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(Grades 9-12 unless otherwise noted.)

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—got 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@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


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