Berkeley High School

Berkeley High School is the only public high school in Berkeley, California. It is located one long block west of Shattuck Avenue and three short blocks south of University Avenue in Downtown Berkeley, and is recognized as a Berkeley landmark. Berkeley High School had a student enrollment of 3,329 in 2008-2009 school year from California school data website, drawn from a city of about 112,000 residents from Berkeley and is second largest and most populous high school in Northern California second only to James Logan High School in Union City. The school mascot is the Yellowjacket.


The first public high school classes in Berkeley were held at the Kellogg Primary School located at Oxford and Center Streets adjacent to the campus of the University of California. It opened in 1880 and the first high school graduation occurred in 1884. In 1895, the first high school annual was published entitled the Crimson and Gold (changed to Olla Podrida by 1899.)

In 1900, the citizens of Berkeley voted in favor of a bond measure to establish the first dedicated public high school campus in the city. In 1901, construction began on the northwest portion of the present site of the high school. The main school building stood on the corner of Grove (now Martin Luther King Way) and Allston Way, where the "H" building is located today. At that time, Kittredge Street ran through what is today's campus site instead of ending at Milvia. The local office of the Bay Cities Telephone Company sat on the site of today's administration building at the corner of Allston Way and Milvia by 1911.

On Arbor Day of 1902, noted naturalist John Muir joined Berkeley's mayor William H. Marston in planting a giant sequoia in a yard south of the new high school buildings. The tree is apparently no longer there.

The main building of the high school suffered moderate damage in the form of toppled chimneys, broken windows and some weakened walls as a result of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Professor Andrew Lawson of the University of California included one of his own photographs (shown at upper right) of the damage in his famous report issued in 1908.

In 1955, Berkeley High School band director Bob Lutt (who eventually was made executive director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), founded Cazadero Performing Arts Camp.

In 1964, the West Campus of Berkeley High School was opened in the buildings of the former Burbank Junior High School at Bonar Street and University Avenue. It served all ninth graders while the main campus served grades 10-12, except for an interval from the mid - 1970s to the early 1980s when it was 7-9 to accommodate construction at Willard Junior High School. It was turned over to the Berkeley Adult School in 1986 which used it until 2004. West Campus is currently closed.

A number of famous performers have played at the Berkeley Community Theater which is located on the Berkeley High campus. In 1957, Stan Getz was one of the featured performers of the Berkeley Jazz Festival. In the late Sixties, several bands and singers made the Community Theater their venue, including Jimi Hendrix.

A significant portion of students and faculty alike were also involved with the various forms of political activism which characterized the Sixties in Berkeley, including protests against the Vietnam War, advocacy for civil rights and third world studies, and supporting People's Park. The campus included a Black Students Union and a Chicano Student Union. In 1971, Berkeley High students elected a heterosexual male student as Homecoming Queen.

Berkeley High School has been innovative in its high school curriculum. In the Fall of 1970, a school within a school opened at Berkeley High called Community High School. It was "alternative", in keeping with the sixties culture which permeated life in Berkeley at the time. Berkeley High School was also the first public high school in the United States with an African American Studies department, established in 1969.

The Berkeley High campus was designated a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places on January 7, 2008.

Administration and organization

The current principal is Pasquale Scuderi, who replaced Jim Slemp in July 2010. Slemp had served as principal for seven years. In the years preceding Slemp's arrival, Berkeley High was plagued by the lack of a consistent principal, as well as (unsolved) arson fires. During Slemp's tenure two buildings (A & C) were remodeled, and a new administrative center and food court (D) were constructed.

Small schools

In 2000, in an attempt to better serve the large student body, BHS began experimenting with the idea of small schools. In 2005, the school officially established four small schools and a comprehensive program, Academic Choice. The four small schools that began the 2005-06 school year were:

  • The Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA)
  • Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS)
  • Community Partnerships Academy (CPA)
  • The School of Social Justice and Ecology (SSJE).

In addition to the smaller schools, there are two Comprehensive Learning Communities which comprise nearly two-thirds of the student body. Academic Choice (AC) and Berkeley International High School (BIHS)--part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program as of 2007—make up this Comprehensive Learning Community.

  • Academic Choice (AC)
  • Berkeley International High School (BIHS)
Departments, parents, and student organizations
  • Academic Choice
  • African American Studies Department (Article in The Daily Californian)
  • Athletics (Basketball, Crew, Cross Country, Football, Women's Lacrosse, Men's Lacrosse, BHS Athletic Fund)
  • BBQ Club
  • Computer Technology
  • English and World Language
  • History
  • JSA
  • Mathematics
  • Newspaper (The Jacket)
  • Physical Education
  • PTSA
  • Science
  • Special Education
  • Visual and Performing arts (Jazz Ensemble)
  • Youth & Government
Campus and architecture

The Berkeley High School campus covers four city blocks between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr Way. It contains several buildings, built between 1901 and 2004, which display a variety of architectural styles.

In the late 1930s, Berkeley High was remodeled and old buildings were replaced with newer ones. The Florence Schwimley Little Theater, The Berkeley Community Theatre, and the science buildings are prime examples of the Streamline Moderne style designed by architects Henry H. Gutterson and William G. Corlett. The rebuilding was financed largely in part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program the WPA.

Notable people

The main article provides a list of individuals associated with Berkeley High School through attending as a student, or serving as a member of the faculty or staff.

Berkeley High in Books, Music, Film, and Theater

The Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble has gained a reputation for international excellence, with both the big band and numerous combos having won American Jazz festivals such as the Reno, Folsom, Delta, and Monterey international competitions multiple times. Additionally, the Ensemble has made appearances at the Montreux, North Sea, and Tokyo Jazz Festivals, as well as numerous private venues throughout Japan and Europe. BHS is also known to be a factory of sorts for world-famous jazz musicians, being the alma mater of Benny Green, Peter Apfelbaum, and Joshua Redman. The BHS Jazz Program is divided into 3 tiers of Big Bands - Ensemble, Lab Band II, and Lab Band I and also has a Vocal Jazz Ensemble. The Jazz Ensemble, a year after having won the entire jazz festival in 2009, finished 7th out 8 bands in the Heavyweight High School Band category. Additionally, the Jazz Ensemble finished last in its category at the 2009 Delta Jazz Festival. The "A" Combo won 1st place in the Combo Division. The program is now under the direction of Scott Dailey.

It is mentioned in the Danzy Senna novel Caucasia, when the character Cole Lee reveals on pages 411-12 that she attended Berkeley High in the early 1980s.

Ariel Schrag documented her years at Berkeley High during the late 1990s in her graphic novels Awkward, Definition, Potential and Likewise.

The non-fiction text Class Dismissed by Meredith Maran followed three Berkeley High seniors for the 1999-2000 school year.

Nancy Rubin - taught the class "Social Living" at Berkeley High from 1977 through 1996. She published a book titled Ask Me If I Care: Voices from an American High School by addresses teen social issues and is compiled entirely of journal entries by anonymous Berkeley High School students written during their Social Living classes (a mandatory course at the school).

Yellow Jackets - Berkeley High School is the subject, and setting, for the 2008 play entitled Yellow Jackets. Written by Itamar Moses, Yellow Jackets premiered in August 2008, and ran for two months at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, in a production directed by Tony Taccone. The play focused mainly on the themes of race, multiculturalism in education, and the different facets and flipsides for political correctness.

Additionally, Berkeley High School compiled and published a dictionary of youth slang, available to the greater public.

It was also the subject of an episode of PBS's Frontline about racial politics at Berkeley High School entitled "School Colors". The documentary was filmed throughout the 1993-1994 school year and aired on October 18, 1994.

Weapon Incidents

Berkeley High has had several lockdowns due to safety concerns with students bringing weapons onto campus. On March 22, 2011 at approximately 8:45 a.m., two BHS students (both aged 15) brought a loaded firearm to school. The weapon accidentally discharged, shooting through a wall in one of the bathrooms near the portable classrooms area. Later, another student (aged 16) was found with an unloaded gun and marijuana in his backpack. This follows two other occurrences of guns on campus in recent months. There were no injuries, and the students' names have been withheld. They were all promptly arrested and face mandatory expulsion. Berkeley High will have increased security measures, at least until spring break. A hotline has been started to encourage anonymous tips related to suspected carrying of weapons.

Building Activity

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