Private school close to Hercules for k and 2nd grader- prospect Sierra vs black pine circle vs palmer

Hello All, 

Our family lives and works around Hercules and have decided we will be sending our kids (going into k and 2nd grade) to private school starting in the summer of 2019. Our challenge is finding a great school that is hopefully under 30 minutes away (tough with Bay Area traffic). 

We hope to find a school that can keep our kids engaged and challenged or “coached up” as needed. As an example, our current 1st grader is very strong in math, grade appropriate reader, but shy and “weaker” in writing and our future kindergartner is the opposite (extrovert, advanced (for 4) reader/writer, “weaker” in math). Finding a school that can help our kids be there best is what we’re hoping for. 

In general, my wife and I like the idea of a school that is academically strong / rigerous in the traditional sense, with a small class size to allow individualized attention, but still provides a nurturing environment where the kids are comfortable and excited to go to and learn everyday. 

A bonus would be a school that has a strong before/after school program and summer time options (camps etc). 

My wife and I have just started our “research” by doing tours -we were very impressed with Bentley (seemed like a caring environment, small classes, academically strong) but it’s just too far.

The 3 schools that we’ve learned about from BPN that possibly may be the best fit for our family (considering distance and academics) is Palmer (walnut creek-least expensive, but not many reviews) black pine circle (possibly too far-but we are very intrigued based on the strong BPN recommendations by current families) and prospect Sierra (closest and also well regarded of on BPN, but having some administrative changes we were told) (and please let us know if there’s another recommendation).

Our question to the BPN community is “do you have any guidance for us?” Thanks in advance. 

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There is Canterbury School up on Hilltop in Richmond.  It's pretty small and doesn't get a lot of press but we know kids who've gone there and done very well.  Get's a little too small once they're in MS.  It's pretty academic.  East Bay Waldorf School is beautiful and in the El Sobrante hills, if you're OK with the anti tech philosophy. There's a good Montessori school in Martinez or Pleasant Hill, but I can't recall the name.   Don't go to Black Pine Circle.  It's too far.  It's not worth it--it's just a school. 

For what you were looking for – rigorous academics In a supportive environment I would look no further than the Academy. This is a small school in Elmwood which teaches children from kindergarten math, reading,  science, social studies,  French, music,  art and of course PE. The emphasis is on a growth mindset and the joy of learning. School encourages creative and independent thinking. It is a diverse environment with financial aid possible. It has a wonderful after school teacher who the kids call ‘mama’who keeps the kids busy and happy while staying disciplined. They have summer camps.  Our daughter is challenged at the right level and she loves going to school.  In fact when we toured my husband and I wished we could go to school there too. And you know what because of the sense of community within the school and because it’s small we kind of do! Check it out at Theacademyschool.org

Geographically, Montessori Family School might work for you. It’s blocks from Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito.

Academically, it’s also rigorous and superior in meeting each child where they are at as well as nurturing the individual, teaching self-discipline and strong leadership skills, and creating an environment of respect and encouragement. 

It really is worth a look.

As for advice, check out the schools that logistically would work for your family, apply, talk to current families and see if it feels like a cultural fit as well as an academic fit for your kids. The most important thing is that they want to go!

Good luck!

Our family lives in Pinole and our son has attended Black Pine Circle since kindergarten.  He’s currently in the 5th grade and attending BPC was the best choice we could have made for him.  Black Pine Circle offers a high quality curriculum with a strong focus on Socratic Methods.  The school’s curriculum is engaging and meets the needs of every child.  Our son comes home eager to share with us what he had learned at school.  BPC offers acceleration as well as additional learning support for students who need more support.  Black Pine Circle has allowed our son to thrive in an array of areas from mathematics to music.  The teachers at BPC are passionate and committed to ensuring students thrive academically and support strong social-emotional development. Every teacher will know your child’s name in the BPC community.  The leadership team at BPC is excellent and John Carlstroem, the head of school is a visionary leader.

Black Pine Circle offers an array of after-school programs including robotics, chess club, Taekwondo, drama, math club, band, and much more. I would highly recommend Black Pine Circle and it's definitely worth the commute.  Schedule a tour to gain additional insight on BPC. 

Hi there - as a Prospect Sierra family, I would be happy to speak to the question around our current admin team. It is true that our longtime head is transitioning at the end of this school year after 12 years to take a role at another Bay Area school closer to her house. However, she delayed her transition by a year so that our board could run a thorough and inclusive search process. Last month, they hired Nisa Frank, a highly respected school leader who has a long career in other Bay Area independent schools as our next Head. The community is very excited about her. Please don't let that deter you from applying! PS is a really terrific school community and our children have thrived here these past few years.

I have two kids that graduated from Prospect Sierra. A few different points: 

When they were there they had several classmates from your area. You might ask to speak to a few families that did the commute and ask them about their experience. 

Administrative change: We experienced administrative change while we were there - head of school and head of middle school. It was fine. The school is solid and thoughtful and they have had plenty of notice about impending changes and time to plan for it. They put thought into all of these things and the transition is likely to go well. A friend of mine went from having a child there to teaching in the middle school when there was a change in the elementary school and, working on the inside, she could not have been more impressed by the transition. The current elementary school head has been there for some time now and is well loved. 

The school itself. We spent 11 years at Prospect Sierra and could not have been happier. No school is perfect and there will be things you wish were different, it is just the nature of the beast. That being said, both of my kids graduated with a love of learning and more than ready to thrive in a huge, chaotic, diverse public high school. They credit Prospect Sierra with that. We chose PS over BPC because we didn't want to have them in a school that had only one class per grade and have always been happy about that. It allows for more social interactions, a chance for certain kids to be separate for a year if needed (and it was) and just more breathing room. The addition of a third class per grade by middle school and the influx of new kids was beyond healthy. The board, teachers and administration at Prospect Sierra was always thoughtful and they continued to grow, change and evaluate themselves over the years which was impressive. It was a happy place. My kids were/are quite academic. Sometimes PS was slow, sometimes it was just right. Sometimes they got more, differentiated work and now, well past it all, it all seems good. 

I know some families commuting from the south - Oakland and Fremont - found it really hard. I don't know if the Hercules families felt that way. 

Good luck! 

My kid spent 9 years at Prospect Sierra and loved every minute of it. Based on your description of your needs for your two children, I would say that Prospect Sierra would fulfill all your requirements, academically, socially, after school care, summer camp etc.  Although the head of school, Katherine Dinh, is leaving, this does not really impact the daily operation of the school because the detail operation is controlled by the head of lower school, Abby, and head of middle school, Heather, both are staying and both are strong leaders.  Some schools are strong in academics, others pay more attention to behavior.  But Prospect Sierra is the rare school that reached and is maintaining a perfect balance in everything: social emotional wellbeing of the kids, school culture, thoughtful academic work, etc.  This is the school that really cares about the students, not just the money like so many private schools in the area.  If we were to do it again, I would still send my kid to PS.