Middle School & High School Options in WCCUSD
Archived Q&A and Reviews
|Questions & Advice|
Hi Parents, We are looking to buy in Kensington and in researching Kensington Hilltop Elementary I've noticed most of the community reviews are quite old. I am wondering what current parents think of the school and if there are any up coming or recent changes that have impacted the school-- for instance I read that the Kinder class size increased in the last couple of years. In reading old reviews I noticed too that people generally say families pull their kids out of the school district after elementary opting for private school or moving. I am wondering why Kensington does not have a middle or high school and if there is current (or past) effort to open one? Thanks! Moving to Kensington
We have had our children at Kensington since Kindergarten. One child is a middle-of-the road personality, good student, and has done fine and enjoyed school. Our other child, while he doesn't have learning disabilities or real behavior problems, has never been successful at Hilltop and we are likely to put him in a private school soon. So, if your kids are in the middle of the bell curve, they will do fine at Hilltop, but the school seems ill-equipped to accommodate the non-average kids. That said, we really love living in Kensington, the community in and out of school, and the parent involvement is making Portola middle school a much more inviting place for our kids. There just isn't physical space in Kensington proper for a middle or high school. Portola is being rebuilt, as was EC High a few years ago, so both middle and high school facilities will be fresh. Welcome and we hope you love living here! Hilltop Mom
Hi and welcome to Kensington! I'm not sure if you are going to get a lot or a few responses to your question, because it is a question that gets to family decisions where emotions run deep. As you settle into meeting your neighbors, you will undoubtedly meet people who run the gamut of having stayed in the Contra Costa public schools, those that have transferred to Albany, Berkeley, charters,etc, and those that opt for private. I have two kids, one in his last year at Kensington Hilltop (6th grade-- one of the few local elem schools that goes thru 6th, most end with 5th) and one at Portola Middle School. Both my kids loved Kensington Hilltop- teachers, classmates, after-school program, etc, and we felt it provided a good academic foundation, K-6. Principal Sanders steers the school ship quite well and I think you'll find much to appreciate there. The kindergarten teachers are very experienced, and while they are likely to express they don't like increased class sizes, I know two families with Kindergarteners this year that are happy to be in those classes.
In West Contra Costa Unified School District, elem schools (Madera, Harding, Fairmont, etc..) feed into Portola Middle School, currently located across from Cerrito Vista Park on Moeser in temporary buildings while the new school is being built on the site of the old Castro School in El Cerrito. After that, they go to El Cerrito High. I'd be glad to talk to you more about that if you want to contact me directly, but that's a long way off for you if your kids are just headed to K-- no doubt, much will continue to change in the intervening years until you are that decision point for your kids. Luisa
We are a Kensington family, and have recently finished up our first year at Portola Middle School (this is the middle school that Kensington feeds into). PLEASE do not write off this school based on old reviews. It is true that several years ago, this school was an eye sore, with a bad reputations. Our new principal has been amazing in turning this school around, and it is now attracting the ''hill'' families--Kensington and Madera--over 20% of the student body is from Kensington. Every year, our school gets better and better, winning math olympic competitions, music awards, has an AMAZING Spanish program (you will NOT find this in a private school), and a substantial amount of students are participating in the National Jr. Honors Society. In about a year and a half, our new, state of the art middle school building will be finished, and our students will have a brand new school. Please, do not believe the bad rumors, most of which are based on dated information and false rumors. Listen to those of us who are there, and, if you are able, please come visit our middle school and you, too, will realize that Portola is an appropriate and safe school for all Kensington students. We hope to see you there! It takes a village to raise a school
In early December all the elementary school PTAs host kindergarten tours. Just look on the school's website; now is the time. You would be welcome to come. Then you could meet the parents, teachers, and administrators who are there now and decide for yourself. Chances are you would meet other parents who are working to make the school a good place. a.m.h.
My family is considering buying a home in Kensington and we've heard good reviews of the elementary school. We wonder though, what percentage of parents go on to send their kids to public middle and high schools versus private schools. Are there even any private high schools within a reasonable driving distance to Kensington? We wonder whether there's a loss of community as 6th grade ends and kids who've been through elementary school together disperse to various places for middle/high school? Anon
I think the questions you are asking are similar to what others wonder when they consider moving to Kensington. We certainly did, and I think it comes down to a personal choice as to whether the middle school/high school options work your family or not. I have no idea about actual percentages, but the elementary grades at Hilltop (5 and 6) start reducing in size by about half because many families start pulling their kids out then to put them into private school options because it is thought that if you wait until 7th then your kid might not get in to their preferred private option. We have talked to several families who have their kids at Portola-- some do well, some don't and they transfer. We plan on giving Portola a try, but note that the school's location is in upheaval and will be in a location to be determined within a few years. I think the Kensington community is strong, so even if kids aren't at the same schools, seems like there is still a lot of ways to interact within the community-- haven't heard that as an issue. anon
This is somewhat premature but I'm already stressing about the fact that there seems to be no good public school option for middle/intermediate schools in my area. My home elem is Kensington Hilltop, which is what I researched before we moved 3 weeks ago...they are rated 10/10 on greatschools.net (org?) so that sounded pretty good. But now I see that all the middle schools are rated 5 or lower!! What do people in Kensington or surrounding areas do for middle school? Is private our only option? Any info greatly appreciated! THANKS
I think that what you are going to hear is that many families choose to opt out of the public school system in middle school for the reasons which you cite. I would like to suggest that you look beyond the numbers and consider the benefits to your own children as well as to our community if you stay in the public schools. The middle schools in your area are rated lower than Kensington Elementary because they draw students from a number of elementary schools, many of whom have very different demographics from Kensington. My children went to Kensington and then attended Portola and ECHS. Granted, the Portola years were more difficult than Kensington; some classes were less challenging (while some were more challenging), the mix of students was very different and challenging in its own way. My children made wonderful friendships with kids they never would have otherwise met, and with whom they continued on to high school. They have both since graduated from high school and are attending very prestigious colleges, as are many of their classmates who also attended Portola and ECHS. They learned to get along with a variety of people, the same variety with whom they live on a day-to-day basis. They learned to look beyond ethnicity, to look beyond superficial differences, to advocate for themselves and their educational opportunities, to realize that they are citizens of this community and that what affects others affects them, too. They have become passionate about working for school reform for all children, and I can't imagine a better education than that for them in middle school. Judy
We attend an elementary school in El Cerrito and will be sending our kids to Portola because it is close to our home and my son's friends are planning to attend. Portola has some strong teachers, the new principal is working hard to improve the social environment, and the music program is internationally-recognized. The elementary school my children attend is ranked 2 out of 10 but both of my children have had great experiences there--excellent teachers, a fantastic after school enrichment program, and extra intervention in areas where it was needed. The rankings you are referring to are based solely on the ability of students to bubble in the correct answers on standardized tests. This has much more to do with demographics than the quality of instruction.
I would caution you against making a snap judgement about schools based soley on academic ranking. Albany Middle School is ranked highly but is overcrowded; King Middle School has a lot to offer but with over 900 students, it's easy to get lost, private schools have their strength but are out of the reach of most typical families already saddled with housing costs that are the highest in the nation.
I encourage you to ignore rankings and go visit some schools--attend their information nights and open house events.
Our daughter (currently at Madera Elementary) will attend Portola a year from now. We talk to many parents who are unsure, who are considering moving, or paying for private middle school. I understand their concerns, but wish more people would give Portola a closer look. We just met a wonderful college student -- Madera/Portola/ECHS grad -- who talked about the many benefits of going to a diverse school where she met many people she would not have interacted with at a private school (or, e.g., Lamorinda public schools). She believes it gave her a lot of confidence and ability to relate to people from all walks of life. If more people who were on the fence would decide to hold hands and go together to Portola, the school would be that much stronger, with committed parent involvement. It's unfortunate that the school has not been rebuilt yet, due to seismic and political upheaval, but it will happen! If you are thinking about Portola, or planning to go to Portola, please join the Yahoo list: Portola-tomorrow [at] yahoogroups.com. We will keep you up-to-date on the issue of rebuilding Portola (location, configuration, etc.) and other issues, and you can find out more from current and prospective Portola parents. Lori