools, but despite the messaging, I think they have somewhat different characters or niches.  Probably most kids would be happy and do well at any of them. We toured these schools and my then 8th grader did the shadow visits.  I am not sure, though, how clear a picture a kid can get from one day.    So this reply is based on limited information: visits to most of these schools, kid enrolled in one of them.  However, kid has happy, thriving friends at all of these schools.  From our visits, we admired the teachers at Branson and CPS the most.  We loved the curriculum at HRS, CPS, and Branson.  We thought the arts at Lick were truly amazing, but the academic curriculum otherwise seemed less interesting to us (these are obviously very individual choices).  On the other hand, the students at Lick were extremely impressive. Branson has the reputation of being less diverse--of course it is in Marin which is less diverse.  Our impression was that they were trying very hard, and in very effective ways, to diversify the student body.  The faculty is already among the most diverse.  We decided not to pursue Branson because the commute form the East Bay seemed overwhelming.  We were unable to visit classes at Bentley, but have very happy friends there.

    Kid ended up choosing CPS because it was the most academically interesting and rigorous.  The reputation for rigorous, extremely thoughtful academic work has turned out to be absolutely accurate.  The classes and teachers are outstanding; the expectations for the students are very, very high.  On the other hand, the student body has turned out to be kinder, more supportive, and more open than we could have ever dreamed.  The kids are just hugely nice to each other.  Likewise, the teachers devote time and energy to the students in ways that go way above and beyond.  My kid has met with teachers during lunch, after school, in free blocks, etc.  Every single teacher has been responsive and supportive.  But this does not mean that they are relaxed about grading or that they lower their expectations: instead, they really help the students meet their potential. Because the teachers are great, the students are excited about the material. I have the impression that many of the kids at CPS are truly intellectuals; they are not just good students, they are intrinsically interested in the subject matter.  

    On surprise to me was that the kids come from a fairly far-flung geographical range:from Dublin, Hayward, Lamorinda to SF and Marin. I had expected a Berkeley/Oakland focus.  This is a good thing--brings wider cultural mix, but makes it a bit harder for the kids to get together outside of school.

    I think the new block schedule has helped reduce the homework load somewhat.  There is no busywork at all.  I think there is stress about grades--at least at this time of year around finals.

    Best of luck, it an be a draining process!  The good news it that all these schools offer a lot.

    With three teens, we looked closely at private school options but decided, in the end, to send our kids to Piedmont High.  We have not regretted it!  Have you thought about public schools?

  • Currently I have a daughter who is a sophmore and will be driving soon going to a high school thats pretty close to our house (round trip under 20 minutes one stop light and no traffic.)    I have another daughter in middle school who wants to go to another high school thats on the other side of the city from us about 6 stoplights and much more traffic.    I am very much against this since Currently I work at home and delegated to picking up kids from school,  there is no way my daughter can walk/ride home and I doubt very serious of car pool situations.   I think its rediculous to have two kids go to different high schools,  especially if one can drive. Also I try to explain what happens if my work situation changes where I have to go into an office,  then  I can no longer pickup kids? My younger one has always had difficulties making/keeping friends and says she wants to go to this school to follow her current middle school friends, .  Due to her difficulties in making and keeping friends my wife is supporting this.  I want to add that this daughter is a little overweight and she has has a lot of teasing from elementary school on.   Personally I don't think her current freindships are close and won't last in high school, especially not important enough to cause this much additional stress on our family.  I also think she going to the same school as her sister she will  a chance to meet kids that have gone to different elementary and middle schools and will definately be able to make friends.

    Anyone have similiar situations.  

    Before you start planning on having older one drive the younger one, check state law carefully.  http://www.scpr.org/news/2014/10/06/47202/teen-driver-faq-what-are-the-r...

    We had a similar situation with our third and fourth daughters a few years ago.  It was a pain, but they wound up going to different schools, but it turned out to be the "right" decision our family.  Our daughter did better in school, felt better about herself and got back to a heathy weight.  All of our kids have always had a hard time making and keeping friends.  (Families move, families beliefs, girls just being uncomfortable at that age.  (She said what happened in middle school was just like what happens in the movie "Mean Girls").

    The other thing you are not considering is two siblings at the same school can be harmful to second child.  Teachers mix them up and we compare you younger daughter to your older daughter.  Students do the same and will factor in looks.  (This was happening to her in middle school, and she hated it.)  In attending a different school from her sister, all of the teacher were different as were the students and eliminated drama of always being compare to her sister.

    Not sure logistically if it would work.  But emotionally it would be something good to do for your daughter.  It also a good way to show you care and value her concerns and feelings.  In your situation I would do it for your daughter.

  • High Schools in Oakland and Berkeley

    (7 replies)

    Hi- My family is moving to the Oakland/Berkeley area and I'm researching high schools for my 15 year old daughter. She is going into the 10th grade.  We are coming from an affluent suburb community where my daughter doesn't really fit in. We're looking for an environment where differences are respected and valued, and there is a level of diversity. My daughter gets mostly B's and some A's in general classes. While she is interested in learning and wants to go to college, she isn't highly motivated academically and she isn't interested in rigorous or challenging coursework. We're huge supporters of public schools so would like to stay in the public system if possible. What are thoughts/opinions on Oakland Technical High School versus Berkeley High School, and being in one of the special academies versus general classes? We would be open to private options as well and could use any recommendations in that regard. Thank you for your insights!

    Hi there, you do need to know how to "navigate" it (it's a huge school, with a sometimes overwhelming array of choices, and it's also no longer "your" decision about things), but MANY students come back to public schools after K-8 private to attend BHS. It's almost guaranteed that your child will find classes & activities that are a good fit; of course, just growing up means finding out that you don't always get (everything) you want, so that lesson is there too. The diversity, the quality of education (again not 100% of classes/teachers), the variety of options, all make for the potential for wonderful HS experience. (You do know that it's not at all unusual for families to actually lie and cheat to get their kids into BHS, right?)   If you live in Oakland, BHS is not a choice unless you are among those who are willing to lie/cheat. 

    If in Oakland and Tech is a choice, I've heard really great things about SOME parts of Tech; heard of much more difficulty there too, but again, we're a Berkeley family not an Oakland family. Pretty sure this is still true but ONE of the reasons Berkeley home prices have always been higher than Oakland is due you the school system. If you can afford private, that comparison is off the table of course big you're committed to public, Berkeley has traditionally been the far better choice.  Best of luck in your decisions! (And if you're not in a home yet, the crazy crazy housing market could potentially dictate where you end up!)

    This is regarding Berkeley High School (BHS), which would only be an option for you if you live in Berkeley. There are 5 learning communities (AKA "small schools") within the larger school entity. You can find more information about those small schools n the BHS website or on BPN. Once you're registered in the Berkeley School District, your student will choose, through a lottery system, which learning community they want to join. Since you'll be entering late, she'll likely be assigned to Academic Choice or Berkeley International High School, the two biggest learning communities. Core classes like English, Science, Social Studies are usually taught with the learning community curriculum; math, foreign languages, art, other electives are usually taught school-wide, so even if a student is in AC, they will likely have classes with kids from other learning communities. Because AC and BIHS are so large, students in 9th and 10th grade are grouped into "cores" and have those core classes together, so at least your daughter will have familiar faces in 3 classes right away. BHS is a very large and diverse community and and can be overwhelming at first, but the benefit of having so many students is that your student is bound to find "her people." It's a good idea for her to join clubs and/or sports so she can meet people with similar interests. 

    As for academics: I have an entering senior and sophomore. In my experience, 9th and 10th grade academics are relatively easy, depending on your student and the teacher. My kids did most of their homework for classes during downtime in other classes, for example. But when they're in 11th and 12th grade, they can choose electives that really spark their interest. There are a few dud teachers but some amazing gems as well. I volunteer regularly at BHS and really enjoy seeing these kids engaging in their community. Hope this helps.

    Are you set on Berkeley or Oakland? Because close by are Alameda, Albany, and El Cerrito, with good, diverse high schools that seem to be much less complicated to "navigate."

    Consider looking at Millenium, which is an alternative high school in Piedmont.  Sounds like that would be a great fit!

    Hi! I commend you on your choice to support public schools, as I think that is really important for our community as well as our kids. We sold our home in the Oakland Hills and bought a home 2 years ago here in the Berkeley flats that cost $400,000 more for half the square footage with the idea of sending our sons to Berkeley High instead of to private high schools in Oakland. Housing prices here, if you are going to buy, are beyond crazy. That is mostly in part due to the strong public schools, especially BHS. If you are a person of integrity, you would need to rent or buy a home here in Berkeley to send your daughter to BHS. I know of quite a few folks that are willing to lie and cheat the system to send their kids here, but it sometimes backfires, as it is hard to hide where you really live once your daughter makes friends and people find out where you live. It is also not a good position to have to be in to constantly lie to the administration or the coaches if she wants to join any sports or afterschool clubs. Beyond that, it overwhelms the Berkeley school systems and drains resources away from the kids who actually do live here. But BHS is not the only good school; Albany also has an amazing high school and certain programs at Oakland Tech are really great right now and both of those schools have lots of interesting and diverse kiddos. I don't know what your situation is, but if she is very sensitive and curious, I would send her to a private school. We have had several family friends who have needed to do this with a few of their children who were especially sensitive and different (and that is ok, right?) and did not fit in the public school mold like their siblings. I think it is fine to realize the needs of your child and support them- the huge BHS schools are not for every child- the campus is overwhelming! Maybe take a look at the Maybeck school in Berkeley, it is a warm environment and the kids that go there seem to really thrive. But stay away from the hugely academic driven schools like College Prep, that would not fit your daughter in the slightest. Best to you- keep looking and you will find the right fit but hurry- BHS starts in just 3 weeks.

    BHS is a big high school, sometimes messy and chaotic, but also one of the great public high schools and truly one of the most diverse on all levels. Many students come from private school K-8 background, and the school is so large, and always with an influx of new students, that there are many academic and social pathways for new students. The teachers our children have had have mostly been great, with deep dedication to their students. The college pathways this high school produces are extremely impressive and would do any school proud, because college admissions people know that students who have navigated and succeeded at BHS are independent, strong students.

    I think that Oakland Tech and BHS are very similar in terms offerings, size, diversity, etc.  We are only in Day 3 of Tech, but have many friends at both schools and all are happy.  Oakland Tech might be hard to get into because it always has a waiting list, whereas BHS will take all kids with a Berkeley address (legitimate or not).  Both schools seem like the kind of place where a kid who doesn't fit in at an affluent suburban school would fit in just fine, because of how diverse the student bodies are.  Your daughter will likely find her people at either one.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Choosing a high school, what to ask, where to look

Jan 2014

My daughter is in the 7th grade and I am starting to think about high schools. She is presently in an independent school and doing quite well. We live in Oakland and Oakland Tech is on the list although she is concerned that coming from a class size of 22 she will be unable to manage a large urban HS. She is considering College Prep because she has heard good things. I would like to know how other parents have gone about looking into high schools and deciding on which ones to apply to. Also is financial aid a possibility, the thought of paying $30k a year for HS and then looking at college after has me in a financial depression especially since she has a younger sister who is following in her footsteps! thanks for any insights on where to start perpelexed and overwhelmed

I cannot speak to College Prep or to Oakland Tech as I have no personal experience with either (though I have heard good things about both schools) but I do know a lot about visiting high schools having worked at Berkeley High for nine years with Outreach. I think it is important to keep in mind that your 7th grader will be much older in a year and a half when they start 9th grade. I met lots of kids from tiny middle schools who in 7th grade were anxious about a large school but by the end of 8th were ready to embrace new experiences. Large schools come with lots of options--clubs, classes, new friends--which for many students is both challenging and exciting. I also know there is no one ''right'' school. Most kids adapt to where they end up--but, if don't, there is always an opening at another school somewhere. I know this is true as I watched hundreds of kids coming and going from large schools, small schools, specialty schools, parochial, private and public. I think the decision is easier to make if you think of it as a one year decision--not a four year decision. And, have faith it will all work out in the end. Janet

My son is a freshman at Maybeck High School and is so happy to be a part of the school community - it's a good fit!

Regarding looking into schools: I've never been shy about chatting up current students regarding their schools to get a real feel for what's going on. Check out the current student body to see if it would be a good fit: What's the vibe? How are the students dressed? Is it a diverse group? Is there a lot of peer pressure or tolerance? What sort of cars are in the lot? What sort of activities are there for creating community? What's the communication like between teachers and parents (eg if a kid starts falling through the cracks)?

Ask about financial aid. Is parental fundraising voluntary or obligatory? Will the parents be fun for you to socialize with/keep tabs on your kids with? Where do the graduates go to college (it's not that far away!)?

Once you've toured lots of schools and narrowed down you and your daughter's choices, chat up the school's director, college counselor, etc to get an even better feel(what they say and if they're accessible). Have your child visit again. How's the drive/public transportation?

Choosing the right school is a big deal and a lot of money. Good for you to get started early! Happy Maybeck Mama


Private High School: the ''value proposition''

March 2013


My question is to families with kids in private high school who have decided to foot a bill that stretches their family resources. One of the school we talked to ($30,000+ tuition) discussed that it was a ''value proposition'' in terms of their future. How is this working out for you and your child? My child is most interested in College Prep so I would love to hear particularly from these parents as we wait for admissions decisions. I can see it might help with college admissions primarily in terms of supporting the kids toward putting forth the best applications, although high-achievers at Berkeley High also do well, but it does not seem like merit scholarships to college can be depended on even for the kids with stellar grades, so that is not part of the value equation. We have a kid at Berkeley High and are satisfied overall and do not have serious reservations about public education. We just have a feeling that private high school might be a better fit for this particular kid.

Background: I have a highly motivated and high achieving 8th grader- other than buying supplies for projects, we have never even had to monitor his work (no Tiger parents, working too hard to afford private middle school) and he is top of his class in one of the more academic private middle schools, plus he has a good group of friends who enrich his life by sharing in his love of learning. Our biggest challenge is that which many parents will know well- he thinks he knows it all and all our decrees should be up for discussion. His older sibling at Berkeley High and glad to have ''gone public''. He is interested in private high school for a consistent level of challenge with teachers who are given the time and resources to have deep discussions and interactions, and in the hopes of having the ability to find a group of kids where he can be himself.

We would not be eligible for financial aid with 2 incomes, but we would have to continue to make sacrifices for private school: old cars, markedly deferred maintenance on our home, not saving enough for retirement, vacations usually staycations. The biggest deal is that we could not save for his college either- so these sacrifices will be for 8 years if we hope to help out. In fact, a frustration with private school is that the double-income, no-financial-aid families seem more stressed and unable to enjoy being part of a school community, than single income families who are eligible for aid- we're not talking about the very wealthy in either case.

Please help us with this complex equation. I know I am missing some of the intangibles of private HS as many folks have made that choice. parent trying to do her best

I don't think your presumption that being dual-income automatically disqualifies you for financial aid is valid. In fact I believe all the schools assume, as a matter of fairness, that for two parent households both parents will work. It would be your income/asset level that is relevant. At our child's private high school they state that, in fact, the majority of financial aid ends up going to families in the $100K-$180K income range. This IS the Bay Area after all. Of course, even with financial aid you will still face some of the challenges you mentioned. Anon

If your kid would be happier at a private high school, that is a good reason to send him. But, I'm not sure about the value proposition of a private high school education compared to BHS. Lots of BHS students are currently attending excellent colleges alongside kids who went to local private high schools. BHS parent

''Value'' is, by definition, subjective. Every family has different variables, and only you can weigh them and assess the value of a private school education for this kid and for your family. I'm not sure anyone can help, but I will try.

My sons went to CPS; one is in college, one is now a Senior. CPS is an extraordinary place. I have never seen such a group of engaged and bright students, or gifted teachers, as I have seen there. I just went to the student-run Cabaret Night. The talent of the kids was breathtaking, the enthusiasm and support from their friends in the audience was heart-warming. CPS's small size means no one can back-bench the education. The teachers really get to know the students and vice versa. My Senior loves his classes, his activities, his teachers, and his friends. He keeps saying how happy he is at CPS -- particularly that he has found a community of kids who don't think it is weird to be smart, read The Economist, or quote Shakespeare. Both my sons have gotten a superb education at CPS -- learned to write well, and to think deeply and broadly and for themselves. I am grateful there is a school like that for my kids.

But be forewarned: Your kid, however bright, will be average at CPS. All the kids are smart, and many are scary smart. Different kids respond differently to that environment. My older son found it deflating; he had effortlessly excelled in school before, and was discouraged to work way harder for less stellar grades. The academic challenge undermined his confidence. My younger son is more academically motivated and is exhilarated by the intellectual environment. He is not undone by the high standards, even if it means he gets some B's. How will your son deal with not being the smartest in the class?

On college admissions: CPS has great reputation with the colleges, which go deeper into the class to accept CPS kids. But the top colleges still expect top grades, and it is not easy to get top grades at CPS. I wouldn't go there on the expectation it will yield an Ivy League ticket. And the mix of demanding classes and super-smart kids can depress GPAs enough to make it harder for CPS kids to get into UCs, where admission is rigidly numbers-driven.

Is it worth scrimping for? That's a tough call. We have gulped at the tuition, but have been able to manage it and still pay for college. If it were a choice between CPS and paying for college, though, it would be a hard choice to make. For the older son, I'd have opted for public school; although he got a great education, CPS was not such a perfect fit for him that it would have been worth putting him in college debt. For the younger son, who has thrived at CPS, the foundation for a life lived fully and confidently was probably worth it. Mom of Big Guys

Hello, I have put three children through private school. Private school is no guarantee of college admission. My children went to the best known East Coast schools and most kids ended up at strong liberal arts colleges but they likely would have gotten there from public school. Most kids who go to the Ivies are children of alums. Most kids went to the colleges their parents went to. The few non-alum students were exceptional and likely would have gotten in from public school. Choose private school for the education. If your child is motivated and intense it will likely be great for him. But the great education should be your goal, not college. That puts a weird pressure on your child. I never heard the ''value added'' term. It likely means they are on first name basis with Ivy admissions people and that might help some but I hope they are ''selling'' their education. Princeton Mom

I'm posting to urge you to stick with BHS for this child, too. I really feel it would be a huge mistake to stress your family to the degree you describe in return for potential rewards that are highly uncertain. You write that if you go the private high school route, you will find yourself in 4 years time with no retirement savings and no money saved for either child's college education. In return, you're hoping to provide your child with a more enriching and challenging high school experience from both an academic and a social standpoint. That's a commendable goal, but even if you attain it (which is far from clear), it is still not enough of a game-changer to justify the cost. Your kid can overcome any disadvantages a public school education entails (and that route has pluses, too, not just minuses). On the other hand,having to take on huge debt to get through college will be a ball and chain around his ankle for a long time. If that's not enough to convince you, think about all the enrichment you can provide him with for just a fraction of that $30K - e.g., summer study abroad; one of those really cool summer programs at Harvard or Georgetown for high school students. Possible middle ground - have you considered one of the good Catholic high schools which are half the cost of CPS? Lastly, wherever he goes, he'll have to be a star in order to be admitted to an Ivy League school. Query where it will be more likely for him to star - amongst those just like him at CPS, or at BHS. Please, just say no to the private school lure

Yes, I think there is value for certain kids. My kids went to BHS and wouldn't have been happy at a school like CPS, but my husband went to CPS and for him it was a life-transforming experience. He was always a smart kid who loved learning, but his impulsiveness and obsessiveness drew him to the ''bad'' kids, and often got him into trouble in public school, and as a result his grades were mediocre. He went to CPS as a sophomore on scholarship. There he found his ''people'' -- years later many of his closest friends date back to CPS. His peer group at CPS inspired and challenged him to higher levels. That was a big value. I think he would say the other great value was gaining an adult-level appreciation of art, literature, music, history, and philosophy, taught by skilled teachers who related to their students almost as peers, holding them to high standards. He had always been good at math and went on to get a PhD in engineering, but at CPS his world opened up to include the humanities, which still give him a lot of pleasure.

In terms of pay-off, I would say that a smart motivated student would succeed regardless of his high school, and also that a school like CPS does not guarantee later success, however you define that. My husband's CPS friends are now in a variety of careers - writers, college professors, elementary school teachers, small business owners, even a priest. But for him, his experience at CPS started him on a new road and made him the man he is now - lover of books, excited by new ideas, curious about the world around him, and eager to learn new things. local mom

I went through this question 4 years ago and went with private. No one can tell you how to value something, but here is my experience. My son, now a junior, wanted the elite education of a private school. He wanted the small classes, the excellent teachers, the community of focused learners. He did not want to go to BHS where he saw large classes with lots of kids who had their heads on the desks and where he knew no BHS students who considered more than one of their teachers ''great''. My son was and is not all about academics, but he does take his education seriously. So I gave him the preferred private HS education, knowing that I might not be able to help him with college. He loves school and works hard. He enjoys his peers. He is in awe of his fabulous teachers, almost without exception. He is aware of the privilege of his education. It is definitely preparing him well for college, better than BHS can. I am less concerned about drugs and other social issues. And the expectations of the private school students is quite high without being too much. BHS has to put so much of its focus on getting kids through and graduating; there's not much left for high achievers. I now have a daughter applying and hope that she is accepted. My kids would have done fine at BHS, but they are getting instead a fabulous, inspiring education. Happy with private school choice


Sending a child to an underperforming high school

Aug 2012


I have a cousin who is thinking about enrolling her child into an underperforming high school in San Francisco. Her child had previously attended a parochial school where he was an average student. One of my cousin's motivations is that he may rise to the top at an underperforming school and hence have a better chance at UC acceptance. It seems logical enough, but would love to hear from this board about any potential cons to the plan. Auntie

My daughter just graduated from UC Santa Cruz. Both her middle school and high school are what you'd now call under performing, I'm sure. All of four years ago, I don't feel like that term was getting as much use. But they were definitely considered undesirable by lots of parents, who were very surprised I'd send my daughter to either one.

Both were good experiences for her. She was a decent student, getting Bs and As, but not an outstanding one. She did not have the drive to push hard for As, and probably would have done poorly in AP classes had they been available at her high school. But she was in close range to being top of her class, and she got into UC Santa Cruz, her first choice. She did fine at college\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xe2\x80\x9dgot Bs with a few As and Cs, and graduated in four years, a real feat right now.

I watched my stepson go from a small Christian school where he was an A student to Lowell High School in SF, where he became a struggling C student. He didn't attend college (became a police officer). I hated seeing his loss of confidence. He went in feeling smart and came out feeling dumb. We didn't even apply to Lowell for my daughter; I could see how it would go for her there.

My daughter went to school with kids of varying backgrounds/ethnicities, many with low incomes. It was very grounding. Being with people at her same or lower income levels was a good thing; she was content with what she had, instead of comparing our income to kids with much more. She had some great teachers and great experiences. I felt she was safe at both schools. I think it worked out well for her. I don't see how she would have gotten into UCSC from a more competitive high school; she's just not the type. She left both high school and college feeling good about her accomplishments and ready to move on. what matters most is the student's performance


Affordable private school for struggling teen

Dec 2011


My son is enrolled in Albany High School, which is supposed to be a gem among public schools in our area, but the school is not serving his particular needs. He is flunking out of every academic subject, essentially. It is difficult to know how much of this is his own attitude problem and how much is the social situation and the academic fit. But something has to give. Problem: I have a fairly well-paying job ($90,000/year) but I have to pay a chunk of that in spousal and child support to his Dad, whose half-time job places him below the poverty line. And I have essentially no savings for his college. So, given those factors: is there a private school in the East Bay that would be good for a kid like mine (musically gifted, academically challenged, very sociable and likable?) AND affordable for me? motivated to make a change

I have had two children come through both public and private schools in the last twenty years. Our daughter graduated from Albany High, after a particularly difficult time in Berkeley High (BHS was different then.) Based on your description, I'd try another approach. Unless your teen is getting bullied, I'd try to figure out what is causing the problems. Could it be your divorce? Change takes a toll on kids, and as a male teen, perhaps more so. Most private high schools (except for St. Mary's) are going to be far away, at least a 45 minute commute each way. Albany is a medium/small school which is more navigable to most teens than others. For some kids, this is good. Some kids, alternately, need a larger ''pond'' to swim in. Private high school is a minimum of $20K a year, or more. Probably more like $25K. And if the problems are personal, they will follow him. You could try for an inter-district transfer to BHS, where they have four ''schools'' to choose from, each with a different focus. It may work since many BUSD families would love to go to Albany High! Perhaps a counseling session or two to try and figure out the core of the issues would be a wise and economical first choice. Been there, done that

I would check out Maybeck High School in Berkeley. That's where I ended up when I was flunking out of Berkeley High. They turned me around, and I ended up making it into UC Santa Cruz. Best of luck! Anon

I would encourage you to contact Holden High School in Orinda, http://holdenhigh.org/ (925)254-0199. It is a tiny non traditional high school for kids like your son and mine who are not doing well in a cookie cutter setting. There are kids from Berkeley, El Cerrito, Albany, Richmond Annex etc. They truly want their students to succeed, so they have different approaches to helping them achieve their goal of graduating from high school and their future from there. I no longer have homework battles because he does it there. I am so glad my friends told me about the school after sending their son there. I am so relieved to see my son doing better, seeing himself be successful and be respected for the person that he is.

They have financial aid which will help offset your expense. They also assign Resource Specialists to each student who are interns and are the kid's advocates. They are able to provide clinical support as needed including the family.

If you contact them they will give you parents that you can talk to. I wish you luck, just know there are options.

My son is a senior in a private h.s. and has been struggling with studying for the entire duration. Music is his great love and main pass-time. Unfortunately the school doesn't offer any Music classes. It is an excellent school, but they have not been able to address his weak study skills and lack of motivation. I think you are better off leaving him where he is socially happy. Committing to a private h.s. will only add to your financial stress (especially under your circumstances), will put a burden of guilt on your son when he fails(that's happened to my son) or lower his self-esteem when he compares himself to high achievers (happened too...).

I made a point of involving my son in the solution process, then invested in short-term tutoring per subject. The success that followed boosted his confidence and improved his skills. The costs were reasonable and the results were worth it.

I have been letting go incrementally, allowing him to take charge of his workload/failure/success, etc. p.s. I'm a single mom too. Hope this helps, and good luck! supportive mom

I also have a 9th grader at AHS whose grades have plummeted this year. 9th grade is hard. AHS is a pressure-filled, academically demanding environment with lots of tiger-mom energy driving the curriculum, there is way too much homework IMO, and there has been a lot of extra chaos and drama this year, with teachers leaving and class schedule changes. Oh wait, lets not forget puberty! My son is also gifted in the arts, and you know what? That's good enough for me (for now). Having one thing he excels at and having lots of friends means your son is successful in ways that many kids are not. Taking that away from him as punishment for not getting good grades isn't a good strategy; if you must use a consequence, don't take away the music and social life that motivates him. Get him a tutor, remove yourself from the drama, and try to strategize together with dad-- sounds like there is a rift there, but if you can agree what the strategy and consequences will be, your son will respond to your unity on this issue. I think your expectations may be skewed regarding private schools. My son was in 2 different private schools (he has ADD) and neither of them was anywhere near as good as Albany. Call the principal, set up a meeting, get proactive. No one else is going to set the boundaries that you need to set. And remember... he's a teenager, he will likely settle down eventually and get to work if you are firm and settled yourself. Good luck, Albany Panda Mom

I recommend that you check out REALM Charter School in Berkeley. It is new this year and a fabulous school. They started only with a 6th grade and 9th grade class. They are located just off University Ave. on 8th Street. It's an amazing program and well worth looking into. REALM School Fan

What about one of the charter schools? These are available to any California resident, you don't have to live in a particular district. For example, Oakland School for the Arts or Envision Academy in downtown Oakland?


Looking for a High School for unhappy Orinda teen

May 2010


My husband and I moved back to the Bay Area after an absence of many years so our daughter could have the benefit of the schools in Orinda. Our daughter is adopted and bi-racial with a weight problem. Her 8th grade experience was wonderful, but the hormones and competitiveness in high school are destroying her self esteem. She is severely LD and is a kinesthetic learner. We are looking for a public or charter school in the Bay Area that would be a good fit for our daughter. She is artistic - loves drama, dance and self expression. She needs small learning environments and does best working on projects - not homework. We know with cutbacks such a school may not exist, but I can't bear another year of no friends, migraine headaches and anxiety attacks over not fitting in. Help!

Dear Rebecca, I think Orinda Academy may be perfect for your teen. It has a warm and nurturing environment; all the classes are conducted in small group learning environments; the school has an active anti-bullying policy; and the school actively follows a pre-college curriculum, with many strategies in place to assist kids who have LDs. It is not a charter or public school, but truly, the vast number of families at OA are there not because they are wealthy, but because they have found the very best environment for their teenagers. I am a teaching professional with a PhD and I understand something about creative learning. I have been delighted with Orinda Academy, where our son has flourished and where he actually WANTS to be at school. You could contact the director, Ron Graydon (Ron [at] orindaacademy.org), or the Admissions Officer. I'm also including my email address in case you want more info from me. Good Luck! Philippa

Take a look at Orinda Academy . They have a good arts and dance program, classes are small and students get to know their teachers. Also, the kids at the school are really nice and supportive of one another. Good luck. OA Parent

Holden High School in Orinda is a wonderful small alternative high school which might be just what you and your daughter are looking for. I worked there for two years and can't say enough good things about the immense support teens get at this wonderful, personal school from the dedicated directors, teachers and counselors: www.holdenhigh.org Tel.: (925) 254 0199 Good luck! Susanne


A Kinder, Gentler High School???

March 2009


I am trying to figure out which high school would be a good fit for my daughter. After suffering through a disasterous 6th grade experience at Orinda Intermediate, I placed her in a small private middle school (Seven Hills) where the kids are pretty much all kind and gentle and very accepting. Unfortunately, this school only goes through 8th grade and I am wondering what high schools are known for being academically challanging, yet socially accepting.

My daughter is a prolific writer, is passionate about animals, loves science and math, and has a very kind heart. Unfortunately, she is not adept at reading subtle social cues and so she is sometimes seen as a bit ''odd''. Right now, I am looking at Athenian, Bentley, and Campolinda. Any insights or suggestions? Bewildered Mom

My daughter has attended one of the schools you mention and a good friend has a daughter at another of the other schools you mention. Both girls are socially well-adapted, sensitive and highly intelligent. Both girls and both mothers wish that they had attended the local public high school because their friends in the public high schools do not have the same problems with meanness that they have encountered in these private schools. The public high schools have more kids so that such a child can find some group or friends and offer excellent education for those who wish to work for one. The only school I have heard of recently who actively and successfully addresses such situations is Berean Christian in Walnut Creek, but they do not offer the same high academic standards found at the other schools you mention. anonymous

Our daughter graduated from Athenian two years ago and it was a wonderful experience! She came in as a 9th grader and was a little concerned that about half the class was continuing on from the Athenian middle school and already knew each other (she didn't know anyone going to Athenian). However, this was never an issue. The faculty and staff go to great lengths to ensure that all the students get to know one another and treat each other with respect. There is great diversity at Athenian with students coming from as far away as Vallejo and San Jose, the whole range of ethnic and economic groups as well as international boarding students. My daughter has made many lasting life-long friendships from her years at Athenian. We moved to Moraga with the intention of taking advantage of the great school system there but for various reasons, sent our daughter to private schools ending with Athenian. We and she have never regretted her going there. If you'd like to speak with me off line, I'd be glad to give you more information, just ask the moderator for my e-mail address. Best of luck. Happy Athenian Mom

I'm a parent of 2 Bentley Upper School Alums and absolutely love that school. We made it through OIS but after 1 child with 1 year at Miramonte that was enough for us and my daughter transferred to Bentley. My son followed 3 years later. It's a great school - the teachers are excellent and very caring and interested in their students. They typically have gotten alot of kids from Seven Hills. There have been some administration issues there but they are definitely working on those issues. My son graduated last year and my daughter in 2005. I'm more than happy to talk about Bentley if you want further info. Judy

Hi, Campolindo has a lot to offer but I wouldn't place your daughter there because it's not a kinder, gentler school. It's the conventional, high achieving school in the public school treadmill mode. I would think a smaller, alternative school would have more of what you are looking for. Mine is not a judgemental call against Campolindo because Campolindo is a fantastic school in many ways, it just doesn't have what you're looking for and there's hopefully a better fit elsewhere. All the best to you!

Our daughter had a horrible time at OIS too, in 7th and 8th grade. We ended up pulling her out. At the suggestion of her IEP team, we transferred her to Marchus School in Concord. Marchus is a highly- regarded, counseling-enriched public school for kids with emotional or social difficulties that made regular school difficult for them. A substantial number of kids there have difficulty picking up on social cues. Our daughter has a fabulous teacher and access to her school psychologist onsite whenever she needs to talk with her. She is thriving there, regaining her confidence, and maturing well. If you think you might be interested about whether Marchus could help your daughter, call school psychologist Christi Norton at 925-602-3434. You're welcome to mention I suggested you call.

The other place that might be great for her is Envision School in downtown Oakland (15th & Webster, a business area). My daughter was just accepted there for 9th grade and we are thrilled. It's a charter school (free public school) and sounds like a magnet school for kids interested in the arts and technology. My daughter is a prolific writer, too, and loves drawing. For further info, search the BPN site for Envision School, Google it and go to its website, and check out parent reviews on the Great Schools website. Act quickly; there are a few spaces left and the school is in the midst of parent information nights. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her advocate. Nancy

I certainly understand how harsh the social scene at Orinda Intermediate is after sending my son to Miramonte. He now attends Bentley Upper School which is definitely a kinder, gentler school. It is small and the administration and teachers take the time to help nurture healthy social dynamics.

Are you considering College Preparatory School ? I understand that the kids are really academically inclined and very good to on another. I would definitely check that out. High School should be more fun than it is

My two oldest daughters graduated from Campolindo high school . My third daughter currently attends Campo. I will never forget the day my middle daughter came home from school, about a week or two after school had started for her as a freshman at Campo. She said ''mom, I can't believe what happens at this school. Anyone can be friends with anyone. Yeah, there are people who hang out with certain people but people can be in band and be cool, people can be in sports and be cool and people can be really smart and be cool. Everyone just mixes with everyone no matter what group they're in. I didn't know this could happen in high school mom.'' Enough said. We have had very good social experiences with the ''kids'' at Campo. I hope this helps Jody

I tutor middle school and high school kids and when I posed this question to a couple of them, I came up with St. Mary's in Berkeley and The Urban School of San Francisco (highly recommended). http://www.urbanschool.org/ A Bentley student did not recommend Bentley, based on your posting, but everyone's experience is different. Good luck. Dusty

We are very happy with Athenian . My child sounds like your daughter. Great at science and math, very kind, oblivious to social cues, high achieving academically. Your daughter would find many such kids at Athenian. The environment itself (in Mt. Diablo State Park) lends itself to relaxing as soon as you get there. It is a small, nurturing place where the teachers are expected to build strong relationships with students - and they do. The science learning is very hands-on with lots of experimentation. They are raising chickens in the working garden that raises fruits and veggies for the school kitchen. Many teachers live on campus. It is unlike any other school. There are great academic offerings, but nurturing the whole child into becoming the best person s/he can be is the focus. Athenian Mom

I have two sons that go to Maybeck High School in Berkeley, which is currently on Bancroft Ave across the street from the CAL campus. This summer Maybeck is moving to a new site on College Ave (St. John's Church). The school is one of the smallest high schools I know of (approx 100-110 students), which creates the environment of intimacy for both student relationships and student/teacher relationships. My sons have flourished there emotionally, socially and academically. There are many talented and interesting students. There are interesting opportunities to travel during a ''special programs'' session in the spring. Right now some of the students are bicycling in Japan; others are in the Copper Canyon, Mexico. Mine are in Hawaii hiking and surfing. There is an emphasis on academics, the environment and bicycling. There are no competitive sports teams, however, if that is an interest. lauren


Charter high schools in east bay

March 2009


Does anyone have any direct experience with West County Community High School in Richmond or The Envision Academy of Arts and Technology in Oakland? I am considering alternatives to El Cerrito High School for my daughter who will be in 9th grade next year. I'd also welcome suggestions for other small charter high schools in the east bay. Thanks

My son is in 9th grade at Envision and is very happy there. The teachers are all enthusiastic and dedicated to each student's success. The curriculum is very motivating and project-based. It is so small no one can fall through the cracks. Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Jan L

We were looking for alternatives to the private schools and felt lucky to find Envision Academy in Oakland. You can get a good sense of the school from their extensive website, with video of students and teachers. The Principal is communicative and articulate, and hit all the right notes for me: engaged learning, sophistication of course outcomes, students working at differing levels, etc. It is spearheaded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with a space that is simply gorgeous--many of the expensive private schools in the area are in spaces that don't begin to compare. It's simply a joy to be there. Someone wrote on one of the BPN groups that it's in a seedy area, and I completely disagree. The light is beautiful in that part of Oakland, and the streets are quiet there. It is an urban, not a residential setting, so if you're squeamish about an urban school's being in an urban area, it's not for you. But I would have no problem sending my only son there at any hour in daylight (true of any neighborhood in the Bay Area). My son wondered if he'd feel comfortable in classes with so many students clearly from parts of Oakland he doesn't know, but he came out of the classes he visited with a huge smile, he was just delighted. This school is going to keep growing; it is a terrific resource for Oakland families. Mother of Private School Student

My daughter is a 9th grader at Bay Area School of Enterprise in Alameda. It is a college prep. charter school which focuses on community involvement,critical thinking and empowering young people. We live in Richmond and feel that even though it is somewhat of a commute it is worth it. There are students there from all over the East Bay. As parents we are very happy with the school. As a student our daughter really enjoys it. j.

My daughter has been going to Envision since the very beginning and I believe she would not be the excellent, motivated 11th grade student that she is today if it wasn't for Envision. I believe this has all come from the teachers and administrative staff who really care about each and every student. They really do care that my child is successful, and they are helping her get into the college she wants to go to. This school is not easy. The curriculum is project based and if the students haven't completed their work for their assigned projects, they have 'Success Days' where the students stay until the work is done. There is extra help available to kids who need it and I've seen some amazing transformations in behavior and academics from some kids. I've also seen kids leave because they couldn't follow the code of the school. And being in downtown Oakland gives them opportunities they wouldn't have at other suburb schools, like last year, classes went to city hall and met with the mayor. This year, the 11th graders have internships with local companies. Come and check it out. Jenny


Which private school for North Berkeley family?

Jan 2009


Our daughter is looking into Marin Academy and CPS. We've read the posts from several years back. Does anyone have current thoughts about the pros and cons of each school for a North Berkeley family? Puzzled Parents

Hi, my daughter is a freshman at CPS (now officially College Prep) this year, and is thrilled with it. The teachers are all fabulous, and are always willing to spend extra time with her, be it to give help or just to chat. The kids are all ingratiating and supportive. Though the workload is heavy, she enjoys what she has to do. The small classes are intimate and rewarding, and she is challenged in a way that was rare in her past education. The school is definitely suited to a certain kind of student though, and kids who attend must be willing to work hard. However, alongside this academic rigor, the school offers many opportunities for fun and enjoyment. I don't know how it compares to Marin Academy (she didn't look into the school), but she certainly loves everything about CPS. Hope this helps. j

If you are in the East Bay, it makes much better sense to go to CPS. Remember that your teen will make friends at this school and want to hang out with them on nights and weekends. This equals lots of driving for the parents! I do not have a child at Marin Academy, but when I lived in Marin County I knew many families who sent their kids there. Having lived in both the Berkeley/Albany area as well as Marin County (I went to high school there) I would say that Marin county kids are definitely more privileged and typically more affluent. Both schools are well known for their strong academics. If I were deciding between the two I would pick the place that seemed to have students whose values seemed closely aligned with those of my own family. former marin county resident

Apply to as many private high schools that you can manage. There may be more spaces with the changes to the economy, but for the last ten years or so there have been more people in the Bay Area that want private education than there are spaces. With the announced closure of many public high schools, I expect many parents and extended families that can come up with tuition will be applying to private schools. We applied to seven high schools in the Bay Area, San Francisco and Marin with a nearly straight A middle schooler, got into 1 school, waitlisted at 5. Marin Academy was the one school that just said no. Luckily we were admitted off waitlist at one of our favorites, and it was a life changing experience. The college admission process was much, much easier than private high school in the Bay Area, and I have heard that from literally dozens, and dozens of parents. Go to all the family welcoming events and dress up. Also consider: St. Mary's, Bentley, The Athenian School, Branson
college mom

My son is a junior at Marin Academy , and we live in Oakland. It has been a fabulous experience even though there has been a lot of driving, but I have to say it has been worth it. My impression is that MA and CPS are very different schools. We live close to CPS, but my son never considered it because he did not want the academic grind it is known to have. Marin Academy has been a great fit. The kids at MA all seem to have at least one great interest - sports, music, art, but they are strong students too. You should go to schools you are thinking about and get a feel for the culture. Marin Academy seemed the most interesting and had the best energy of all the schools my son applied to, and the physical plant is beautiful. Worth the drive

We have one daughter that went to CPS and one that went to Marin Academy . Both were fabulous. We live in Berkeley and were in carpools for each school. If your daugther/son is interested in the arts (music, drama, arts, dance, photography, etc) as well as an academically challenging program, I would opt for Marin Academy. Per a recent reply, there were plenty of families and students at Marin Academy that were not wealthy and shared our values. Each school prepared our daughters very well for college. sm


Which East Bay High School is best for new student?

Dec 2008


My husband has started a new job in Emeryville. My children and I will move in summer of 2009 to join him. We are looking in the area of Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette or Walnut Creek (can't afford Piedmont or Berkeley). Which High School do you think would be more accepting of a new student - my son will be a junior, is an honors student, but is very angry about moving and is quiet - I want to stay clear of a school that is too cliquey and less accepting of new students. Also, advice on friendly neighborhoods (children aged 10, 15, 17, 19) in above mentioned communities is welcome. My two older kids will be in college but home sometimes. Thanks! movinggirl

You asked which high schools are best: Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek, but ruled out Berkeley due to expense. In my experience, Berkeley can be much, much cheaper than the first three. Sure, there are some really expensive houses in Berkeley, but there are also some that aren't quite so crazy. I've looked and looked and can't find anything even vaguely affordable in Lamorinda (and I've been looking, because their schools are so good). Walnut Creek tends to be the most affordable of those you mention-- but with Walnut Creek you need to be careful to get a place in the WC school district (pretty good), but more than half of the homes in WC are in another, not quite as good district. -- living in Richmond (eek)

Hmmm -- you are going to get opinions all across the board here! I will say that I am speaking from the perspective of one who grew up in Lamorinda and has chosen to locate to Walnut Creek for our kids because of the schools they attend. Lamorinda, by virtue of its location, is somewhat secluded. I am sure that your son would do fine once he got his feet wet; all of the high schools in that area are excellent (Miramonte, Acalanes, Campolindo). However, there is very little diversity across the board. Some, but not much. That is not necessarily good or bad, depending on how your family defines itself. We chose Walnut Creek as it is much more diverse, the high school, Las Lomas, is excellent as well, but we just like the feel more -- the community as a whole is more accepting of differences in all aspects, there is a larger range of socioeconomic scale, and we simply found it fit well for us -- a tough call for you and your family, surely! Good luck with your decision; we have not regretted ours! burst out of the bubble


Private high school for N.Berkeley kids?

April 2007


I have some questions about east bay private high school. I have been reading the reviews on BPN and they all sound wonderful. Our daughter will start looking at possible high schools this year and any input from parents of kids at area schools would be great. Our daughter is very bright, but also loves art, sports and is very into her social life. I gather that CPS is very strong academically from previous postings, but how is there arts and sports program? (In fact, where are there athletic fields for that matter!?) We live in North Berkeley, and I like that she could take public transportation to school on her own, but will all her friends live over in Oakland? Does this isolate kids? I have also heard wonderful things about Marin Academy academically, but also about their sports and arts programs. However, I worry about the effect of the long commute on my daughters social life as well. Can any parents comment? Will all of her friends live over the bridge? (How do kids at MA from East Bay deal with that?) Or should we just bite the bullet and send her to Berkeley High? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to all. berkeleymomanddad

If you are looking for quality sports facilities for a high school you might consider Head Royce in Oakland. It is located near the mormon temple off of Hwy 13. My son is going there for middle school. While we have yet to experience the school, I can say the campus boasts beautiful sports facilities and we were very impressed with the classes we observed. They also have a strong drama and art program to go along with academics. Terri

Check out Berkeley High . After all, BHS has the most number of AP and Honors classes than any school in the area, the largest/most varied athletic program of any high school west of the Mississippi, and an incredibly visual and especially performing arts program (the jazz band of course is nationally ranked). In addition, BHS offers more languages than many colleges (Spanish, French, Latin, Swahili, German, and starting next year Mandarin Chinese). With this year's implementation of the new International High program, every student has the opportunity to be in a community-based setting. In addition to the IH program (where students will be able to choose to receive an international baccalaureate degree), there is Academic Choice (traditional, college prep), and the small schools: Communications/Arts/Science (CAS), Community Partnership Academy, Social Justice, and Arts/Humanity (AHA), themed and/or somewhat non-traditional college prep. Not to mention the amazing number of clubs, associations, and other student activities. Yes, Berkeley High can be intimidating for some students and for some, the independence and freedom at BHS can be too much to handle but I truly believe that NO PRIVATE HIGH SCHOOL IN THE BAY AREA provides more overall than BHS in terms of academic opportunity, academic rigor, and more importantly life experiences. Karen

We live in N Berkeley and my older son is a sophmore at CPS . He really likes CPS and the school is a good fit for him. CPS's strength is academics, but they have a good arts program. We've been to some very impressive student music and drama performances. I've seen art shows of student work that were also amazing. My son isn't an artist per se, but he's been taking stagecraft this year and is really enjoying it. While they do have sports teams, yes there is a field and they use other facilities, I don't think the sports programs have the strength of the arts and music programs. Kids at CPS come from every where, not just Oakland. There are other kids who live in N Berkeley, some come from Marin, Walnut Creek, Moraga, etc. Kids pick a common place to meet to get together, meet on Shattuck to go to a movie, etc. Sometimes they will go together for burritos or pizza on College Av after school. As a full time working parents (and I do a lot of business travel) we really appreciate it that the CPS teachers and administration have their act together and we spend no time dealing with school issues. CPS Parent

We investigated private high schools, went through the whole application process and enrolled our daughter in a private school for ninth grade. (She was accepted at multiple schools.) She ultimately decided to attend a school in Marin, and the commute was awful even though the school provided a bus from N. Berkeley, upwards of three hours per day. She also found that she really needed to be in a larger school environment, having attended private school for K-8. We finally agreed to let her transfer half way through her first semester to Berkeley High, despite already having committed to the tuition at the private school, and the experience has been great for her.

Because she came in mid-year she didn't get a choice of program or classes, but the school worked with her to get her into the right level of classes, and she is certain she made the right decision. She is the only Freshman in several of her classes. So, my advice is, look into Berkeley High as a positive option, not a last resort. Many people outside of the city find ways to enroll their children in BHS because it is a vibrant community with excellent academic options. The right school for your child depends on their personality and interests. Happy BHS parent