Non-public school options near El Cerrito that aren't a fortune??

So... let me begin by saying that my husband and I have had every intention of supporting our local public school, but since our son started there in TK last year we have been so discouraged on so many levels we would like to know what other options might be out there, and if there are any that are remotely affordable. One issue is related to how the school handles aggressive children. We want to make sure our son (a kindergartener now) feels safe at school and has the opportunity to participate in restorative justice type conflict resolution. So far, public school has been a lot of time outs for aggressive kids and other kids getting pushed/hit/kicked/spit on when there aren't adults around to supervise. Another concern is related to technology in the classroom. I was just informed that my son's kindergarten class will be using chromebooks with headphones soon, and had already been told they will be used more in first grade. We have made a concerted effort to limit this kind of technology at home, because kids will be exposed no matter what and I can't see how it's anything more than crowd control at age 6 in a classroom setting. The only private school I am aware of in El Cerrito is Prospect Sierra, which is not really an option at $36K per year... are there any unicorn schools out there that I am not aware of? We would be ok with El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley area. Thank you!

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Our friend switched to St. John in El Cerrito when the local public school didn’t work out for them. Their kid later went to El Cerrito high and is now at UCLA. They are atheists but they felt that St. John’s religious aspects were not bad considering the price difference with Prospect Sierra. Craigmont in Richmond is a coop school and less expensive. It has a strong reputation for being a warm and progressive school. Other schools that I know that are less expensive in the desired areas include School of Madeleine (Jesuit) and Walden Center, both in Berkeley. Good luck!

If you’re in the WCCUSD, then I’d look into West County Mandarin in Pinole. It’s public and requires a transfer application but the PTA funds a restorative justice coach on-site most days and the principal is very involved and excellent. 

Golestan is a wonderful school in el Cerrito. It’s very small and the full tuition is about $25,000/year. Depending on your financial situation, you might qualify for financial aid. A lot of folks assume they don’t qualify but the schools are very aware of the cost of living and ww were surprised how many schools offered significant financial aid to our family

There is also Montessori Family school, Crestmont, wild cat canyon community school (Waldorf school in el sobrante, very affordable). If you looking toward berkeley you should check out berkwood hedge (I think they have rolling admissions this year, so you could potentially transfer earlier. We applied here and we’re offered a very generous financial aid package), the berkeley school (similar price point to prospect sierra), the school of the Madeline (more affordable than many private schools, it’s catholic but considered more progressive than most catholic schools), black pine circle, and Walden school. 

good luck! 

Check out Crestmont in the El Cerrito Hills. A great little progressive school that is a co-op. 

I can't speak to the private school options in Berkeley, but you can apply for an interdistrict transfer to BUSD. Right now, they have low enrollment, so I would think the request would be easily approved. Berkeley schools aren't perfect, but they work hard on social emotional learning in addition to academics, and don't use technology in any large part until 3rd grade.

We looked at a number of schools around El Cerrito - you're welcome to message me.

Have you looked at Walden Center & School in Central Berkeley? Our child started there this year in first grade, and we've been blown away by the school and community thus far. It sounds like they could be a very good fit for what you're looking for your son & family. Walden is a progressive school focused on project-based education with a strong emphasis on the arts. We were sold on the school after several teachers told us (independently & in their own words) that Walden wanted its graduates to understand how they, as individuals, best learn & grow, as well as how to confidently advocate for themselves while being part of a diverse community. All stuff that I'm still learning as an adult - I wish I could study at Walden! As you can probably guess from the description above, socio-emotional learning and restoritive justice are deeply integrated into the curriculum (at back-to-school night I was blown away in particular by our 1st grade teacher's passion for phonetics/the process of learning to read and in explicitly building community, conflict resolution, and age-appropriate understandings of social justice within her class). Our child, whom I would consider slow-to-warm-up, has *loved* Walden (and its magical after-school program!) from Day 1, and we're already seeing some of the socio-emotional learning (practices to calm oneself down, taking others' perspective, etc.) come through at home, especially in her interactions with a younger sibling. 

To your point on the technology piece... the school and parent community isn't anti-technology, but screens aren't a significant part of the curriculum. Walden's focus on the arts (visual, music, drama/movement) means that the education is much more concrete in a meaningful way for younger kids. It's also, in my opinion, more developmentally appropriate than where the public school curriculum currently is (no fault to all the wonderful public school teachers out there, to be clear!)

Finally, on costs, Walden is a pretty amazing deal at just over $21k for the school year. The costs are kept lower in a couple of ways:
1) The school is run by the teacher collective, rather than by a large administrative staff. Decisions are made by consensus by the teachers - in our short experience, this means that the decisions may take a bit longer, but that everyone at the school is fully on-board with the determined approach. This administration approach also means that details about school events (e.g. pumpkin carving) are a bit slower to filter out (since the teachers are, understandably, also focused on teaching!), but everything comes together well in the end. It's just a bit less Type A than what I'm used to in my professional life. :)
2) Families have a work commitment of 50 hours (75 hours if you have 2+ kids at the school) per school year, and the work committment is a fundamental part of keeping the school running. Newer families are often asked to be part of the weekend cleaning or landscaping crew, which means one parent working ~3 hours one weekend morning every three weeks. It's not hard work (think vacumming, moping, dusting classrooms, cleaning windows), and it's pretty satisfying to be helping your kid's school & education in such a fundamental way, to be honest, as well as helping build the parent community.

I encourage you to check it out to see if it could be a good fit!

Hi there, our kindergartener just started at Crestmont School in Richmond. The school is smaller, a co-op, and centered around whole-child learning and social emotional growth and development. Our kiddo, Jude, has big feelings some days and the faculty have been excellent about working with Jude, and us, to help them grow and learn. There have also been a few (very typical) moments with kids being physical and the philosophy is very much in line with what you wrote about here.

Parents contribute to the school through work parties (two 4-hour commitments through the year), community hours (20 per family), a family job (we planned the camping trip and snow trip) and a few other commitments like coming to membership meetings 4 times a year…and because of the parent participation, the tuition is lower than other private schools (just around $20k for full tuition and the few small fees). There’s after care available until 6pm for an additional fee and I don’t know that they’ve used technology in the classroom at all so far, really. Jude comes home singing new songs, teaching us about their emotional tool box tools they learned about, showing art, and has already improved their writing and reading. There’s also a beautiful relationship between the younger kids and the older kids since the school is smaller…they have a great program where they match the kids up in pairs to meet folks from other grades, it’s very sweet. There’s a lot of project based learning and centering social justice as a core value too.

We have been very pleased with our experience so far and love the community feel. Happy to answer any other questions and I know the faculty and admissions are always happy to chat. There’s a Harvest Festival at Crestmont on October 22 from 11am to 3pm, you could come check it out and get a feel for the school! 

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions. We’re really grateful to have found Crestmont!

Hi there.

I can really relate. It took me a full year to come to terms that our local public school was not a good fit for my child or our family; DESPITE that we were at the elementary school that I attended and loved AND that my family is employed in public education in many roles.  It wasn't really until I found a place where I felt that my child would be safe and respected that I made peace with our need to leave public school.  I researched many schools including: Prospect Sierra, Wild Cat Canyon Community, homeschooling, and Outside School. When we toured at Crestmont School on the Richmond-El Cerrito border.... it felt like home.  My daughter has attended for only two months but her curiosity and interest in learning has returned -- as has her kindness and smile.  It is clear to me that she feels safe and cared for and will be able to learn and grow to her best self here.

Crestmont is a little different from other private schools -- it is a non-profit co-op, meaning that parent participation is the backbone of the school community AND that tuition is determined by costs that parents have meaningful input on.  They also have a needs-based tuition program you can apply to.  It might be worth checking out:

I'm not sure it's the unicorn you are looking for, but it sure is mine.  

A few other independent schools in the El Cerrito area that you might try are: Crestmont, Montessori Family School, and Golestan. All are significantly less expensive than Prospect Sierra. Independent schools also have financial aid available, so while Prospect Sierra is $36K, if you apply for financial aid and qualify, you'll receive discounted tuition. The Berkeley School is another option that's less expensive than PS.

I second the recommendation to check out Crestmont School in Richmond Hills.  We have been with the school for 3 years (Kinder through 2nd grade) and love their focus on non-violent communication and social-emotional development.  They have small class sizes (10-15 students) and there is a strong relationship between staff and all children across grades. At Crestmont, it feels like a small and very tight community is teaching and supporting the children.  It's lovely to see how safe, confident, and happy the children feel. In addition, technology use is limited and introduced in a developmentally appropriate way.  It is often used as a teaching tool for videos or music.  My daughter has really enjoyed her time here and we are very happy with the school leadership and parent community.

Yes!! As a current parent of a 1st grader at Crestmont School Co-op, I highly recommend you take advantage of their admissions tours starting Oct 25th 2022-Jan 26 2023. This way you can see in person the beautiful, natural setting nestled in east richmond heights hills. Crestmont is a small co-operative, progressive school that teaches from a social justice lens and in times of conflict amongst students, classes create restorative circles to discuss, support and learn from one another.Our daughter loves her school and is familiar with all the teachers including specialist teachers who provide Music, P.E and Art classes. Currently in the K/1 class they are learning to understand their emotions & how to use ‘toolbox’ curriculum thats helps in supporting their emotional learning. Its worth coming to visit and meeting the wonderful teachers. Good Luck!   Https:// (510) 237-4164

Have you looked at Montessori Family School right on Cutting Blvd (close to the Arlington)?  It sounds like exactly what you are looking for.  I know some people are turned off by "Montessori" beyond preschool, but you should at least go take a tour of the campus and view the classrooms.  The materials used at the school are very hands-on, even for things like math (they use bars to represent 10/100/1000s for example) and the classrooms are intentionally and beautifully designed.  Even the outdoor space is amazing.  Conflict resolution is a huge part of the curriculum but also, Montessori is just conducive to a peaceful and loving environment.  Child are taught to respect their teachers, peers, and themselves.  It's amazing to see an "aggressive" child come into the environment and just relax after being so stressed out in non-nurturing space for so long.  I know MFS does offer some financial aid if you qualify AND it is significantly less than Prospect and other private school in the area.  They are pretty mum on the tuition cost but from what I have heard through the grapevine it is about $23k annually.  I feel like that is very doable if you are committed to quality education for your child.  Another thing about MFS is the Head of School, staff/teachers are committed, highly intelligent and all-around good people.  You can trust that they will have your best interests in mind going through the application process. Our elementary age child has gone to their summer program a number of times we always come away with the most excellent vibes from the school.  If we are in a spot to do it, we hope to send our child to the program (one of these days!).

As a PS family, I will confirm what others have said that it does offer financial aid to qualifying families. As someone who looked at EVERY private K-8 school in the Berkeley to Richmond area, I am so happy we are at PS. I think it is the most fun, social-emotional-oriented, and financially stable school around. Give the application process a try.