Kensington Hilltop Elementary School

Public School
operated by West Contra Costa County Unified School District
Phone (510) 231-1415
90 Highland Blvd, Kensington, CA 94708

Parent Q&A

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  • Our daughter will be in first grade next year and unfortunately we are waitlisted at The Neighborhood School aftercare program. What have others done in this situation? I only know of one off-campus aftercare program that picks up students. We are looking for care until at least 4:30 or 5pm several times/wk. Thank you!

    Looks like I'll be in the same position as you!  I'm moving to Kensington next month and my son will be starting kindergarten at Hilltop.  Open to suggestions or maybe we could find an afterschool nanny that could take care of both of ours?  My new place is on Cowper so not far from school.

    Are you referring to KASEP as the off-campus aftercare program? It's at the community center just down the hill (walking distance) from Hilltop:

  • Kensington Elementary

    Apr 1, 2020

    Hello, I would like to ask about Kensington Elementary School. A year ago it had a 9 out of 10 ranking on great This year it is 7 out of 10. I don't seem being able to figure out why. Can you please share your thoughts about it or experience from attending Kensington Elementary school? Thank you. 

    Looks like they changed the way the overall ranking is calculated since test scores are at 10/10. Looks like they put more weight on how low income students may be doing. I have seen that for other schools as well. Too bad they don't tell us the criteria used or if and when they change it.

    The rating went down because equity is now factored in. There are not a lot of non-white or low income students. They did not test as well as white and non-low income students. Test scores scores overall are still a 10. 

    GreatSchools reworked their formulas recently in a way that is detrimental to schools that have any sort of a low income population. If you look closely, you'll see that Kensington gets a 10/10 for test scores overall and for not low-income students, but their overall score is lowered because low-income kids aren't performing as well as non low-income kids. I think it was a change made from good intentions, but is having unintended consequences in punishing otherwise good schools.

    The broad systemic inequality in our society that results in test scores being tied to socioeconomic status is not any individual school's fault and the fact that Kensington's 7% of low-income students don't score as well as the 93% of students who are not disadvantaged is no reason to think the quality of instruction overall is any worse. We're at a different elementary school in the district that went from a 7 to a 3, but the quality of instruction is just as good as ever, if not better, and our kids are learning off the charts.

  • Hello,  I am wondering if anyone has experience or advice on how difficult/ improbable it is that we will get a spot at Kensington Hilltop Elementary for kindergarten in the fall if we submit an intradistrict transfer request?  And also approximately when we would get notification from the school district about whether we were granted the transfer request?  We live right outside of the Kensington school zone in El Cerrito, but our daughter has been attending Kensington Nursery School  for preschool and we would love to continue with their walk-down program for after school care which is only for Hilltop students.  Thanks so much!!

    Hilltop was already 3 spots overbooked, several days before registration officially ended, so with no other information than that, I would guess it would be challenging.

    I have a current kindergartener and we live 2 blocks from the Kensington district border. I tried last year to get an interdistrict transfer. I was a little slow to register, so there were 30 families in front of me and we didn't think we'd get in at all. When I called the district in late September (to see if we the waitlist had moved at all) they said both Kensington and Madera and accepted zero families from the intradistrict list. So, you still should try, but have a plan B for aftercare, as it's unlikely that you will get in. 

  • We are moving to east bay and decided to move to albany or berkeley for elementary schools but rent is just out of our budget. I am wondering how is kensington hilltop elemenatry school compare to albany or berkeley schools. Also is there any other city I should look into it?

    Hilltop is an amazing school. I can't compare it to Albany and Berkeley schools because my kids didn't go to those schools. But we couldn't be happier with Hilltop. If you choose Berkeley, you have no idea what school you're going to get because it's a lottery. I prefer WCCUSD where you get to send your kid to the neighborhood school unless that school is full.

    I'd be surprised, however, if rents in Kensington are less than they are in Berkeley or Albany. Kensington is a very nice hill town filled with single family homes. There are no bad areas and very few apartments. Albany and Berkeley both have neighborhoods in the flats that are not as nice and probably not that expensive. I'm always surprised to hear people who think that Kensington is a cheaper alternative to our neighbors when a starter home here is nearly $1M.

  • Hi,  Does anyone have any experience with being on the waitlist for kindergarten at kensington hilltop elem? it is our resident school and we're #7 on the list for kindergarten.


    I am fairly certain you will clear.  If, by the very slim chance you do not, they will offer you placement at Madera or Harding or one of the other El Cerrito schools, which are very good schools (and even better because they more diverse).  Also, check out the District's new Mandarin Immersion program.  If I had an incoming K, I would very seriously consider this option.  I'm genuinely sorry my kids won't have this option.…;

    My daughter was #4 on the waitlist for second grade. She got a spot there on the 4th day of school. It was a little stressful starting at a different school but it was worth it in the long run.

Parent Reviews

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Archived Q&A and Reviews

Nov 2014

Re: Moving from Madera zone to another WCCUSD zone

We only have experience in sending our kids thru Kensington, so cannot speak to Mira Vista. We live within walking distance of Kensington Hilltop Elem, and loved the experience of having our kids walk to their ''neighorhood school.'' Both kids are done there now and had very positive expereiences, academically and socially. They both went to the afterschool program on-site (Neighborhood School) because we are both working parents, like you, and we liked it trememdously. Both our kids also took many of the after school classes offered by our enrichmnet program KASEP, which sounds very similar to your MASEP. YOu can find more info on KASEP at this website: If you enroll your kid in Neighborhood after school, they walk them to and from KASEP classes.

If you are happy at Madera, you will be happy at Kensington, the issue of any kid going thru the transition of changing schools notwithstanding. Good luck with your house hunting-- that may be the most challenging part! anon

K Teachers at Hilltop

March 2014

We are going to have a son starting Kindergarten next year at Kensington Hilltop. Can anyone share their experiences about the teachers? Soon to be Kindergartner's Mama

Can only speak for Ms Gillespie, she was a great fit for our son. He needed a very structured classroom environment which she provides. She is fast paced, energetic and creative. I was concerned about him being bored and under stimulated/challenged, which is not the case in her class. He really likes school, and will be more than ready for first grade. Hope this helps! Kindermom at Kensington

Kensington Elementary School for easy going girl?

Jan 2014

My daughter attends a wonderful preschool and is ready for kindergarten in the fall. We moved to Kensington in no small part because of the public school but we're having reservations about Hilltop. I've read all of the older threads on the public vs private debate but am wondering if anyone can offer more current information about Hilltop. In the past, I heard nothing but glowing reports from parents about the school, but since then, I've read some reviews that have concerned me.

We did not register at any private schools but have the option to continue at the preschool for another year in a bridge K class which caters more to kids not yet ready for kindergarten and to those children with fall birthdays. Most enroll in kindergarten after the bridge year. We'd hope to enroll our daughter in 1st grade. We toured the bridge K class, and while wonderful in most ways, some of the kids seemed a little bored. Our daughter is easy going, not prone to complain much, and might get lost in the shuffle because she is compliant. She is very verbal, but reserved. Otherwise we have not noticed any deficits or exceptional gifts. We think she's pretty great.

My gut says she would be fine in either environment but we'd like to give her the most enriching education we can afford. We're kind of regretting that we did not apply to more of the private schools. Help! Is Kensington Elementary School still great? worried mom

Glad you posted this. We agonized last year over private vs public vs catholic school. And the only information we could obtain on Kensington were from families we knew that were attending. Fortunately we ended up at Kensington, and could not be happier. My son is in Kindergarten with a very dynamic teacher, who tends to be fast paced, creative, energetic and a great match for him. I was concerned he would not be challenged academically, but that certainly is not the case. When asked what he likes best about school, he replied ''everything''. He is learning about Miro in art class, Beethoven in music class, loves the focus on chemistry in science, and great focus on reading. The downside is the 3 hour school day for kindergarten, but we feel the pros of the school outweigh that con. We do not live in Kensington so have had to make an extra effort to integrate into the community. And there are tons of means in doing this, from serving on the several committees, to volunteering in the classroom. I can't speak for the upper grades, but so far our experience is very positive and we hope the standard set by this year's teacher continues. It's been a great fit for us. Happy at Hilltop

Welcome to Kensington. We moved to Kensington for the elem school over 10 years ago and have had 2 kids go through it--happily and successfully. This is our last year there and we will miss it. I can remember, though, that first year starting kindergarten I was full of trepidation too, mostly because it is such a huge step for the child, and we had loved our preschool too. But change is good when your child is ready for kindergarten and Hilltop will not disappoint. I hope you are lucky enough to get Ms Lieberman as your kindergarten teacher (they are all good but she's amazing). There are some quirky teachers at Kensington, but IMHO, no more bad ones, and your child will be in an excellent learning environment. Good luck with your decision. anon

I could not be more pleased with Kensington Hilltop. I graduated one and have one there now. I have found the assignments and classwork to be interesting and challenging, and I have found the teachers to be caring and genuinely interested in the well-being of my childern. I'm not a huge fan of standardized tests, but this school ranks at the top of the district, and compares to favorably to other ourstanding schools in Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Marin and further. The Principal, Judy Sanders, is an outstanding administrator. Don't think so? Go somewhere else and you will appreciate her tireless and gentle hand!!! I, myself, have made serveral friends that I will probably keep for life. I think it would be a mistake if you did not try it. You can always change later. Good Luck!

Nov 2012

Re: How are El Cerrito/Kensington Schools?

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

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.

We have two kids and have been here for 5 years. What we have found is that, as your kids advance the grades, parents start quietly sharing their suspicions that the test scores are about the community, not the education. There are a handful of really terrific teachers, but most are not terrific. Some are really poor. A couple do damage.

My daughter was actually verbally abused by one teacher. She was also stuck in a classroom with a teacher who taught her nothing, and the whole class started the next grade behind. She was even in a class with a teacher who seemed to be mentally ill. We complained about this to no avail. A couple years later the teacher was transferred somewhere else where the community is less powerful, I guess.

There is no GATE program, no matter what anyone tells you. You're on your own to get your kid engaged in school if that's an issue for you. Many teachers seem to be against any kind of differentiation. I have heard this from the handful of faculty who are quietly trying to be creative in the classroom, and have also seen it for myself.

The school is remarkably traditional, and seems to have adopted nothing new, creative or innovative. In 5 years here, we have yet to have the good fortune to get one of the sought-after great teachers there. They have lines out their doors.

On the plus side, the parent community works its collective butt off to get enrichment classes, funding, special events, help in the classroom, etc. It's a great community, warm, neighborly, and deeply committed to the education. The school has fabulous opportunities relative to other public schools because of the parent community.

The school's principal is very focused on social-emotional health, and this part works well too. The school is a very positive place culturally, and this reflects everyone's hard work, as well as the strong values of the community at large.

I would not recommend KHS. And if you did want to go there, you would need to ask someone who's been here for a while who to avoid. You would also need to accept that many of the teachers are content with teaching styles that are uninspired and far behind the times.

So when we get to the later grades like we have, we've seen others sadly giving up and sending their kids to private schools. The school explains that attrition as parents getting a jump on avoiding Portola and ECHS -- might as well start private now. But there's much more to it than that. We just don't say it out loud too often. But I've spoken to too many disillusioned 4th grade parents -- I know why they are going to other schools. We too have decided to move to private. Disappointed

This is in response to the last posting about Kensington school. While I would love to disagree with the rather negative post, it is in large part true. However, for many, the pros outweigh the cons.

First, Kensington is a wealthy community, that's true. A lot of parents try to negotiate a place in the ''preferred'' teachers' classrooms, but I have not found that their wishes are granted. Some get the ''good'' teachers and others don't. And my daughter currently has a teacher that her best friend absolutely hated. My daughter loves her. So, go figure, right?

I think the poster is also right in that it's true that the school tests well because it is an upper class school (same is true for Albany schools. Teaching can be pretty mundane, but kids test well because of their social class). But, the same people who use this argument are the same who refuse to attend our good-and-rapidly-improving middle and high schools. Test scores drop there because the population is no longer upper class (but, in fact, the teaching can be quite good). Suddenly, the argument is no longer valid and they rush to private schools!

Also, many who flee for the private schools (like the poster said, often in 5th or 6th grade) seem perfectly happy to tolerate mediocre teaching as long as their kids are surrounded by upper class families. My daughter is in 6th grade this year and will attend our local public middle school. Meanwhile, some of her friends went to our local private school this year, where all they talk about is parties, going out, shopping, and concerts. None have homework. None seem interested in school at all (it's all about the social scene, who has what, and who is friends with whom). This has not been the case at the public elem. school, nor at our public middle school, where students participate in National Jr. Honor Society, volunteer work, science projects, and so on. Oh, and they get to enjoy a wonderfully diverse student body at the public middle school, too (just like real life!).

I feel that California schools ARE simply mediocre, at best. It's a crap shoot. But, great private schools are few and far between. Don't get sucked into the hype without giving our local schools a try first. If they do not work for you, give private a try. But, you may find yourself very surprised; who knows? It may be great, for you and your child! Will NOT be attending private!

Oct 2011

Re: Schools with great cohorts
We have kids in those exact grades at Kensington. Their cohorts are actually really sweet, something we comment on quite often, as do the teachers. I can't say too much about the kindergarten cohort as it is still so early in the school year. Academically our children our challenged and have peers who are equally academic. We have been incredibly happy there.

April 2011

Hello BPN folks, we're considering a district switch and hoping to find some elusive answers to a few questions about Kensington Hilltop. We would be so grateful if a parent or educator could chime in. What can you tell us about the GATE program there currently and is it expected to continue? Class size for 2nd - 5th? If you are in the El Cerrito area zoned for the school, are you more likely to get waitlisted? How does it work if you're coming in to a grade later than K? How do you view the school for a bright kid who thrives with critical thinking, longer projects and challenging curriculum? Anything else we need to know? many, many thanks! looking for the right school

I can't answer all your questions about Kensington, but our experience there has been very positive. We transferred in when one child was in 4th and the other in 1st, and the only adjustment we noticed was that the academics at Kensington were generally more advanced than the school we left. There are many bright kids who work above grade level and the teaching there caters to them. There is also a lot of support for those who need help. GATE funding has essentially gone away, so there is really no formal GATE program left that I know of. Some teachers differentiate instruction for GATE students, but how they do that depends on the individual teacher.

Because we are part of WCCUSD, class sizes are large. I'm not sure what the 2nd and third grades will have (I think the current max is 28 students) but the 4th through 6th grade classes have 32 or 33 each. There are extra classes in science (with a required extended science project each year), art and PE, and a really great after school band and recorder program. Parents are very involved, and there are lots of opportunities be part of the school community.

I can't tell you whether or not you are likely to end up on the wait list, but I can definite recommend the school. Happy Kensington Parent

HI there, not sure if you will get many responses on this, as I have noticed, too, that info on Hilltop is hard to get (I had similar questions when my kids were headed there in the beginning). Can't speak to the EC transfer issue as we live in Kensington, though my kids have plenty of classmates with EC addresses.

My kids are bright and energetic and have thrived at the school-- like any other school there are some great teachers and some that are less than stellar, but my oldest is in 5th now and I am pleased by the overall high quality of the school (the principal is great).

GATE is there,and both my kids ''qualify'' but I haven't seen that it is a super strong program at Hilltop. One year the whole class my daughter was in was taught GATE curriculum, other years, I don't hear a peep about it.

Class size jumps up at 4th grade, but unless you're in private school, it's the same everywhere. You just have to hope for good teachers who know how to handle it. Hilltop is a solid school, and some teachers are exceptional and are able to manage the diversity in learnig abilities of their students-- your child could certainly have a good experience at Hilltop unless you have unrealistic expectations of a public school in California. anon

If you live in the El Cerrito hills area zoned for Kensington Schools you will be enrolled, not waitlisted, I believe. It's just as if you lived in Kensington only you have to drive up the hill. El Cerrito too

2007 - 2009 Discussions

Which kindergarten program?

Dec 2008

My son will be starting Kindergarten this Fall '09 and I am trying to figure out which program to go for - morning or afternoon. Schedule is not an issue, rather getting the right teacher is. I keep getting conflicting information about the teachers in both programs and would appreciate any feedback or advice. I am (of course) looking for a nurturing teacher that prepares him for 1st grade. Thanks for your help! anon in kensington

Everyone is very good. I really would not worry. Also, there could be turnover. Someone who teaches K might decided to retire or switch to a different grade. This happened last year and there is no saying that it could not happen again. If I were you, I might politely make a request, but I would not be upset or surprised if it did not get honored. Hilltop Parent

I sighed when I read your question-- I was very nervous having my kids start at Hilltop kindergarten because I too didn't know what to make of the kindergarten teacher options and the school is not open to observing the classrooms. My kids are now 1st and 3d graders at Hilltop-- both had good (morning) kindergarten experiences with the same teacher, though personally I did not warm to their teacher. I will say that if you get Ms. Lieberman (who just moved from teaching 1st grade to kindergarten) that you and your child will have the best possible kindergarten experience-- she's the most well-rounded teacher (and all-around person) I've yet come across. The principal, Judy Sanders, is also a great person to talk with-- she will work with you if you have any concerns along the way. Good luck. anon

Seeking advice: waitlisted at Hilltop

Jan 2007

We've just gone to register our five year old for Kindergarten at Hilltop (we live in Kensington) and have been told we're waitlisted. They've instructed us to show up at class on the first day of school and that if there's room he can stay, but if not they'll redirect him to another school. That leaves us eight months to wonder and worry, and it puts him in an awkward position: imagine a kindergartner walking into a new classroom and then being told he can't stay! I'm not sure I want to put him through that. He's third on the waiting list. Does anyone out there have any idea of what kind of odds he has? Any other advice? Thanks. gill

Today, Jan 31, is the last day of WCCUSD kindergarten registration. Kensington should have space for 80 kindergarteners. There is no way more than 80 other in-zone resident 5 year olds have already signed up. The school needs to know in the next week or two how many in-zone students are registered so they can notify prospective transfer families. Transfer families might not know if they are in until the day before school starts, but I really don't think resident families should be concerned if they registered on time. -- WCC parent

I did not see the original post, but hopefully this will help you. My child was wait listed last year at Hilltop. I made a big stink about it because the fact that there was a wait list was absolutely unacceptable. We just spent $17 million dollars on a new school that is supposed to serve all of the Kensington comunity, not just the 80 that show up to register. So now they know that they have a problem with enrollment, but they are doing nothing about it. I even asked Bruce Harter (Supt. WCCUSD) point blank at a PTA meeting, and his response was the enrollment across the entire district was declining. If you are a resident of this zone, I encourage you to call him directly and tell him that he has a problem. You are paying a lot of taxes to live here and you deserve to send your kid to the school closest to you. Tell him to hire another teacher, get another classroom.... make it work. As an aside, my child did clear the wait list and is now enrolled. WCC Parent

2004 - 2006 Discussions

Safe, creative environment at Hilltop?

May 2006

I'm looking for a safe and creative environment for my child when she reaches the kindergarten or first-grade level. How are Madera and Kensington Hilltop in this regard? Do teachers encourage independent thinking? Do they have open-ended art and creative writing projects? Do they use manipulatives to help children learn, or do they mostly lecture? Is bullying a concern in the school yard? If so, can I volunteer to supervise children in the yard as often as daily, for the first month or two? My child may skip kindergarten and enter as one of the youngest kids in first-grade, as her development so far has been advanced for her age. Any advice on whether to skip kindergarten at these schools, or how to ease the transition would be helpful. If skipping kindergarten makes her social integration too difficult, we may decide to place her in a private school with mixed-aged classrooms instead. She is a happy child of average height. She has many playmates who will be going to Hilltop, both her age, and a year or two older. Thanks, El Cerrito parent

Hilltop teachers use manipulatives quite a bit. Creative writing is not a big focus, but there is some. The early grade children largely write journal entries, letters, reports, etc. Some of the classroom teachers offer a more open art experience. The environment is warm and supportive with strong community; many parents volunteer extensively, and you would be very welcome on the yard. Bullying doesn't really appear until about 4th grade, and it is not wide spread. There is a ''social/emotional curriculum'' in place. The vast majority of the kids are emotionally well-supported children raised by engaged parents, and consequently the kids are not tough or mean, and they're getting help at home on social skills. I haven't met any parents who feel safety is a problem. Social integration would not be a problem, if your child is reasonably socially adept. I have seen a few children in my children's classes who were too young for the peer group (not the academics) but you sound confident that wouldn't be a problem. I think the main question to address is whether you're comfortable with the confines of the state of califonia curriculum. Within those stringent confines, Hilltop does a superb job. hilltop parent of two

Kensington Hilltop Waiting List

April 2006

I have two kids on the waiting lists for Kensington and I wonder if anyone has any idea how much movement there is on these lists. Both kids are entering elementary grades (NOT kindergarten). What do I do if they don't get in? Am I supposed to register them, too? I called the WCCUSD but no one called back. Any suggestions? This whole proces is such a mystery to me... Mystified Mom

The transfer office is overwhelmed with calls at this time of year from parents asking about where they are on the waiting list so that may be why you didn't get a call back. You need to register both of your children at your ''resident'' school soon. Grades 1-6 usually register at their home school during April-May.

The district website,, has a directory of resident schools indexed by street names and numbers. Once you determine where your resident school is, you can call your neighborhood school's office directly and ask what hours they are open for registration.

We applied for a transfer years four ago, didn't get in, and are very happy at our resident school (Harding) in the El Cerrito flatlands which has lower scores but more diversity in terms of race/ethnicity, students with special needs, and socioeconomics. The teachers are excellent and the parent community is fabulous. So be aware that there are some very good schools that don't look so good ''on paper''. The Harding website has some good information about documents to take with you when you register (PG&E bill, birth certificate, etc.) and it explains the process step-by-step:

If you call your resident school now they may have an Open House coming up so you can look at the classrooms and meet the teachers. It's also a good idea to talk to families in your neighborhood who actually attend the local school. Most of the folks I talk to who have bad things to say about W. County schools have never actually attended one or their experiences are from several decades ago.

Most of the schools also have websites with information about their activities. You will find links to those on the district website too. Best of luck!

I have a child wait listed for Hilltop as well. I am interested in finding the other people wait listed. I am only interested in finding residents - not transfers. If you are a resident, you have been wait-listed and you are motivated and are willing to work to get good answers and a workable solution, please contact me directly. lesmac

I'm assuming that if you are on the waitlist, then Kensington is not the school you are zoned for. In this case, you should absolutely register at your neighborhood school. Depending on where you are on the waitlist, you may or may not be called with an available opening after the school year begins. Not knowing how old your children are, I can say that there are very few openings in the K-3 classes. More spaces open up each year after 4th grade and up as some families choose private schools as their kids age and class size increases to 30+. If you have any questions you can call the school office and speak to the secretary Pam who will probably tell you something similar but may be able to give you more specifics. Kensington parent

HI Mystified Mom, We have a kindergartener at Hilltop and while we are zoned for the school, so did not have to petition for a transfer, I just wanted to let you know that the several times we called the school last year for various purposes, we also never got calls back. At the time several people chalked it up to the fact that the school administration was a bit chaotic as they were finishing constructing the school and moving back on campus, etc.. etc.., but even then, you could kind of tell, calling back people who have left messgaes is WAY DOWN on their prioirity list. I wouldn't hold your breath. While my child is doing great at the school and we do like the school community as a whole, I don't think the Hilltop administration cares much about having transparent processes/policies, outreach to new families, etc. etc..-- I would guess showing up in person might get you a response, but the response may be ''we'll let you know when it's decided''. Good luck and I hope they don't make you wait until a few weeks before school starts. Luisa

I wanted to thank the people that posted answers to my question. They were all helpful. Now I can take some action. What a great resource, thanks again.... Not Quite as Mystified Mom

Kensington Hilltop vs. Albany Schools

Feb 2006

I am wondering if anyone has any opinions/information to offer about Kensington vs. Albany Schools. Both Albany and Kensington have great test scores but I'd like to know more about the quality of the teaching and teaching methods used. From the archives, Kensington is described as ''traditional'' - but I'm not really sure what that means. I am looking for a school that will engage my child and not just teach to the test and the curriculum standards. Since I can't visit Kensington Hilltop, I can't tell if there is much diversity -- which is important to me. Albany looks great in that department, but has no GATE program and I want to make sure that my child is challenged and not bored by school. Any insight would be much appreciated! anonymous

Hi there, I recently moved to California and did the weighing realizing that I would need to not buy a house because the house was great, but buy the house because of the school my children would then be able to attend. We looked at Albany as well as Kensington among many others as well as private. We decided on the Hilltop school in Kensington,and feel very satisfied. I feel like the teachers stimulate my daughters and encourage the best in them as individuals not just as a group. I feel that they are safe and respected and taught to respect others. The classes are diverse and the teachers embrace the differences. There is also talk of making this a k-8 school in the very near future. There is strong family support. We are very satisfied with our painstaking decision as we have moved from the midwest this last summer, where a good public school was expected and more the norm than the exception. I was shocked to find it such a struggle within the districts out here . I hope this helps. Good Luck! Kensington parent

Private School vs. Kensington Elementary

Oct - Nov 2005

I'm interested in hearing current posts from parents at Kensington Elementary. I did some preliminary research of private schools; Because of their expense and the extraordinary amount of time it takes to visit private schools, we have decided not to do any further research.

But....I do cringe when I think about my neighbors choosing Prospect SIerra over Kensington, about the fact that only 50% of the families in Kensington use the public school and about all the other people I know that simply won't consider public schools as an option. It is hard to feel good about the decision to send my daughter to public school when it would simply not be ?good enough? for others that can afford to opt out of the system. The aspects of public school that I like is that they are egalitarian, community based and less likely to exert undue pressure on kids. (If I were paying $18,000 +/- a year per kid at a school, boy would my expectations be high.) For these reasons, I may send her to Kensington even if I had the extra money to burn.

In some ways I think I may be lucky to be in the group that can't afford a private education for two kids. Since for economic reasons it's not a really a choice, it also feels overwhelming.

Is there anyone who has been slated for Kensington Elementary school, but has made a decision to send his or her child to private school instead? If so, can you share your thought process with me? Where did you decide to send your child? Thank you for any thoughts you can share. Hoping For Guidance

We live in Kensington and go to private school. Although we know many happy families at Hilltop and can see the strong community, we feel public school's high teacher/student ratio and teaching to the test does not offer the education we seek for our children. happy at private school

we chose private over Kensington Hilltop (3 years ago, for kindergarten and on) though you may want to re-ask your question to people who have left Kensington for private school, since they will not allow parents to observe the classes at all, and therefore isn't an easy basis for comparison. That was one of the issues that swayed us towards private, in addition to concerns about our 5-in-August child who was shy in many ways, but would be considered a ''good'' student by teachers and staff- my worry was that in a larger public school her emotional development might thwart and over-burdened teachers would depend on her quietness to balance the rowdier kids and in essence ignore how she's doing emotionally. None of this is based on my own or 2nd-hand experience of the school itself, but simply because we knew what pr! ivate school had to offer and were not allowed to observe in a kindergarten, and their orientation night was long after the deadline for commiting to a private school (financially.) Also even though there are great teachers who can adapt within state standards, the drive for motivation based on standarized test performance is not my ideal for education (though I may have to adapt and switch into a public school in a few years as we cannot easily afford it.) anon

I didn't read the orginal post but we are choosing public school because Kensington Elementary has a good reputation, we don't like the exclusive unwrtten curriculm of privledge at private school and we can't assure that we'll have $30,000/year +/- (after taxes) to pay for two kids to go to private shool plus save money for college and our own retirement. Anon

Dear Anonymous, My son entered Kindergarten at Kensington Hilltop in August. Although it has only been a few months, we are very happy there. He is learning a wealth of knowledge, has created some great friends, loves his teacher and has begun reading. ; There is a great amount of family involvement. I have not had any negative or positive encounters with the Admin. The Principal, Jon Stokes seems very nice and attentive on the surface. We are very proud to be part of this community and support the public schools. Just another opinion.... Julie

I'm a bit hesitant to reply to this question, and I intend to sign this reply anonymously. However, this feels like such an important issue, and one that comes up frequently, and I know that I have a unique perspective that will quickly identify me to many people. I have two children who were students at Kensington School, one who is now in college, and one who attends El Cerrito High School. I am also a teacher at Kensington, and have been for many years. I am a staunch advocate of public schools for many, many reasons (including the fact that both my husband and I are public school teachers!). I do remember when my older daughter was approaching kindergarten age I felt many of the same pangs that you are probably experiencing. We, too, looked at private schools, if only cursorily, because we, like everyone else, wanted the best for our children. After much soul searching we decided to choose the public schools, always with the caveat that if things didn't work out we could change our minds. I have never regretted this decision. That's not to say that things have always been perfect at Kensington, Portola, or ECHS. But my daughters are wonderful people who have learned much about the world, who are compassionate, hard-working, intelligent, and believe that it is their responsibility to work for the betterment of their local community. I can't imagine that they could have received a better education anywhere else. My older daughter, now a student at UC Davis, says that she was as well, if not better, prepared for college than her cohorts who attended prestigious private or suburban schools. My younger daughter is preparing to apply to Ivy League colleges. Many of the students who attended Kensington, Portola, and ECHS are now attending Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, and the like. They are all great kids who have learned the value of working for the greater good, rather than looking out only for oneself.

I know that people make their decisions for a variety of reasons, and that no decision is necessarily good for everyone. But it truly saddens me to see that so many people make the decision to opt out of the public school system, when their presence could make such a difference for everyone. anonymous

My child just started Kindergarten at Hilltop. We also considered private schools. We liked Windrush, but sending two children to private school would have been a sacrifice. So far we love HilltopFor this simple reasons:

1 - my kid loves it! The teacher is amazing, kind, motivating, experienced. And he made so many friends already, and so did I. And we don't have to drive across town for playdates or birthdays parties, since everybody lives 5 minutes away.

2 - Since I don't pay tuition, I actually have more money to spend on extra classes (KASEP classes are amazing!) and donations (which are also a big part of private schools, I believe).

3 - I have more time to spend with my kids instead of having to work to pay for their education.

4 - The community is extremely warm and the level of parent's education very high.

5 - The kids are very fortunate to have science, music, art, computer classes and weekly visit to the library.

6 - The view!

I am so happy we opted for public school. Some of our neighbors didn't, but I notice they suffer a little for not being a part of this nice and small community. At the beginning I thought this first year of Kindergarten would be a trial year, and I can already tell that we are not changing. Hope this helps a little.

Please don't waste another minute worrying about sending your child to Kensington Elementary (Hilltop). I know, I know, it's hard to be a parent and NOT worry about your kid's education. But take it from this consummate worrier: Living in Kensington and being able to send your kid to an excellent public and local school is a real gift.

Our daughter just finished 7 years at Hilltop. She's made great friends and has come out a very high-performing and energetic student. Her friends' parents are my husband and my closest friends -- we rely on each other and are a part of each others' lives on a daily basis. It is what you'd want in a community.

To live in this town and not take advantage of the public school seems like throwing away both a great education and a lifetime of strong friendships with people on your street and neighboring streets. Again, believe me, I know how easy it is to worry about things like this. But in this case, you really don't have to.

Take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that you do not have to scurry around applying to many private schools or hoping for a transfer to a decent public school. It's an enviable situation . . . try to relax and enjoy it while it lasts (only through 6th grade, you know). Feel free to contact me if you'd like more information. Janet

Both my children attended Kensington Elementary through 5th grade. They've done private middle school, and public high school. I would urge you to give Kensington a try, and not feel dispirited by your neighbors choosing private elementary school. One of the great things about Kensington School, that you don't hear much about, is that there ARE so many kids from outside of Kensington attending, from El Cerrito, Richmond, and San Pablo, as intra-district transfers (because the school has more space that is ever filled by Kensington students)While some complain about this, I saw the presence of transfer students as a real positive. While at Kensington, my children made great, still continuing friendships with kids from Richmond, etc. and in doing so were exposed to a much wider world than they ever would have been just associating with kids from Kensington. The transfer students, for the most part, come from incredibly motivated families who are willing to drive them some distance each day, so that they can attend what is known as the best elementary school in the school district. As parents, my husband and I also appreciated the opportunity to meet a lot of really nice people, again from outside of the narrow cultural confines of Kensington/North Berkeley, through our kids' friendships. Some of the teachers at the school are fantastic; there are also some lemons. You will find this at private school too. But the students are great - most come from families that really give the right message about school. There is a huge amount of parental involvment (sometimes too much!) and a very nice community feel to the school. Finally, as my children moved on to private middle school, I found thatthey were thoughly prepared to handle the academics - they were not behind their private school peers.

Middle School is a tough time for many kids, and a lot of parents who can afford it do what we did and move to private school during those years (but not all - some go to Portola Middle School and do just fine there too). If finances are an issue for you, I would save your money for private middle school, if need be. Contact the President of the Kensington PTA - I'm sure she can put you in touch w/ other parents with kids currently enrolled. Good luck! anon

I made the public/private decision five years ago and have been actively engaged in helping others through this process since then. One of the most important things to realize at the outset is that nearly everyone from whom you ask advice is heavily invested in their decision and will do almost anything to validate it. When someone pays 18K a year for elementary school they will (most likely) not want to have any doubt about it. By the same token, many who choose public school will be very defensive about quality.

I chose public school for almost the exact reasons you state in your post. Now I have two children in elementary school and I'm very happy with the decision. That's not to say I don't have the exact same worries about doing the best by my children ALMOST EVERYDAY. I venture to guess you will too, if you choose public school. The constant barage about public school failures in the press add even more pressure to that we feel from our friends and neighbors.

My kids have many friends in private schools. So far, I believe mine are doing just as well or even better, but I do keep my eye on it. I know many parents of children at Hilltop. Ithink you will be pleased if you go there, though I cannot defend their policy on observing classes - I think it's illegal! My experience is in Berkeley, though, so there are differences. I certainly hope you choose public school because the system needs peope like you in order to thrive. Your kids will learn everything they need, including th important value of upholding the social contract. Just don't expect to sit back and feel fine about it everyday. Always re-evaluating...

I have loved Prospect Sierra for many years. I thought maybe my kids could go there, but the expense is too much, out of the question for us. That said, I wouldn't go there now if I could afford it since my children are at Kensington. I love it there. It's a great school, with caring parents and dedicated teachers and staff. What they have to offer is amazing to me. In kindergarten my son has music, art, science, library, royal reader, activity time and acedemics that are challenging. The setting is beautiful and relaxed. Plus the onsite after school care is very good and nurturing. Why spend all that money on private when Kensington is so good. Yes, you have to fundraise, but you do at Prospect Sierra too. The kids at Kensington are kind and fun loving. We've met very good friends that are local wit! h lots of easy playdates. Some people are private school folks and some are not. We really like Kensington. enjoying kensington

More Reviews

Feb 2005

We live in Kensington and bought our house planning on using Hilltop. However, as we approach kindergarten we worry about whether it would be an appropriate setting for our child. She is extremely shy, and is easily overwhelmed by new situations and people. Since we are unable to see the school, or meet the teachers, it has been impossible to make an informed decision. Furthermore, I find the administration completely unwilling to reach out to prospective parents; I definitely get the feeling that because it is a popular school they don't feel the need to cater to anyone. We can't help but wonder if that attitude will continue once we enroll our child. Our specific areas of concern are:
- What makes Hilltop a 'good' school, other than test scores? Are the teachers excellent? Is there an emphasis on making learning fun? Is there any creativity in the curriculum?
- Are teachers responsive to the needs of individual students? What about the principal? How are concerns handled? Do teachers make themselves available to parents? If so, how?
- Is the atmosphere 'warm'? How does the school handle conflicts among students? Do teachers address social problems (such as teasing/bullying) or do they ignore it? Do teachers help kids integrate socially? Are the teachers 'kind' and responsive to the children.
- What are the individual kindergarten teachers like? Any shy kid experiences?
- What about the after-care program?
We would appreciate both positive and negative responses. anonymous

we lived in Kensington when our also very shy daughter was entering kindergarten, and ultimately chose a small private school because we felt the atmosphere more nurturing and the transition easier. Like you, I could only speak with other parents to get feedback- I found the administration to be unapologetically unresponsive to newcomers questions, and in their old facility I felt like I was in a 1970's timewarp, including the feel of secretary/ administration behind a counter much higher than a child's head. That said, I believe what helps make Hilltop so ''good'' is incredible parents, community and parent support (finacially and involvement) which means they usually have an extra aide (parent) in the room and many great extras that other schools in the district do not. I cannot understand their refusal to allow tours in ongoing classrooms when most (all?) other public schools find ways to manage it; however there is always the option of trying it out for kindergarten and switching to private if it's not working well (in hind sight I now think switching at first grade would not be so traumatic as it seemed.) anon.

What makes Kensington Hilltop a good school?

1. The parents. The school has an active, dedicated, committed foundation, a Dad's Club, a strong PTA and families committed to academic achievement.

2. The new principal. He appears to be a strong leader. Don't let the fact that the school has been relocated this year (to accommodate modernization of the old building) put you off; this year is an anomaly for the school.

3. The teachers. There are some wonderful teachers and there are some less-than-wonderful ones, just as in any school, but in our experience the good ones dominate. The teachers at Kensington have for the most part been teaching there for many years; there is a wealth of expertise at this school.

4. The extras. These are provided by KEF, the school's educational foundation. They include art, music, science and other specialized programs.

5. The after school program. The after school program is offered by Neighborhood School. Ginger, the program director, is innovative, caring and thoughtful in how she plans the program. It's worth the cost.

My child has been at Kensington since kindergarten and his experience has been overwhelmingly positive. He too is a shy child, but he has made good friends and feels safe and encouraged at the school. He is also slightly younger than his classmates (he started kindergarten at 4 yrs)and has some developmental delays but has never been teased or bullied by his peers. His teachers have always made time to meet with us to discuss his development and to modify his assignments as necessary. Hope this helps. A Kensington Parent

As president of the Kensington Hilltop PTA, I would like to encourage you to join the Hilltop family in the fall, and I would like to address some of your concerns.

As you probably know, Hilltop school has been relocated to a temporary campus on the Portola middle school site as Hilltop is re-constructed and added to. I'm happy to report that construction is on target, and the school plans on opening on time for the '05-'06 school year (the first day of school is Aug. 23!). Given our construction status, life for all involved (staff, parents, kids) has been out of the ordinary; so please accept my apologies for any brushed off feelings you have felt. We are quite fortunate to have a brand new school to move into in the fall, but it has come at some cost in terms of inability to conduct business as usual. And this is probably the source of your inability to get the information you want, rather than, as you've characterized it, ''it being such a popular school that they don't feel the need to cater to anyone.'' There will be a kindergarten orientation session that has yet to be scheduled in the May time frame. I will post the notice when it is finalized. But again, because we are under construction, we cannot see actual classrooms because they are not yet completed! More immediately, there will be a walk- through/update of the construction site on Friday, March 11 at 3pm. This is for adults only as it is a construction site. Meet at the north gate of the campus (Arlmont/Highland Blvd). I encourage you to attend this to get a better feel for how the campus is laid out and how it will serve the needs of our kids.

I truly believe Hilltop is a great school for a combination of reasons. We have very experienced teachers, and a very participative parent body. As with many other public schools, grades K-3 have a 20 student class size limitation (guaranteed in our District due to the passage of a parcel tax for the next 4 years), so teachers are able to be responsive to individual kids' needs. We do have a new principal, and he brings real energy and commitment to ensuring a safe learning environment. Parents are very involved at our school. From driving on field trips, to helping at the library or in the classroom, to funding of programs (library, science, music, art)not offered at other schools, to volunteering as noon duty supervisors, parents are frequently seen on campus. And it's this participation that creates such a warm ''family'' environment at the school.

There are 3 service organizations on campus: PTA, Kensington Education Foundation (KEF), and the Dad's Club. The PTA advocates for the child, KEF fundraises to provide the enrichment classes, and the Dad's Club keeps the campus looking spiffy. All 3 groups work closely together with the principal and staff to ensure that the needs of our kids are being met.

Afterschool options are available in the form of childcare through Neighborhood School (524-8641) or enrichment classes through KASEP (525-0292). Kensington Nursery School(KNS) also offers a walk-down program for KNS pre-school graduates/kindergarteners only.

Hilltop is in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), and like other school districts in our area, WCCUSD is facing a budget shortfall for the upcoming year. Cuts will have to be made to close the gap, and until our governor decides that education is this state's priority, we will have to battle to maintain the programs necessary for our children's educational well-being.

I would be happy to chat with you further. You can contact me through email. Cathy

2000 -2003 Discussions

Kensington Schools separating from WCCUSD?

May 2003

Well, after attending the WCCUSD meeting, I'm thoroughly depressed. My son attends Kensington Hilltop which is part of the WCCUSD, formerly Richmond school district. We just found out that class sizes from K-3 were going up to 30 kids from around 20. This is just plain unacceptable. One of the reasons we moved to Kensington was the excellent local elementary school. Now this standing is at risk. It's ironic because Kensington as a community could probably afford to keep class sizes at 20, however, Kensington Hilltop is a strong school in a very large and academically and economically weak school district. Has there ever been any discussion of Kensington and El Cerrito schools breaking off from the WCCUSD? How would one organize such a change? Would it have to be approved by the WCCUSD? A Concerned Parent

Perhaps you already know all this, but I think the following is important to consider

What your suggesting, it sounds like, is that Kensington break off from WCCUSD and become a Basic Aid funded district as opposed to an ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funded district.

Background in case you need it Back in the 70's California decided to distribute state school funds equally among districts to address the inequity between wealthy and poor communities. However, they also created the loophole for the wealthier districts that if they wanted to opt out of the standard state (ADA) funding, they could collect their own parcel taxes and fund their schools independently. Several districts in the Bay Area are funded as such.

In this current budget crisis, Gray Davis has announced his intention to collect 80% of the tax revenues Basic Aid districts collect (beyond the amount they would receive as ADA school districts)and put that money into the state general fund (not even the education fund). So it's doubtful that creating a Kensington Basic Aid district would be worth it financially at this juncture. Furthermore, I believe a district needs the state's approval to become a Basic Aid district and I wonder whether the state would even grant such an application at this time?

Perhaps you were not intending to make Kensington a Basic Aid district, and just think it could manage ADA funds better than the WCCUSD. Perhaps, but given the current economic climate for public schools it's not going to be easy to get a new district off the ground.

Best of luck to you.

It would be very difficult to separate off from WCCUSD. It would probably take a voter initiative to form a new school district--I don't think WCCUSD would have the ability to veto that. While the community is getting younger, El Cerrito is still predominantly an older community and the voters wouldn't likely be interested in having to pay taxes to form a new district. I don't know how costly it would be, but I suspect any new district would have to take on some part of WCCUSD's debt to the state (something WCCUSD would surely demand), as it's been in receivership for many years, as well as pay something to create a new administration. I've never heard of a movement to separate, though I've heard many individuals suggest it.

Yes, Kensington parents visited this issue back in the early 1990s when WCCUSD (then Richmond Unified School District) went into bankruptcy. At that time, they were interested in joining the Albany school district.

But, wait! I'm sorry to hear that class sizes will be increased throughout the district, but class sizes have only been small for K-3 for the past 5 years. In the past, Kensington school had many ways to help deal with larger class sizes like pull-out programs where 1/2 the class went to science or reading and the other 1/2 stayed with the teacher. And, just so you know where I'm coming from, both of my children went to Kensington school with large classes all the way through. During that time, the school won a California Distinguished School award and was consistenly a highly rated public elementary schoool. My son just got into UC-Berkeley and my daughter is an almost straight-A student at El Cerrito High. Of course, special needs children may do better in smaller classrooms, but the majority of the students can do fine in larger classes. I wouldn't sweat it too much if I were you.
former Kensington school parent

If you are unhappy with WCCUSD, perhaps you could use your time & resources on improving the public education system. Organize other concerend parents to improve the situation for ALL children. Talk to the Ed Fund, the school reform group for WCCUSD. Go to school board meetings. TAKE ACTION!!!
Virginia, a parent in the El Cerrito Hills

March 2003

Hi, I've checked the website and read all available information on Kensington Hilltop School. The information is somewhat out of date and not answering all of the questions/concerns I have. (Yes, I'm nervous and anxious!) My daughter is entering Kindergarten and I'm not yet concerned about the academic aspects of school. I'm more worried about how my child (and each child in class) will be treated. I hope for a cooperative learning environment for my child, where she can have fun learning, where she can be treated with respect/love/caring and as an individual with unlimited potential. And, I hope for this for all childen, not just mine. All children deserve this! Here are my specific questions for those who have experience with Kensington Hilltop:
1. Are childern (esp. in K-2) treated with respect by teachers?
2. Do children (esp. in K-2) have fun learning?
3. Do children learn to think and not just memorize facts?
4. Where do childern usually go after grade 6?

I'm committed to help the school in any ways possible to create that loving environment for the children. Your comments are greatly appreciate. I want to know how best I can help. Thank you! Anxious Kensington Mom

The answers to your questions about Kensington School vary by both child and teacher. I know children at the school who adore it, and those who don't. My two children, for example, differ on liking the school. I know phenominal, respectful, gifted teachers, and some closer to the other end of the spectrum. The early grades tend to have more memorization and rote learning, in all schools, than higher grades do. This may be more that case at Kensington, where the approach is fairly old-fashioned and traditional, than elsewhere. None the less, some teachers work wonders in those confines.

After 5th a fair number of students leave to a wide variety of private schools, since that's when the private schools add a class, and it's very much harder to find a spot the following year. A large number also go on to Portola after 6th. If you look at the Outlook picture of graduates from the ''town'' of Kensington every spring, you'll notice they've gone to every different high school in 50 miles.

Public school is always a mixed affair. Kensington benefits from an outstanding parent organization which fund raises and pays for numerous enrichment programs, such as music, art, science, library, a special reading support program, and an annual oceans-week immersion program. It suffers from being part of a truely impoverished district, and what is now a truely impoverished state education system.
Kensington mom of K and 2nd grader

Our experience with Kensington Hilltop school was not very good. In fact we took our son out and put him in private school after Kindergarten, despite the fact we bought our house there because of the school. Admittedly, my son is not an easy kid, and has had trouble with school ever since. But a big part of me is convinced that if his Kindergarten experience had been more positive, he might have thought of school as a good thing, not a punishment, and it would have been easier later on. The first teacher he had there, who taught the K/1 mixed grade class, definitely showed him a distinct lack of respect. Examples: she let him help her with something that was wrong with the computer because he said he knew how to fix it (remember, he was only five) and got mad at him when he crashed the computer; she sent him to the principal on day 3 for pushing in line (they had to line up every morning before class.) By the end of six weeks, he was thinking of himself as a ''bad kid'', always in the principal's office. When a new class opened up after six weeks (that was the year they were decreasing the class sizes mid-year) they supposedly had a lottery to see which kids would be moved, but I noticed that the new class that was formed had all the youngest kids, several who didn't speak English, and all of the kids with working parents (none of the kids with moms as classroom helpers had to move) and of course, the difficult ones, like my son. (We were thrilled that he got moved though, since his new teacher was very kind and did really well without the support the other teachers had.)

My son is now in the Albany schools, and while he still hates school, he has a wonderful teacher who has worked hard with him, and not fought against him. If your child is an easy one, or if you're really involved in the classroom, Kensington seems like a good option. If not, I would look for other options. anonymous

Feb. 2003

Kensington Hilltop School is the public school that we feed. While many parents say wonderful things about this school, I can get no information about it from the school people themselves. They say that prospective parents are not allowed in the classrooms-ever, we cannot talk to teachers at the back to school night (this is in the teachers contract), and we can get no information about their teaching philosphy or ciriculum. This is new this year. I have talked to two different staff there, and the priciple, and I get the same story. I can visit the grounds, after the school is closed (which I did), but I can't even see the classrooms. We are looking into private schools as well, and they are so much more accommidating. My questions are: how do I get in for a look at the teachers in action? and what have other parents done? Lisa

My 11 year junior sister went to Kensington and had a fantastic experience. It is very community oriented and the kids really feel safe and protected. Drawback being it is rather homogenous. I hear Madera is much more diverse with an excellent quality of education. alia

As a teacher at Kensington Hilltop School I read your posting with interest and concern. While it is true that our contract allows only parents of enrolled students access to classroom visitations, it is certainly not true that we are not accessible to talk with prospective parents about our school's curriculum and educational philosophy. It can be very disruptive to the classroom functioning to have parents or other visitors, however interested and well-intentioned they may be, during instructional time. As a parent, however, I do understand your wish to visit any school before making a decision to send your child. I would recommend that you consider visiting Kensington Hilltop during Open House (March 27, 7:00-8:00). On that evening all classrooms will be open for visitors, you can meet the teachers and talk with other parents, see the science lab, computer lab, library, and other facilities. Hopefully the information you gain that night will help you make an informed decision regarding your child's elementary school education. Kensington teacher

Feb. 2002

I'm about to register my daughter for 1st grade in Kensington elementary. I know some about this school from observing and previous postings on the list, but I would love to hear any recent experiences people had there. 1st grade teachers (especially important), activities, after school programs, any information you can offer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you all in advance. I'm obviously nervios... Tanya

I have two children at Kensington (3rd and 5th grades) ... my oldest is now in Middle School (she attended Kensington from grades 3-6). As far as public schools go, I believe Kensington is the best in Contra Costa County. I was on the waiting list (my children are in on a transfer) for 3 years, and I feel it was worth it. Regarding after school program/care... I send my children to Rainbow Hill because it's located right on the campus. I'm a working, single parent of three children, so after school care was my priority in choosing which school to send my children to. I didn't want to have to worry about my children getting to their after school care safely, nor could I take the time from work to drive them someplace. There are at least two after school programs offered near Kensington. Rainbow Hill is, as I mentioned, right on the campus. The other one is down the street. I can't rate the other day care site, but I'm very happy with Rainbow Hill. signed...another parent who worries about her children

October 2001

We have a 4 year old who will be attending Kensington Hilltop School for Kindergarten next year. Are there any parents out there with experiences good or bad particularly with Kindergarten that they could share? I saw on the parents website that there were concerns about an overly regimented and oppressive atmosphere in the Kindergarden classes but those postings were from a couple of years ago. Has that changed for the better? Any feedback would be helpful. Thanks. Rob and Diana

My son had a really good kindergarten experience at Kensington Hilltop School. His teacher was Mrs. Dey (pronounced day). She has taught at that school for years (with some years off to spend time with her own kids) and she does many creative, hands-on, active things with the kids while still effectively teaching the alphabet, math concepts and beginning phonics skills that the children need when they get to first grade. To request a particular kindergarten teacher, write to the principal, Judy Kantor. It doesn't guarantee you will get the teacher you want, but the school tries to accommodate requests especially if you turn in your request early and give a good reason (how your child's personality, needs and outlook would match up with that teacher's strengths and personality). If your child is to enter kindergarten in fall 2002, you should call the school this fall to find out when the kindergarten enrollment and visiting periods will be (probably in February or March 2002). Then you should call early to get an appointment to visit a kindergarten (Try to visit the teacher you think you want for your child.) Good luck! Betsy

Feb 2000

I am wondering if anyone who has children enrolled in Kensington Elementary can comment in general about their experiences there and level of satisfaction with the school. I am considering enrolling my daughter, who has been in privite school for K and currently 1st, in Kensington Elementary for the 2nd grade. I would also be very interested in talking with anybody that has a child going into the second grade there. Thank you Susan

My daughter has gone to Kensington Elementary from the beginning. She's now in 3rd grade. My wife also went there from the beginning. She's now the librarian. We're a little biased. I have a hard time imagining a better elementary school. From what I've seen, kids thrive there. My daughter certainly has. The only problems I'm aware of are:
1) The school district has been in financial trouble and is still struggling.
2) Some of the teachers have minor negatives (I won't name names because you might not feel the same way.)

On the positive side are:
1) The recent school ratings show how well the kids do academically.
2) There is an unbelievable amount of parent interest. This gets reflected in many ways. I could go on and on.

Maybe you could get the same benefits at a private school but why bother? We are very happy there. Jon

Our daughter started at Kensington Hilltop elementary school as a kindergartener, and will be entering second grade next year. She's learned a lot, made a lot of friends, and is very happy -- as are we, her parents. She's our only child, though, so we can't compare Hilltop directly to any other school. Nevertheless, I'd be happy to talk about our experiences there. Janet

Regarding the query about Kensington Schools, I have a few words to say. I have a daughter in first grade at Kensington Hilltop School who was also there last year for Kindergarten. In addition, my wife went there when she was young so we also have an historical perspective. In short, I don't think there could be a better elementary school in such a mixed school district. Keep in mind that KHS is part of the West Contra Costa County school district, which includes schools from a wide range of economic levels. Perhaps an elementary school in an exclusively wealthy district could be better but that's another question.

One of the things that make KHS so good is parent involvement. The number of volunteer hours there is truly staggering. There are at least 3 major groups there that take on fund raising, contruction, and educational projects. Every year there's the Garden Party that manages to raise almost $50,000 in one night! Educationaly the school is great too. They've benefited from the new reduced class size policy and there are lots of special programs like languages, science, and computers.

One potential side effect of this is that there are rumors that the middleschool that KHS feeds into has recently started to improve, due to the KHS culture being transfered. I don't know how true this is but the middleschool issue is the only thing regarding Kensington schools that I worry about.


March 1999

I recently visited a kindergarten class at Kensington Hilltop School, where my two sons will soon be enrolled. I was horrified by the punitive, antiquated teaching methods I witnessed.

The children were forbidden from speaking for the entire 45 minutes I saw, including during a single file walk between outdoor buildings and a snack period. As they were unable to comply with so long a silence, they whispered and rustled a bit, and one boy was consequently singled out to eat alone for having spoken. A child proudly telling the teacher that he was learning cursive at home (the children worked on letters worksheets for 20 25 minutes) was angrily told he should not be learning cursive at his age. The environment was singularly joyless and repressive.

When my older son becomes a student there, I intend to volunteer in the classroom once a week. What can I do now? Is there an appropriate message I could give the principal? I know this school has a good reputation; please tell me this class is an anomaly. Marty & Valerie

My son is currently in kindergarten at Hilltop and I am happy to say that I have not observed or even heard about the conditions you mention. I have volunteered in the classroom several times and have seen the kids chat at snack time and while lining up to go outside. Having said that, I know that they spend long periods of time on paperwork and that the atmosphere is more rigid than I had expected. My son is happy there, but has had a tough adjustment time. I certainly hope that what you describe is not the standard routine. I'd recommend visiting again and talking to the parent volunteer in the classroom if you can.

Perhaps you should observe another class to see if a different teacher has more progressive (and effective) teaching methods. As someone who has been teaching undergraduates for six years, I am without a doubt that a spirit- crushing environment like the one described is not at all conducive to learning at any level. Your story broke my heart. You should at the very least be able to request a teacher other than the one you observed for your son. Good luck- Melissa

March 1998

I currently have a 1st grader at Kensington Hilltop but my two older boys also went through Kensington. I can tell you that the procedure you describe above is the norm at this school. I didn't like the fact that I couldn't specify the teacher that I wanted but do understand the reason behind it. It gets rid of alot of the jockeying the parents do and leaves the teachers and principal to do their work. I haven't yet had a bad teacher, they are all very good...and if they are not...the parents will let the principal know about it. The PTA is very active there, and there is a DAD's club that is super terrific! They were the onesthat got the new kindergarten playground installed with alot of hard work, sweat and help from all sorts of resources. I have been very happy with the kindergarten teacher my son had and have been happy with his 1st grade teacher as well. Margo

Afterschool programs

Jan 2005

My child will start kindergarten this fall, at Hilltop Elementary in Kensington. I am looking for an after school program until 3pm only. Kensington Nursery school, the Neighborhood School, they both offer walk-downs, but their programs are 'til 5, 5:30. Does anyone know of other options? I read previous letters, but found nothing about this. Thanks.

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April 2003

I cannot seem to find an after K program near Kensington Hilltop school that goes until 5 or 6 pm. They all end t 3. What are the options?? I have called Kensington Nursery, Neighborhood School and Skytown. Is Rainbow Hill OK? Are there other options? THANKS- thanks also to everyone who gave me advice about Kensington Hilltop school!! It really helped. Lisa

The Berkeley JCC has an afterschool program that runs until six. They hav a van that picks kids up at Kensington schools and take them to the JCC. The JCC is on the corner of Walnut and Rose, in North Berkeley. There is some jewish content in the program (celebrate shabbat on Friday afternoons) but lots of non-jewish kids attend and it's a great program. Call 848-0237. Karen

Actually both Kensington Nursery School (KNS) and the Neighborhood School do in fact have ''walk down'' programs for Kindergarteners and are open until 6pm. My son is walked down the hill from Hilltop 3 times a week by a teacher at KNS and has been very happy with his after-care program. KNS is a co-op and as such has great parent participation and has super teachers. Our only beef is that there is no after-care beyond kindergarten at KNS. Feel free to contact us further if you want more information. Rob

Intradistrict Transfer to Hilltop

Jan 2005

We are planning to apply for an intradistrict transfer to Kindergarten at Kensington Hilltop (due to location of after school care). We cannot get any information on actual numbers that they take each year. We heard that they reject the majority of the applications, and then we heard that some years every transfer is accepted. Given the construction going-on, does anyone know what the prospects are of getting a transfer into Hilltop in 2005 school year? Can anyone give us any advice on how to approach the application process? Concerned about Transfer

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Kensington Hilltop Visitation Policy

Dec 2006

I am trying to gather information regarding Kensington Hilltop Elementary; my child would be starting Kindergarten next fall. I am absolutey baffled and distressed by their no visitation/no open house policy (until May!), and worry that such a message of rigidity and exclusion permeates in other ways in the school environment. I have read everything I can find on the school, much of which speaks to a strong community of parents. I would so appreciate feedback from current families on their experiences at Kensington, as well as *any* advice on how I might be able to experience the feel of the school ''in action''. Thank you so much! Julia

Our daughter is in kindergarten at Kensington Hilltop and we love it. The lack of openness pre-enrollment did not bother us a lot because we had long-standing plans for her to go there, so we weren't making any deecisions and had no need to compare to other schools. I can't say that we find the administration very open or responsive. But what is important to us is that our daughter is happy, highly engaged and thriving. She had an unhappy experience in a preschool she was in last year, daily telling us she did not want to go (in retrospect we should have moved her, but instead we tried to work with the school - another story for another time). Since she has started kindergarten, she has not said that once and in fact regularly reports ''today was the best day of my life.'' She is a bright child who I am confident will do well many places, and we do a lot of learning activities outside of school, so I do not worry overly much about the rigidty of the curriculum or teaching to the test. I simply want her to love learning, and that is happening at Kensington. Her teacher is FABULOUS and works hard to add in exciting projects and activities that are outside the curriculum. And her teacher has been much more responsive and helpful dealing with issues than the staff at her previous preschool ever was. And, as has been emphasized in previous reviews, the community involvement is extraordinary. Parental involvement in the classroom is welcome and encouraged by her current teacher, and it is great fun to do! We very quickly created a tight-knit community among the class parents, who all watch out for each other's kids. There are lots of playdates and outside contact. The benefits of the excellent fundraising are weekly art, music, science and computer lab. In addition, the on-site before- and after-care is wonderful - creative art projects, great teachers, and other activities. Finally, KASEP provides additional options for activities (tennis, carpentry, critter adventures and creative movement/theater - all for kindergartners, to name a few).

Downsides? Our experience is greatly colored by the wonderful teacher we ended up with, and may not be the same for all classes. The community can seem a bit Stepford wife-ish at times. And I do feel sorry for the few kids I see whose parents are not invovled - I think they lose out on some of the social aspects. And it is not a very diverse community happy Kensington parent

Hi Julia, although not entirely unheard of in other schools, I think most kindergartener parents are put off by Hilltop's no visitation policy. I know I was. I have a 1st grader now at Hilltop and a kindergartener starting this fall too. You are right about there being a strong parent community at Hilltop-- I don't think that the atmosphere at the school is one of exclusivity though. That policy, I believe, is set by the administration, not the teachers, and I definitely get the feeling they don't care what the parents think. You may be aware of the uniform policy, that in my opinion was poorly thought out and certainly poorly implemented at our school. So my 2 cents about Hilltop amount to this-- we are very happy with the teachers, not too impressed by the principal, not at all impressed by the School Board members, BUT most important it comes down to the teachers in the classrooms and our child is thriving at the school. Also if diversity is an issue for you, you cannot help but notice how white the school is. As for the classroom ''in action'', if you want to be involved in the classroom there is ample opportunity to do so-- the teachers seem to welcome the help and participation anon

Dec 2003

I am posting this for a friend, who has a son who will be going into the 4th grade next year. They are looking at Kensington Hilltop, the elementary school in their district. She is concerned about not being able to visit the classroom, as this is Hilltop's policy. She wants to know if there is any way around this policy, and if not, if this policy hampered the decision process for other prospective Hilltop parents. Any advice would be appreciated. Sarah

I work at a public school in Oakland and we do not let prospective parents observe the classroom either. We believe it is very disruptive to the teacher and the students in the classroom to have various parents coming in and out. The Principal conducts school tours every other week and we encourage new parents to attend the Kindergarten orientation in January, Open House in the spring and PTA meetings. Try to talk to some of the other parents at the school or make an appointment to meet with the teacher.

a school secretary and a parent

Kensington Elementary is not alone in their policy of ''no parent visits.'' A friend of mine is a former principal, who explained how disruptive it is for classes, and difficult for students, to have maybe 100 prospective kindergarten parents and maybe a few dozen other parents all visiting classrooms, which is what would happen at Kensington. Their policy does support the students who are there, even if it is frustrating to prospective families.

My children are in 1st grade at Kensington Elementary, where there are many excellent teachers. Their curriculum seems to be fairly traditional, but they do the job well. I have heard of difficulties only from parents with children who have some kind of special need.

Kensington Elementary School parent