Is there a lottery for El Cerrito schools?

I'm considering renting a house located in the Madera Elementary district boundaries in El Cerrito. My daughter is only 3.5 right now but a major consideration for us is being in a good school district once she's 5 (we're currently in Emeryville and the school here is supposedly not good, and we need a bigger place anyway). I'm hearing that WCCUSD is basically a lottery system for enrollment and you could easily not get into the school in your district. I've only lived in the Bay Area for a few years and this concept is absolutely ridiculous to me and unheard of virtually anywhere else in the country. How do you even get transport to some other random school in the district far from where you may live, guess it's just on you? I'm curious how bad the situation is at Madera and if we got her enrolled the minute it started for the next school year, how likely is it that we will actually get a spot there nowadays? A lot of the posts I saw were from 2014 or earlier. Thanks in advance for any insights.

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The elementary schools in El Cerrito are really fairly comparable and very very close in proximity. Madera has highest "ratings" but all are pretty great so you can't go wrong if you end up at Harding or Fairmount. Some kids end up at Kensington Hilltop too if one of the El Cerrito schools are full. You only go into the lottery if you move into the area after school has started and if there is no space in your local school. Otherwise you will almost certainly end up in your zoned school or in an El Cerrito school which, again, are not far. For context, my kid is zoned for Madera which requires a drive from our home but we could easily walk to Harding or Fairmount. (She actually goes to the district Mandarin school in Pinole which does have a local bus option for her). This past year I don't know of anyone who did not get into their local school for Kindergarten (but that's just in my circle of friends of whom there are many new Kindergarteners in El Cerrito). 

That's not entirely true for your home school. There is a lottery/waitlist system, but it's for transferring. Our neighborhood school was another El Cerrito school for my daughter's kindergarten (in 2019) and we got into that school along with all of our neighbors, but wanted to transfer into Kensington (we were right on the border for the two schools) so we got on the waitlist for transferring. We were somewhere around 30th on the list, and I checked in several times and no one moved off the wait list and into that school. I inquired about the Madera list too, and was told the same thing- the school was full with Madera district people, and their wait list was even longer.

Now that was for kindergarten, as my daughter was not born in the right months to qualify for TK. If you have a TK kid, it's crazy and good luck. The enrollment fills in minutes.

For what it's worth, we just left WCCUSD to move into a better nearby district and more space too.

We live in the neighboring area and send our daughter to Mira Vista which is our neighborhood school. it wasn't a lottery, just based on our location. I know we are Richmond and Madera is El Cerrito so not sure how different it is. We love the teachers and community at Mira Vista.

WCCUSD is not a lottery system; there are zones for neighborhood schools. I do know sometimes the schools may fill up and your kid may end up being assigned to a different nearby school, but I believe it’s first come first served for your neighborhood school.

WCCUSD is not a lottery system; there are neighborhood schools based on address. While they can't say you're 100% guaranteed to get your neighborhood school because some years there are more siblings and kids moving in, you're very likely to get assigned to your neighborhood school. You do have to "apply" so there is some waiting involved, but my understanding and experience is that most people get assigned to their neighborhood school. You can see the map on the WCCUSD website to understand the boundaries for each school.

My sense is that if you register on time, you will likely get your neighborhood school. I don't know anyone that didn't. Perhaps TK was the only instance I've heard of where people may not have gotten a spot.

But if you didn't, there generally isn't transportation provided by the district. 

Another option in the district that does have transportation (at a cost) is the West County Mandarin School. It's in Pinole but has a bus that picks up in El Cerrito and Richmond (at the old WCMS site, the Serra Campus). To go there, you apply to your neighborhood school and then apply for a transfer. That said, WCMS has had a waiting list the past few years and likely will be a lottery in future years. Great school, though! We love it.

Thanks everyone for your replies, still a little confusing but it sounds like we would most likely get the spot. We lost out on the original house but happened to find another also in the Madera district (there really aren't a lot of rental properties to chose from so this is just coincidence) that we will now get. Looks like we just barely scrape by not needing TK since her birthday is in mid-August. Good to hear it would be another school elsewhere in El Cerrito at least if she did get waitlisted. I guess I'll put registration day in my calendar 1.5 years in advance!