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Skyline High School (Oakland, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Oakland Public Schools > Skyline High School (Oakland, CA)

March 2010

I heard that Skyline this year instituted an intensive advisory program for freshman called Atlas House. I am wondering how it is going and if it lives up to its promise of ''no student will fall through the cracks.'' Are there any parents of Skyline 9th graders who can report on how it is going? Are the students tracked into advising groups or are the groups pretty mixed as to academic ability, college-oriented, etc? We are battling with our 8th grader who doesn't want to go to Tech, but we have our doubts about whether Skyline can live up to its information night presentation, which was impressive. Skeptical

I've tutored students for the SAT, ACT, and subject tests at both Skyline and Oakland Tech, and have some familiarity with both schools. Each is, as you know, quite large, and it is possible to get a good education at either. It is also possible to ''fall through the cracks'' at either.

The Atlas program at Skyline High is an effort to give students more personalized attention and reduce anonymity. Indeed the Atlas class sizes are somewhat smaller (1-25) than average class size elsewhere in the school. Every group of 100 students has the same 4 teachers, and they share a common preparation period. This arrangement enables teachers to collaborate and focus on studentsC",b" individual needs and their progress or lack of thereof.

A great deal of effort on the part of the entire Skyline community has gone into making Atlas successful, and the Atlas principal has reported that indeed 9th graders are getting higher GPAs this year.

I recommend that you sit in on 9th-grade classes both at Skyline and at Oakland Tech. If you request permission to do so, I believe it will be granted.

One aim of the Atlas program is to assist students with their academic and career planning. I'm especially interested in that, because of my own work as a tutor in helping students prepare for the college board exams. Although there are conscientious counselors at both Skyline and Oakland Tech, both schools could provide better guidance. One of the problems is that there aren't enough counselors for the large number of students at these schools.

Atlas does have an advisory program. These are 25-30 minute segments during which time students engage in a variety of non-academic activities including the development of study skills and citizenship. You can find out more about how the advisories are functioning if you visit the school. Good luck!

Skyline or Oakland Tech for unmotivated student?

Sept 2009

BPN archives on Skyline H.S. are several years old, and that can make a huge difference in the climate of a school. I'd like to hear from parents who currently have students at Skyline or whose children graduated in 2008 and 2009. My daughter is not a disciplined or motivated student, and I fear that she will be able to hide herself in a huge high school like Oakland Tech, and/or align herself with similarly unmotivated kids. She's been in an independent middle school which has been great, because it's small, the teachers know her and most of her classmates come from families that care about education. But the private school route will end for us after 8th grade. It would be great if you were open to talking to me on the phone, in addition to responding to this query. lora

The issues you mention about Skyline and Tech and your daughter not being motivated and hiding herself are interesting. Skyline looks bucolic, Tech does not, but those are surface differences. First of all Skyline is the larger school! Furthermore, I think it is way harder to get "lost" at Tech if you are in the right classes for the following reason: the very first 9th grade classes California Studies is the pre-Paideia "track." So your child will already be in a motivated group. I have seen it carry some naturally unmotivated kids in the current. Further the dominate culture in the Paideia and the Engineering programs are kind of geeky and wonky, but don't tell your kid that! If you take the kids in honors classes in both schools, there are way, way more party types and parties at Skyline. (This is more anecdotal, but it is my experience.) In addition at Skyline the 9th graders classes tend to be more mixed together. So you have some real slackers in the first year classes.

The classic difference between the schools is in the drama department. Skyline has a great program; they do a big musical production. Last year they did West Side Story. It was a very high quality, high school production. (West Side Story is a very hard production at any level and the kids did great job.) On the other hand last year, Tech did a student originated drama. The students in the Advanced Drama Class interviewed all sorts of people from pillars of the community to people on margins of society. Out of that work, they wrote their own play. And were invited to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland as a result. Both programs at Skyline and Oakland Tech are good; they are just different. Although, your child can get a good education at either school, the problem is at both schools if your child does not get into the honors program, then neither school is a good bet. I can state that unequivocally.

And you know, most kids will come out okay no matter what we do. anon b

The best kept secret about Skyline seems to be the number of good teachers there, spanning all departments. Skyline also has excellent offerings in the Performing Arts: Drama, Dance, Choral and Music. Film making is also offered. I have twin tenth grade boys at Skyline, and it has been a great experience for them. They have participated and taken great joy in the Jazz Band and The Marching Band. Last year, one son was on their new debate team, which won the city championship. This year, he runs cross country. They have had some terrific teachers, some good ones and only one clunker so far. They have had the great fortune to study Mandarin with an outstanding teacher, and take AP World History with another. The school has a marvelous newspaper. This year, we have an excellent interim principal, and (for a change) there will be a timely search for a permanent one for next year. The campus is appealing and relatively safe. My children's friends there do not send up warning flags in my mind, and it seems like they are all busy with homework and sanctioned extracurricular activities. In short, Skyline has breadth and a lot to offer. Karen
Editor note: an additional review was received for Oakland Tech
November 2006

Our son is in 8th grade now and has been at a private school since kindergarten. We are considering high school options. I recently heard that the principal at Skyline was leaving or has already to take a job at Lick-Wilmerding. Does anyone have thoughts about how the last few years have been at Skyline (trending up or down?) and whether the change in principal is a concern? Also, there is also a choice system for enrollment I think. Could anyone help describe the differences between Tech and Skyline?

You have a happy choice between two good schools. There is no such thing as a high school that's perfect for everyone, but these two schools are both good for a great many kids, and they both embody what is good about the large comprehensive high school as a life-preparation experience. Some schools have ''souls'' -- I don't mean it in a religious sense, but in a way it IS spiritual. Some schools are places that seem to have a spirit and resilience built in, and both Skyline and Tech are that way. This fall, I had the pleasure of volunteering at both schools within a few days period, and the kids (from the outside) were indistinguishable from each other. Both schools were upbeat and anticipatory about the year ahead, and the kids in both schools seemed pleased with where they were and looking forward to their classes.

The key to flourishing in any large comprehensive school is figuring out ''who you are'' -- where you go when you have a break, who you are getting together with for extracurricular activity. Each school has its own particularly strong programs, so your choice may depend on your student's strongest interests. Skyline has a very strong, mature, and well known performing arts program. But Tech is in the middle of a very exciting rebirth of its performing arts programs with very strong parent support, so if you're interested in music (for example) you might want to go talk to both music teachers. Similarly, both schools have strong athletic programs, but if you're interested in a particular sport, you might talk to both coaches. Same with a Harvard bound kid (both AP government and AP English teachers) or a budding journalist (newspaper advisors) etc. etc. etc. There are obvious differences in the environment -- would your student prefer a wooded hilltop campus or easier access to public transportation, for example.

My boys graduated from Skyline. I am now in a position that lets me ''see inside'' Tech a little, and I'm impressed by the similarities between the two schools. Both will prepare your student to be a good citizen of the 21st century. But if you have a choice, I strongly urge you to visit both schools and try to make an appointment to see teachers in your special interest areas. Also go see performances, games, events, and see where you feel most at home.

And wherever you end up, I really urge you to get involved in parent groups and help support the school with any volunteer time and contributions you can spare. It will make the school better, and your own personal rewards will be great Kathy

Note: a review for Oakland Tech was also received.

October 2005

We are starting to think about high school options and are wondering about our public school option: Skyline HS in Oakland. Are there any small schools-within-a-school like Berkeley High? What about advanced placement classes? Will a very bright child be challenged? Our son is particularly strong in math and science. What about getting into good colleges like Cal or Stanford afterward? What's the social scene? Is it safe? Is there a lot of drug use? Is a smart kid likely to be a target, or socially excluded? worried mom

I just finished 7 years as a Skyline parent, with sons who graduated in 2002 and 2005. No school is the perfect school for all kids, but Skyline was as close to perfect as possible for my sons (both of whom are now in college). Yes, there are ''school within a school'' possibilities -- in Oakland they're called Career Academies. Skyline has 5 -- Performing Arts, Graphic Design & Architecture, Computers, Future Teachers, and Health and Bioscience. Regardless of Academy status, all AP and honors classes are open to everybody who is qualified academically. AP classes are offered in most areas -- Calculus, Chemistry, etc. About 90% of Skyline's graduates go on to college of some kind. Typically, there are a few dozen accepted to UC Berkeley, and many others accepted to other UC campuses. Every year, kids go to the most prestigious schools around the country -- Columbia University seems particularly appealing to Skyline grads, but they go all over the place including Yale, Brown, Cornell, Sarah Lawrence, Cal Poly, on and on and on. Kids who have been highly successful in div! erse urban schools with high level academics (like Skyline or Berkeley High) are very attractive to colleges, and we always have kids who are being fought over by schools, particularly small private liberal arts colleges. Graduates of the performing arts program (with which I'm most familiar) get accepted into very prestigious BFA programs if that's the route they choose. A typical graduating class at Skyline has about 6 million offered in college scholarships & loans. The nice thing about a big diverse comprehensive high school like Skyline is that there's something for everybody -- nobody needs to be without a social group. At ANY high school I always advise kids to get involved in something outside class as soon as possible. My older son (a strong math-science student) got very interested in technical theater and wound up doing a lot of lighting design and stage crew. He took all the honors and AP classes he could, but his social group wound up being more tied in to theater. But Skyline has lots of clubs and so forth (with an annual ''club rush'' event in early October where kids can go around and learn about the different options.) There is definitely a culture of ''smart kids'' and they aren't excluded -- there are a lot of them! Regarding safety... well, kids who don't go looking for trouble don't tend to find it at Skyline. Our friends with kids at Bishop O'Dowd talked a lot about the drinking culture there over the years, but we didn't see as much with at least the kids we knew at Skyline. Drug use, particularly of hard drugs, isn't rampant from what I could tell.

One of the things we really liked about Skyline are the active, involved, passionate, concerned, community-spirited parents. There is a Family Resource Center on campus with a parent coordinator who's there 20 hours a week. Her name is Jean Moore, and you can reach her at I advise you to go take a look at the school. They will be doing an evening program for potential students around the 1st of December, and they will also be doing daytime campus tours around the same time. If you can't book one that suits your schedule, let me know and I'll take you around myself.

In structure and choices and so forth, I think Berkeley High and Skyline are very similar. Actually, the principal at Skyline used to teach science at Berkeley High, and was dept chair there. BHS will have more choices in classes and teams and so forth because it has about 50% more students (about 3300 at BHS versus about 2200 at Skyline.) Skyline is more racially diverse. Berkeley High has an open campus in a downtown setting and Skyline has a closed campus in a greener, hilltop setting.

I hope this helps. Different kids are different in their learning styles, so different schools suit them to varying degrees, but if a large comprehensive high school is what you're looking for, I heartily recommend Skyline. The best thing about it is that EVERYBODY goes there -- rich kids, poor kids, English language learners, special ed kids, every race, every religion, so Skyline grads have an exposure to the world and a sophistication about other kinds of people that is highly unusual in high school grads. They're nice kids, too -- our kids made lifelong friends there, and so did we!


March 2004

Re: Private School Tuition
To the parent assessing the real cost of private school--I am on the other end of your quandry. I have a 13 year old 8th grader and a 17 year old 11th grader. Until this year both my children had gone to private schools since kindergarten. This year we moved our son from Lick- Wilmerding (private)to Skyline High (public) in Oakland because of the cost. Our daughter will be going to Skyline in the fall.

The cost of private school has gone up 4-7% every year. Last year we realized that to keep both of them in private school through high school was going to cost us another $150,000--and that was just for 6 more years of school. We realized that we simply could not blindly keep paying that kind of money; as we need to be concerned about the future.

Part of the decision was based on the fact that I am no longer employed for health reasons, however, I am thrilled to be out of that rat race. Sometimes I bemoan our prior choices, even though I was very happy with the schools we had chosen.

Skyline is working just fine for my educationally exceptional child. It may not be the best academics in the world, but my son is learning many other important things as well--like learning to deal with people who are different than he is.

I think that had we been able to commit to being active parents in public school we could have made it work. I am finding that by paying attention and making myself heard I am able to get our needs met so far. If you want to talk more about these choices, feel free to give me a call. Barbara

January 2003

I'd really appreciate hearing from 1.) students who attend Oakland or Skyline High and 2.) recent alums of these schools, and of course the parents of these two groups re the following questions:

1.) Oakland and Skyline High Students, do you feel safe at your school? I've read many articles in the Montclarion about the need for more police at Skyline's campus. Are there police patrolling Oakland High as well? Why are police needed at these schools?

2.) Alums: Did your high school education prepare you for college coursework? Thanks for your response

I would like to add my voice to those who have written in about Skyline High School. My ninth grader started Skyline this Fall and, in spite of all the media hype, she has been very comfortable there. She's a pretty communicative type, and I've asked her directly if she's felt unsafe or harassed there in any way. Her answer was ''definitely not.'' She added that she likes the feel of the campus, which is very open and scenic (she even commented that she thought it was kept very clean - go figure, given the condition of any facility with that many kids), she's encountered no fighting and she's making new friends. My sense is that the new school administration is taking security at the school very seriously.

The biggest adjustment for my daughter at Skyline really has been on the academic side. It's much more rigorous than middle school, partly because she was placed in a couple of advanced classes, math and biology. Along with her other required classes, she also takes Spanish, and is in the school orchestra. Although she continues to do well academically, adjusting to the amount of homework and studying that was required was tough for her at first, even though she's a very self-motivated student. As far as I can see, Skyline is mostly like any other public high school in that if you're kid is motivated about school, they should do well there. I encourage other parents in the area to give this school a try. Ellen

December 2002

Is Skyline High School a good school? The statistics on the school are not impressive, but wonder if anyone has any first hand experience. I personally feel the private high schools in the area have much more to offer than Skyline. Does anyone have an opinion on the OUSD public high school system? Chris K

Skyline has lots of pluses, but your kid needs to be able to handle a large, complex situation, above all. anon
My son attends Skyline and I am pretty pleased with the high school experience he is having. This year, we have a new principal and largely new assistant principal team that have brought much more credibility, discipline and an academic focus to the school. The campus feels much better than it did last year, and even so, my son's experience last year as a freshman was a good introduction into high school. As with any large urban high school, there are some more complex issues that the students must face, but nothing that they wouldn't face eventually, either in college or in life. If your child has a good level of focus and is motivated, they will be able to get a great education at Skyline. There are numerous academies, which offer more indepth knowledge in a smaller, more intimate setting for students, while allowing them to focus on Health and Bioscience, Performing Arts, Education, Architecture and Graphic Technology and Computer Science. Additionally, there are a large variety of clubs, sports and after school activities. Students have a lot to choose from and explore if that is part of their nature. With the improvement I have seen in four months under this new administration, I have high hopes for Skyline's future. If you want more information about the school, or to visit, contact the 9th grade counselor, Mr. Peter Langhoff at 879-3060 x113. Good Luck with your decision! Lesley
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