General Questions about West Contra Costa County Schools

Archived Q&A and Reviews

2013 - 2014 Recommendations

Sept 2014

Re: Berkeley schools not working

I can't speak to Piedmont schools, but we went in the other direction. My stepsons both went to Berkeley public schools, Thousand Oaks and then the older went to Malcolm X, and honestly, they were not educated well. The older one switched to El Cerrito High after being bullied and attacked at Berkeley High and went from nearly failing out to being a straight-A student with a much more thoughtful, meaningful approach to schoolwork. The younger one goes to OSA, the Oakland School of the Arts, a charter school that seems to be really wonderful and serving him very well.

My own children are in the Richmond public schools, if you can believe it, and having a great experience. I'm serious! West Contra Costa spends its special ed money on -- crazy thought! -- the students. This has been borne out by my experience, as my daughter is getting all the special-needs intervention I have asked for and more.

For what it's worth! Very happy West Contra Costa mom


Moving to El Cerrito or Richmond Annex

Oct 2013


My husband and I are currently looking into possibly buying a house in the El Cerrito or Richmond Annex area. Our daughter will start kindergarten in a few years, and I am wondering if anyone has any knowledge about how difficult it is to get a transfer into Madera or Kensington Elementary if you are zoned for another school in the district? Has anyone successfully transferred recently, or know how long the wait list gets? Is one school easier to transfer in than the other? Thanks for any input! Katie

We are considering the idea of relocating to El Cerrito and have a child who will be entering kindergarten in the Fall 2014. We are interested in feedback about accessing Madera elementary as a student assigned to that school and also as a student assigned to a different West Contra elementary school. Stacy

When it comes to El Cerrito elementary schools i would say don,t rule out the other options that are there yet. I have two kids at Harding Elememtary and we have been very happy for the 5 years we have been there now.This year we have actually a 1st grade class that came down from Madera. I believe due to space issues.As well as Maderas T-K class. We have kids from Kensington as well that had been on the wait list there.So if those schoola send kids to ours i can just imagine that it might not be so easy to transfer into since they seem to already be overmaxed. open mind

In response to this post and the other one about Madera, the most important thing to do regarding West Contra Costa school registration and transfer requests is to be ON TIME. Check to get the registration and transfer request deadlines. I'm pretty sure you will need to establish residency no later than Jan 31 for the following fall or you may not get a spot in your resident school. The schools fill up fast with residents, so transfers are pretty rare and late registrants may get assigned out of their zone. West CC Mom

Looks like a couple parents asked about getting their kids into madera or Kensington. I just wanted to put in a plug for Harding and Fairmont. Fairmont is the neighborhood school for the Annex. We are having a great experience there. Don't let test scores mislead you. There are so many other things that go into ''great schools.'' That being said, I do think it is harder to transfer into madera. It isn't impossible- just apply on the deadline and see what happens. Anonymous

Our first-grade daughter goes to Fairmont Elementary in El Cerrito, and we are very happy there. We love the teachers and the wonderful friends we have made there. And it is really nice for my daughter to have friends in her own neighborhood, several on our block. An El Cerrito parent

2010 - 2012 Recommendations


How are El Cerrito/Kensington Schools?

Nov 2012


We are moving to the East Bay area over the winter holidays with a 2nd grader. We had heard great things about the Albany schools, but quickly realized we were priced out of them. Then we had heard that Berkeley schools are great. Still waiting to hear if we are priced out of those Then I started reading about Kensington and El Cerrito. What is the overall experience you've had in these schools? My daughter (only in 2nd grade FWIW) doesn't seem to be particularly gifted academically, though it may be due to lack of motivation/interest. What do you think of these schools? And Kensington vs. El Cerrito? We're trying to look at this big picture: 2nd grade through 12th. Kim

I saw two posts in this week's newsletter related to Kensington/EC schools. Hope this one response gets to both.. We live in Kensington (moved for the elementary school - and the lower property taxes.) Our kids started at Kindgtn and now have one in 5th at Kensington Hilltop Elem and our older daughter just went to 7th grade at Portola middle school. Hilltop is strong academically, good principal- like any public school has a few undesirable teachers, but scored the highest in this year's API (if that is important to you) in our school district (West COntra Costa-WCCUSD) and higher than any Albany or Berkeley elem school. Madera Elem, also in WCCUSD, is considered a strong elem school. The quickest summation I have for Hilltop is that both my kids love school, do well in school, and do well socially- and I give the Hilltop teachers a lot of credit for motivating my kids in each of those areas.

The jump to middle school is much talked about in our Kensington/El Cerrito community- many kids leave the district for private schools or finagle their way in to Albany and Berkeley middle and high schools. Since both post-writers are many years away from making that kind of decision for your younger kids, I won't belabor the issues related to that, except to say that we decided to stay with our district middle school and are glad we did. Our daughter has new challenges at Portola, social and academic, and continues to excel due to great teachers there and an exceptional new principal. If you have other questions, feel free to email me directly. Luisa

Our kids are doing El Cerrito public schools (elementary, middle, and high school) and with the exception of a few teachers that they really didn't mesh with, it's been an excellent education.

Harding has strong academics, excellent teachers (with a few notable exceptions), and is a very safe campus. It's a beautiful school.

Portola is thriving under a very popular principal (liked by parents, respected by teachers) and the small close-knit temporary campus has resolved the safety issues this school had in past years. There are some good electives--band, theater, leadership, Spanish. Parent involvement and support is very strong this year.

El Cerrito High is like a smaller version of Berkeley High. A wide range of choices for kids (Special Ed to Advanced Placement), a strong sports program, drama, art, dance, It's a palace compared to the high school I attended.

We supplement with parent support for homework, after school activities, and summer enrichment and both of us have given a lot of time and money to support the schools. As with anything, the more you put into it, the more your kids get out of it. public school mom

I've read that it's hard to find candid info on KHS, and there are reasons for this. The community is very, very close and works hard to make the best school we can. That's one reason. Another is that the school works well on paper. Our test scores look great, and they are. And finally, if you intend to stay, you can't publicly call out the elephants on the carpet. It's a smaaaalll world here and we have to work together.... (kensington.html>read more ).


Just moved to Hercules - thoughts?

Feb 2012

I moved to a townhouse (rental)in Hercules last year after a layoff and going through a short sale of my El Cerrito/Richmond hills border home. My son will start kindergarten this fall and due to all of the residency rules, I feel forced to place him in a Hercules school. Having essentially been a lifelong El Cerrito resident and fairly new to Hercules, I am somewhat nervous about him starting out in Hercules and I have concern about his academic trajectory. He is currently in a wonderful, private preschool very near El Cerrito so I also have some trepidation about the transition from a private school experience to public school experience. I would appreciate a response from anyone with experience with Hercules schools and/or thoughts on intradistrict transfers or thoughts in general about this post. Thanks. Anxious, nervous mom

I am not a resident of Hercules but I do have two kids in WCCUSD so I can speak to the transfer issue.

It is all but impossible to get a transfer within the district if you are not zoned to a Title I school. I don't think any schools in Hercules are Title I. I have friends that are zoned to Title I schools and they didn't hear about their transfer options until two weeks in to the school year, when their kids were already in private school. The district is stingy with transfers because they want to make sure classrooms are as full as possible... and if a classroom isn't full, they'll leave the open spots available for overflow from schools that can't accommodate all their residents.

You didn't mention which school you're zoned to. I know that Hanna Ranch is well-regarded. Ohlone is soon to get a new building, which will make it a more attractive school. My general feeling is that WCCUSD schools are improving in part because lots of us can't afford private, and we can't get transfers, so we are left with little choice but to roll up our sleeves and work hard to make our neighborhood schools better.


Transportation to WCCCSD?

April 2010

I am wondering how parents get their children to elementary school(s) in El Cerrito? We are contemplating a move there for a couple of years while I finish up my program, which would entail K-Gr 2 for my son, starting Fall of 2011. It seems like Madera and Mira Vista are both way up in the hills, and I am wondering how parents get their kids to school. Is there a school bus? Is it up to the parents? How does it work for kindergarten? We are on the fence between having our own house in El Cerrito and living in University Village, and to be honest, the transportation to and from school is the deciding factor. (I have also heard that El Cerrito schools are full, and overload kids are getting sent elsewhere. Are they being bussed, or is it up to the parents to get their kids to school?) Thanks so much! No Desire to Drive

In WCCUSD the school your child attends is based on your address. If you know your upcoming address, go to to check your assigned school or check the school assignment map to see which addresses zone for which schools. The enrollment for Fall 2011 is Jan 2011, so you need proof of address by Jan 2011 to enroll in your assigned school, otherwise it may not have room and you will have to find a school that does have room. Yes, transportation is up to the parents. The kindergarten day is short, but most schools will have an afterschool program (that is not free), that provides daycare for kindergarteners. wcc mom

There are no buses in WCCUSD except for in some special-ed situations where a child goes to a special program far from home. Parents have to get kids to school on their own.

Mira Vista is less high in the hills than Madera, and therefore a little more accessible by foot. My child goes there--we live .75 mile away and walk some of the time. But still, if you really don't want to drive, stick to Albany. anon