BUSD Southeast Zone

Reviews of Southeast Zone schools

Parent Q&A

  • Hello parents/caregivers!

    We are parents to a 4.5 year old that will be enrolling in BUSD for kinder this Fall. We've done the virtual information zoom sessions online and have limited feedback from friends who have children attending in our zone. The reviews have been mixed for each school. We are wondering if anyone who is a parent to a child in attendance at John Muir, Emerson, Malcolm X, and Sylvia Mendez can share their perspective on how their experience has been overall with their respective schools, as well as how their child(ren) have been supported while in distance learning. Based on what I know from OUSD and BUSD, it doesn't seem likely that our kiddos will return in person (maybe hybrid) by the fall, so any feedback on your experience pre-and during COVID would be great. It looks like each school has its unique strengths. We have an idea of what to rank for the lottery and have also heard that the rankings don't mean anything and that schools will be filled to satisfy different demographic quotas. Not sure if this is a common experience for lots of folks? Would love to hear anything that could help us with this decision-making process! Thanks!!

    I’m a John Muir parent and we love the school. The teachers we’ve had have been excellent, including this year during distance learning. I will temper that by saying my child is typical and doesn’t have a need for additional academic or other support, which I imagine and have heard has made distance learning very hard for families whose kids do have those needs (but that’s not unique to John Muir). In addition to the excellent teaching staff, we also love that it’s a small school and the beautiful campus and building. I’ve also heard great things about Emerson and MX - don’t think you can go wrong. 

    We have a child at JM and have by and large had a positive experience. Distance learning has not been successful, but I think that's a function of individual teachers and students rather than specific schools. We chose JM for its diversity (socio-economic as well as racial), size and late start time. The teachers have all been wonderful and class sizes have been small enough for each child to feel supported. I know this should be true across the district, but we've consistently had class sizes in the 17-19 region. Also, the campus is beautiful-- it houses a a creek and allows kids plenty of space to roam. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions about the Southeast Zone  

If 2 of the 4 schools are "shared", what about school choice?

Nov 2012

I have a question about South Zone's schools.. With LeConte becoming Spanish Immersion only, does that mean it is open to all zones? And with Malcolm X being a split school with Central Zone, how does this effect our south zone families' choices as far as competition for 1st pick schools? Do we have less kids in this zone? How are we able to ''share'' 2 of our 4 schools with the rest of Berkeley and still receive priority? Or am I misreading this situation? Trying To Figure It All Out

You're right, LeConte will be open to students from all of Berkeley; it will be uniting the TWI programs that are currently at Rosa Parks and Craigmont. The mechanism for admitting new students hasn't been determined yet, but in the past TWI admission was determined by a separate lottery from English-only programs, so parents could list two sets of preferences on their application.

And yes, there are fewer kids in the Southeast district. Presumably, when LeConte has more students from the North and Central districts, Malcolm X will have a greater proportion of kids from the Southeast. LeConte dad

LeConte TWI will be open to all families Cb regardless of zone Cb wanting TWI for their kindergarteners (though it will probably still be difficult to get into unless you're a Spanish speaking family). We live in the South Zone and really wanted Malcolm X, but didn't get it. It seems all the families in my neighborhood (basically those within walking distance of Malcolm X) didn't get it. If you're in the Central Zone, you have a much better chance. However, families I know in the Elmwood neighborhood did get assigned Malcolm X (even though they requested Emerson). I understand and support BUSD's efforts to increase diversity, but I feel the system is a bit outdated as the neighborhoods' populations have changed and I'm not sure -- in the Malcolm X case at least -- that it's really helping. The system also unfortunately discourages walking as many of the cross town trips involve driving. South zone parent


Choosing between public schools in southeast zone

November 2007


looking for input from present/former parents of children who went to any of the 4 public schools in the southeast zone: Emerson, Leconte, Malcom X and John Muir. we are looking for an accademically strong school that also combines nurtruring and progressive education. unfortunately, we won't be in town for the berkeley public school open house so we are making a judgment based only on 45 minutes spent in a classroom at each school, which seems so random. we would appreciate any further input from parents. thank you. undecided

First, you can schedule tours at each of the schools from now until January. At LeConte, tours are about 1/2 hour and parents are invited to return to observe at their leisure. Our child is at LeConte, and despite some reservations at first, I am very pleased with the school. Sheryl Wilson has been principal for about three years and is really super. She knows each kid, she truly loves each kid, and the love and caring permeate the school. LeConte has the Farm and Garden and cooking classes, where kids grow foods that are then used in cooking classes that are then served for lunch. As integrated of a curriculum as you'd want. Staff is dedicated and professional. I think the brightest to the neediest children can thrive there. Happy LeConte Parent

Most of us who read BPN and bother to respond probably love and are very loyal to our own schools, so you'll probably hear great things about all the schools. That is the good news, because it means it's hard to go wrong, even if you don't end up getting your first choice. My son is in third grade at Malcolm X. I basically moved to South Berkeley so he could go to this school, and I have not been disappointed. The community of families at Malcolm X is very diverse and lovely. My son has had one great teacher after another. All of the teachers strive to be thoughtful about how to teach in rounded, innovative ways while still meeting state guidelines and sadly, due to No Child Left Behind, focusing on test preparation to some degree. There are great ''arts'' classes - fine art, drama (sometimes), dance, music, gardening, cooking. There's a strong PTA and wonderful PTA afterschool classes. Will you be able to go to the open houses at the individual schools? Four long years ago, I found these to be very helpful! Nanu

My son is currently attending Kindergarten at John Muir School. He is having a wonderful year, learning to read and write while also having time to play and making lots of new friends. He loves his teacher and is excited about his new school. He has also been enjoying the many extracurricular activities at John Muir, including biweekly assemblies with student performances (dancing and reciting poetry) and special guests (such as the Red Panda Acrobats and a performance about the school's namesake -- John Muir); dancing with a fabulous dance teacher who has had all the kids performing at the assemblies; gardening with Farmer Jasper, PE with Coach Victoria, and cooking with Chef Carrie; visits and a performance from the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra; and a field trip to Tilden Park. As his mom, I am enjoying the John Muir community, which has lovely families and an active PTA. We have enjoyed the community activities, including a barbecue at the beginning of the school year and MayFaire in the spring. We are thrilled with our choice of John Muir and would definitely recommend the school. Happy John Muir Parent


South Zone - How did the lottery treat you?

March 2007


We are curious as to how the school lottery treated people in the South Zone (Malcolm X, Muir, Le Conte and Emerson). Did people get their first choice, 2nd or 3rd? Thank You, Anon

We got into our first choice school in the South Zone (Malcolm X) and we know of two other families that did as well plus two families that got John Muir and it was their first choice. As far as we can tell, lots of happy families in the South Zone. Happy to be a Malcolm X Family

Our child was assigned to LeConte, which was not our first, second, OR third choice. In our daughter's preschool in Berkeley, two other children had the same experience of requesting the other three South Zone schools and getting put into LeConte. Another child in her preschool class (who lives across the street from LeConte) got accepted into his first-choice school, John Muir. dismayed lottery loser


Moving to the Elmwood, 2nd round of BUSD lottery

April 2006


Hello, We are moving to Berkeley (into the BUSD Southeast Zone, in the Elmwood neighborhood 94705) in May. Our daughter will be in Kindergarten in the fall, but we did not buy our house in time to enter the first round of the BUSD lottery. Does anyone know how hard it is to get into one's first choice of school if they do not enter the BUSD lottery until the second round? We are hoping for John Muir. How are different demographic factors considered in the lottery (e.g., ethnicity? location of home?) Also, does anyone have any recent information about John Muir, Emerson, or Malcom X? Finally, I have heard through the grapevine that the magnet schools (like Malcom X) have a separate lottery system such that if you put Malcom X down as one of your preferences, you are likely to get it even if it is your third choice. Is there any truth to this? Thanks so much in advance for your help, New Mom to Berkeley

We also live in the Elmwood neighborhood ( 94705 zipcode). Our son is in 4th grade at Malcolm X elementary and our daughter will start Kindergarten in the fall. I really can't explain how the BUSD lottery system works. I had not heard that there was a separate lottery system for magnet schools, but that doesn't mean there isn't. Perhaps someone else can provide more insight into how the school assignment is done.

We have been very happy with Malcolm X and feel that it is a wonderful school. I don't have any personal experience with John Muir or Emerson, but I know people whose children attend those schools and they are also very happy with them. John Muir is one of the smallest schools in the district, so it may be harder to get into since there are just fewer available spots. When my son was entering Kindergarten other parents told me that they were able to get their first choice of school by going on a waiting list, but that often they didn't know until the very last minute what school their child would actually be attending. That was too nerve-wracking for me, so we went with the school we were assigned to and it has all been for the best.

My two biggest concerns about Malcolm X (that it was large and was the farthest school in the zone from our house) have turned out to be complete non-issues. My son was a very shy preschooler, but he has really grown in confidence at MX, and you would never think of him as shy now. He loves school - which I attribute to the wonderful teachers he has had at MX. I have been very impressed with the caliber of the teaching staff and how well they all work together. The principal is very experienced and fosters a wonderful teaching and learning environment at the school.

Good luck with the school assignment process. I hope you are happy with your daughters school, whichever one it turns out to be. Janie

I can't address all your questions, but I can answer two, based on my experiences as a incoming kindergarden parent last year. 1. You ask ''How are different demographic factors considered in the lottery (e.g., ethnicity? location of home?)'' I talked to the district about this last year because I wanted to know how it would affect our chances. The answer was it isn't *your* specific ethnicity, level of education, etc that matter, but those of the census tract in which you live. In other words, if most of the people in your census tract are considered to be white, educated, etc. that's how your application will be weighted for purposes of mixing, regardless of the specifics of your family.

2. Last year we chose Malcolm X, but were applying from out of zone. I was told by the district at the kindergarden fair that, while they couldn't make any promises, since Malcolm X is a big school if they have to add another kindergarden to accomodate everyone, that would be a likely school to add it since they already have the facilities set up. In other words, the chances of getting in were good, and we did get in. There are three kindergardens at Malcolm X this year, as I believe there have been in recent years. I do not believe that the so called ''magnet'' schools like Malcolm X are actually treated differently in the lottery as you mention you've heard, but I could be wrong.

Parting notes: We're *delighted* with Malcolm X. But I believe there are great things going on at all the Berkeley schools so you'll probably end up happy no matter which school you're at. Also, I've heard that which school is the most popular in each zone really changes around, and it does seem that Malcolm X is at the top of a lot of people's lists these days, so maybe you'll have a better chance of getting into John Muir if that's your top pick than you would have a few years ago?? Just a hunch. - Charis


On the Wait List for John Muir: what are my chances?

March 2006


We just received our school assignment for Kindergarten for our son and we did not get our first choice. I'd like to know from those out there who have been through this whole Berkeley school assignment thing what our next steps should be to give my son the best chance of getting into the school we prefer. We've already sent an email like the letter suggested and my husband plans to go to the Admissions office to make a written request. Any success stories out there from others who got re-assigned after the initial assignments were mailed? Do we even have a shot? We are interested in John Muir for what it's worth... thanks.

Our daugher was placed on waiting list for John Muir Kindergarten three years ago. We did a very active letter writing campaign and were admitted in the middle of summer. My advice is to write weekly and keep it up. If they don't admit your child before the first day, just show up at JM anyway. Chances are some kid who was asigned to JM won't show up (because they could we waiting to get into the very school you were assigned to but don't want to go to). John Muir, as well as all the schools in our zone are great but I think it is worth getting into the school of your choice. The enrollment process sucks, but in the end it seems possible to get the school one wants. I also suggest you contact the principal Greg John and tell him of your efforts and then cc him the letters you are sending downtown. Good luck, see you in the fall! LR


Moving to Elmwood - what about schools?

Oct 2005


We are looking to move to the Elmwood section of Berkeley and have heard mixed reviews of the public schools (we have two toddlers). Do you have any opinions about the public elementary schools (Malcolm X, Leconte, Emerson, and John Muir) and the Middle School (Willard)? Also, could someone recommend some good preschools in the area? We are very interested in Spanish or Chinese immersion programs, but above all else, we would like our children to be in an environment where kids are learning and loving the process of learning. Also, if anyone has an opinion about pros/cons of raising your children in the Elmwood section of Berkeley we would very much appreciate it. Thanks!!--Tara

We have 2 young kids and have lived in the Elmwood for the last 15 years. The area is great. We patronize the shopping district almost daily and it's easy to walk to most amenities. We do a fair amount of walking and the Elmwood is great for the stroller crowd. In general, the Elmwood is a wonderful area to raise your kids. There is easy access to transportation, the library, parks and UC. As you are probably already aware, the housing prices are obnoxious (even by Bay Area standards) so most of the community is upper middle class.

As for the schools, you are asking a pretty big question that will probably give you many different responses. I can only relate our experience. Our oldest child is currently in Kindergarten. We extensively toured 2 of the 4 public elementaries (we're within easy walking distance of John Muir and Emerson) in our sector and liked what we saw and heard. We didn't formally tour Malcolm-X but had heard great things about it so thought that would be a good option as well. Le Conte was the only school that we heard negative things about and we didn't really care for the facility so figured we had a good chance of getting one of the other three. Unfortunately, the lottery gave us Le Conte and we were bummed. We could have gotten on wait lists and toughed it out but didn't really want to be at the mercy of Berkeley Unified. Our child is now enrolled in private school and we couldn't be happier with the decision. She's receiving a phenomenal education but we also pay dearly for that privledge. It's kind of a shame but the 'neighborhood' school doesn't really seem to exist in Berkeley and Elmwood is no exception. As for preschools, there is Heart's Leap, Monteverde, St. John's, and Benvenue Children's house that immediately come to mind. All have great reputations but we have no personal experiences with them. There are also a lot of great preschools close by in the Rockridge area. Best of luck on your many options and decisions. And, if you move to the Elmwood, Welcome to the neighborhood ! - Elmwood family

my son went to john muir for 3 years (2001-2004) and we were very happy with the school. it is one of berkeley's smallest elementary schools and there was a real sense of community. the principle who was there (and great), h! owever, relocated at the end of the last school year, and the school secretary, who was also great, left at the end of the year as well. so, i am not sure what the new environment is like but i do think you can stop into the office to see about visiting and asking questions. willard for a middle school, in my opinion is a bit sketchy. we chose a private school for our son because willard just seemed too big and too rough. while i think that it's probably not terrible, i have heard of incidences occuring that seemed out of line for kids to deal with. our neighbors allowed their daughter to attend there, despite their protests, since she wanted to be with her friends from elementary school. she ended up asking to change schools after one year. again, a school visit and lots of questions might help your decision making. as for the elmwood area. we love it. there are a lot of school play yards and parks that we utilize over the weekend, and walking to college ave with the kids is great. there are a lot of families throughout and it seems to be a very safe, friendly area. -elmwood mom

I have a child at LeConte Elementary in the South Berkeley zone and I feel the need to respond with some positive comments about LeConte. We are a wonderful small school. We have a new principal who knows every child by name and greets them all every morning. She spends every lunch with them as well. Our afterschool program is really blossoming with an enthusiastic young director with a degree in multicultural education from Mills College. Our Farm and Garden program is loved by everyone - the kids come home talking about whole grains and green zebra tomatos! Look beyond the scores and you will see that there is a vibrant and diverse community at LeConte. Come and see for yourself before you go with old news about how things used to be - or check out the website: www.leconteonline.org . LeConte Parent