About El Cerrito Public Schools

Parent Q&A

  • Looking for a wonderful high school in the east bay

    (5 replies)

    My brother is moving his family from eastern Europe, where his middle school aged daughter is attending a very rigorous school, and they are looking to find the right high school for her.  She is very smart, very advanced academically, but has been bullied due to being "different" (being half American) and so she needs a challenging school that is also known for being kind and welcoming.  She is also probably a bit sheltered in terms of moving to a big American city.  Any suggestions, both public and private?  They don't have a ton of money.  Thank you so much.  


    If your family ends up in Berkeley, they might want to sign up for BIHS -- Berkeley International High School -- which is part of Berkeley High. Many students in the school have parents from Europe (and also the Middle East.)  

    For private schools, it sounds like your niece would fit in well at Maybeck in Berkeley.  

    As for public schools, most East Bay public schools are pretty good.  Schools in Orinda, Walnut Creek, Dublin, and San Ramon are all excellent.  But I also highly recommend schools in Piedmont, Berkeley, and Albany.

    You should definitely look at Orinda Academy! It has a very welcoming atmosphere and has an international student population so I'm sure she'd feel comfortable there. There is a big emphasis on acceptance and embracing differences PLUS it has a college prep curriculum and small class sizes.

    I definitely recommend El Cerrito High School and living in El Cerrito. El Cerrito is small and walkable, and with two Bart stations so it is easy to get around if you want to. The middle and high school are smallish, diverse, and welcoming; she should join a club or team right away, it is a great way to make like-minded friends. The high school is as challenging as the student seeks, they can take more or less challenging courses as they choose.

    San Ramon has wonderful High Schools which are very rigorous.  The most rigorous is Dougherty High School but the other High Schools are rigorous also.   San Ramon is generally safe.   The community is diverse, the public schools are fantastic, it is safe and a family oriented community.  San Ramon has apartments but they also have very affordable townhouses and free standing homes.  The town houses are much less expensive than the free standing homes.   San Ramon is only 25 minutes from Oakland.  San Ramon has lots of neighborhood parks and Las Trampas East Bay Regional Park.  San Ramon is building a new outdoor shopping/walking around plaza which will feature a combination of living space upstairs (rental units) and shopping and a luxury eat-in movie theater 10-plex downstairs. Here is some information regarding the new plaza called City Center in San Ramon http://www.citycenterbishopranch.com/.  There are also a lot of small businesses in San Ramon.

  • Understanding how school selection works in El Cerrito

    (7 replies)

    Hello - in researching elementary schools in El Cerrito on BPN I came across a posting from a family who lived in El Cerrito but was on the waitlist for kindergarten for their zoned elementary school (Harding). Perhaps I misunderstood the situation, but can anyone help me understand how elementary school placement works in El Cerrito? Are you not placed in your zoned neighborhood school? Thanks in advance. 

    WCCUSD had neighborhood schools so in theory if you show up early on registration day (usually in January) you can enroll. Note you need to come early - parents at our school (Madera) line up as early as 6:00am to register their Kindergarteners!

    The reason for waitlist though is that there are currently more school-age children in El Cerrito than school spots, especially in K-3 (which have smaller class sizes). A few years ago El Cerrito closed an elementary school (Castro) to build the new middle school on that site. The Castro enrollment area was divided between the other three schools. At the time there was a smaller number of children in city. 

    Well those demographics have changed with an influx of new families. As far as I know, Harding is the only EC Elementary that is not above 100% capacity. Madera and Fairmont both  have more families in their enrollment areas then they can accommodate, hence the waitlists. It's an issue that will have to be addressed as more families move to El Cerrito, and the city encourages denser housing development along the transit corridor.

    Enroll early and have all your paperwork ready! That's the best you can do.

    If you register early on "registration day", you should not have any problems.  Try to be there early and have all your documents in order.  Copies of documents are not accepted. 

    The people that I know that did not get in their zoned school was because they registered late (months past registration day).  

    You have to go the the Harding office and register/enroll your child. It is first come first served and the number of people lined up varies from year to year.  The year that I enrolled my Daughter I was about 5th in line and it was very calm. Recent years have been more competitive. Call the office and ask them what they're expecting this year. As an additional tip - do not assume that any siblings will automatically be enrolled in future years. You have to go down and enroll them also. 

    Harding has been a great school and we're all looking forward to Korematsu. 

    Schools work on a first-come first-serve basis. So if they are put on the waiting list, you should inquire where they could transfer to. If they are not able to be placed in their zoned school, you can request a transfer to another school within the district.

    You will get your zoned school as long as there is room. There isn't always room though. Get your registration information in asap.

    We got our zoned school for kindergarten but then moved into a different zone for second grade and were put on the wait list. My daughter started at our neighborhood school on day 4 of the school year. She went to her old school for the first three days. It wasn't ideal but it was worth it.

    What you need to do is stalk your neighborhood school's website to figure out when registration is and then get there early on that day with all of the required documents.

    WCCUSD has neighborhood schools. If your friend's child was placed on a waitlist, they may have enrolled late, after all the slots were filled. Register your child on the first day of registration (usually in mid-January) and you should be good to go!

    If you complete the enrollment on time (early January of each year for the coming fall), the child should get placed in his/her zoned school. I was surprised as well by someone who said they were on the waiting list. Maybe they enrolled late?

  • Diversity in Albany public schools

    (2 replies)

    Hi, we are looking to move back to Alameda County after a serious of pretty ugly and racist incidents at our school in Contra Costa County. I'm looking for some feedback about how diverse Albany high and the elementary schools are.  Or any feedback about how they handle bullying or racism. Thanks!

    My child started in the Albany School District in kindergarten and is now at AHS. The schools' staff at all three schools they attended have worked hard to instill a sense of respect for all people, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Albany is not truly racially nor socio-economically diverse. It is mostly white, Asian and middle class, but the kids here are really tolerant. I asked my child for their input, and they said that they just participated in an assembly at the high school about the impact on bullying. 

    I know you asked about Albany, but El Cerrito schools Harding, Fairmont, Korematsu and ECHS are so diverse that there is no majority ethnicity (a rarity nationwide in districts with neighborhood schools). Not to say that racism in some form can't happen anywhere no matter how diverse; my non-white child has not experienced racism, sexism or bullying in 17 years of El Cerrito schools. Also, a successful student will likely be successful anywhere, don't think you need to choose schools based on test scores (I think less diverse schools may have higher test scores). ECHS has many UC-bound students and great music, dance and debate programs, and a lot more.

  • looking for a good to great elementary school in Oakland

    (7 replies)

    Hi BPN! My kids are 8 and 4, and we are moving from Seattle to the bay area in the next couple of months. We are going to rent somewhere in the East Bay and are looking in Oakland, which seems ethnically and culturally diverse, relatively affordable, and well located for a commute to downtown SF. Can anyone recommend a family friendly neighborhood with a good elementary school?

    A school review website ranks Oakland elementary schools as either very bad or very good, with little in between. I'm wondering if it's missing something. Can a district with a school lottery have such wide educational disparity? If you live in a neighborhood with black & brown faces, a school you like/love, and that's kid friendly, please let me know. We will definitely visit first, but a few pointers would really help narrow down the field. Thanks in advance for your input.

    IMHO Oakland is only great for commuting to SF if you are within walking distance of a BART station, and those neighborhoods are increasingly unaffordable. San Leandro was a good suggestion; we looked there before buying in El Cerrito some years ago. EC has two BART stations that are very bikable/walkable from most of the city. The local public school my kids attend (Fairmont) is part of the West Contra Costa Unified district, a large urban district that is extremely diverse and offers lots of places for parents to plug in and participate in their child's education. My kids are white and in the minority in their classrooms and on campus and it is just fine.

    Oh my gosh, you make me cry tears of joy with your suggestions and thoughts. I really, really appreciate it!  I'm coming to visit and now I have some good starting places. This is a HUGE relief. :)

    KQED radio just did some interesting pieces about diversity and Oakland Unified that may be insightful, though not necessarily encouraging: 0https://ww2.kqed.org/news/tag/oakland-unified-school-district/

    Check out the Montclair, Redwood Heights, and Glenview neighborhoods in Oakland...they may have what you're looking for. Also look at the city of Alameda.

    I loved loved loved!! Sequoia Elementary. We actually live in the Crocker Highlands district, which ostensibly is a "better" school--but it is more white, and more competitive in my humble opinion. So our son went to Sequoia. He has some learning challenges and was then just a couple of years out of cancer treatment--so he looked different, sounded different, etc. etc. but the kids were super nice to him. My son is now in 8th grade, Sequoia goes through fifth, so it is possible things have changed.. but please check out Sequoia if you are looking at OUSD. The neighborhood around it is full of families and they had a bunch of "walking buses" for kids to pick each other up on set walking routes to school. And there is a garden!


    Oakland is based on a neighborhood school model, meaning neighborhood children get priority for the local school, before the Options process kicks in. That's how you get the educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities present in Oakland schools. Everyone is competing for a limited number of available spots at the best performing schools.

    Since you are looking for a housing, you should definitely look at the boundary map for the school neighborhoods (http://mapstacker.ousd.k12.ca.us/). The schools in the Oakland hills have the best test scores, but also the highest housing cost and, I suspect, the fewest available rentals. Also the whitest of Oakland's neighborhoods, although even the whitest of Oakland's elementary schools is 34% other races (the least diversified schools in Oakland are either predominantly Hispanic or predominantly Asian, with north of 90% of one ethnicity). Some of Oakland's most diverse schools are located between Interstate 580 and Hwy 13, with Glenview and Sequoia elementaries having a particulary balanced mix of black, white, Asian, and Hispanic students. Crocker Highlands is also in that area--it's whiter and a bit more affluent, but a gorgeous neighborhood. My daughter went to Cleveland, which is on the other side of 580 (the "flatlands"). Great school, majority Asian but a healthy dose of every other ethnic group, and a less expensive neighborhood.

    You can get the school report cards for all the Oakland schools from the OUSD website (http://www.ousd.org/domain/56). They have test scores, ethnic breakdowns. class size, teacher credential info, suspensions, expulsions, etc., etc.

    Good luck!

    Welcome to the Bay Area! I know you asked about Oakland, but wanted to offer up north San Leandro (just off of I-580) as another option. There's a BART station downtown and express buses to SF. Two neighborhoods in particular -- Estudillo Estates and Broadmoor -- have charming houses that are more affordable than Oakland, nice community, and tremendous ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity (more so, in my opinion, than many parts of Oakland with the "good" schools). There are a couple of neighborhood schools that serve those neighborhoods: Roosevelt and Washington. Roosevelt is the better performing school (in terms of test scores, which of course aren't the whole story) and is very culturally and ethnically diverse, with fantastic parent involvement (PTA, Dad's Club, LGBTQ association, etc). I've also heard good things about Washington Elementary, though historically their test scores have been low, but this is due to the linguistic/ethnic diversity of the school (which is also one of its best assets, IMO). In terms of community, the neighborhood is generally walkable, with some restaurants nearby (though you'd definitely have to drive 10 mins to Oakland for more exciting fare) and a fantastic coffeehouse/neighborhood meeting spot, Zocalo. The SL library is awesome, and there are a lot of new/young families moving in who were priced out of SF/Berkeley. Alameda is also a nice option with good schools, but much pricier. Good luck on your move!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


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.)