Bishop O'Dowd High School
I had one child graduate from O'Dowd and one from CPS. The one who went to O'Dowd was unequivocally happier with the high school experience. We are not Catholic, but never felt out of place vis a vis the religion aspect. Lots of messages of love, service, and respect. The school has a wide range of kids, a wide range of classes, lots of academic rigor if your kid wants it, but also offers levels of classes where your kid might not be as strong. We were big fans of the support and most of teaching was terrific. It was a very big change from the K-8 private school my kids attended, but we were very impressed in the end.
CPS is, indeed, a pressure cooker. And while it works well for a very specific type of kid, we knew lots of very smart kids who were dragged through with multiple tutors and had their sense of competence trashed. My main "warning" about CPS is that if your kid isn't super strong in Math, beware. The school's math program is a disaster for kids who do not come in with an ability to teach themselves math in a strictly problem-based socratic approach. Frankly, it was crushing to a too-large portion of the class population. There is a very narrow definition of success at the school presently (this has changed in the last few years according to people who had kids graduate 4+ years ago) and when there are no levels to choose from, a student is pretty much stuck if he or she is not strong at a given subject. We tried to work with the administration, but got no response. On the positive side, most of the teachers are wonderful, and all are willing to spend much time outside the classroom to provide extra help. I do think the school is unique & wonderful in that way. CPS students are treated with respect and are not saddled with a bunch of rules, which is also great.
The grading across the board is incredibly hard. We said that while most schools are criticized for grade inflation, CPS practices grade deflation. And that doesn't help in the end with college admissions for many kids. My takeaway is this: there are some kids who LOVE CPS and thrive there. If your kid is one of those, it's a great, unique place. If your kid is NOT one of those, it's pretty awful, regardless of how enriching, kind, supportive they try to make it. It's hard to feel the kindness and support when you can't pass math and feel inadequate every day. I unfortunately heard too much of that from a fairly big group of wonderful, smart kids.
My daughter is a sophomore at O'Dowd and loves it. There is something for everyone there. It is a big school but not too big. Our family is not religious at all and I have no problem with the religion component. There is no "pushing" Catholicism in either the religion classes or the all school masses and liturgies. The message is love and kindness and service to others. All freshman take a one semester class called Spirituality and Sexuality, which is basically sex and relationship education, and they learn about everything, including birth control and abortion. When it came to that part of the class my daughter said that the teacher just said that the Catholic church does not believe in this, but here are the facts, no preaching. Relative to the other private schools it is very affordable, especially considering everything that they have to offer. Every school is different when it comes to tuition assistance so you should reach out to the different directors of admissions with your questions. I think you will find that they will be very forthcoming about how it works and what you can expect. Good luck. It can be a stressful process at times!
I've had one child at Bishop O'Dowd and one at CPS. My sense is that BOD might seem a bit overwhelming at first to a shy Freshman, but once he finds his place in one of the many clubs or music or debate or a sport, he will be fine. They have a fun orientation week for Freshman to make the transition easier. There's something for everyone at that school and generally it's a great community. Shy kids at CPS would be just fine as long as the school is a good fit. It's a small and extremely welcoming school, but the most important factor at that school is that your child is academically suited to it. It's not for everyone, but the kids who love it really have a great experience there.
Both of these very different schools start in 9th grade so everyone is "new." That was a draw for both of my kids.
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Bishop O'Dowd for the secular non-believer
We've been considering Bishop O'Dowd for our daughter but she went to an admissions event at her school recently and came away a bit worried. Our family is culturally Jewish. My daughter does not believe in God and is concerned about having to go to Mass. Would like to hear from other Jewish families at BOD about your experiences at a Catholic School. Also wondering about the morality clause in the employment contracts. How does this affect the overall culture of the school? Thanks! atheist Jew
Your family sounds almost exactly like mine - culturally Jewish but otherwise Atheist. My daughter is a junior at O'Dowd, and pretty happy (as happy as a snarky 16yo can be . Students do have to take religion classes every year, which my daughter finds annoying, but they're more examinations of theories, values, and practices of the Catholic Church, mostly academic and not indoctrination at all, though many of the religion instructors are devout. The rest of the classes are unaffected by the Catholicism - no debunking evolution in Bio or anything like that. They do have Mass every so often, but for the non-religious it's just something to sit through politely, they aren't forced to pray or participate. There's also a morning prayer that starts off the morning announcements.
More than half the student body is *not* Catholic, there are Jewish student groups and clubs, and all kinds of families are warmly welcomed (same-sex parents, single parents, blended families, etc.). If your daughter is an athlete, it really is a great choice, but even if she isn't it's a solid school with a place for everyone. Atheist BO'D mom
I have 2 boys at Bishop ODowd (Senior and Sophomore). We are not religious (I'm an atheist). We love this school. It is very inclusive, rigorous, and has outstanding teachers and tons of on-campus sports and clubs for all kids to find their niche. I was a bit hesitant about the religion, but am very comfortable now. 1/2 of the student body is non-Catholic. Yes, they do all go to mass 3-4 times a year, and they do take religion class. My kids were a bit behind in those classes, but were able to learn the material just fine. This year my son takes (Senior) Peace and Justice and really likes the discussions/reading and teacher. I love the science program and field trips and the emphasis on supporting all religions and service to the community. ODowd is big on community service, which I think helps kids think beyond just themselves.
RE: contract controversy. The parents and students wrote letters about the teacher's contract and worked with the ODowd administration to engage in a long dialogue with the Bishop. The language was changed (softened) and I think the dialogue with the administration and teacher had a lot to do with the Bishop rewriting/restating the contract.
I recommend having your child do a shadow tour so he/she can see the teachers and students in the classroom in action and see if there is a good fit or not. Annie
My daughter has just finished 8th grade, and she is currently slated to attend O'dowd in the fall. This said, with the sudden morality clause and the less-than-progressive attitude that I get from the school, we are now considering Skyline High School as an option. I would love to hear from parents who have thoughts on how the schools compare. Thank You. j
Don't blame you. Not sure if the quality of education would be the same. As an alternative you might want to consider Miramonte or Campolindo. Students who live in Oakland can petition and attend either. ANON
I'm interested to hear what others have to say about your question as well. We don't have experience with Skyline, but I have two kids (sophomore and senior next fall) who currently attend O'Dowd. We are not religious. We whole heartedly support the teachers and the school.
One thing to note - it is not the school requiring teachers to sign the new contract - it's the Oakland diocese at the hand of the bishop. (I will refrain from giving my opinion or thoughts about him and the contract situation. It's not nice.)
My personal opinion is that this will not have an affect on the stellar, progressive education students receive at the school. The school is not trying to cram any dogma or non-progessive agenda to students. I don't believe it will change with the contract fiasco.
My advice to you is to go talk to the administration about your concerns if you are feeling a ''less then progressive'' attitude from the school. I can't convince you otherwise if you genuinely feel it (or are reading about it) from the outside, but I can tell you that on the inside our experience has been nothing but good, open and progressive. Good luck with your decision! L
Re: Oakland Tech vs. Bishop O'Dowd
If you are considering Bishop O'Dowd, you should be aware that there is a new employment contract for O'Dowd teachers and staff which requires them to adhere to the Catholic church's teachings in both work and private life as a condition of their employment. This was reported in the news recently and has prompted more than one teacher to decide against returning to Bishop O'Dowd for the 2014-15 school year. I am including links to some recent news articles that are related to this.
SF Gate article http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Oakland-Diocese-requiring-educators-to-conform-to-5464492.php
KTVU interview with a teacher who refused to sign the contract http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/local/teacher-refuses-sign-controversial-catholic-teache/nft6N/
Official Updates from Bishop O'Dowd http://www.bishopodowd.org/admin/?p=7059
Change.org petition started by one of Bishop O'Dowd's students http://www.change.org/petitions/diocese-of-oakland-please-change-this-contract
Current Bishop O'Dowd Parent
Re: Comparing Parochial High Schools
I currently have a daughter who is a junior at O'Dowd, but I have two recent graduates as well who are both in college. Can't say enough about the academics and normal day to day activities for the students up there. The teachers are accessible all of the time and truly want to see their students succeed. My teenagers never missed a day of school and always wanted to be there for something that was going on. The school is not big as it seems with 1200 kids. The class sizes are small. In fact, my daughter is in an Art class this semester with 8 other kids. It is fantastic. You can get involved as a parent if you'd like, but you don't have too. All 3 schools are fantastic, but I believe O'Dowd stands out of the crowd. Check out their new environmental building online. It should open in April for the students and apparently on one of a few in the nation. Let me know if you have any other questions. Karen
All 3 are indeed all good or even great schools, but they have some pretty significant differences besides their student body size and location. Does your child have a particular academic interest? We leaned towards St. Mary's for quite a while because the English department faculty impressed us so much and they also have a very good baseball team. We ended up at Bishop O'Dowd, however, because we thought they offered the most across the spectrum: lots of AP course offerings, and incredible academic support. And I do think the extracurriculars at O'Dowd are more extensive - everyone knows about their sports teams, but they have a great debate team and their performing arts program is stellar. The school did feel large to me at first but the multi-day freshman orientation program is *very* thorough, and you'll be amazed how quickly your child grows into the school. My son gets plenty of personal attention (he would probably say too much) from his teacher and counselors. For what it's worth, the two kids I know who didn't like O'Dowd and left after freshman year, both went to Berkeley High (a much larger school). Everyone is different; it is really hard to say what would be best for your child based on your post. But I definitely do not think O'Dowd is too big. Happy
Re: Catholic high school for child with out gay parents?
Hi, Hope this helps... I have a daughter attending Bishop O'Dowd High School currently and a graduate. I want to assure you that the environment is very open to all kinds of families and backgrounds. Both my children have friends and classmates with gay parents. The administration has a positive attitude towards alternative lifestyles and offers clubs and courses for students to explore their interests. As for middle school, I cannot suggest a Catholic school, however I suggest Julia Morgan School for girls located on Mills campus. Best of luck! an Oakland Mom
Bishop O'Dowd is gay friendly. I don't think anyone is going to say mean things to you child because he has gay parents. I am gay and my son doesn't worry about it, and neither did my daughters. O'Dowd has a teacher who transitioned from female to male and the school administration was very supportive of him. It may be a Catholic school but they don't judge people based on their sexuality and they really don't care if a student or parent is gay. My daughter had a girlfiend when she was at O'Dowd and was never harassed. The students are open minded also. If you are leaning towards ODowd, I would recommend it. Gay parent
I knew the school 8 years ago and am now considering the school again. I know about the concerns regarding alcohol and feel it is being addressed. I had heard there were some problems with the laptop program working out. If there are any recent parents would you please address. 1. How is laptop program? 2. Has the math department improved-specifically Calculus 3. Is it really hard to get in to AP classes? (I heard they have made it near impossible) 4. How is Mandarin working out? Any more German? thanks value your opinion
My daughter is a Senior @ BOD. We have been very happy at O'Dowd. It feels like what the local public education should provide. It is important to know the teachers and counselors. They also added a learning disability counselor who is better than great. Eva Marlatt has helped to advocate for students and educate the teachers on what can help these students achieve success. Parents can be as connected as you need or want to be there. BOD provides a strong College Prep. education and 98% of graduates go on to a 4 year college. The atheletics programs are outstanding (Dragon Parents is the athetic booster group)and there are over 50 Clubs; everything from Mock Trial & Debate to Disney Club and BarBQ Club, there is truly something for everyone. There are drug and alcohol scare stories about every HS in the area.... the difference in my opinion is that BOD will step in and address the issue individually with the student and parents. There are strict boundaries in regards to this @ Bishop O'Dowd and that is what most teens need. Happy with BO'D HS
Re: How to Choose which Private High School?
There are many things to think about when starting the HS search. You obviously know your child well and have determined that she will do well academically at most of the private schools, however the social aspect is your challenge. Have you asked her what school she prefers? Have you visited the different campuses? Is she into sports or clubs? For instance my daughter is now into forensics and debate and not all the schools have competitive debate teams. We are fortunate to have so many clubs so kids can find activities that interest them. We looked at the schools you mentioned but my daughter decided she wanted something larger that had more diversity and choices. She chose Bishop O'Dowd. There are over 50 clubs and a lot of sport (no cut teams in many cases) choices that can be tried. One thing to think about is that living too far away from the school makes it difficult to go to afterschool and evening events on campus. Happy Bishop O'Dowd family
We have a good option for K-8, but are worried about high school. The expense of many of the private high schools can be prohibitive. Our options are either try to move to Piedmont for the long term, or to go for one of the less expensive high schools like Bishop O'Dowd. Does anyone know how Bishop O'Dowd compares to a place like Piedmont High in terms of academic preparation for college? (Both provide a large social environment, which is important for developing important social and life skills). Thanks, -Frank
I understand your concerns completely and am living your question. We live in Montclair Oakland and had a great Public elementary option. We anticipated being able to postpone paying private school tuition until HS but decided for a number of reasons to put our daughter into private school starting in Middle School.
She now attends Bishop O'Dowd which was her 1st choice after evaluating about 8 private schools from Lafayette to SF. We paid significantly more for Middle School tuition and annual fund donations than we do for everything at BOD. We consider it a price performer :) Our daughter will be a junior next year and I have to say that Bishop O'Dowd has been an excellent educational experience to date. She is thriving and really likes the curriculum and teachers (except for a few classes of course). The student body is racially and socio-economically divererse which was important to me. There have been a couple of kids expelled due to some very serious infractions and I can tell you it made a huge impact on the other students to see that there are serious consequences if you make really poor choices. This is all part of what I like about Bishop O'Dowd. The faculty and administration are an amazing team and respect both Parents and students alike! Those of you who know Joe Salamack, our great Principal,know he is lovingly tough but always fair. He is totally committed to making each day the best it can possibly be for all the students.
Beside the school work there are over 50 extra curricular clubs to choose from and almost every athletic sport you can think of. Just a couple of weeks ago my daughter said that Bishop O'Dowd was absolutely the right choice for her. If you have a middle schooler who will be evaluating High Schools next year I would recommend you look at Bishop O'Dowd. Happy Dragon Parent
(Editor Note: a response was also received about Moving to Piedmont vs. private high school )
I would like to hear from families that have gone to or currently send their child(ren) to Bishop O'Dowd. What is it like there? What if you are not Catholic, are you welcomed there? How safe is the campus as far as drugs and acceptence of peers? How about real shy kids? Thanks
My kid (Jewish) just graduated from BOD. This is a great school IF your kid WANTS to be there (mine did). I suggest you and your child visit -- and if your child says, ''This is for me!'' then apply. If not, don't apply. The school is like a throw back to traditional public high schools from 35 years ago, except it's diverse. Very safe. Very hard, mostly traditional academics with a few absolutely outstanding teachers. The school has gotten a bit more Catholic in feeling recently, but my child felt very comfortable there. It helps enormously if your child is an athlete or actor (maybe artist or musician), because these programs are BIG and provide the busy social life for the students. Kids who don't have some kind of interest that would connect them to others don't do as well at BOD.
I've read all the postings about Bishop O'Dowd and have been pretty impressed. One comment I heard from an acquaintance is that their math department is particularly weak, however, and this is a concern of mine. Can anybody else comment on the math program at O'Dowd? As well as any other current concerns/ positive things about the school? Thanks much. Wondering
We have been pleased with BOD the last few years. As far as weak depts, I don't think there are any glaring gaps. Science is strong but they have no AP Chemistry as some other Catholic HS. There is no science the first year. There are great history teachers and others teach by video tape. There is no history the second year. Math can be excellent depending on the teacher, but I know many families who go outside for private tutors. In general the religion dept is very strong. The english dept varies. Very little reading the first year, more the second. Writing could be stronger. Foreign Languages are strong in German. They also offer no Chinese or Japanese as some of the other private schools. Good art, computers, drama. Many hire private college guidance counselors. Forget playing a popular sport unless your child is a select level player.
Overall a pretty good school
I would still appreciate some more views on O'Dowd. My son loved it. We were a bit concerned about some things.
1.Are there enough guidance counselors?
2. No science in ninth grade?
3. Do you have to be a go getter to do well there?
Regarding guidance counselors: I have both a freshman and a junior at O'Dowd. The kids meet regularily with their counselors to plan classes and discuss college. The one time I tried to make an appointment I had a slow turnaround time, but once we finally met, the counselor was responsive. Regarding science in 9th grade: This IS true and my husband (a scientist) and I were concerned. However, there are opportunities for electives in junior and senior year that allow additional science courses. In fact, there are quite a few electives in the sciences that allow a student to track to what interests them. Biology is required. My daughter took earth science followed by AP environmetnal science, but chemistry (including honors chemistry) and physics are also offered (as are semester courses in living lab, marine biology, and anatomy). Cathy
Re: looking for a high school
My husband, his brothers and sisters, attained minority scholarships for a private Catholic School in S.F. called St. Ignatius - apparently it is highly recommended, even 20 years later. We live in the East Bay and my son, who transferred out of Berkeley High now attends Bishop O'Dowd, another private Catholic School in Oakland. Although we are not a religious family, my son loves it and my has excelled in all subjects the quality of education is fabulous. Monthly it's a big chunk of money - and I sometimes wonder how we are going to last three more years, but consider it well worth it and wouldn't consider any other school. Good Luck with your son. Pat
Re: Doing Poorly at Berkeley High
My son wanted to attend Berkeley and I was quite happy to give it a try. He started off good, but as time went by his grades dropped from A's to C's and D's. He played truant, locked himself in his bedroom and refused to come out. In the beginning like most parents we thought it was his teenage mood swings, but then it became obvious something was really wrong when he began to slash his wrists. He hated the B.High culture and claimed school was a waste of his time as far as getting an education. The depression went on - we sought counseling - like many parents we thought what the hell can I do. I can't afford a private high school on my salary.
I somehow found the money to send him to Bishop O'Dowd. As much as it is a hardship for us to find the extra cash - I can honestly say in the three months that my son has been there I have a totally different child. He has gone from failing and falling through the cracks to being an up beat motivated kid that loves school. His grades this semester are four A's one B and a C - such a miraculous improvement over B.High.
What is the difference - lower class size - strong values for respect for each other - child held accountable by the school - text books (which we have to buy of course) - closed campus - high levels of professional security - more counselors per child and the obvious no government budget cuts....
I think you just have to listen to your kid and find some way to get them out of B.High if you have to.
I have two daughters presently attending O'Dowd and one who graduated from O'Dowd in 1993. My husband and I and the girls all feel that O'Dowd is a very good high school -- and for many reasons. It is not perfect -- and no school really is. We are not Catholic; in fact, we are not affiliated with any religious denomination. The school population is composed of (roughly) 50% Catholics, with the other 50% being Jewish, Protestant, Agnostic, Atheist, and "other." We appreciate the school for many reasons and at the top of our list is the fact that there is dogma forced upon its students whatsoever. The Religion classes taught are some of the very best in the school (Living and Dying, World Religions, Family, -- to name a few). The school is diversely populated (both ethnically and socio-economically); it is relatively small (approximately 1050 students); has excellent Drama Department; has excellent sports program for young women and young men; requires "community service" of all students; addresses (mainly in the Religion classes) such topics as "abortion," gay/lesbian awareness issues, etc. Students respect each other and respect differences. It's a safe place; parent participation is strong. Like any school, it has its mixture of "top-notch teachers," mediocre teachers, and somewhat limited teachers.
Check out the school's upcoming spring musical (Cabaret) which is advertised in the Montclarion. Also, call the O'Dowd Box Office re ticket info (577-9140). It's opening at the end of April and runs through the first two weekends of May. ALL of their productions are Excellent and a real treat. Recommend you take a peek at this one little part of O'Dowd. You won't be sorry, guaranteed!!
To put it simply: it's good, traditional school (and very "non-traditional Catholic school") that provides very good academic training and a healthy and full social environment. We give it a good, solid "A." Deborah '