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My son is a 4th grader at Oxford School in Berkeley, but from what I hear out of many other BUSD families, this note could be reflective of most of the district's elem schools. I'm writing my first review ever for this newsletter, because I am in such a great mood right now about what our family is getting out of our underfunded public school.
Our son serenaded us with his viola last night, which he learns twice a week in Music. He enthusiastically described a sheep heart, and how the kids used various household objects to create the different parts of blood, in Science, which he also gets twice a week. I just joined the kids in his class for a field trip to Tilden Golf Course, where his teacher had received a grant for 8 golf pros to teach them all about the game. He took Amtrak to Sacramento last week with his class to visit the Capitol building, as a part of the 4th grade California curriculum. [I hear Lake Anza is next.] He makes movies in his after school Digital Media class on Tuesdays, and builds strange clay creatures in Ceramics on Thursdays.
I'm so happy with this school. Academically, it's fantastic, but it's so nice to see that the enrichment opportunities, so often the first to go, are also valued and supported. They really make a difference.
Re: In 5th grade and still loving your school?
I have a 5th grader at Oxford and we still love it. We have exceptional, engaging, creative 4th & 5th grade teachers, who make all the difference. I can tell, even by the 2nd month of 5th grade, that my daughter is being well prepared for middle school. The teachers in the upper grades expect a lot from the 9 & 10 year olds, with not only more, and more difficult schoolwork, but stricter enforcement of behavior, self-control and self-awareness. They also learn about the various communities they are a part of, and how to become involved citizens of all of them. Yes, we're still loving it! heidi
Well, it's 2 months now into the school year, and it's fantastic. There are 23 great kids in his class. The work is interesting and challenging, and the teachers are incredibly good at knowing how to get his best out of him. They are funny and spontaneous, and have great teaching methods. But most important for our family is that he is happy about school and growing in his classroom community in a really positive way. I hope his academic future continues like this for him. That's how positive it is right now. -happy BUSD parent
Re: Lots of Questions re Berkley and Oakland Schools
My experience is with Oxford Elementary in Berkeley. It is a lovely, warm place in general. My kids are happy and parents who have genuinely good and constructive ideas and plans are not discouraged. In fact, very, very, good changes happen all the time. There is a lot of human error everywhere and at Oxford, I feel that in general everyone means well. In general, the teachers at Oxford are A-MAZE-ZINGly good. -On to Middle School, oh my!
Re: looking at schools in the Central Zone
Our son is in first grade at Oxford, and we love it. More importantly, HE loves it. It's a small school, with about 280 students, which means most of the kids know [or at least recognize] each other. The principal, a dynamic, smart administrator and a hugely enthusiastic school booster [she also taught Kindergarten there several years ago], knows every child by name and personality. Due to what seems to be a high degree of parent involvement and smart choices by certain folks, we have a pretty incredible program.
Oxford has what most Berkeley elementaries have: gardening, PE, music, art, science, excellent cafeteria food -- and for the most part, those are gonna be great at any of the schools. But wow! The staff here is so incredible! Our boy isn't doing 'rote' learning; he does interesting projects, with lots of supporting field trips, and the homework is completely reasonable [although he will fight the actual doing of it no matter what]. At recess, they have organized games, and make serious efforts to promote good sportsmanship [on and off the playground]. The afterschool program [our son attends about 3X a week] is great. The enrichment options are numerous and well-guided, and homework [mostly] gets done during the academic hour.
But ultimately, the schools here are all really good. Pick the one that feels best for your family after looking at them all, and hope for the best. -jf
My daughter will be attending Oxford next year for first grade. Her kindergarten experience has been academically lackluster -- and we've had to supplement her learning with a tutor, which has helped tremendously. We're optimistic about first grade and would like to hear some feedback about the teachers at Oxford. We understand there's two classrooms -- what are the teaching styles of the teachers? their personalities? and most importantly, how solid is their ability to teach academics (reading/writing/math) to their students? Our daughter really needs structure, routine, and as little distraction as possible -- is this possible at Oxford? Thanks!!!! Anon
I am the parent of an incoming kindergartener - accepted at Oxford and on the
at Malcolm X. To parents at both schools: Do you like it? Does your child
like it? I
have heard about bullying in the Malcolm X schoolyard - any word on that? IS
lot of homework for kindergarteners at Malcolm X? IS Oxford as nice and cozy as
heard? Thank you for your opinions, positive or otherwise.
just trying to make the right decision
I was concerned about my kids when they entered kindergarten last year, since neither one of them is comfortable with new situations or people. Within a week or so, the principal, Janet Levenson, came up to me at pick-up time and let me know how my kids were doing - she knew them by name, was watching out for them and helping them to get integrated into the routine and on the playground. That was such a relief to me, and I was very surprised that she was so proactive and involved with the kids so soon! One of my kids was a bit of a wallflower, so Ms. Levenson kept an eye out on the playground to make sure that he connected with kids until he bonded with some pals. I realized that the principal and staff knew every student by name - this is a tremendous advantage not only for yard supervision (I haven't heard of any bullying), but also for building a community where the kids all know (and look out for) each other.
My kids have developed relationships not only with the teachers and staff that they interact with regularly, but also with staff members who are not their teachers (yet), and students who are in other grades. It's so great when they come home talking about how an older kid played with them, or another staff member taught them a song - stories that show how they feel a part of their school - they *love* it there!
After being involved in the PTA, I've seen that building a strong community among the kids and among the Oxford Families is a high priority, and that this includes not only what happens during the school day but also in other programs that include families too. ...That said, I've heard many great things about the Malcolm X as well!
My advice to parents who are just not sure is to go to the school and observe. Of course, there is a HUGE variation in the mood of each school day (some chaotic, some calm and orderly, some excited, etc), so even if you have been before perhaps you can visit again (of course, check first with the office since it's technically not the visiting 'season'). I think you have great prospects no matter which way you go, and perhaps we'll see you next year! Best, Leigh
Re: yet another question about Berkeley Public schools
I can respond about Oxford...we have a first grader there and are sending a kindgergartner there next year. Oxford is VERY welcoming to families of all types, and there are lots of same-sex parents. Preschool's a good thing--it will help your son with the academics, but mostly with sitting still, lining up, and social skills...he does not need to read til the end of kindergarten. Knowing his letters & their sounds is great. Every child at Oxford receives art instruction, and science is integrated into the curriculum. There is a drama class for older kids, but he'll get music and gardening. The after-school program is terrific--on-site at the school. The staff is caring, creative, and attentive. We put our daughter in it last year when she was bored after school, since her preschool had been all day. She's still in it, and loves it. We started her on the bus a few weeks after school started last year (we were scared too), but the biggest complaint we heard upon researching the buses, was that the drivers were too strict. She only rides in the mornings (pick-up at 7:30), and LOVES to ride the bus. It picks up kids from 2 schools--drops off kids at Oxford first, then goes to Washington. Our daughter is only on it for 15 minutes or so. Find out how long he'll have to ride (call the transportation dept to find out the route, though it changes a bit each year depending on where kids need to be picked up.) Finally, know that as time goes on, we're realizing that ALL the Berkeley elementary schools, even the ones with a ''checkered past'', seem to be great these days. I know happy families with thriving kids at Jefferson, Washington, Whittier, Cragmont, Oxford, Malcolm X, Thousand Oaks... Our neighbor, who also has a 5-year old, just toured 6 schools, and found gardens growing, cooking classes, fantastic artwork, P.E., wonderful programs & teachers everywhere... Just stay involved & help out as much as you can at the school, and your kids will do well. Good luck with your decision! heidi
I am a parent who is starting to look into K for next year for my
first child. I would appreciate hearing from parents whose
children attend Cragemont or Oxford what their experiences have
I am especially interested in knowing (but please also comment on
whatever you think is important):
-strengths and weaknesses of the school
-level of academic performance (I saw the scores online for the 2004-5 year report). I am especially interested in knowing how well the children are learning in a classroom with a diverse body of students
-discipline: good?, too loose?, too strict?
-feeling included / excluded as a practicing Jew?
Discipline seems great. My daughter tends to be fearful, and if there were problems with crazy, rowdy kids she would tell me (and not want to go to school!) We also have a great PE teacher who organizes games on the playground at lunch and recess and talks to the kids a lot about good sportsmanship. In the classroom, the discipline seems clear, direct and appropriate. These kids are really learning things and have a good respect for the teacher and other adults. The room is calm and under control (as much as it can be with kindergarten!).
We have already had a parent come in and have a Yom Kippur celebration but I don't really know who is Jewish, Muslim Christian or non practicing! The focus is on a united Oxford community with learning about the many varied cultures a welcome opportunity.
Academically I feel that Oxford is great. Again, we are only in Kindergarten, but I have spent a lot of time in the classroom and the lessons seem to be thoughtfully designed and the kids really seem to be learning. But again, I attribute a lot of that to the community spirit at Oxford. When the kids know that the parents and teachers and administrators take pride in the school, then the kids are more likely to settle down and learn. The only ''weakness'' might be the building. It is old (as compared to Cragmont). But I actually like it. It is small and homey and lived in and it reminds me of going to school when I was little. I would send my daughter to Oxford even if I could afford to send her to the ''best'' private school money could buy. Sue
Does anyone know why Oxford's API Score dropped 39 points from 2003 to 2004? It was 822 (considered high) in 2003 and 783 in 2004. I just looked it up on the BUSD site. Cragmont seems to be the favorite in our district. But I've heard that alot of educators send their children to Oxford. What's the scoop on this rather drastic drop in test scores? lois
So, this year there is a new principal. Last year the principal, Kathleen Lewis, explained the lower scores....and I am sure it is written out some where. The main thing about her, was that she was very quick with a hug and was in classrooms reading to the kids every chance she got. She was very into the kids. The new principal, Janet Levinson, was a teacher at Oxford and is obviously very well liked by the staff. She is at the gate greeting and welcoming every morning.
The PTA is great. Some of the parents have put up a new and quite good web site: oxfordelementary.org. Communication is very good.
My son was in the split kindergarden class last year. 2 teachers. I wasn't crazy about that at first but, came to feel that he was lucky to have 2 really good, really different teachers. And aren't we all glad to see job sharing work so well? The best part was that he saw and really got in a practical way that often, there is more than one right way to do things.
I do not want to make light of the emotional turmoil we experienced the 1st month of school: on the 1st day of school, 3 (!) of the other mothers assigned to the class we were, told me that they had been told by someone that one of our teachers......you can imagine how we felt! 2 of them scrambled to find other schools and pulled their kids out. It was an awful emotional roller coaster. Trusting my gut feelings, we rode it out. They make you incredibly welcome in the class room and of course, this rumor was just that, and why? I can only bring my life experience into the wondering and say that whatever, it was not and is not true. AND what a mean thing to do to people!!! Many people told me of similar rumors at Cragmont! I have a friend who pulled her girl out of Cragmont for another reason.....
All I can say is that this is such a very hard time for parents. We all want the best for our kids and we have to pick a place that we feel we can deal with. Expensive private schools may very well be better, but I do not and have never known anyone who spent much time at their kids private school except for special events. Had to work full time to pay for it! So, all the public schools welcome parent volunteers, have ways that you can give them extra $$....
Oxford in particular, operates a lot like a co-op. You don't have to pay or volunteer. But, lots of parents do. When you are there, you will find things to complain about. You will be able to help change those things and make it better. You will find a lot to like! If you are like me, you will like how sweet and warm and safe and diverse and quirky and creative Oxford Elementary school is. One parent
Around 65% of 2nd - 5th graders students at Oxford who took the state test in reading/ language arts and math scored proficient or above. Said differently, about 2/3 of Oxford students demonstrated that they learned the knowledge and skills described in the state content standards. There are a variety of public schools in Oakland, Berkeley, Kensington and Albany where more students are proficient. The reasons vary from difference in the quality of instruction to differences in the support students receive outside of school. To learn more about testing and about specific schools, you can look at the data on the web or call talk to an educator. [GreatParents.net provides consultations on this and other topics.]
The state will be releasing new API information on October 27; so, you should have more current information shortly. Debbie
Re: Kids of GLBT: Where do they go to School?
Our son is in the Berkeley public schools at Oxford. In terms of being welcome as a GLBT family it has been tremendous, in that it has not seemed to matter one whit. It is a small school and as far as I know there are less than ten other queer families. My partner and I are both lucky enough to be at the school quite a bit, and are known as a family to most of the kids.
There are certainly things that come up with kids from time to time, because our family is different from what a lot of the kids expect, but the teachers have all been incredibly supportive and welcoming, as have the VAST majority of other parents. I think there are things that get said on the school yard - I heard some discussion in class once about everyone needing a mom and a dad (we are a two mom family)but the notion was quickly shot down when the kids ran through all the families in the class that have ''non-traditional'' structures (multiple moms, step dads, etc). I imagine it gets harder as the kids get older, but I feel very lucky to be in the community we are in.
Our experience does not seem significantly different from what I hear from friends at other schools. But, I would be interested to hear from other parents in the BUSD schools who have had different experiences.
I am looking for some reviews on Oxford Elementary school
in Berkeley. I can't seem to find much information that is
current. Does anyone have any reviews both good and bad
on this school?
My daughter is on the waiting list for BUSD schools in the North Berkeley area. Does anyone have any input on the 4th and 5th grade teachers at Oxford? Also, any insight into the change in principal slated for next year? -Thanks.
Re: Central Berkeley Schools?
Our eldest child is in kindergarten at Oxford, and we have friends at BAM and Cragmont. All are happy.
We chose Oxford because we liked the school as a whole the best, liked the small size, liked the community feeling, and knew a number of eductors who sent their kids to Oxford. I like that everyone knows each other, and watches out for each other. It's a really nice supportive community.
Oxford does not have the great music program you get at BAM, nor does it have the beautiful facility at Cragmont. It's more like an old-fashioned small school, with a lot of emphasis on community and responsibility.
We have not been thrilled with the kindergarten program, one good teacher and two not so good teachers. Our kid is happy, so it must not have been that bad.
Good luck, Happy Oxford parent
I am the parent of a second grader at Oxford School, which means that she (and my wife and I) is nearing the end of her 3rd year at Oxford. The bottom line for me is this: I don't hesitate to say that Oxford School is a pretty darn good public school. It is not perfect, and our experience there has not been perfect, but I think that overall its advantages outweigh its defects. Its advantages are that it is the smallest public school in Berkeley. Everyone knows everyone by first name. As an example, the principal, Kathleen Lewis, once took my daughter home from school herself after she fell and skinned her knee. Albert, who oversees the yard is very good with the kids. People at Oxford know and care about each other enough to form a sense of community that is nice. After all, if your child starts in kindergarten, you will be involved there for six years, more than you will be at any other of your kid's schools. I think the teaching staff is for the most part dedicated and hard working. The physical plant is a bit old and will be worked on this summer and perhaps also in the fall which may be disturbing to the kids. Oxford has a diverse student population from all over Berkeley and some of the kids have behavior and or social skills problems or home problems that make them seriously disruptive to the learning environment. I have seen cases in my daughter's experience where the whole class was seriously disrupted on a consistent basis by a small handful of behavior problems. This is a problem for all public schools, however, and the staff at Oxford to the best they can to mitigate these types of problems. Unfortunately, it is not always a solvable problem.
- Oxford Parent
About Oxford--it has been a very positive experience overall for my daughter, now in 5th grade. We had one horrible experience for second grade with the teacher who had the worst reputation in the school and who has since retired, thank goodness. I guess that can happen to anyone, but it really took my daughter a full year to catch up in third grade. We have been pleased with the responsiveness of both teachers and administration when problems developed, and in retrospect I probably should have been pushier to get my daughter put into another class in grade two. We love the family atmosphere of the school--and our favorite events are really fun for kids and parents: the fall Harvest festival, the Winter Faire, and the Valentine's Day Dance (really just an excuse for kids to run around and parents to dance with their kids if they feel like it). I once wrote to the ucb parents about my daughter's spelling problems which persisted until this year; I'm glad to report that the problem certainly wasn't related to Oxford School's teaching methods! Rather, I've now come to the conclusion that she needed to "grow" mentally to have spelling make sense to her and she's now doing so much better it almost seems a miracle to me. The one thing about having your heart set on Oxford School is that it is small and therefore very difficult to get into.
Has anyone had experience with both OASIS aftercare @ Oxford and the JCC? I only work part time so need a couple of hours a few days a week. OASIS seems a better option since the JCC goes until 4:45, but it seems pretty hectic and unstructured. My child just started K. Any feedback much appreciated! Anon
I will say that Aaron has a very hard time managing paperwork and billing, so expect to remember your own fees and receipts. The district also takes a long time to approve hires, so if a staff member leaves, it can be a long time before that staff member's skill set is replicated.
Over the 5 years that my son attended, it was rare that he had nothing to do, and he was never unattended or truly bored. Many times when I had extra work and our son had to attend on a day when there wasn't a class he liked, I would arrive to find him playing a board game with another kid or one of the staff members. In fact, it's Aaron who gets credit for my son's early interest in killing me at Stratego. jmf
Re: How can I get clear information about after school programs?
My kids are at Oxford. Yes, it's run under the Berkeley LEARNS program. The director at Oxford, Aaron Grayson, and his staff are wonderful, and the kindergartners are kept separate from the other grades all afternoon, at least for the first several weeks of school (all kids stay with their grades most of the afternoon all year). They have plenty of quiet time, and even nap if necessary. OASIS (the Oxford LEARNS program) staff understand that the transition from preschool to Kindergarten is exhausting for many of the kids, and run the program accordingly. No, I don't think private school could be cheaper than an afterschool program! Last I heard, the full price for full-time (5-days) OASIS was less than $350 a month. There is also a sliding scale based on family income, and siblings get a discount. happy Oxford parent
Our son is entering kindergarten at Oxford in the fall and we are looking for afterschool care for him, Mon-Fri, preferably until 6 pm. I think we have narrowed it down to JCC and YMCA (Washington School). I would greatly appreciate any comments about teachers, philosophy, and activities offered by both programs. Is the environment relaxed, structured, chaotic? Our son is a bit on the shy side, but warms up once he is familiar with people and routine. He loves animals, gardening, art projects, climbing, etc. He has been in Montessori daycare/preschool since he was 18 months old. Thanks very much in advance for your input. Sharon
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