Castro Elementary School

El Cerrito

No longer in business
Public School
operated by West Contra Costa County Unified School District
El Cerrito, CA
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Archived Q&A and Reviews

Jan 2011

Hi, I am interested in hearing parents' more recent reviews of Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito (the latest ones on BPN are from 2007). What do you like about it? Dislike? How does the school compare now to the other elementary schools in the area? We are planning to move to the neighborhood next year. Thanks! Rachael

Hi so as far as i know Castro Elementary is closed and the new middle school will be build on that campus...if you are lucky you get zoned for Harding which is a great school...i can say that we are very happy there with the teachers,the parent community and especially the wonderful principal and a big plus:the small class sizes! happy in El Cerrito
Sadly, Castro was closed at the beginning of the 2009-10 year and will not reopen. The plan is to relocate Portola Middle School to the site using existing buildings and constructing new ones. If you are moving to the former ''Castro neighborhood'' of El Cerrito, you will likely be zoned for Fairmont Elementary, although some portions of streets in the neighborhood are zoned for Madera Elementary. Check out a current school boundary map at the West Contra Costa Unified School District website:
Castro closed two years ago due to the state budget crisis and the WCCUSD budget crisis. Kids in that zone are routed to Fairmont and Stege. As of this year the school district has initiated a pretty iron-clad policy of not approving school transfer requests, so if you are considering moving to that area of El cerrito/Richmond you should be aware that you will be enrolled in Fairmont or Stege (not Mira Vista or Madera as many ex-Castro families wished for). Signed, ex-Castro but surprisingly happy at Fairmont Dad
Castro Elementary has been closed for a couple of years. It is supposed to be the new site of Portola Middle School in 2015. Kids in the former Castro zone who live above Richmond Ave are now zoned for Madera, and kids who live below Richmond Ave are now zoned for Fairmont, both of which seem to be perfectly acceptable schools. -- EC mom
Sadly, the district closed that lovely (and high performing school) in 2009. That site will be used to build the new middle school (one that hopefully ALL El Cerrito residents will rally behind and attend, making it a superb middle school).

If you look on the district website, there is a map of school boundaries. If you move into a house that is above Richmond St., your school will be Madera. If you move into a house that is below Richmond St., your school will be Fairmont. Both school are very good in different ways. All of El Cerrito's elementary schools are quite good, with friendly parents and dedicated teachers. Best of luck to you, and see you at Portola in the years to come! Proud supporter of Public Schools in El Cerrito

We live right down the street from the former Castro Elm. As far as I know, it will be closed for a while until the build the new k-12 school there. Madera is the best rated school in El Cerrito. I would choose either Madera or Harding over any other in El Cerrito.
Castro is closed. The district is planning to build a middle school on that site. Many students in the Castro school area were reassigned to Madera and Fairmount. You can check on school assignments for a particular address here: That said, the district is likely to redraw the lines, since there have been several school closures and they are still working out the numbers. WCCUSD parent
Castro is no longer open... that is probably why you haven't seen any recent reviews. You can check the district website to determine what your elementary school should be based on your new address. Most of the kids went to Fairmont. district employee
Nov 2007

Re: Better school district for special needs kids?
The answer to your question is, hands down, Castro Elementary School, in El Cerrito! The special needs children are fully integrated into the mainstream classes, and both teachers and aids alike know how to create a beautifully run full-inclusion program that benefits ALL of the children at the school, special needs and mainstream alike.

This unique program has been 20 years in the making, and is a model of what full inclusion can really be. Other schools say that they have full inclusion, but from what I have seen, only Castro understands what this really means, and has been able to enact it in wonderful and powerful ways. The mainstream children really learn how to treat all people with respect and honor--something that they carry with them throughout their whole lives.

This wonderful school is a true jewel in an otherwise problematic district. I urge you to visit this school, and inquire about this program. It's not a fancy school, and unlike some other schools in El Cerrito, it has not been rebuilt. But, hidden behind those walls is an example of what every school should strive to be like. A proud parent at Castro

After trying several schools, we landed at Castro Elementary School, in El Cerrito. Many people had told us that this was the school to be at, but it took us a while to actually try it out. We thought that the ''nicer'' schools might be better. Boy, were we wrong! Our child also has autism, and this school has been a life saver for us (and our daughter). The teachers are excellent, and really know how to work with all kinds of children. I cannot believe that this school does not get more press; people seem to find it by word of mouth. Frankly, it's the best kept secret in West Contra Costa!

Good luck! We hope to see you there next year! Third time is the charm!

Oct 2007

I am looking for feedback from any parents whose children are currently enrolled at Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito. What do you like? What don't you like? Overall experience? Thanks! Kristin

The principal and staff are great. My child was there for summer school and the services were received there were great. Juliet
All I can say about Castro is...WOW! We have two children there, and are thrilled! This school is somewhat invisible, living in the shadow of Madera and Kensington, but it is worth a second look.

Our experience at Castro has been nothing short of wonderful. The teachers are extremely professional, knowledgable, and hard working. They know their stuff, have high expectations of all children, and provide support to the students to meet the expectations. People shy away from Castro because of their low test scores, but test scores only tell part of the story. Our children have experienced excellent teaching, kind and supportive teachers, and sweet children (no form of bullying, either verbal or physical, in our experience).

If more parents in the Castro zone sent their children to this school, it would make a world of difference. Our one complaint about the school is the somewhat weak PTA and lack of parent involvement. We (and many other parents) are working to change that! We would be thrilled if you join us at this wonderful little school!

Best of luck to you in your school search! Happy family at Castro

Hi- I am glad you asked about Castro, because many parents in this zone decide to send their children elsewhere without even considering this wonderful little school. And indeed, we think it is wonderful! Our two children have attended Castro since kindergarten, and we are very pleased with the loving and caring teachers.

The school is small enough that the teachers know all of the children by name, and greet them as they arrive each day. The teachers are inspired, which is something you often do not find in these days of No Child Left Behind. There is true diversity at Castro, and the children all focus on what they have in common, rather than their differences. I do believe that our children will graduate from Castro having received a top notch education AND have acquired a sense of acceptance and understanding that many adults do not have.

If you are in our zone, please consider Castro. You will not be disappointed! Committed to our neighborhood school

Sept. 2006

Our two kids--kindergarten and third grade--will most likely attend Castro Elementary School next year (our nearest school). Can current parents please shed some light on the school for us? It is not one of the ''choice'' schools in El Cerrito, and the campus is in need of drastic repair, but what is hidden behind the walls? Excellent, caring teachers? Supportive staff and resource people? Afterschool programs? What is great and what is problematic about Castro? Everyone seems to want Hilltop or Madera, but what about Castro? Thanks for helping us make this decision! Any feedback welcome! New to the neighborhood!

A friend of mine teachers at Castro. Her response to the query follows:

As a caring teacher who lives in the neighborhood and had all three of my children attend Castro, I'd be happy to respond. Castro is a school where you have to get behind the walls to judge it. It is the next school slated for renovation by the district and is currently undergoing architectural review and design. But once you get inside...

We don't have the eye popping API of Madera or Hilltop but we have been making steady improvement over the past 4 years with a stable and capable administrator and a faculty and staff committed to collaborating around the focus of a safe, respectful, and challenging environment where all students succeed to the best of their abilities and beyond. There is no majority of any economic, racial, or ethnic group and students come from families that speak about 19 different langauages including English.

We are a full inclusion school for students with a variety of disabilities including severe ones. Full inclusion means these students are in the classroom participating fully with regular ed students, with assistance and accomodations as needed. This is what prompted me to send my own children here. Through observational visits at a variety of schools before my first child was to enter K, I found that Castro demonstrated a markedly different climate and definition diversity. Students at all grade levels were learning an openess and acceptance that I had not yet learned as an adult. Social skills, inclusion, and problem solving are woven into every curriculum area.

The teachers have diverse backgrounds and are committed to on-going training. A few years ago we all committed to and participated in diversity training and teacher instruction on differentiation to enhance and assure our committment to meet the needs of all students. We have 5 Ed Fund Teacher of the Year Award winners, 1 Eukel Award winner, at least 7 people with master's degrees and multiple credentials, 2 teachers working towards National Board Certification, Master teachers for CSUEB and St. Mary's, 4 teacher advisors for the Developmental Studies Center, and 2 lecturers for Holy Names, St. Mary's, and/or CSUEB teacher education programs. Two years ago The Bay Guradian listed Castro as one of the Bay Area's ''hidden jewels''.

We currently have under 300 students because folks don't ask or bother to come on to the campus for a visit. We've been so busy with our focus on student success (academic, behavior, and social) that we don't have time to get out and sell ourselves. So...Thanks for asking! Linda

January 2006

I am looking for a current review of Castro Elementary school. The last posted review was from 2002 My daughter starts Kindergarten in fall 2006. Also do they have after school care? plc

On-site daycare for the El Cerrito public elementary schools is run by the city recreation dept. Here is the link for more info: -Liz
December 2002

We moved to El Cerrito recently and now our closest school would be Castro Elementary school. I looked up the website and the posting I found is from 1999. Has anybody from the list their child at Castro? Can anybody talk about their experience with this elementary school. Are there a lot of problems with the students? How are the teachers, especially for kindergarten and 2nd grade? Kate and Frank

Betty Buginas is the chief editor for the EC Wire, a *great* online newspaper about El Cerrito. She's a teacher at Castro School. Give the EC Wire a once-over for her email address. Dorothy
One of my friends had a son at Castro School for kindergarten 2 years ago. While she was very happy with the kindergarten experience in the classroom, she and her husband were not happy with the afterschool program. They successfully transferred to Kensington School where their is now in second grade. emorrissey
I sent my son to Castro School for K and 1st grade, thru June 2002. We were basically happy with the school, and if we hadn't opted for a completely alternative curriculum (my son is now at East Bay Waldorf School), he would still be at Castro and we would likely have sent our 2nd son there as well, when the time came.

Things we liked about Castro: diverse student body: ethnically, economically and full inclusion of disabled students. Seeing my son grow emotionally as he came to terms with a classmate's disability was amazing.

My son really learned a lot in the 2 years he was there; his reading and math skills progessed rapidly. There are concerns at the school that if you teach to the middle of the class, you are ignoring the needs of the more advanced and the slower children. This was a concern of mine, as I felt my son could be doing more advanced math work. I spoke with his teacher several times about it, but we never came up with a plan to address this. I suppose I ended up not pursuing it because I decided to just go with the school curriculum, and my son was not bored. I attribute his lack of boredom to the skill of his teacher, Mrs. Becker, who he had for both K and 1st grade. She was very good at working with the range of kids in her classroom. There were kids with behavior problems in the class and she was pretty proficient at not letting them slow down the whole class. I don't know if Castro has more problem kids than Kensington, but the teachers do have the experience to deal with these kids. I think there are a sufficient amount of good teachers at Castro.

An active PTA, albeit a small group of people. If you have ideas, bring them to the PTA and things can get implemented.

The new principal last year (Nicole Vedder) is still there this year and seems intent on making some positive changes as well. She instituted a ''reading block,'' a period of time in the morning, when all the classes are focussing on reading; maybe a way of pushing the teachers to get with the program.

Re afterschool care, we enrolled our son in Casa de Ninos, a home daycare. They have a van to pick up the kids and they are enrolled in all kinds of programs: windmill gymnastics, piano, art classes; they do a lot of creative things there.

Personally I felt very happy to be attending our neighborhood school; this actually tied me to my community in a way that did not exist in the years I had lived here prior to my son starting kindergarten.

Things we didn't like about Castro; some of which are not exclusive to Castro.

Inadequate adult supervision during yardtime, at recess. The school had identified this problem and was working toward a solution last year; I don't know if they have come up with something this year. The 1st-3rd graders are on the yard together. My son would report that older kids would take the ball he had brought up from the classroom; this was stressful to him, but there was no further harm to him.

There is a lot of teaching toward the test-taking which begins in 2nd grade. For example, beginning in kindergarten, the worksheets often include little bubbles to darken, so they will know how to do it at testtime. The curriculum is the same for all the area schools, so Castro vs Kensington is no different. This is actually why we switched schools.

Castro vs Kensington: Kensington has tons more parent participation which is a real benefit, however there is also a different social scene there. Kids have more there, so there is more ''keeping up with the Jones'' type of thing. For example, some kindergarten kids at Kensington had gameboys, so all the kids wanted them. At Castro, gameboys were an expense that only some families would incur, so it was a non-issue for us. At Kensington, all the kids in a class might sign up for the city soccer team together; so there is a real cohesion between the families. At Castro, we signed our son up for soccer and baseball and there were 0-3 kids from his class on the team, which was a shame. However, he made friends from other schools, and kids from all the area elementary schools go to Portola and El Cerrito high.

Which brings me to my next point. Mr Fabini is the chemistry teacher at El Cerrito High. His youngest is at Castro now. He says that in high school you can't tell which elementary school the kids went to; what you can tell from the kid is how involved his/her parents have been in the child's education. This is really what clinched my decision to go with Castro.

I hope you'll consider giving Castro a try! jennifer


Castro Elementary School - A public school in El Cerrito
My daughter began at Castro last year - 2nd grade - after her first two years at Fairmont, also in El Cerrito. She switched because we moved, not due to any major problems at Fairmont. We are now completing our second year at Castro, and this year my son entered kindergarten there. My husband and I are mostly happy with the school. I am on the board of the PTA, which is run by a handful of really devoted, really great people, and I look at them and think - well, if they're still hanging in with the public school system, and this school in particular, then I can too. I had a similar experience at Fairmont. WCCUSD is a district full of problems, and Castro has its share of problems, both with the students who come from less than ideal family situations and from the administration. Some pros about Castro: its a fairly small school -300 some students, I believe, and its grounds and buildings are pretty decent. It serves alot of handicapped and disabled children (it is a full inclusion school), so there is an aide in almost every classroom for each handicapped/disabled child. Dealing with kids with different abilities/limitations/differences therefor is a matter of course for the kids at Castro. There are some really great teachers at Castro, the school has computers in every classroom. Sarah