Which Public School District for Black Kids?

Parent Q&A

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  • My family is planning a move and are considering Berkeley and Alameda school districts. We’re planning on renting for the first 2-3 years and then buying but would like to remain within the same school zone as our 10 year old transitions from us renting to buying. 

    We have 2 children and are an African American family. We previously lived in Chapel Hill, NC - another small college town with strong public schools however in our experience, many smaller districts, particularly those who claim to respect diversity, have some of the largest achievement gaps. I’m a former educator and current grandmaker so I understand the reason behind many of these dynamics. 

    I’m curious if anyone can speak to the experience of middle class students of color in the local schools - specifically Berkeley and Alameda. 

    Experiences vary, but many of my BHS black students as well as the black children who were in my child’s cohort from middle class families did well, and attended UCs and excellent private colleges. It wasn’t always comfortable because some of the AP/Honors classes had few black students in them. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


AA family new to Bay Area -- looking for schools

March 2013

We are a black family relocating from Phila. to the Bay Area. My kids are 12 and 13 (a girl and a boy). They are very bright (honor roll students here in PA), not athletic, more interested in computers, music, etc. We are looking for a school district (we prefer public) that is diverse with a good mix of activities (esp. a drama and music program).

My inclination is to stay close to Oakland or the penisula. However, we also looked at new construction in Fairfield (the purchase price was enticing). I've also heard good things about Walnut Creek. My main concern is to find a school where they will fit in and make friends. Any recommendations for a school district (Oakland, WC, Dublin, Livermore) or information about Fairfield (is there anything good out there?)? Thank you so much! Lisa S.

Districts on the Peninsula tend to be better off. Berkeley is also well-funded for a California School District. Basically before you choose a district make sure that they have passed some kind of tax over-ride because funding levels in CA schools are lower than on the east coast. If your children are very strong in music or drama you probably want to be in Berkeley/Oakland or on the Peninsula as it is easier to get into SF for advanced programs at the high school level than from the eastern suburbs, and there are also local high-level programs in Berkeley and in Palo Alto. If you do choose Berkeley my impression that at Berkeley High AA students of highly educated parents tend to be concentrated in BIHS, (the International Bac. program), and also in Academic Choice. anon

Oakland School for the Arts might be a great fit for your children. You can learn more about the school on its website, and in BPN reviews. Kids audition for admission.

The school offers a wonderful arts based education for grades 6-12. It's a public charter school, so Oakland residency is not required; approximately 2/3 of the students live in Oakland, many others are from nearby areas. My daughter has friends from Orinda, Piedmont, Berkeley and Alameda, as well as Oaklnad.

I have been very happy with the academics, the art instruction,the wonderful teachers, and the social environment. my daughter is receiving an amazing education and genuinely loves her teachers. OSA is in Uptown, a vibrant area in downtown Oakland well served by BART and bus transit, in the beautiful Fox Theater. It's a true gem, and I feel lucky to have found it. Happy and grateful OSA parent

For information on the diversity and test scores of any school/school district that you are considering, you should check out www.greatschools.org Most of my AA friends that live in Oakland, send their children to private schools (Bishop O'Dowd is popular). Walnut Creek and Dublin have great public schools, but few African American students.

Fairfield is a long commute if you plan to work in downtown San Francisco or Oakland. It's the suburbs, so the number of African American students is less than Philadelphia. Also, the schools have mixed reviews and ratings on www.greatschools.org. AA Parent

Welcome to the bay, I am a resident of Oakland and would not recommend it. Diversity is important to me but I recommend you select a school district over a city. Oakland is wonderful but the spike in crime and underfunded schools make it a challenging choice. I also wonder if you are open to the peninsula? Being close to Silicon Valley has many advantages. I also think there is a proportionate relationship between the price of home and the quality of schools. Finally, of the communities you mentioned, walnut creek is consistently well rated but be careful, there is a line which puts you in the better school district. If you're not open to the peninsula, I recommend you also consider San Ramon and Dublin. Welcome!

While I admit a bias (I am one of the Assistant Principals) I suggest you consider Dublin. We are a small but growing and increasingly diverse school district. Our high school has an Engineering Academy that offers a variety of classes, a Robotics club and a number of academic opportunities. We also have community involvement and a high level of school spirit. Maureen B.

I was really surprised that you didn't get more responses. As an African-American parent, there is way more to think about than ''is this a good school?'' As a black parent, I want high academic standards, I want a diverse environment (my child is not going to be the only black child in the class) including the teaching/leadership staff. I want a caring environment where attention is paid to social-emotional learning. I want an environment where attention is paid to the curriculum and attention is paid to anti-racist curriculum (Lincoln freed the slaves? get me out of there).How do we educate our children so that they develop a positive sense of self and high academic standards. Check out African-centered schools like Ile Omode in Oakland. You may also want to consider homeschooling/unschooling. We're two working parents and finally we had to differentiate our childcare needs versus our the educational needs for our children and we've found a really happy place for our family. Best of luck to you in this very complicated decision. black mama