About El Cerrito Public Schools

Questions & Responses:
Looking for a wonderful high school in the east bay(5 responses)
Understanding how school selection works in El Cerrito(7 responses)
Diversity in Albany public schools (2 responses)
Archived Responses: 

New to El Cerrito - Junior High and Elementary

Nov 2011

We're moving to El Cerrito within the next week or so from San Francisco, and I've been reading things here and there about the middle school and elementary schools. The elementary school closest to our home would be Madera. The fact that we are entering mid year makes me nervous that there will not be a spot available for our 4th grader. If there happens to not be an available spot for him at Madera, what happens next? They are coming from small private schools in SF so this will be a big change for them both. I'd like to keep him at Madera or Kensington if possible. Also, I've heard such mixed reviews about Portola Junior High - some good, some bad, (it seems HUGE!) and also have heard that there is a new campus going up? Can anyone clarify when this will happen or if it's started already? Please share your experiences with either school with me, as well. I'm interested to know! Thanks! New Resident of El Cerrito

Welcome to El Cerrito! We love it. Great community, wonderful local park and pool, great community center with lots of activities, great sport programs....

Madera is great; so is Kensington. A word of warning: A local private school has come upon very difficult times, and a number of students have left for the public schools. I believe Madera is currently full, as are the other elementary schools. Do call and see. If your local, neighborhood school is full, you can receive an interdistrict transfer to another El Cerrito school.

Portola Middle School . PLEASE do not believe the rumors and dated ''facts'' about the school. Portola is very small (currently there are only 472 students); in fact, it is much smaller than the local elementary schools! It only has 7th and 8th grades. There is a new principal (excellent), dedicated teachers (small teaching staff), and the students are very sweet. There has been a recent surge of local families opting out of private school and dedicated to sending their children to our local middle school. The school is very much ''up and coming,'' and is worth a second look. There are many professional families there, and we have found the teaching and learning this year to be excellent (certainly as good as the local private schools, to be sure).

The one thing we cannot control is class size (rather large), but we are working on it!

Good luck in your move, and we hope to see you in our local public schools! It Takes A Village (and we welcome you)

Welcome to El Cerrito! Madera is a ''great'' public school, but that does not mean it works for everyone or that we love everything about it. I have a 4th grader there now. The teacher is creative and energetic and reaches well beyond the canned curriculum and the pressure to teach to the test (yes, it is a major fact of life in public schools). Not all Madera teachers are as impressive.

Madera has a very active parent community which raises money for music, arts, science, PE, you name it. There are lots of events and enrichment activities. It is a diverse and interesting student (and parent) population and all in all a pretty happy campus, with an effective and accessible principal.

Madera just added a 6th grade this year, so Portola is now a 2-year middle school. Some kids do fine there, others do not. (Some kids do fine anywhere -- others would be better served elsewhere for sure.) The mantra is ''if your kid is academically strong and takes all the advanced classes and has a tight cohort of friends and plays in the band and/or plays sports ... Portola is fine.'' In any case, two years is not forever, and lots of kids leave during middle school years (for another district, or homeschool, private school, independent study); some return to the district for high school. Maybe when the new Portola campus is built, this will change.

Best of luck, hope Madera has a slot for you (I can't really speak to that question, although they do make every effort to seat someone who is a resident . Reasonably happy, but learning should be so much more fun than it is

Hello and welcome to El Cerrito! Our son attends Mira Vista K-8 school on the El Cerrito/Richmond border in the Richmond Hills, and we are very happy with the school and the community. It is our neighborhood school and it is great to walk to school and have his friends nearby. I do not know if the 4th grades at Madera or Mira Vista are full, but you could call to find out. Mira Vista is another option for middle school when you get to that point. Good luck. Grace

Just wanted to add my voice to the discussion about Portola .

My son is now a freshman at El Cerrito High School and I feel that the autonomy demanded of him by his teachers at Portola prepared him well for high school.

Classes are large so it's mostly lecture format. Kids are expected to track homework in their planners and show up during lunch or after school if they need individual help or tutoring. Parents can track student progress online by logging into a program called power school which reports whether work is being completed and gives the current grade in the class. Most of the kids rise to the challenge of being responsible for their own academic achievement and are ready for high school.

My son chose the advanced classes (they let the kids choose) but struggled to keep up in some of them because he wasn't always focused. He had some very engaging and wonderful teachers but he was busy dealing with teenage hormones,navigating friendships, and growing into his new adult body so academics were not the highest priority. Fortunately, middle school is a time of transition so this wasn't a big deal.

Band and sports are very popular but I know students who absolutely loved the theater program. The drama teacher is very inspirational.

There was a very active parent community and a strong anti-bullying policy. Parent fundraising paid for after school and lunch time crafts on rainy days plus parents subsidize materials for the library, purchase classroom supplies, and invite each academic department to make requests for larger items (overhead projector, printer for the classroom, set of classroom books, etc.). While I was there, every teacher request (within reason) was approved and paid for by the PTA.

I really liked the small size and cohesive feel of the temporary campus. This is not a perfect school but it has a lot to offer a motivated kid who has parent support/guidance.

We are planning to send our daughter to Portola after she finishes elementary school.


Moving within EC and not changing schools

Nov 2010


Hello, We moved to the East Bay from out of state last year and are renting a house in El Cerrito. Our son is in elementary school. My husband is eager to buy a home since he thinks prices will start going up again soon, but I'd hate to have my son switch schools again. Does anyone know what the policy in WCCUSD is regarding moving and staying at the same school and would our younger child be able to attend the same school when he's ready for kindergarten? Thanks!! W.M.

Between the closure of Castro elementary, the down economy, and an increased number of young families in El Cerrito, the schools are a lot more crowded than they used to be. Some are so crowded that they cannot even accommodate all residents. Five years ago it was relatively easy to switch schools, but now, not so much. The district isn't granting many transfers based on ''parent choice'', reserving that privilege for families that are zoned to underperforming ''Title 1'' schools. So, while you might be able to keep your older child in his present school by simply not telling the school that you moved, your younger child would have to attend the school closest to your new home. And, of course, registering your younger child at the new school potentially exposes your older child as a non-resident.

If you are really happy with your son's school I think you should save yourself a whole boatload of stress and stay in your rental and try to wait to buy a house in that zone. anon


Your experience with El Cerrito schools?

January 2002


We're thinking about buying a home in El Cerrito and would like to hear about other families' experiences with the public schools, especially Fairmount Elementary Thanks! Kathryn

Although I went to Harding School (circa 1950) I would strongly recommend raising small children in El Cerrito. Its a very special (if unknown) place for families. Fairmount is located next to the Senior Center and the library. (Its also one block from the El Cerrito Natural Food Company, which is truly child-friendly.) Many families have lived in the city for two or three generations, sending their children through public education from kindergarten to college. (UC Berkeley is a common destination.) Kids who need extra help can go to one of the nearby learning centers or even spend a year or two at private alternative schools. (My kids spent time at Crestmont and Yellow Brick Road.)

Try it...you'll like it. And if you don't...you can always sell your house in a year or two for $100,000 more than you paid for it...take the proceeds and move to Lafayette! But you won't want to. Once you live in El Cerrito, you are home. Dorothy

PS...for great EC school news, check the El Cerrito Wire, available online and produced by elementary school teacher, Betty Buginas

To the parents considering a move to El Cerrito: I visited Fairmont School two years ago and was not impressed at all. Since then they have gotten a new principal and some additional funding, so things may be on the upswing. The only way to know is to visit some classes and talk to parents who are there now. The PTA newsletter will also give you a hint as to how involved the parents are and what they are doing. You can pick it up in the office.

Also, take all the boundary stuff with a grain of salt because there is a new middle school opening in January 2003 in Richmond, and as a result the district is currently looking at redrawing boundaries for the entire district. When we bought our house 8 years ago we were in Harding. By the time we started school we were in Fairmont. Now who knows, we may end up in Harding again! As for the quality of the middle schools, I'm afraid I haven't heard much positive input on them, but we are hoping that things will be better (and that we can work to make them better) by the time we get there in 5 years. El Cerrito High has a pretty good reputation, much like Berkeley High, it's big, but allows most kids to find a niche.

In general, El Cerrito is a great community with a lot happening. The Plaza is finally open with new shops, the pool at the Community Center will be completely renovated in the coming year, and there are lots of families in the neighborhoods. Good luck with these big decisions! Anne-Marie and Tim

(Also see pages for individual schools' recommendations above.)