Washington Elementary School (Berkeley)


Public School
operated by Berkeley Unified School District
Website: http://www.berkeleyschools.net/schools/elementary-schools/washington-elementary/
Phone: (510) 644-6310
2300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way Berkeley, CA 94704
Editors' Notes: 

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi everyone, I have never done this before but hoping for any insight. We are new to Berkeley - and to the Bay - with our son going into 1st grade. He was assigned to Washington Elementary with Miss Davidson. Anyone have any information or experience with the school or the teacher? Also, after being waitlisted EVERYWHERE for after school care, he got into after school at Live Oak. Anyone have any information or experience with that program? And do they really bus the kids from Washington over? We live in the Berkeley Hills and my husband and I both work FT so this would be a huge help if so. Really appreciate anything anyone can offer. Thanks so much! In this crazy world, hearing back from anyone would be super duper fantabulous. <3 <3 <3

    My two college-age kids went to Washington and loved it.  There are a bunch of great teachers there, and Ms. Davidson is one of them.  My daughter had her and loved her.  She is a very skilled educator, a very warm and friendly person, and really connects with all her students.  My son had her briefly when she filled in for another teacher.  After just one day with the class she offered me some insights about his learning/energy that really helped me help him going forward.  Sorry I cannot help with your after-school care questions - but your son is off to a good start at Washington.

    Hi there and welcome. We’re a fellow B.hills/Washington family here. My son had Miss Davidson and she’s absolutely AMAZING. Consider yourself very lucky. None of the teachers at Washington have failed to impress but she really shines. I have a M.Ed from Harvard and am rather picky 😉

    My kiddos have never done the Live Oak aftercare program but I know they run a solid summer camp. We have friends at other schools who do the BUSD/Parks&Rec aftercare shuffle (including transportation and have been happy. You may yet be able to get into the on-site LEARNS after care program, my understanding is there’s lots of shuffling the first few weeks of school.

    welcome to the community!

    Welcome! Washington is a great school and you are very lucky your child is in Ms. Davidson’s class. She’s incredible.

    Yes, the kids really are bussed from WA to Live Oak. Live Oak went through a remodel recently and has been closed the last few years. Before that, people were very happy with the afterschool program there. It is in a community center in a nice park in a beautiful location. Pre-Covid there were also many optional classes and sports lessons offered there (for an additional fee), though I’m not sure if that is still happening. 

    Hi - My child went to Washington a while ago, and we both had a positive experience. I really liked the school community, though we lived closer than you do, and I don't know if that makes a difference. I do know families whose kids took a bus to Live Oak after school, and the transportation part seemed to work out (I don't know much about the after school program there). My child had several great teachers at Washington. Ms Davidson is fantastic - probably one of the best teachers I've ever seen. She made 1st grade an incredible experience for my child.

  • Hi all,

    im new to this group so forgive me if I’m missteping on protocol or repeating a question that’s been asked before but we are a queer divorced co parenting family with an 8 year old (with a new diagnosis ADHD and general anxiety disorder) and a 5 year old about to move from SF to Berkeley into the central district and wondering about these two schools and based on our needs with our 8 year old and our family structure which school might be best and why. Thanks in advance for your thoughts/perspective/insight. 

    Hi there, I don't know about Malcolm X (although my son have friends there and they are very happy) but I can tell you about Washington. My son is in kindergartner and he loves going to school. It's a very friendly community and they organize a lot of things for the kids and for the families to be involved (the next big event is the Washington mini Pride!).

    I think both are good schools. A thing to keep in mind though is that Malcolm X is a very big school, that was what brought me to choose Washington instead. Good luck!

    We moved to Berkeley two years ago. Moving at the end of the school year, our daughter was placed in 2nd grade at Washington while our son was placed in TK at Malcolm X.

    In the first few months we had 3 conferences with the Washington principal. One after our daughter asked a boy not to cut in line and he demanded she apologize or he would go get the gun in his bag and "shoot her in the face". This was reported to us as him being "verbally mean". Did they not think that she would tell us the details? Another was about a different boy who had been bullying her since day two of school. We reported it immediately, but nothing was done, and went in after he said he would break her arm if she didn't give him a communal item. The third one involved her being punched in the face on the school bus home, by a third boy. That is an automatic suspension in BUSD, but it did not happen in this case. In every case we were told to consider the difficult home life of these boys (of course no details could be shared). Meanwhile, at MX, our son was enjoying forest school days, show and tell ... and no-one threatening him with gun violence or pretending it didn't happen.

    After talking to other Washington parents, including an early childhood educator who moved her daughter to a private school because they also could not get a resolution to bullying and threats, we did as advised and went to the district office and talked very loudly at the desk about what was going on. We were quickly ushered into a back room and told that our application for a transfer would be taken seriously. Our daughter was re-assigned to MX at the end of the year.

    Second awesome year at MX for our son, and first one for our daughter. A very diverse and welcoming teacher and parent community. Gardening classes are particularly wonderful. My kids actively want to make kale salads, and they'll tell me all about ecology while we make one. Art is great. Dance classes, some music education. Lunch is the low-point: The cutbacks to BUSD's budget are so severe they can't afford to pay the teachers for a day long enough for more than 15 minutes scheduled for each class to eat. No access to you food outside of that time. On a day some PTA members dropped in a large number of children who receive free hot lunch weren't even given their lunches, because things were behind schedule. So teach your kids to each fast. Also, we were somewhat dismayed when 7 gunshots heard clearly in the yard did not lead to a lockdown because it wasn't happening on school property. SW Berkeley can be gritty. But kids aren't the target. Read Berkeleyside.

    All the above is anecdotal. I believe many children at Washington were having a better experience. But the way things were handled by the principal inspired no confidence, and we were not the only ones to move their child. Today Berkeley's public school teachers are in Sacramento demanding a livable wage. I could not do what they do, and thank all of them for their service to humanity.

    We divorced during this time, and our son received an ADHD diagnosis, though unusually neither of his teachers suspected it based on his behavior. We've not pursued an IEP yet, so I can't provide feedback on that aspect. But at all times our family has been treated with dignity and compassion at MX. Not so much at Washington.

  • BUSD afterschool programs for K

    (2 replies)

    I am trying to learn about affordable, full time afterschool programs for students at Malcom X and Washington.  I'd like to hear from parents whose kids attend LEARNS at either school or the PTA run programs that are full time OR parents whose kids are at any BUSD school and attend the City of Berkeley programs at Willard, James Kenney/Live Oak, or Frances Albrier.  Do your kids like it?  What are the pros/cons?  Is the program well organized, good at communicating, etc?


    We like Washington's Learns program a lot. It improved significantly this year with new leadership--the whole staff seems more organized and enthusiastic, the enrichment options are better, and there's been clearer communication about how the program is run. It doesn't have some of the bells and whistles that other places have, including the full array of PTA-sponsored, largely pay-as-you-go enrichment options that some other Learns programs offer. But the built-in enrichment provided within the Learns program is solid, including sports, art, games, engineering, and drama. There are also some on campus enrichment options you can add, such as Spanish and chess, which aren't part of Learns but can be coordinated so your kid does both. My kid also seems to get more physical activity on the yard with Learns (endless soccer, basketball, and kickball, among other things) than he did at most summer camps, plus there's a homework hour, which is reading time for the younger kids. No program is perfect, but our kid is often reluctant to leave at pickup.

    I have my kid in Trackers aftercare. They pick up from Washington on Mondays and Wednesdays. It is wonderful! http://www.trackersbay.com/

    I have him in a couple of days of LEARNS at Washington, too. Sadly, the LEARNS program at Washington is a real weak spot. He loves school, but the aftercare he has very mixed reports about. Sometimes he loves it, but by his own 8 year old description "nobody get's picked on in school because the teachers won't let you get picked on. But the teachers in aftercare will let kids pick on you." 

Parent Reviews

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My daughter is a 5th grader at Washington this year and we couldn't be happier. She has truly amazing teachers and is thriving socially, academically, and emotionally. Her class is a true community and the teachers pay a lot of attention to students' social and emotional growth along with academics. I have not seen or heard about any bullying and believe it would not be tolerated. She has only been at Washington for one year so I can also attest that it is a welcoming, inclusive environment for new students joining late in elementary school. 

For what it's worth, my 7 year old is at Washington, and we absolutely love it. It's one of the larger schools, but it doesn't feel that way. Your choices will be taken into consideration, but i'm not sure how much! You can't really go wrong at any of the BUSD schools, IMO. Good luck! 

We attend Washington and love it!

We like Washington's Learns program a lot. It improved significantly this year with new leadership--the whole staff seems more organized and enthusiastic, the enrichment options are better, and there's been clearer communication about how the program is run. It doesn't have some of the bells and whistles that other places have, including the full array of PTA-sponsored, largely pay-as-you-go enrichment options that some other Learns programs offer. But the built-in enrichment provided within the Learns program is solid, including sports, art, games, engineering, and drama. There are also some on campus enrichment options you can add, such as Spanish and chess, which aren't part of Learns but can be coordinated so your kid does both. My kid also seems to get more physical activity on the yard with Learns (endless soccer, basketball, and kickball, among other things) than he did at most summer camps, plus there's a homework hour, which is reading time for the younger kids. No program is perfect, but our kid is often reluctant to leave at pickup.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

May 2014

Re: Berk. Central Zone Elementary Schools
Only know about Washington Elementary. New principal this school year. He didn't do the normal 'push' to try and get families to turn in an important funding related form, and the school lost many thousands of dollars it was counting on for the 2014-15 school year. It is the only one in Berkeley that actually lost funding. I'm surprised there isn't more outrage from the parents as it is probably going to affect many of the programs. Concerned parent

All of the schools in the central zone are fantastic. Washington School has a fabulous group of staff and teachers, numerous enrichment programs and a very diverse (in all sense of the word) student population. This year there's a new principal and we have some concerns with how he is running the school. Washington Community Member

We are in Central and LOVE our school, Washington Elementary!! Our new principal is great and doing a great job of learning the environment and supporting parents, kids and teachers! Really All Berkeley Schools are great thiugh each has its own ''personality'' based on the pricipal and parent community. At Washington many families are very engaged. It is a welcoming atmosphere and the overwhelming majority if the teachers are fantastic! Happy Washington Parent!

Washington parent here. I felt compelled to respond after reading the replies. I'm a parent of one of the district's ''few poor minority kids'' one of the posters mentioned. Maybe BUSD's ''obsession'' with ensuring a good experience for my kid is the only reason why Washington is going so well, but I don't think so.

I visited several of the Central Zone schools. I truly would have been ok with a few of them and feel very lucky to have my kid at Washington. Teachers have been outstanding and I think the new principal is doing a great job. I'd recommend visiting schools; I think you have good options in the Central Zone. Happy Washington Parent

We live close to Cragmont & Oakland but we're assigned to Washington

Sept 2013

We bought a house in Berkeley in June and just got our school assignment for my rising 4th grade daughter. We were hoping for Cragmont or Oxford since we live closest to them. We were assigned to Washington. Can anyone tell me what you think of Washington especially for a transfer student in the upper grades--4th and 5th? I have to admit that I'm disappointed since it wasn't even in my top 3. (Just because it really wasn't at all on my radar). I have a rising sophmore at Berkeley High School, so for driving to and from for both I guess it's pretty good deal. Any reviews, thoughts, advice about Washington would be greatly appreciated! New Berkeley Mom

We have a new 2nd grader at Washington and we love it! We have been there since Kinder. The parents are engaged and kind, the teachers are overall great and the environment is very supportive. This school is very welcoming to new students. We do have anew principal this year but our previous principal left things in good order after many years. Our new principal seems great and is very experienced. I hope you will enjoy Washington! Be sure to come to our Welcome BBQ on the 7th of Sept, back to school night and to the first PTA meeting. We also have coffee in outside the main office every Thursday. These are all great ways to meet other parents and families!Welcome to Washington! Leslie F.

I am the parent of a 1st-grader at Washington elementary and also live in the Berkeley Hills closer to Cragmont and Oxford. We have been extremely happy with both the education and community at Washington. Although I cannot speak from experience about the older grades, our son's teachers have been outstanding so far and I know there are equally outstanding teachers in the upper grades. The school is large, but has a very small and wonderfully diverse community feeling. It's location, while farther from home, has been ideal for us because it is so convenient. My husband volunteers at the school regularly--something he'd be unable to do if it was less centrally located. The students go on many field trips that are walking distance from the school, so the PTA saves a lot on busses! For example, last year, my son's class walked to: Berkeley High for a dance class, the YMCA for swim lessons and Zellerbach Hall to see Alvin Ailey Dance Company. This was in addition to three bus field trips! Congratulations on getting into Washington! Happy Washington Parent

Washington is great! My daughter is also a 4th grader this year. It's a wonderful and very welcoming community and your daughter will love it. We're really lucky here in Berkeley in that all the schools are very strong, and Washington is no exception. I'm writing this the day after school began; hopefully you are already feeling better about Washington after seeing all the happy kids and parents yesterday. The 4th grade teachers in particular are all great. Come to the first PTA meeting or first PTA coffee hour and you'll meet lots of involved and welcoming parents. And keep a look out for me (Isobel) and my daughter Norrie. proud Washington parent

Our son has been at Washington since kindergarten and is now in 5th grade. We have had a wonderful experience at the school and are looking forward to sending our youngest there next year. There is a new principal this year, but we're excited about the wealth of knowledge and experience he brings to the school and are looking forward to what's ahead. Happy Washington Elementary Parent

We went through the same thing - listing 3 choices within our zone and not getting any of those choices. We were placed at Washington and my daughter is now in the 3rd grade. We have had a great experience so far despite my being less than enthusiastic that we didn't get any of the schools we listed and were familiar with. I attended a Washington School BBQ and then just decided to go with it rather than fight the system. My impression now and after 3 years of having my child in the Berkeley schools is that all the elementary schools in Berkeley are good. You really get this feedback when you talk to parents who have kids at each of them. The only downside for us is that we have to drive across town from the N. Berkeley Hills to get to the school. My daughter typically takes the bus though and this helps a lot. I haven't found the distance to be much of an issue as it's not really that far away. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have. Dana

Welcome to Washington!! We also live closest to Oxford and Cragmont, but chose Washington because of its warm, welcoming parent community and its truly incredible teachers. All our 4th and 5th teachers are very strong, and I think this is a great time to transfer in... also, I heard there were 4 or 5 new fourth grade girls, so your daughter is not alone. Hopefully by the time this posts you will have had more of a chance to get to know other parents and families, but if not I encourage you to stop by the front of the office every Thursday morning for parent coffee hour, come to Back to School Night (Sept 12) and the first PTA meeting (Sept 17), and attend or even volunteer for the Welcome Back BBQ (Sept 7)-- all great ways to get to know other families and start to feel a part of things. Moving to a new school can be hard, but I can't imagine a better place to do it than Washington.... A very happy Washington parent

The wonderful thing about Berkeley elementary schools is that the complicated school assignment process (despite its frustrations at the individual level) as truly resulted in a set of schools that are all very comparable in terms of their overall quality and strength. There are no 'bad schools' in Berkeley. That said, you are in luck. Washington is a wonderful school and the 4th and 5th grade teachers are absolutely top-notch from everything I have heard about all of them. I am a parent of two 4th graders, who are delighted with their teachers thus far. My experience at Washington has been extremely positive. It is a wonderful school community with talented teachers, committed parents, competent staff, and a strong after-school program. Its central location makes all kinds of walking field trips possible, and we get a lot of volunteers from Cal and Berkeley High School. As you probably know, we have a brand new principal this year. He is building on the strong foundation that the previous principal established, and I've heard great things about him from friends who know his work in his previous district. Welcome to Washington! Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions. Suzy

I can speak specifically to your question about 4/5th grades at WS. I have a recent WS graduate (and another current 2nd grader) who was at WS for all 7 yrs. Overall we had a really positive experience but those last 2 yrs were some of the absolute best years. His two teachers were both extraordinary: smart, tough, loving, funny, bright people. Each one really ''got'' my kid (and seemed to ''get'' each of his classmates) and inspired him to read more (his interest in reading had fallen off) and increased his shaky confidence in both academics and social stuff. He began 6th grade ready to jump right in and succeed on all levels. I chalk that up to his teachers. WS may not be the ''pretty'' school like Cragmont but it's got a whole lot of good stuff going on. former/current/future WS mama

We have a second grader and a fifth grader at Washington. We are so happy to be at the school, where the families are kind and friendly, the teachers are dedicated and wonderful, and our kids are happy. We also live in the hills and the commute has been just fine. No regrets. Feel free to reach out with any questions. Lindsey

BAM vs Washington- which would you pick?

Dec 2012

We've gotten into both Berkeley Arts Magnet and Washington school. Which would you pick and why? We're in the Northwest Zone. thanks, Kim

We chose Washington though we are closer to BAM. Why? The warmth and community feeling of Washinton and a wonderful Principal. We have been extremely happy with our choice. Our daughter is thriving! The majority of teachers are fantastic, the extras including music, PE, gardening and cooking, the community is wonderful and the diversity ( as in all Berkeley schools) is amazing. Finally the yard is beautiful and includes huge old trees, climbing structures, black top, grass and the garden. I cant imagine being anywhere else. Washington!

I only have experience with Washington, so I can't speak to BAM. But my son is a second grader at Washington, and both he and we have been really happy with it. He had a fabulous kindergarten teacher, and friends in other classes also loved their K experiences. My son is a little young for his grade, very academically inclined, and was shy in preschool. He has flourished socially at Washington because his teachers pay attention to social and emotional development along with the intellectual. This is still true in second grade. I worried that it would be downside to be at a school with 4 classes per grade, but luckily it's a low-key, welcoming, friendly community so the school doesn't feel so big. And the kids seem to all know each other. I also love the PE, music, art, and garden programs, along with the playground. The kids take lots of walking field trips to the post office, library, swim at the Y, etc. Washington parent

March 2011

Re: Good Elem School(s) for Sensitive Boy?
This is exactly the question I asked last year! And I got the response that I'm giving you, which is that my sensitive kid has had a great K experience at Washington. I'd initially hoped he'd go to Oxford, because it was smaller, and that may have worked out equally well, but my son is really enjoying the kids in his class and the culture of the school he attends. There's plenty of attention to the social needs as well as the academic needs of the kids, and the teachers and staff are very warm. My son has ventured into lots of new friendships, and is not at all overwhelmed with the size of the school. P.E. has also been a great experience for him. Please feel free to get my email from the moderator if you'd like to chat more. mom of a sensitive kid

Hi there, Our *very* sensitive and *very* intense son attends Washington Elementary in BUSD, and we could not be happier! The school staff has worked closely with us to make sure our son gets some breaks from the noise and large groups, which easily overwhelm him. They have been flexible, accommodating, caring, and incredibly inventive and creative-- and his ability to tolerate noise and social settings has improved dramatically. Wherever you end up, I would suggest speaking with the principal before school starts, if you can, and setting up a plan and a workable structure for your son, to ease his transition. You might, for example, want to see if you can opt out of the first 3 days of BUSD kindergarten, where, at most sites, children have a new teacher each day, so that teachers can then create balanced classrooms-- that much change and flux can be very challenging, depending on what your son is sensitive to. Good luck! Mom to another sensitive guy

My sensitive son is thriving at Washington Elementary School. He is now in 1st grade, and it has been a wonderful experience.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the transition from preschool. Although he was nervous about starting kindergarten and didn't want to go, he loved it from the first day. He did the balanced beginnings, coming home each day hoping to be assigned that teacher.

His teacher built a lovely classroom community, helping the children grow relationships and form friendships. I am very impressed by the social growth my son has made at Washington. My quiet boy is very engaged in classroom discussions, participates eagerly, and sings out in classroom songs.

There are a wide variety of kids in the class, and he chooses to spend time with the gentler crowd. Last year most of his friends were girls, which he loved. This year, he has found a few boys that he enjoys playing games with at recess.

Now it is difficult for me to remember how worried I was before Kindergarten. I hope this gives you some reassurance that a sensitive boy can thrive in BUSD. Please email if you have any questions. -Laura

Jan 2011

Re: Washington/Malcolm X Reviews
My son is a kindergartner at Washington, and we've been very happy with the school. My son was shy as a preschooler and is a little young, but he's blossomed because of the wonderful teachers (not only the classroom teacher, but a terrific p.e. coach, librarian, garden, and music teacher.) For me it's been important that the principal is very effective and also accessible - she has an approachable demeanor and has office hours, and is hands-on about her job. She knows all the kids by name. The parents are hand-on, too - some volunteer to come in at lunchtime and recess so there are more adults on deck, others help in the classroom, etc. But it's understood that families are stretched right now and if you can't come in, no one criticizes. In short, kindergarten is going really well, and we love the general atmosphere as well as the specific learning experiences that our son is having. good luck with your decision

Feb 2010

Looking for recent feedback regarding the kindergarten classes at Washington Elementary in Berkeley.

My son is currently in kindergarten at Washington, and we love it. I am very impressed by his teacher. He is learning a lot and having fun while doing it. Please email if you would like to know about anything specific. Laura

My son is in kindergarten at Washington and he is thriving. Washington just received a Title I academic achievement award, one of 200 CA schools to do so. More on that award here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/sr/aa/proginfo10.asp There's a great community of parents/families there, too. We love Washington! Andi

My son is currently in kindergarten at Washington, and we have been thrilled with the teaching. We love our son's teacher, and all 4 K teachers at Washington are excellent, and make a wonderful team. I'm not sure how many K's there will be next year, but I imagine the teachers will be some subset of the current group. All of them seem to value nurturing the whole child, and paying attention to social development as well as academic development. Their approach to teaching literacy is very inspiring-- children are writers from the moment they enter the classroom, and the reading activities are multi-faceted -- there's something there for everyone, from those just learning the alphabet to fluent readers. Math activities are fun and really interesting-- they've done graphing, geometry, and basic number concepts-- and that's just on the days I've happened to be in class. All the teachers are very open to parent volunteers, and all mornings begin with family reading time at the start of the school year (after an initial couple weeks of having children adjust to the classroom). There's plenty of time for play as well. And most importantly, all 4 teachers are very warm and loving toward their students. In short, kindergarten teachers at Washington are excellent, and we've felt extremely lucky to be there. A very happy Washington K parent

Dec 2009

We have just completed the incoming elementary school tours at Washington and Cragmont. I am hoping to get some feedback (good and bad) from parents with children at either schools.

We had a very extensive tour at Washington and I was very impressed by the teachers and principle there. I feel like I got a lot of information about their teaching strategies, programs and actually got to speak with each teacher a little bit and see how they direct their classes which was great. I left with a good understanding I think of how things work there. I couldn't find any recent reviews on Washington so any feedback you can give would be great. trying to prepare for kindergarten

I think it's time to update my original, strongly favorable posting regarding Washington School. My family has been there for 6 years now - my oldest child is about to graduate. I can say without reservation that it has been a terrific experience. Rita Kimball, the principal, continues to be amazing and committed, every single teacher my children have had has been excellent. When we first got there we were concerned about some of the older, more burnt-out seeming faculty - they've now retired and have been replaced by energetic, enthusiastic and talented new teachers. Not all of these are young people, some of the best teachers are mid-life career-changers.

There's a tremendous sense of community and school spirit at Washington, and this year more than ever I am glad of our location in the center of Berkeley, as our kids have had tutors, mentors, and science students volunteering in their classrooms and after school. Now that we have Coach Don Burl every day, our kids benefit from having a fantastic PE teacher twice a week, plus after school. And whether or not this is relevant, our test scores have improved phenomenally, such that we are no longer considered Program Improvement.

Those school tours are pretty revealing, in my experience. We'll be sad to leave

Our son is in his first year at Washington, and we love it there. His teacher is outstanding. I am constantly impressed by how much he is learning while having so much fun. She pays attention to social as well as academic development, working with each child to help them fulfill their potential and make meaningful connections with each other.

Our son enjoys the special programs at the school - PE, library, music, art, gardening, and cooking. They will also have a session of swimming at the YMCA during the Spring.

We also appreciate the sense of a school-wide community. You can get a feel for it at the weekly Monday morning assemblies (which you are welcome to visit). Teachers present awards, sing silly songs, review the school rules, lead class performances and generally have a good time together.

I have also enjoyed getting to know the other parents. There is a strong group of intelligent, caring, down to earth people working to support the school.

Although we have not been at Washington for very long, we are very happy there and look forward to the years to come. Kindergarten Parent

Washington is a wonderful place and everyone there from the lunchroom staff to the principal care for all the children. This integrated (not diverse) school takes pride in what it does. Everyone comes out for the all school events from Kwanzaa to Literacy Night to School ''fix up'' Saturdays. A good number of the children live within walking/bike riding distance of the schools which also helps foster a strong community. The older kids do make friends with the younger ones; my now 1st grade kid has 4th and 5th grade kids as well as those in his own class. If you want a strong and caring staff/faculty team, caring parents, integrated setting, then come to Washington. Proud Washington Parent

Our son is a kindergartner at Washington, and we are very, very happy with the school. His teacher is absolutely wonderful-- warm and enthusiastic, but also able to set limits within a classroom in a positive way. And the way she (and the whole kindergarten team) teach reading and writing is truly inspiring. The principal, Ms Kimball, is open and accessible, and I've never met a principal who works harder. The staff and administration work together really well, and one of the things I love about Washington is its inclusive, positive, welcoming school culture-- part of that is the Monday morning school assemblies, which are really wonderful-- come to one if you'd like! I also love that the playground has real trees and rocks and dirt, and that there are places on the playground to go and be quiet if you'd like-- it's large enough to accommodate energetic games as well as the kids who just want to have a bit of time to themselves. I was worried that being on MLK Way would feel too congested and busy, but actually the school opens only in the other direction and I don't even notice MLK. I love the community of parents as well. Washington faces the same challenges as all schools in Berkeley - addressing the acheivement gap, for one, but I feel Washington rises to those challenges in an admirable way. We chose Washington even though it was the furthest from our house, and we're very glad we did. A happy Washington parent

Dec 2009

Re: Berkeley central zone school for shy boy
I was in the same position last year, and I am happy to tell you that our transition to Kindergarten has been wonderfully smooth and fun. I was concerned that it would be difficult for our son who is generally slow to adjust to new situations, and he was very nervous before the first day. When I picked him up at the end of the day, he was all smiles and couldn't wait for the next day. He had no problem with the balanced beginnings (they trade teachers for the first week before creating the classes for the year). In fact, he loved getting to see all the teachers and still feels attached to each of them (which is nice because they trade off yard duty).

We also live in the central zone, and I really think all 4 schools are excellent options. We chose Washington for a number of reasons - the yard, the PE teacher (knows all the kids, does PE classes, sets up games for recesses, is wonderful), the principal, the garden, the library, and the sense of community. Ultimately, I think the sense of community is what makes our son so happy there (and his amazing teacher!). Through silly songs and performances at the weekly assembly, he has gotten to know all of the teachers and periodically draws pictures of the entire staff while playing at home. A positive behavior program and rules are implemented consistently across the school, so students know what is expected and are encouraged in many different ways in their efforts to become heros and scholars. It is a wonderful community. You can email me if you have any questions about Washington or the process of figuring it all out for a shy boy.
Happy at Washington laura

July 2007

I am moving to Berkeley with my 7 year old son this summer, and we have just established residency in the ''central zone.'' According to the folks at BUSD, there is space available at BAM and at Washington. (Cragmont and Oxford have waiting lists.) I checked the archives, but I can only find pretty dated information about Washington. Does anyone have a child at Washington? Any information would be greatly appreciated! Stella

We have two children at Washington, one just finished kindergarten and the other second grade. We continue to be very happy with the school. We looked at all the other schools in the Central Zone, and one outside of it, and we found that Washington classrooms have a certain consistency of structure and discipline that really appealed to us. Discipline is strict but loving. The principal, Rita Kimball, seems to know virtually every student and cares about each one of them. Although the classrooms are extremely diverse in terms of ability, our kids are challenged and learn something every day. We have also been very involved in the PTA, which for us has been an enriching experience. There are parents who are passionate about classroom enrichment, improving school grounds, English language learning and other issues - the PTA has been a great place to meet those people and to organize with them. Downsides? There are one or two teachers we'd like to see retire, but that is probably true at any school. Our kids have learned immeasurably from their exposure to many cultures and languages (17, at last count), as well as different socio- economic backgrounds. We hope this is preparing them to live in a ''pluralistic society.'' And besides that, they love school, so that's pretty good! Happy Washington parent

I want to write to share my enthusiasm for Washington Elementary, but also speak to the discussion above about the Berkeley assignment process. To short-cut it, let me just say that we transferred to Washington from a private school last spring and we have been extremely pleased with the caliber of the teachers, the focused, hard-working, caring principal, the diversity and the warmth of the community. Washington is a school that I am very pleased to have my child attend.

To expand on the assignment question, my plea is that parents take a second, harder look at the school to which they have been assigned and are unhappy with. If the only concern is truly access to a neighborhood school and the ability to walk to school, then one needs to move to a city where that is the paradigm -- Piedmont, Albany, etc. Berkeley has other commitments and priorities. But I would believe that more than proximity is the issue. I have found that in many cases, including my own, my perception was colored by a desire to attend the one or two schools in a zone with ''the reputation'' or ''the numbers.'' We, too went through frustration with the process. My son is entering 2nd grade. We went through the assignment process for K and were assigned to Washington. We took a cursory look and ''knew'' it wasn't for us -- it wasn't Cragmont or Oxford. So we spent a year and a half in private school, which turned out not to work (perfection is not found in private school either.) So, we switched and were assigned, once again, to Washington. We looked harder at the school and found a devoted community of parents, outstanding teachers, and a vibrant environment in which it feels like something important is happening.

Yes, there are annoying things about the assignment process. We live about as far as it's possible to live from most any school and, certainly, Washington is the farthest. Even so, it's only a 12-minute drive. My son takes the bus home and loves having it as part of his day. Also, I believe the diversity considerations that factor in are not just ethnic, but socio-economic. In the case of schools, Berkeley chooses to see not just neighborhood communities, but a community at large. I think this is a nice metaphor for how I'd like my child to approach life.

My strong suspicion is that you will not find better teachers or administrators at the schools with ''the reputation'' or even the numbers--or at private schools. Numbers (test scores) reflect the numerous outside influences and resources available--or not-- to members of the school community, not the quality of teaching, and don't have bearing on how your individual child will perform. But by participating and diversifying our schools (i.e. by opting in when you are a family with the chance to opt out), we all have a chance to make a difference.

I don't mean to sound too self-righteous -- I'm newly converted to all of this and went through my own process of ''why meeee?'' and disdain and ultimately rejection of what BUSD chose to offer my family...only to come full circle. Take another look at the school you feel you can't attend. You may be surprised. Valerie

May 2007

I'm beginning to look at public elementary schools in Berkeley and wonder if anyone has recent information/recommendations to share? I am in the ''Central'' zone and interested in a rich program with as much arts programming and faculty and student diversity as possible. Thanks, researching early

I would, in general, like to put in a plug for Washington. We transferred late this year from a private school and I have been nothing but impressed with the administration and the teachers and the kind and caring culture of the school. Regarding your specific questions, Washington is brimming with enrichment. Visual arts and music each once a week, along with cooking, gardening, and various movement classes and opportunities. There are also lots of opportunities to explore the arts in after-school programs. There is great diversity among the students. While there isn't as much among the faculty, the school is aware of this and is always working to round this out. The caliber of the teachers in place is outstanding. Good luck with your search and your decision! Valerie

November 2005

Re: Public elementary schools in Berkeley Central Zone
We chose Washington School over the other schools in the Central Zone. We felt that the school had the most orderly classrooms, the most consistent discipline, and the most dynamic, keep-you- on-your toes teaching staff of the all schools we looked at. This is not an accident. The principal, Rita Kimball, focuses on collaboration between teachers in every grade. Since she became principal seven or eight years ago she has hired many young and energetic teachers and has emphasized a team-teaching approach. One thing Washington does very well is to create a balance in the kindergarten classes. At the beginning of the school year, staff does not decide who is in which kindergarten classroom until each of the teachers have had a chance to teach all the children for one day. After that, they sit down and divide up the kids, trying to create balance across the board. This minimizes discipline problems and spreads out high-achieving kids as well.

A recent positive is that this year Washington has met all its NCLB goals and is pulling itself out of its Needs Improvement status. This is because of the hard work by the principal and the staff to implement a teaching method that teaches to all the students, bringing up reading comprehension and writing skills. This is not done through testing drills. One more year of improving scores (they have actually improved for five years in a row), and the school will no longer have the stigma of the Needs Improvement classification.

As for its physical setting, Washington has very lovely and large outdoor playgrounds that include a wooded area, grass field, teaching garden and blacktop. Last summer over $200K was spent to improve the grounds even further. It is also conveniently located in downtown Berkeley: last year my kindergartener went on field trips to the fire station, police station, and Berkeley Little Theater, to mention just a few, all on foot.

As far as choosing schools goes, I would strongly urge you to take the time and visit all the schools in the zone. Go to classrooms at every grade level and decide for yourself if you would feel comfortable with your child there. Lastly, judge by your own observations. I can't believe the number of unfounded rumors, misinformation and out-of-date stories I heard from other parents. Washington Parent

Afterschool programs at Washington School

May 2005

We are enrolled in Washington School for the fall and I am a little confused about the after school offerings. We are looking at Kids Club, Berkeley Learns/EDC, and the sports one directly but would appreciate input from anyone with direct experience in these programs. My child will be entering the fourth grade. Thanks. sharon

Next year Washington is planned to have TWO on-site after school options. EDC is operated by School District staff (is funded by the State) and primarily serves income eligible children (though others can be admitted if space is available). I believe EDC only serves students from Kindergarten to 2nd grade (I'm not sure about 3rd grade - before State budget woes, EDC used to serve K-5, but I know that 4th and 5th grade was dropped and I think 3rd grade was either dropped this year or will be dropped next year). I think it is free or extremely low cost and focuses on academic ski! lls as well as recreational opportunities. The second program is just in its 1st year and is now called Kidz Club. It is part of a federal 21st Century After School Grant (several elementary and middle schools in Berkeley have this grant). It is open to all Kindergarten through 5th grade students by a sliding fee of about $50-400 per month (set by School Board). Kidz Club has a new INCREDIBLY dynamic coordinator (the 1st coordinator left...): Ann Marie Callegari, who is also a PTA Co-Chair for King Middle School. Kidz Club now offers a range of enrichment programs (circus, Mac computers, music, etc.) in addition to homework club and academic support as well as crafts, etc and now separates the younger and older kids into two groups that allows for more grade appropriate activities (the older kids decided upon an entrepeneurial project: writing and publishing/selling poetry books to the Washington Community and have a hip hop group - the younger kids have read alouds, do crafts, etc. - all kids can have educational game computer time each day). Kidz Club is working to incorporate Sports 4 Kids, which is an excellent program that has been at the school for several years and is free, serving 4th and 5th grade students. This year the two programs have coordinated alot of activities and this has really worked well - next year we are hoping for a formal merger. I went into detail because there has been alot of confusion about the after school programs at Washington. EDC recently changed the grade levels served and the Berkeley Albany YMCA program (called ''Kid's Club'') pulled out before this school year in every Berkeley public school that had these programs. And, due to grant funding issues, the 21st Century program couldn't start till November. In addition, Sports 4 Kids was supposed to merge into the ''21st Century grant program'', now called KidZ Club, THIS year but for various reasons maintained its formal separateness this year. Things are ALOT more settled now and KidZ Club and Sports 4 Kids are really zooming along - things will even be BETTER next year if the hoped for formal merger of the 2 program happens. Hope this helps. My 4th grader is in KidZ Club and also participates in Sports 4 Kids which in addition to the after school program has a basketball and flag football team that plays in evening leagues (sometimes ''competitive'' and sometimes ''skill'' leagues). He LOVES Sports 4 Kids (Janine is great!) and actually after really disliking the YMCA program after 2nd grade LIKES the 21st Century KidZ Club. Karen H.

Our daughter had been in Washington Kidz Club as it has developed. She loves it, and so do we. Ann Callegari, the director, is a dynamic, personable, and impressive, and has big plans for the next year. She took over in January and has started afterschool enrichment programs for all the grades, splitting them up into older and younger kids as appropriate. All the kids have had music, health, nutrition, and Circus Arts, the younger ones have arts and crafts and the older ones have had some more academic classes such as earth studies. There is homework time, and since the slowdown Ann has had them reading for their study time. They also have movie day on Friday and plenty of outdoor fun. Ann has hired some really wonderful people to help out, and as the program grows she will hand pick her staff as appropriate. As for cost, there is a sliding scale but this year even full price members pay less than some other local comparable programs. I would recommend visiting the programs and talking to their directors, if you are able. That's the best way to judge whether you feel it's a good fit. Washington School Parent

Jan 2003

Can anyone recommend 2nd grade teachers at Washington or Thousand Oaks who are good with bright students? Our first- grader son is way beyond grade-level in reading and math. He currently goes to Washington, but we are also considering trying to transfer to Thousand Oaks which is closer to our house. Leo

Hi- I am looking into Washington and Cragmont for my daughter and am interested in getting feedback from parents regarding the school community and quality of upper grade teachers. Thank you- Jackie

We've been happy with our son's experience at Washington School. The principal is very energetic, as is the magnet coordinator. There's a spirit of real caring among the staff. The school's location, near downtown Berkeley, allows for wonderful enrichment activities: the kids walk to the Y for swim lessons (funded by the PTA), walk to Zellerbach for performances. My child has had excellent teachers K-3. The school's diverse population (including English learners) seems to function well together.

As with many schools, there are a few teachers we would avoid at Washington. I've worked on school committees and find that a good way to know the teachers and to make sure the staff knows my child. I think Washington deserves a much better reputation than it has. sandra

I have 1 child still in Washington (2nd grade) and 1 that graduated. Rita Kimball, the principal, is incredibly dedicated and is proactive about issues. For example, Washington has a Leadership Committee consisting of 1/2 parent representatives and 1/2 teachers/staff that really does have governing say about much of the school. Rita has also done an amazing job of bringing in new teachers and/or staff of varying ethnicities and genders (though more African American men are needed). There are a very few ''problemmatic'' teachers, but that is true of any school (out of a total of 7 grades, my kids have had 1 struggling teacher and at least the teacher was approachable and willing to take suggestions from us - the others were OUTSTANDING). And, I feel that the school takes student safety seriously -(for example, though my kids never experienced problems, the school recently formed a Safety Committee of parents/staff to address harassment, ''kid posses'', etc. that I've heard have been issues for some kids). Washington also has a Healthy Start Program, magnet art/technology resources, on-site after school care and is within walking distance of the Downtown YMCA (swimming lessons), downtown theatre/arts district and UC Berkeley.

Down side? The sad truth that as in most Berkeley public schools there are definitely kids that have academic, family, or behavior issues (or unfortunately all 3). The school's continual struggle is finding strategies and adequate resources to help these kids succeed(if the school doesn't NO ONE will) while providing a challenging, enriching environment for the other kids. I think most of the teachers manage their diverse classes and do differentially teaching quite well. So, I agree that Washington is generally quite underrated and is worthy of any family's attention(and the Kindergarten is considered BEST in the District). Karen

Our son went to Washington from kindergarten through 5th grade. We like the school and the people very much, had great teachers (we were lucky) and he learned a lot. They are just now implementing differentiated instruction for GATE kids, helping teachers challenge the ones who have covered the basic materials to go further: when that worked, it was great. He had math tutors in 4th and 5th grades which kept him from being bored. The test scores are not great, but that's not the school's fault, they are working all the time to help all the kids reach their potential. The art, music, and gardening programs did a fine job of bringing all the kids together.

Washington is our neighborhood school, and its very diverse, it's got kids from all over the world and a big African-American community. It's harder than being in a school with all ''people like us'', but it was worth it: our kid has a great perspective on race and culture that you can't get in any other way.

If you're in the right zone, please take an hour to see what the school is really like! Avi

Re the upper school teachers at Washington - my son is in fifth grade at the moment and loves his teacher, Ms Landaetta. She is creative, thoughtful, and has him loving school (he inclines to laziness when he's not interested). The other fifth grade teacher, Ms Mitchell, is also excellent. The fourth grade teacher he had last year was also particularly good at setting high standards and encouraging kids to reach them. Re Washington as a choice - my son came in in Third Grade and I had experience of a very different school system. Because we came in part way through the year I had the opportunity to visit the particular classrooms where there were spaces and work out my priorities from that. Washington was way ahead of the other schools I visited in kid behaviour, teacher style and general ambience (in my opinion). fiona


As a Washington School parent let me invite you to visit us when you get to Berkeley. Washington School is the only elementary in the center of Berkeley, and for that reason has the most relaxed multi-cultural environment available, plus strong teachers and dedicated staff and parents, a good principal, a new building, and an excellent location with respect to Berkeley amenities and the University. Many Washington Parents think it ironic that a Cragmont parent would recommend Oxford and Whittier (aka Arts Magnet) without considering Washington -- Berkeley's best kept secret. HMJ