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John Muir Elementary School (Berkeley, CA)

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2010 - 2014 Discussions


John Muir: Wasn't one of my choices...

March 2013

So, we were assigned John Muir. Not one of our choices, and we are not very happy about it. We will of course wait list our first choice, but we also need to prepare ourselves for the good possibility that we will end up at John Muir. It seems everyone we talk to either loves JM or knows someone who loves JM. On one hand we can understand that, there were certainly strong points about the school, but there were red-flags to us that really put us off. Most concerning for us while on our tour was what seemed to be a lot of class time spent on behavior problems. Is this an issue at the school? This may sound strange, but we'd love to hear from people who did NOT love JM, and hear why. Too often it is the cheerleaders who are loudest, and we want to hear if our concerns regarding the school (including the one we mentioned above and a handful of other smaller issues) are actually well-founded concerns or did we just tour on a bad day. Also, while we aren't slaves to test scores, it was disconcerting to use that to realize we were assigned to a school with the lowest test scores in the zone. Why is that? Please dish: what's the real deal at John Muir, not just the PTA version? Thanks! So Disappointed...


I am sorry did not get any of your choices!

Cons of John Muir is that the school is small. There are fewer parents to participate in the PTA, etc. It is a hard school to get to parking and public transit wise.

Overall, John Muir is a good school with a lot in the plus side. The teachers are great. The aftercare programs are also great. The principal is very competent and involved. BUSD is a lottery so the chances are as good at * any * school that there will be children with discipline problems.

I would not put too much weight on the 3rd grade reading scores. John Muir's are the lowest in the South East Zone, but all Berkeley schools scored well on this test (I believe LeConte has scored lower the John Muir historically). The API score is an average of how well the kids that took the test that day did. JM parent


Do you love John Muir?

Jan 2012

I toured John Muir which is one of the schools in our BUSD zone, for kindergarten. I so wanted to love it because of the 9 am start time, the small size of the school, and the location. But I just didn't. Do any current or former parents have thoughts to share? Do you love it or is there in fact sometimes not a great vibe at the school, and if so, what is going on if anything? Thanks so much for your thoughts. southeastern zone mom


Hi There, sorry it wasn't love at first sight for you at John Muir. I can only speak for my kid's and my experience and that has been VERY positive. My daughter switched from the largest elementary school in BUSD to John Muir and we have appreciated the small size and strong sense of community enormously. The drawbacks? The afterschool classes are limited, but other than that, I feel John Muir is a very special place. The teachers are very supportive of the kids and of each other. The new principal is responsive, on the ball and genuinely likes the kids. Unlike the larger school we came from, we have few instances of bullying at John Muir. All the kids know each other and there are a lot of cross-age activities: reading buddy, post office (where kids send letters to each other in diff. classes). My daughter is a coach's assistant once a week and supervises the games of the KG kids during recess. We have excellent dance, cooking and gardening programs. The two PE teachers we've had are amazing.

I'm sure there's room for improvement. Volunteer parents are always in demand for fund raising, helping out in classroom, organizing staff appreciation lunches, art auction etc. etc. etc. But that seems true of all schools in the district. Good luck finding your true love or perhaps you'll give John Muir another chance... Barbara


I am a John Muir parent. We are really happy there. I spend a lot of time on campus and I always feel warmly greeted by the staff I encounter. I am inspired by the interactions that I see between teachers and students and I feel that kids are treated with respect and valued for who they are as individuals. Before entering public school, our family considered homeschooling/unschooling so that we would be sure our kids' strengths would be nurtured and encouraged and that the learning experience would stem from their natural curiosity and sense of wonder. John Muir has been able to provide that in so many ways. The garden is magical. The creek is amazing and inspires so much that happens at school. Dance and physical education are a big part of the curriculum and kids spend time outdoors on the beautiful campus every day. The teachers whom I have gotten to know are interesting people as well as gifted educators. Many of them bike to school, some of them are musical, many of them are fluent in sign language as well as other languages, they are into all kinds of athletics and kids will hear about a triathalon completed or a goal to run a marathon. These are people who teach with their whole selves. It makes learning feel fun and effortless when someone brings that kind of joy to their classroom. I see it happen at this school in all grades. Our new principal this year is energetic, upbeat, warm and supportive. I could see her staying for many, many years. It seems to have just clicked. She is so right for the job. I could go on and on. I feel so lucky to be able to send my kids to this little gem of a school. - happy JM parent

John Muir vs. Emerson After School Programs

Sept 2011

To piggyback on a recently posted question about Berkeley elementary schools in the Southeast zone-- John Muir vs. Emerson -- I am wondering what parents think of their respective after-school programs. Since the after-school portion of the day could be almost as long as the school portion, it seems like prospective parents should pay almost as much attention to the after-school offerings. Which has the best enrichment programs? How do you feel about the supervision? Is there enough running-around time? What is the balance between structured and unstructured time? What opportunities are there for gifted kids? (More responses to the original post would also be appreciated!) south berkeley parent


My kids attend Emerson, and they've done to both afterschool programs -- Emerson and John Muir.

The afterschool program at John Muir is run by Kids in Motion, which is not part of the school district. It's a privately operated program. Your kids can bus from Emerson to John Muir, if you look at both programs, and you prefer Kids in Motion. It does not work in the opposite direction -- your kids cannot bus to Emerson from John Muir for the afternoon.

In my experience, there are some kids who thrive in both programs, some kids who prefer one over the other, and some who don't like either. I think both programs are good, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Your experience of the program is more related to your child, than the program itself.

This may or may not be pertinent for you, but BUSD also buses kids to other programs throughout the city. We are Jewish, and our kids could get on the public school bus and go to our synagogue's after school program, if we chose.

This year, we have a babysitter taking the kids most days because it's not more expensive than having both kids in afterschool programs, and we can choose more freely to have play-dates, hang out, or take a class somewhere else.

My point is that there are quite a few choices, and something that works for you and your child will be available, no matter which school you attend! emerson parent


I'm not sure if more information is still needed in response to the question of after school programs, but in case more information is desired, I'd like to tell you about programs at John Muir. As you may now from past listings, John Muir is unique in that it offers two programs, one private and one run by the district. I don't have any experience with the district sponsored program, BEARS, but I see a lot of happy kids out on the field playing outside, and having positive interactions with their care givers.

I can speak about the Kid in Motion program, the privately run program that functions out of the school cafeteria. It has been fantastic for our daughter who is now in 5th grade. The fact that she still likes to go to her after school program at the age of 10 is impressive to me. Troy, the owner, and Gina, his main side kick and the whole team are good folks, the kind of people you would want your child to be around. They facilitate soccer games, bike riding on the campus, board games, visiting the creek, arts and crafts, and of course, completion of at least 30 minutes of homework (yay!) Most importantly, my daughter loves the sense of freedom to graze amongst activities. You can't go wrong at Kids in Motion, and hopefully the BEARS program is wonderful, too. I imagine Emerson's program is similar to our BEARS program. Sarah


Elmwood/Uplands Public Elementary Schools

Sept 2011

My husband and I are considering moving to either the Elmwood District of Berkeley or the Uplands with our almost five year old daughter who will start kindergarten next year. I wondered if there are any parents who live in that area and have Elementary School aged kids who are in the public school and could tell me about the quality of the schools and the likelihood of getting your first choice of schools, as I understand that you list your first three choices and you are not all that likely to get your first choice. So I guess I am wondering if the quality of the schools are that different in these districts such that it is a real problem if you don't get your first choice. It would be great if parents could weigh in about the public elementary schools in these districts. Thanks, Lisa lisa


We chose to send our kids to John Muir Elementary, and we have been happy with their experience. We felt we had lots of great choices in our zone in the BUSD (and we visited all of them along with a few private schools), but we decided that John Muir was the best match for us. The Berkeley Public schools all offer kids great experiences with cooking and gardening and music; but John Muir fit our needs better than the other schools in our zone.

Why did we pick John Muir? John Muir is a small and intimate school, the smallest school in Berkeley with 250 students, so the kids and teachers all know each other. John Muir has a great group of teachers who work together to provide the kids a great learning experience. John Muir has a beautiful campus, with a grass field, an historic auditorium, and a creek that is used for science (and play). Finally, John Muir has a late start time (9 AM) allowing us a more leisurely morning and even time to finish homework in the morning. Plus, for our family, we can walk to the school.

Since starting at John Muir, we have discovered a wonderful parent community and great teachers, and, this year, we are very excited to have an amazing new principal. Our kids have participated in lots of special activities, including quilt making and a play in kindergarten, a Shakespeare play for 4th and 5th graders, dance performances throughout the year, and attending Zellerbach performances as well as other field trips each year. John Muir has a PE program through Playworks, which teaches PE and also organizes recess sports and after school sports. The PTA sponsors lots of great weekend/evening activities, such as a bbq at Back to School Night, Mayfair, an Art Auction (of the kidB- art), and Beach Day. We are looking forward to our kids going to Outdoor School for a week in 5th grade. We also love the after school program that our kids attend at John Muir (Kids in Motion). Happy John Muir Family sC


John Muir or Emerson for Kindergarten

Sept 2011

We are sending our daughter (now in first grade) to John Muir and we are very happy with it. It was our first choice in the SE zone because of the beautiful campus and how small it is (and close to our house too). The teachers are wonderful & the school manages to have all kinds of ''extras (not sure if paid for with Berkeley's high property taxes, PTA money, or grants (or all 3)) like dance, cooking, gardening, sports, theatre, science, acting, etc. Plus, all of the kids learn at least some sign language because it is the region's school for children with hearing issues. Personally, I think private school is a waste of money if you have access to Berkeley's great public schools, unless you want something really specific like Waldorf.

I've heard great things about Emerson too, and would have been happy to send my daughter there, but we didn't get in.

FYI, both schools are hard to get in (luck of the draw because it's a lottery). But if you don't get in at first, make sure you get on each of the waiting lists; some people don't get in until a couple of days before school starts. -anon


Deaf/HH class at John Muir

April 2011

My daughter has a moderate to severe hearing loss, has one hearing aid, one C.I. She will be starting 1st in the fall. She currently attends a Total Communication program in Vallejo, is mainstreamed with an interpreter and stays for an extended day in the Deaf/HH class. What can anyone tell me about the John Muir Elementary program for Deaf/HH kids? We're hoping to move to Berkeley to be closer to family, closer to my husband's work, but want our daughter to continue to receive good support services. Thank you!


My daughter is in Kindergarten at John Muir, and although she's not hard of hearing, I thought I'd let you know what I see from the ''outside''. The program seems pretty strong to me, although I hear parents of older kids note that there are fewer kids in it than there used to be. Also you should note that the teacher who founded the program has just announced her retirement.

In the two K classrooms (40 kids total) there's only one deaf kid (with cochlear implants). He is accompanied full time by an interpreter (provided by the school). I don't know how many kids are in the upper grades but I think they do a combined 4th/5th classroom that's just the Deaf/HH kids.

There are interpreters at all the assemblies I've been to, and the entire school seems to take pride in the program. All the kids are taught basic signs, and some signs (like yes & no) are used in lieu of having the kids shout out answers. Also, at assemblies everyone is encouraged to ''clap'' in sign, which is actually very fun.

I hope this helps, and I'd strongly recommend that you stop by the school and talk to teachers and parents. Call the office to find a good time. JM mom


If you are willing/able, Fremont has an excellent School for the Deaf. http://www.csdf.k12.ca.us/ anonymous

Recent comments on John Muir School?

Jan 2011

Hi, I'm looking for recent comments on John Muir School. There is only one post on the website from the past 3 years. We are not terribly interested in test scores, but want bright, motivated, caring teachers who will make learning fun. We care about a good library and the arts in general (visual arts as well as music and dance -- loved Malcolm X) and would like a school with a community feeling.


We have a kindergartener at John Muir and we love love love it! It was our first choice SE school because the campus is so beautiful and it is the smallest school. And it has wildly exceeded our expectations. Both kindergarten teachers are amazing. In addition to academics the teachers really pay attention to the social dynamics among the children, which we really appreciate. There are several paid teacher's aides in each kindergarten in addition to parent volunteers, so the adult to child ratio is high. I've heard nothing but high praise for all of the higher grade teachers too. Then the ''extras'' are great - the librarian is wonderful, and so are the dance, music, gardening, science, art, cooking, and PE teachers. I believe the arts programs are just as good if not better than any other SE zone school. Plus, there's a grassy field to play on, and a creek for science classes!

Our daughter went to several very sought-after preschools and she really seems to love John Muir more than the pricey schools she had been at. I was really nervous about her starting kindergarten, but she is thriving! I can't believe that people pay to send their kids to private school when our public schools here are so wonderful, and seem to be pretty well-funded with Berkeley's high property taxes.

PS - we didn't get in off the waiting list until a couple of weeks before school started, so don't give up hope if you don't get in initially. -anon


Nov 2010

My son will be kindergarten age this coming fall and I am seeking advice/feedback on Berkeley schools in the Southeast zone. I plan on touring of course, but I'd love to hear feedback and am especially interested in hearing from anyone who knows info about schools accomodating those who may need a ''little'' extra support. Due to hearing loss, my son has had speech therapy for the last couple of years. Although he is talking NON stop now and has been in a private preschool without support (speech is away from school), and doing great we/they think he may need some support in some areas that might be a bit behind due to him playing catch up in others. Thanks!!


Our daughter is in Kindergarten at John Muir and there seems to be a lot of support for the K's in general. There are kids at every level in her class and kids needing all sorts of different kinds of support. There is always at least one paid aide in the class room, and sometimes two. One of the classrooms also has an interpreter for a deaf child. (There's a large inclusion program for deaf and hard of hearing children at the school)

There are also a couple of kids who go to speech therapy. Of course I don't have the details on why these kids are going to speech therapy, and how the therapy is helping, but I know that it's not new or different at John Muir.

Good luck finding the right school. So far, we've been really happy at John Muir. JM mom


2005 - 2009 Discussions


Nov 2008

Re: John Muir or Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley
As the parent of a Kindergartener (boy) and a third-grader (girl), I can enthusiastically recommend John Muir Elementary. This is a wonderful school community, with great teachers, an active PTA, and a terrific, diverse, and caring student body. There is regular instruction for all grade levels in Cooking (we share an instructor, Chef Carrie, with Emerson), Gardening (Farmer Jasper), Dance (Ms. Valerie Gutwirth), Sports (Coach Robin from the Sports4Kids program), as well as Music and Art. There are two after school programs at John Muir, Kids' Village which offers a range of enrichment classes (current offerings include Cooking and Gardening, Lacrosse, Chess Club, Creative Movement and Mask, and Soccer) and Kids In Motion which is more oriented towards games and sports; both programs, of course, provide time and support for homework. I have been very impressed with the differentiated instruction at all grade levels, which ensures that every student is challenged to do his or her personal best. In short, this school is a gem! Please feel free to email me if you have any further questions I might be able to answer. ks


My oldest is graduating from John Muir this June and I look forward to my younger daughter going there is fall. I find the campus beauful, the teachers are excellent and the PTA is very strong and active. Good luck. satisfied parent
We just switched our 3rd grade daughter from private school to John Muir this year and, so far, have been really thrilled with the school. The parent body and school community are warm and welcoming, the campus is beautiful, my daughter's teacher is enthusiastic, kind and inspiring. The children in her grade have really made my daughter feel very welcome, as well, and have treated her very kindly, which, of course, was really important to us. Principal John is always right there in the mornings with a warm greeting for all the students and is very approachable for parents and students alike. I can't do a comparison between John Muir and other Berkeley public schools since this is the only one we have ever attended, but I can say that, so far, our experience at John Muir has surpassed our experience at private school. Lovin' the John Muir experience
Feb 2008

Re: Public school better in berkeley
My child attends John Muir, which is a public elementary school in the South East zone of Berkeley. Your questions regarding ''teaching to the test'' and ''teacher - student ratios'' are probably quite uniform between Berkley public schools. The mandated student to teacher ratio is 20:1 for gr k-3. All public schools are affected by ''No child left behind'' and required to have regular testing (unfortunately.) I can speak about what I find unique and special about John Muir. Despite being the smallest elementary school in Berkeley, John Muir has a beautiful campus with a creek, a large playing field and two playgrounds. People get to know one another here and the teachers, staff and principal have been responsive to our son's needs. My son is an avid reader and a very strong student. He also enjoys cooking and gardening; it makes me happy, he's learning such healthy eating habits and developing concern for the environment. Kid's Village, the afterschool program, has a terrific staff and all sorts of creative and academic activities that enrich the education at JM (Mural Painting, Capoeira, Chess, Science Projects, Homework help.) Finally, I really enjoy the diverse and involved parent body. Both my son & I have formed many friendships and always feel welcome at the school. Rachel


Jan 2008

My daughter will be entering kindergarten Fall, 2008 and we are interested in John Muir Elementary School in Berkeley. I would love to hear from current parents about the school. Thanks. Laura


We currently have a second-grade daughter at John Muir School, and our son will start in Kindergarten there next fall. John Muir was our first choice school within our BUSD zone, as well as our choice over several private schools to which our daughter was accepted, and we have been very happy with our daughter's experience there. We have been impressed with the dedication of the JMS teachers, and especially with their skill in engaging all students, bringing along those who need extra help while offering new challenges to those who are at the front of the pack. The schoolms strong academic focus is enriched by well-integrated programs in gardening and cooking, science and music, dance and sports. There is a real feeling of community here, of teachers working together with parents, both individually and through the PTA, to create a caring, learning environment in which self-respect and consideration for others go hand-in-hand. Come see for yourself: tour the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30-10:30 am, and come to our Kindergarten Night on January 31 at 7 pm. ks
We have a 2nd and 5th grader at John Muir and we feel so lucky. For the 2nd grade Winter Gathering, the children told ''Families Stories to Pass Down'', a story they retold after interviewing learned a relative. The 2nd grade Dance Assembly featured the students dancing to a rap version of Mr. Morton. Inspired by her creative and committed teacher, my daughter loves to write ''with juicy details''. My 5th grader's teacher is passionate and visionary with special emphasis on science and math. He instills leadership and decorum as well as academic success with 5th graders working as Junior coaches, Cooking and Gardening Apprentices, literacy tutors for younger grades. During the December Science Fair, the students were so articulate presenting their projects, it brought tears to my eyes. The School Lunch Initiative, nutrition, health, and fitness are all important at Muir so be prepared to have your child read cereal box labels. We love the redwoods and creek on campus, the Monday morning assemblies, and the dedicated and diverse community. Tracy
Nov 2007

Re: Choosing between public schools in southeast zone
My son is currently attending Kindergarten at John Muir School. He is having a wonderful year, learning to read and write while also having time to play and making lots of new friends. He loves his teacher and is excited about his new school. He has also been enjoying the many extracurricular activities at John Muir, including biweekly assemblies with student performances (dancing and reciting poetry) and special guests (such as the Red Panda Acrobats and a performance about the school's namesake -- John Muir); dancing with a fabulous dance teacher who has had all the kids performing at the assemblies; gardening with Farmer Jasper, PE with Coach Victoria, and cooking with Chef Carrie; visits and a performance from the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra; and a field trip to Tilden Park. As his mom, I am enjoying the John Muir community, which has lovely families and an active PTA. We have enjoyed the community activities, including a barbecue at the beginning of the school year and MayFaire in the spring. We are thrilled with our choice of John Muir and would definitely recommend the school. Happy John Muir Parent


2004 & Earlier


Jan 2003

Does anyone have kids at John Muir? We live in the area and will be looking at schools next year. Thanks. A Mom


My daughter is in Kindergarten at John Muir, and it's been a great experience. Pluses: small size ( only 220 kids), great principal, mostly wonderful teachers (you can request teachers, requests honored if possible), a fantastic garden program that includes a creek on campus (being rehabbed by the school community) a program for deaf students -- the whole school learns sign language -- and a Lifeskills curriculum which has kids focusing on atttributes like problem solving, responsibility, courage, etc. PTA helps the school, and is becoming more active. This is a community that seems very inclusive, supportive, and accepting of all students. Minuses: no arts programs outside what individual teachers do, the usual lack of money/ resources that public schools face, especially given the big differences in background/needs of the students they serve. these differences are another big plus, as we see it, to public schools in general. The way Muir addresses the differences directly is great. Valerie
Reply to question @ John Muir: My daughter is a 5th grader at John Muir. She moved there in October after spending all of her elementary years at another Berkeley public school. She is very happy at JMS, back to feeling like school is a place to learn, be engaged, & have fun. There is one 5th grade and a 4/5 split. Both have EXCELLENT teachers. The 4/5 teacher makes this ''split'' experience great (a friend, a bright gate child, is in this class). My child's teacher couples his 20 years of experience with true enhusiasm/energy - is wonderful. The school is in a lovely setting & has a great creek - used for science. The school & grounds are tidy. The student population is @250. Our experience with the principal has been positive. She holds assemblies Monday mornings, presenting a program called ''Life Skills''. All children are recognized for these skills throughout the year. Before JMS, besides being a teacher, she was a motivational speaker, and it shows. She knows the names of all the children, is outside every morning talking to them and sees them off at the end of the day. She is a strong presence, and speaks of herself as a ''lead teacher'' for the school. When my daughter was unhappy at her other school, I finally asked her if she'd like to look at the other schools in our zone. She saw three other schools. After meeting JMS's principal & seeing part of an assembly, she declared that this was the school. Still reticent about moving her anywhere during her last year in elementary school, we went back to see the 5th grade in action. There was no doubt in her mind after that. Deborah
My 4th grader is at John Muir for his second year. Having come from Marin school, in Albany, I had my concerns regarding what to expect from the Berkeley schools. John Muir is great. The population is much more diverse than it was at Marin, which I find to be a good thing, and the teachers and principles are absolutely wonderful. The school serves several deaf students the assemblies are presented also in sign language which provides additional diversity; the school has received awards for their life learning skills program; it is one of the smaller Berkeley schools, if not the smallest, which provides a nice community. I highly recommend it. Good luck. -John Muir Mom
Nov 2002

Re: Respectful behavior at school
My 5 year old attends John Muir Elementary School in Berkeley. They have a schoolwide ''Lifeskills'' curriculum that has received national recognition; it focuses the whole school on things like respect, integrity, responsibility, caring, etc. I was very skeptical of the whole thing on my first visit after we were assigned to the school last year -- I am a big supporter of it, and of the school, now. My daughter is having an excellent kindergarten year, with a wonderful teacher and a really great community. At the weekly assembly, children are singled out by name and cited for their successful use of lifeskills; even the fourth graders (usually the age most prone to nasty stuff because they are all so uncomfortable with themselves) sit quietly and with nary an eyeroll, and stand proudly when called upon. John Muir is small (220+ kids), and size can be a factor at times in the springing up of (and lack of dealing with) bullies. I think what happens is that with fewer kids, all the kids are more visible. In a community where respect is encouraged and embraced, lack of respect is immediately dealt with -- and if there are fewer kids, there are fewer places to sneak around. This is not to say that small schools don't have bullies: they do. It's what the culture of the place tolerates that makes the difference. There is a large program for deaf children at John Muir, and the whole school learns sign language as a result. Many of the deaf kids have other physical issues as well; I have never seen anyone treated disrespectfully in any way. Valerie


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