Bishop O’Dowd High School: Building on an East Bay tradition

The high school that’s served generations of local families will soon build a state-of-the-art sports, arts, and community facility to create a cutting-edge campus. (Sponsored.)

Bishop O'Dowd school building and playing field
Rendering of the forthcoming O’Dowd Center: Bishop O’Dowd High School

Bishop O'Dowd logoThis story is brought to you by Bishop O’Dowd High School.

Bishop O’Dowd High School, a Catholic college-preparatory high school that has served generations of Berkeley, Oakland and East Bay families, is preparing to level up. 

This spring, O’Dowd’s campus in the hills of East Oakland will break ground on the O’Dowd Center —  a sophisticated 38,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility to house O’Dowd’s award-winning performing arts, championship athletic teams and vibrant community celebrations.

“This makes O’Dowd a cutting-edge campus,” declares Kevin Kelly, O’Dowd’s Board Chair and parent of three O’Dowd students. “O’Dowd serves such a diverse group of students across Oakland and the East Bay,” Kevin says. “Our new Center keeps O’Dowd modern and strong. We believe that when our campus grows and thrives, our students and future leaders grow and thrive, too.” 

O’Dowd is known for its commitment to nurture the whole student, through not only excellence in academics, but robust co-curricular experiences as well. This innovative campus upgrade will strengthen the heart of those co-curriculars, with a large, modern gymnasium for athletics, professionally designed rehearsal and performance space for the drama and music programs, two new state-of-the-art classrooms built with advanced audio-visual capabilities, and new, ample space to celebrate rallies, faith and assemblies.

Student activities at Bishop O'Dowd
Photos: Bishop O’Dowd

“I’m excited to see what students will make happen through the new Center,” says Jane Schmitz, a 1993 alumna and contributor to the building. “I’m convinced that something exciting and forward-thinking will emerge out of the connections students create.”

When Jane was a student at O’Dowd, her biology teacher encouraged her excitement for environmental science, and she traveled to Hawaii for geology studies and led a bake sale to protect the rainforest. She ultimately went on to earn her doctorate in Global Health from Johns Hopkins and today teaches public health at Occidental College. “I’m invested in the O’Dowd Center because the world needs the kind of students O’Dowd produces,” Jane reflects. “People who think beyond themselves — about the community and climate and health. We need them now.” 

O’Dowd’s new Center is made possible in part through a landmark matching grant from the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation. Wayne Valley was a respected San Leandro businessman, whose company, Citation Builders, was one of the largest single-family homebuilders in California. He and his wife Gladys formed the Valley Foundation in 1977, with a particular interest in supporting excellence in Catholic education. Their robust matching grant has inspired generous support from the entire O’Dowd community, through O’Dowd’s Cor Unum (One Heart) Campaign. 

Lisa Wright, a 1992 alumna and mother to two current ODowd students, says that her family chose ODowd for its community spirit. “Growing up, when my dad took us to basketball tournaments at the Oakland Coliseum, ODowd always had, hands-down, the most passionate and enthusiastic crowd,” Lisa remembers.

Lisa’s family is excitedly anticipating the new Center, both for their own children and future ODowd students as well. “ODowd’s charism for joy is our North Star,” Lisa declares. “What’s great about the ODowd community is we show up and root for the kids, no matter what. We cheer for all of it: campus ministry and drama, music and athletics. It’s electrifying.”

Lisa Wright, Aaron Wright, with children Ryan and Julia.
Lisa and Aaron Wright, with their children Ryan and Julia. Photo: Courtesy

As O’Dowd looks to the future, faculty and staff are enthusiastic about how the school’s programming will flourish through the new Center. “The blackbox theater and rehearsal spaces will enable us to tell more ambitious, multidimensional stories,” says Trina Oliver, known as “Mizz O” to students, who has been teaching theatre arts at O’Dowd for over 20 years. “In theatre, we are humanitarians,” she proclaims. “We help people see the world differently, and we motivate them to action.”

Brian Cushing is a history teacher at O’Dowd, one of three generations in his family to graduate from the school. “O’Dowd has always been part of my family life and family story,” he says. “I know the overall impact our new Center will have for students and families – in the performing arts, athletics, academics and community gatherings. I’m excited to leave the campus as vibrant when I leave as when I entered.”

Learn more about O’Dowd and take a virtual campus tour.

Learn more about plans for the O’Dowd Center.

Bishop O'Dowd logoThis story was written and paid for by Bishop O’Dowd High School, a Catholic college-preparatory community guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ, that educates its diverse student body to build a more just, joyful and sustainable world.