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Bishop O'Dowd High School (Oakland, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Bishop O'Dowd High School (Oakland, CA)



Feb 2014

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
July 2011

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
Jan 2010

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
Dec 2009

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


May 2008

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)


October 2006

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.
anon
Dec 2003

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


February 2003

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
July 2002

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


May 2002

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.


April 1998

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


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