Enrolling in the West Contra Costa Public Schools

Parent Q&A

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  • We currently live in Berkeley but are considering buying a home in El Cerrito, targeting homes zoned for Madera or Kensington Elementary. Our oldest child will start Kindergarten in the Fall, and is already enrolled in a Berkeley elementary school. We have missed the open enrollment period for the El Cerrito schools, and would realistically not be starting there until first grade. I was told by the WCCUSD transfer office that some families who start after Kindergarten are NOT assigned to Madera and Kensington due to high demand, even if they live within the zones for these schools. She did however, tell me that this is usually only for families that miss the open enrollment period ... but it made me nervous. I'd hate to buy in a specific school zone and then not get a space in that school!

    As a related question, it would also be helpful to hear from any families that have had inter-district transfers granted by BUSD, in the event when a sibling already attends the school but the family has moved. I was told by BUSD that these requests are not typically granted, and honestly would prefer to have my kids in our home district if we move anyway. 

    I would love to hear from any families that enrolled (or tried to enroll) in Madera or Kensington post-Kindergarten. Any advice is helpful!

    My daughter, who is a teacher in Kensington School, lived in El Cerrito and her kids were not allowed to go to her school.

    She moved to Kensington and now they are enrolled there.

    I just like you to buy a house in the right place,

    We all LOVE the K. school.....

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How can I get information about my local public school?

Oct 2015

This is a process question -- I'm trying to find out more about our local public school (Madera Elementary) and there's helpful generic info online (address, grades, parent reviews, etc) but I can't find student-teacher ratios or any information about how to get a school tour or info session. Is this typical of public schools? Do I actually need to pick up the phone, or is there some info source that I'm overlooking? I don't want to bother the school clerk and be ''that parent,'' but I also don't want to send my kid to kindergarten without having any idea what's going on.
Madera and other WCCUSD schools typically have kindergarten tours starting in late November or early December. Keep checking the website as there will be announcements posted there and here on this newsletter /website. Christine
I can understand your frustration, I am not sure if there is an open house, but the last two years I believe the Kindergarten classes had a teacher to student ratio of around 1 to 20-25. Some classes have additional assistants and/or parent volunteers. Madera has a Great School rating of 9/10 and has a strong PTA. One piece of advice I will mention is that if you want to go to Madera and are zoned for it, make sure to apply right away when Kindergarten enrollment begins. Just because you are zoned for Madera does not mean you can go there. There have been instances when parents who applied late were assigned other WCCUSD schools. WCCUSD Mom

WCCUSD Kindergarten registration occurs in January with class tours I think in May??? Frankly, that might be site-specific. Here is the link. It has not been updated yet, but probably will be soon. http://www.wccusd.net/page/555

Class size in K-3 in mandated by law to be no more than an average of 24:1. Call the school site to find out specifics of registration and class tours. Almost all schools have play dates and the like.

For Madera, ask to get on the e tree. http://maderaschool.org/2015/06/08/stay-informed-while-website-is-under-construction/


Displaced from Madera even though we live in the zone?

April 2009

My family and I will be moving to the East Bay this summer, and we've been thinking about renting or buying something in east El Cerrito so that our son (now in kindergarten) can attend Madera. But we were told that 1st grade is already oversubscribed, and that there is a chance that our son would be displaced into another elementary, even if we lived in Madera's zone. Have other parents encountered this problem? Is it common that students are displaced this way? If we were displaced, would our chances of getting in for 2nd grade be better? I'd be obliged for any advice. Brian

Great question. Here is the way it works: Based on your address, you are assigned a resident school. However, if that school is full, you are either placed into an ''over flow'' class, where the school waits to see if there is room for you, or you are assigned to a different school. However, the school you are assigned to does not have to be in El Cerrito; it can be anywhere in the district.

Since the school board recently voted to close Castro (despite it being the third highest scoring school in El Cerrito, and one of the best in the district), the other El Cerrito schools are impacted, taking in all of the displaced Castro students. Since there is not enough room for them in El Cerrito schools, they too are being sent to schools outside of El Cerrito. It is truly a nightmare for everyone.

Try your luck, but don't be surprised if you cannot get into Madera, or any El Cerrito school. I would shoot for Berkeley, or even Albany. Thinking of packing up and leaving!

You should confirm the current policy with the school district. But in the past this happened to two WCCUSD families I know. One who tried to enroll their children in August and another family who moved into their school zone in October. Both were redirected to other WCCUSD schools. The enrollment period for the following school year is in January, so if you miss it, you are not guaranteed your resident school. For your son, if there is not space for him for first grade, if you register in January for second grade at Madera, he should get in. --wccusd mom

I have heard that Madera is full. I would love to buy a house around there but am very hesitant to do so because of that issue. That sucks. I am really sorry. So, I have heard from our principal at Kensington Hilltop that we would get displaced students from Madera first....if we had room. Don't know if we do. You can call Kensington Hilltop and find out if there is a wait list and if so, how deep it is. You can also ask traditionally how many people clear the list and get placed. You can ask that over at Madera too.

If you get displaced to Kensington Hilltop, nothing to worry about. It is a good school in a good community. Also, the people that go to Harding and Fairmont love their schools too. But it would be a bit of a drive for you. I would fight being placed at Castro because it is going to close soon ( they would be fools if they put you there, but who knows what they would do).

I was on a waiting list for Hilltop three years ago and this was the procedure. Attend Hilltop for a certain period of time until they are SURE there is no room for you. Can't remember how long..a couple of weeks? If there is no room, then you get assigned to your school. It sucks totally. How can you possibly make plans? Then when room opens, you get put back in your home school.

Here is the website for the transfer office:


If they are not helpful, appeal directly to Dr. Harter, Supt of Schools. Tell him transfer office has not been helpful and you are going to put your kid in private school if you don't get a good line of communication. Good Luck

There is every indication the the school board will be voting to increase class due to the state budget crises. Once that happens, there will be more spots in EC schools and all schools throughout the district.

There is plenty of room for displaced Castro students in EC schools because for years EC schools were not full. Some had as many as 30-50% transfers but those kids are now graduating which is also freeing up more spots.

As for ''displaced'' residents, one of the biggest challenges for Madera and Kensington is that many parents opt not to go to their resident school and apply for a transfer. This is what happened at Madera for many years.

In addition, when the board redistricted several years ago, Madera got a huge draw and the Kensington draw was enlarged to include part of the EC Hills. For example, families within walking distance of Castro were suddenly part of the Madera draw. This made sense back then because the Richmond schools were full and the EC schools were not.

However, now that the ''resident'' draw is growing in EC, these schools will start to limit transfers and if they also increase class size, that should solve the problem for nearly all resident EC families.

Finally, the board voted to make transfers re-apply every year (starting with the kids who enter school in the 09-10 school year). This will give the transfer office more flexibility in being able to accommodate residents moving into a specific school draw. Essentially, transfers may be re-directed back to their ''resident school'' if they are displacing new residents moving into the area.

So if Madera is the school you really want as long as you register early, you should have no trouble securing a spot.

I would suggest calling the WCCUSD Transfer Office. Ask what the status and wait list is like for transfers to the various schools. If they know, they will help you.

In response to the last post, regarding the new availability of spaces at Madera due to the school board's vote to increase class size. This is not true. As of today, the district has stated that NO transfers will be honored for Madera. Period. So, unless a vast amount of people move, you will not get into Madera.

Call the transfer office for verification and for further updates. Madera parent

FYI, we are Madera residents and just received a letter stating that even after the district voted to get rid of class size reduction, they are four spots short in fifth grade at Madera. There are not enough spaces for residents, and zero spaces for transfers. Good luck! Impacted Schools in El Cerrito

It doesn't surprise me at all that 5th grade would be impacted at Madera. 5-6 years ago when it wasn't full ''resident'' families from Mira Vista, Fairmont, and Harding were able to transfer in quite easily to Madera because there were plenty of extra spots.

The district has 3 options now:
(1) add another classroom if there is space
(2) force transfers to go back to their resident school
(3) find spots for residents at other schools

My guess would be number 3. Fortunately, there are many excellent schools that displaced ''resident'' families may be directed to.

BTW, this happens a lot at other schools too. Kids don't come in neat little packages of 20, 24, and 28. Also, families move in and out of the schools a lot due to job changes, divorce, and all kinds of reasons.

A family I know with three school-age children tried to enroll at Washington Elementary (their neighborhood school) and was told they didn't have enough spots for all 3 kids. They found space for them at an El Cerrito school and they are very happy there.

It's stressful for parents but the kids are very resilient and it usually works out fine.

What do I do to sign my kid up for school?

Nov 2007

My daughter will be 5 in March, so it will be time for her to start kindergarten next fall. I live in Richmond and I know I want to send her to public school, but I have no idea how to get started. Do I call schools and take tours? Do I sign her up for a lottery system? Do I even get a choice of schools if I want one? I've read the ''Schools, Preschools and Camps'' newsletter for years now, but I'm still a little unsure of how everything works in my school district. Also--how do I find out what school district I'm in? --embarassed by how little I know

You are in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The District includes the cities of Hercules, Pinole, El Sobrante, San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito and Kensington. You have a neighborhood school. To find out which school is yours, call the District. Most schools will give you the opportunity to tour the school. If, for some reason, you want your child to attend another specific school in the district, you can try to transfer. Some schools have room for transfers, others don't. The No Child Left Behind federal program allows transfers if a school is underperforming. You can ask your local school, or the school district, about that. The District offices are in Richmond. My daughter has gone to WCCUSD schools for the past 11 years and it has worked out well for us. Good luck

If you live in Richmond you are in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. You can find out which school you are supposed to go to through the district's website. There is a chart that lists street names and house number ranges with the corresponding elementary, middle and high schools. Kindergarten registration and transfer applications were due in January last year... I assume it will be the same this year. You should check the website for details. If you don't like the school you are supposed to go to you can apply for a transfer, but you won't find out for a while if the transfer has taken place... we didn't find out until April last year. WCCUSD Parent

Call the school district. They should have a recorded message at minimum telling you what to do. Or Google ''Richmond Unified School District'' and you will be taken to a website that gives you all the information. I did that and got the link: http://www.wccusd.k12.ca.us/index.shtml. Click on ''registration'' then ''kindergarten registration.'' As for tours in my district all I had to do is call the school district and ask about them. anon

Go to the district website, www.wccusd.k12.ca.us, and click on registration. It will tell you your resident school, the registration dates, and the transfer application dates. It is very importatnt that you don't miss any of the dates. You have to call each school you are interested in to find out tour dates, and not all schools have tours. You may apply for transfer to only one school, although I suppose after school starts you could call other schools to see if they have room. --wcc mom