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Willard Middle School (Berkeley, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Berkeley Public Schools > Willard Middle School (Berkeley, CA)

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2010 - 2014 Recommendations

Wanting reviews of Willard for 6th grade

Nov 2014

We are looking at Willard for my 5th grade daughter next year. We have been to visit and are on the fence. The principal seems really excellent. My concerns were the large class sizes, the rather industrial feel of the campus, the very short recess breaks and the lack of languages. Also, I am wondering what the afterschool program is like. I am concerned that she will be lost there and won't get the attention she needs from teachers. Also, she loves art and music and I am wondering how much of these subjects she will get if she goes to Willard. I would love to hear some candid views of families who are at Willard now. How are your kids getting on at Willard? Thank you for your help. Wondering about Willard

My son just finished at Willard last year and is now at Berkeley High. The music program at Willard is very good. There is zero period band and orchestra, and there is also a jazz band. The drama program is also fantastic and very popular. The lack of languages (except Spanish offered as an elective) is a shame, but you're not going to find much different at King or Longfellow. One of the great strengths of Willard is the teachers, many of whom have been there for ten years or more. I think it is hard for a student to get lost at Willard. The teachers pay a lot of attention and get to know all the kids. J

Middle school transition from private to Willard

June 2014

We are planning to transition our son, who is entering sixth grade, from a small, private school to BUSD (Willard). After much indecision we have decided to move ahead because we see a variety of advantages (primarily financial). However, we still have a few concerns that I would like feedback on before he starts. He has been at his current school since kindergarten and is in a very small class where the kids are like siblings, they are so close. The teachers know him very well. Socially, I am concerned that he will get lost in middle school and find it hard to make friends. He is social but quiet and shy at first. From your experience, is the social environment welcoming to quiet kids? Is it difficult to make friends? Also, academically, his current school is quite advanced, especially in math. In 5th grade, he is working at a 7th grade level according to his textbook. Are there options for students who enter the school with advanced math skills? Or will we need to supplement the school curriculum with outside work or tutoring (I would really like to avoid this if possible)? We are confident we made the right decision after weighing all the pros and cons, but I would like to prepare for any challenges he will face, socially and academically, as this will certainly be a very difficult transition for him. I'm especially interested in hearing from parents whose children made a similar transition. Thank you! Middle school mom

My son went to Willard and is in the 9th grade at BHS this year. I think you'll find that none of your fears will come true! Willard has a wonderful staff who know the children well and I doubt he'll get 'lost' at all. I'm sure you know that the 6th graders are on a slightly different schedule from the 7th and 8th graders and that they go thru the day together in a 'pod' or cohort group. They also have one teacher who teaches both English and History and another who teaches Math and Science. These two teachers work together as a 'team' and communicate often about how the kids are doing. Socially, 6th grade is a time to make new friends and mix it up a bit so I'm sure he'll make new friends easily. Encourage him to get involved in whatever interests him -- music, sports, drama, etc. as a way to meet even more kids than just those who are in his classes. I can't speak to the math questions as the curriculum is changing with Common Core and there will no longer be 'Honors' math. At any rate, we were thrilled with our three years at Willard and felt it is a gem of a school with excellent teachers and a real feeling of community. Willard Rocks!
My son is in the 6th grade at Willard (although he's been in public schools the whole time and didn't make the private-public transition you describe). This has been a good year overall. I've been impressed with the 6th grade teachers at Willard, they are enthusiastic and work together for the good of the students. I have yet to work much with the other teachers, but I have an overall positive impression of the school. As for more challenging math, unfortunately there are not a lot of in-class opportunities. With the change to the Common Core curriculum, the district has established a program with only 6th grade math, 7th grade math, and 8th grade math and Honors math options not available until High School. If he is a strong math student, he will find the curriculum slow. However, I was able to work with a couple 6th grade math teachers this year to set up a once-a-week math team during 6th grade lunch. The kids did tough math problems together and even competed in a math contest. This simple addition provided a great opportunity for the kids who really enjoy challenging themselves. The teachers certainly support continuing and expanding this program, but we are in need of a 6th grade parent leader for next year. We need someone with a reasonable mathematics comfort level who can come in one day a week during lunch (11:40 am - 12:20 pm) nearly every week. I will be working with the 7th & 8th graders next year and they have a slightly different lunch schedule, but can provide materials and guidance. Let me know if you'd like to help keep your Willard 6th grader challenged in math next year! Willard mom
My shy, math-loving son is just finishing his 6th grade year at Willard after coming from a wonderful, small private elementary school (Berkwood Hedge) which he loved. And I'm very happy to say, the year has gone really well. He has been happy. He has made friends. And he has learned some things too.

Admittedly, he is not getting the same educational experience as he was at Berkwood Hedge, but from what I've seen of the Willard 6th grade teachers, they are an impressively upbeat, supportive, and capable bunch. They control the chaos, work with all sorts of kids, figure out how to integrate the Common Core, and do a lot to make learning fun and to make the year special for the kids. Some examples include the early human challenge, Pi Day (fabulous!), a hiking/camping trip in Tilden, and a competition between Greek city-states.

My son happened to wind up in the same class as a good friend from Berkwood Hedge and regularly seeks out another during lunch. Those old friendships have helped him navigate this year, but he has also made new friends along the way and my sense is that students are generally kind to each other. The drama program (Metal Shop Players) is excellent and is a really nice way to get involved as a 6th grader. My son also goes to math and coding clubs during lunch. One is run by a parent; I think the other is student-led. Classroom math has been pretty basic, but they supplement with Khan Academy and we've added Marin Math Circle to the mix. You may want to supplement there as BUSD has moved away from differentiation in math at the middle school level. Overall though, you have lots to look forward to at Willard. Happy that it is working out so well

Nov 2013

I want to put in a good word for Willard for people who are looking at middle schools right now.

We have been so impressed with this school. Our son started Willard this year as a 7th grader, coming from a small private K-6 where there are no grades or tests. He is a shy kid who has Inattentive ADD, which means he is in a fog most of the time. To be honest, public school wasn't our first choice -- we were very worried about how our son would fare at a big middle school alongside kids who had years of experience navigating public school, taking tests, getting assignments in on time. But now I wish I could go back a year and reassure myself. Willard is an outstanding middle school where our son is thriving academically and socially. He just brought home his first report card - all As and Bs - yay! and has made big leaps in his academic interest and knowledge.

Our son has excellent, caring teachers. Some of his teachers have been at Willard for years, others are younger. All of them clearly love their subjects, and they love working with kids this age. Our son is fired up by science and math this year, which surprised us because he has never been enthusiastic about academics, certainly not challenging classes. I had heard that Willard has strong science and math but I never expected the level of teaching that we are getting, or the level of interest from our son. Assignments for all his classes have been creative yet challenging, often using online and state of the art tools. Homework has been very manageable, even for a kid with no attention span. Most of his teachers provide class time to complete homework, including longer-term projects, so what comes home is mainly stuff that our son didn't finish in class. All my son's teachers have websites where you can download assignments and check what's due when, all the teachers are very accessible in person and by email, and all of them keep grades updated on the online Powerschool site so we can track how our son is doing.

The counseling staff at Willard has been very responsive, answering our email questions before our son started school, and then setting up a 504 Plan for our son a few weeks into the school year. This was a very easy process. It turned out that nearly all the accommodations we were asking for - extra time on tests and homework, extra reminders about assignments - are already provided for all the students at Willard. All of our son's teachers accept late homework without penalty. Our son has been able to re-take some tests that he couldn't finish in class and get them re-graded. Homework collection is very structured and there are lots of reminders about upcoming assignments. This is a great school not just for kids like mine, but for all kids who are a little disorganized - the emphasis at Willard is on learning and mastering, not just on dotting the i's and crossing the t's, and there is a lot of support for kids who need more structure and help with organization.

I had some complaints about the afterschool program early in the year, but the staff has made changes and my son who was initially reluctant to go, now often stays after school. This tells me that even when there are problems, the school makes an effort to address them.

I have 2 older kids and we've tried out a variety of local public and private schools over the years. I think that Willard is top notch. Academically, there are few private middle schools in our area that can compare to Willard. Why spend lots of $$$ getting an inferior education for your kid!

Afterschool options for Willard 6th grader

Sept 2013

Our daughter will be starting middle school at Willard this year after being in a small, private school environment for K-5th. We are concerned about being in a public school, but more worried about what she will do after 2:30. We wonder if the after school program at Willard is rough, and are looking for alternatives, but don't feel good about having her walk along Telegraph alone to get anywhere. Can anyone offer any good suggestions? Concerned Parent

My son just started at Willard, as a 7th grader. I have him signed up for the full-time after-school program because I work full time. It's very reasonable in cost - $125/month for 3-6pm, cheaper depending on income. I think your worries about a ''rough'' program are unreasonable. I picked my son up today at 4:30 (Tues 9/3). He was playing on the basketball court with a few other boys his age, and asked me to come back later because he wanted to play some more. There were various boys shooting baskets, hanging out and talking. I went into the library to sign him out and saw a bunch of seemingly upper-middle-class girls in the library doing homework. He had spent the first hour in the library doing homework and reading. It seems like a fine program and I would feel very comfortable leaving him there till 6, which he would probably prefer. local mom
My son is starting 6th grade at Willard and he was shocked at how kids are treated by staff in the after school program. He said during study period (30 minutes in the library) kids were yelled at to be silent and were even told not to make eye contact. One kid at my son's table had to stay an extra 15 minutes for talking about his homework. I spoke with the principal, who was very concerned and addressed the situation right away with the after school staff, but reports from a friend are that things haven't changed much in the last couple of days. Hopefully they will improve. My son went for two days and refuses to go back. Like your daughter he is coming from a small private school, so perhaps part of it is adjusting to a bigger environment with a less cohesive after school staff (I'm trying to be diplomatic), but the after school program seems to be run very differently from the school. Kids have not been an issue at all, just the harsh treatment by staff. Not into Iron Fists
I posted earlier and said that my son liked the afterschool program at Willard, but my post was based on just a couple days experience and I want to update it. The original poster asked if it is ''rough'' and I still think the kids are fine and the program is perfectly safe, but I can't say much positive about the program itself. My son refused to return shortly after I posted my previous review. He told me that the adults in charge spoke harshly to the kids and yelled at them, and punished kids who spoke or even looked at others by keeping them inside after everyone else went out to play. Based on my conversations with staff, this discipline style should be OK since it is not my son who is being spoken harshly to, but it creates a hostile environment for every kid. I signed my son up in the first place not only because I work, but also so he could get much-needed help with homework. The afterschool program's website describes tutoring from UC students, and collaborative learning among students. In reality it was more like detention hall. There are no tutors and the kids can't talk to each other. After the homework period, there would be fun classes, as described on their website. These were not announced until nearly a month after school started, by which time my son had become very reluctant to continue with the program. In contrast, King Middle School distributed its list of afterschool classes prior to the first day of school. On my insistence, my son did try out a couple of the classes. They sounded fun on paper, but they were not well-planned or well-run. The ping-pong table was broken, and the Wii class consisted of kids sitting silently in the dark waiting for their turn while the adult coordinator enforced behavior rules. From what my friends tell me, the afterschool classes at King are taught by people who like kids this age and have some skill and experience teaching them. I have not seen this at Willard.

I do want to say that the program coordinator was friendly and very prompt in answering my emails. And, I sincerely appreciate that there is an after-school program at Willard. When my older kids were there, it did not exist -- 12-year-olds were sent home at 3:00 to fend for themselves. I like the idea behind it, and it is much needed. But the reality is very different from the description on the BUSD website, and seems to be little more than babysitting by adults who have little enthusiasm for kids of this age.

Considering buying a house in Willard neighborhood

May 2012

We are considering buying a house in the area that is zoned for Willard. Should we completely avoid Willard? I hear mixed reviews of the school. Thanks Karen

When I read your post, I felt compelled to respond immediately. My son is currently a 7th grader at Willard, and we have been quite happy with his experience there. The principle, Robert Ithurburn, is wonderful, very responsive and hands on, and from what I hear he has really turned the school around in the last several years. My son has mostly liked his teachers, and has mostly been challenged academically. He has gone on some amazing field trips, especially in sixth grade. He has a wonderful circle of friends. The parent community is strong and there is a lot of opportunity for involvement. The sports program is just fantastic, as is the drama program. The student body is very diverse in every way. The neighborhood (which I live in - just two blocks away) is lovely and quite safe. All that being said, it is a fairly urban public school, and does deal with many of the issues that urban schools deal with. If you want your child to have a public school experience, Willard is a great choice. Nanu
Schools change constantly as the kids and personnel do. At this time, Willard is the warm & fuzzy choice in Berkeley. Mr. Ithurburn is totaly there. Stuff happens, he deals with it. The staff in general is lovely. They genuinely love the kids. They actually like each other. So, yes, Willard has been rough. It is very well run now. We have been there 3, and have 4 more years there!
Hey! Willard middle school in Berkeley is great! No need to avoid it at all. Why dont you find someone to speak directly with about it. Some one who has a student there now. Call the school and get the phone number or email for the pta president and get them to give you contact info for a couple of folks to talk to there. I am not sure who is giving you negative info on willard, but you deserve to hear from folks who are there and love it. All 3 of the berkeley middle schools have great things going for them and families are for the most part quite pleased. Welcome to berkeley! So buy that house and fret no more (mortgage support group questions are for a differrent list serve) Berkeley Enough !
If you are assigned to Willard for 6th grade, yet wished for alternate choices, do not worry! The dedicated 6th grade staff at Willard are great, hardworking professionals who completely understand and work well with this age group. The wiggly transition from 5th to 6th is sometimes terrifying. There is a staggered bell & lunch schedule so the kids are not overly exposed to the upper grades. If you want to keep trying to transfer to your 1st choice for the remainder 2 years, I would recommend a politely aggressive approach to the BUSD admissions office. Had Two kids @ Willard
Our son is just finishing the 7th grade at Willard and we couldn't be happier! Frankly, I think it is the best kept secret in Berkeley just how great Willard is. The teaching staff is fantastic. The principal, Mr. Ithurburn, is really on the ball and knows the kids and parents and their needs very well. And when I say he knows the kids, I mean, he will know who your kid is, how s/he is doing and so on. The field trips have been terrific. My son had plenty of art and other opportunities to be creative worked into his curriculum. The music program is outstanding if your kid chooses the 0 period. The school is also a very safe environment. I had many fears about my child entering middle school -- none of my fears came true. In fact, I think the small size helps make the school very safe because of the community feeling among other things. It's true that King has a better physical plant, but, oh well. Oh! And the level of parent involvement is impressive. Plus, there are all kinds of wonderful and unique events that make Willard special. For example, spring day, Black Excellence Night, Pi Week (that ends with pie!) and more. happy parent of a child at Willard
Jan 2012

Re: Where does your middle-schooler go to school?
Our son goes to Willard Middle School in Berkeley. He is in the 6th grade and absolutely loves it. The teachers are dedicated and talented. The music/drama program is amazing. The sports program is fantastic and growing. They have gardening/cooking, plenty of field trips, after school enrichment classes and access to computers. A very nice library and librarian. They have P.E. every day and a sweet, well-supervised campus. The principal is very connected with the kids and seems to have a great rapport with his teaching staff. He didn't know very many kids as he came from out of district but quickly connected with other 6th graders during the first week of school. Berkeley Parent

March 2011

Re: Worried about homework in Berkeley middle schools
My son is in 8th grade at Willard, which is probably similar to King. His homework load has been quite light all through middle school. In 7th grade he had an English and history teacher who hardly ever gave homework and instead said that the whole time the students were in class they were writing or otherwise working hard. I'm actually wondering whether Berkeley High is going to be a rude awakening for my son. I would say he spends about 45 minutes a night on average on homework now. -Mary

Feb 2011

Re: Longfellow vs. Willard
I just read the posts, and no one has posted about Willard. My daughter started there this year, and loves it. It's academically rigorous, the teachers are terrific and the 6th grade math department is full of dynamic staff who make the classes fun. The principal, Robert Ithurburn, is very impressive, he goes to everything (and there are lots of events) and he's really on top of things. There has been a culture night, a math night, a wonderful winter concert, and I believe there's going to be a science fair. It's been a rich and rewarding year so far. There are other choices

Willard MS after private school

Aug 2010

My son will be a 7th grader this fall and will attend Willard. He's been in independent (private) school all of his life. Small classes, safe environment, etc. Anything I should know ahead of time? New Willard MS Parent

My son started Willard in 6th grade after attending a small private school. He's in the 8th grade now and thriving at Willard. One thing that might be helpful is to know is that the Willard teachers are mostly easily approachable and welcome communications from parents. Also, joining sports teams or clubs is a good way to make friends. For the 7th grade, Mr. Rose is an especially good teacher. Jennifer
Feb 2010

Re: Moving to Berkeley Summer 2010 - middle schools?
I've had experience of both King and Willard Middle schools in Berkeley - and both those experiences were good. My daughter was in 7th grade when we moved and thrived at King, loved the big size and the demanding teaching. My son went to Willard because we had moved closer to there, and also thrived, made great friends and was well prepared for high school. Willard is much smaller than King and he liked that he knew everybody. There are certain programs at King (such as dance, jazz band and French) that are not offered at Willard and the facilities are bigger, but as there are more kids and my son was only interested in sports, it basically balanced out. On the other hand, I found the King administration more intimidating to deal with, although I believe this has improved at both schools. I'm currently working with some Willard teachers on starting a chorus program, and have been highly impressed by their enthusiasm, energy, and dedication. Fiona

2005 - 2009 Recommendations

Nov 2008

Re: The low-down on King & Willard Middle Schools
Hi, I taught at Willard last year and my child is a 7th grader at King this year. I think the teachers are equally good at both schools. Willard is in a more urban environment near Ashby, whereas King is in a mostly residential area. My child really likes King and loves the zero period music program. My child is an A student and is in the Honors Math program. They find it fun and challenging and look forward to taking Honors Geometry at BHS next year, in 8th grade. My child says making friends at King is the easy part. Making the right friends in King's diverse community is the hard part. King has lockers. At Willard, you carry your stuff around all day with you. King has a really nice new lunch room with homemade breads, salad bar, soup, etc. As a parent, I feel more at home in the King community. King parent

Jan 2007

I would be interested to hear from parents with children at Willard in Berkeley about their experience at the school as I am considering it for my 6th grade son for next year. Good or bad I would love to know what you think. Thank you very much in advance. Tracey

I have a couple observations regarding Williard Middle School. My child (though a kindergartender) attends Emerson, and we live on Stuart St near Williard. I recently met and talked with the new Principal who came to speak with perspective families at Emerson. I've also met parents who live in the Le Conte neighbor whose children already attend the school. My view of Willard has changed in the last 6 months or so largely due to their enthusiasm and ideas. The Principal and current parents speak positively of the school. The Principal clearly addressed child safety on and off campus (which includes children walking home). There are high hopes for the new and current Principal to make Willard a CA distinguished school in the near future. I've also seen how parent involvement, which seems to be thriving in this school zone, postively impacts the schools. I encourage you to visit and talk with the Principal and other families attending Willard. Dawn

2004 & Earlier

January 2003

Both of my children attended Willard- each for 3 years (6 consecutive years). Our daughter graduated last year so I can't speak to the current year, but we were consistantly happy with Willard. The quality and dedication of the teachers and staff ,despite cuts in every aspect of school life, was amazing! Our children both came from private schools and both felt the quality of teaching was higher at Willard. We had the (very) occasional less than perfect teacher but the over all standards are outstanding. I can't imagine my children will ever have better teachers than a few of the ones they had at Willard. I wish Berkely High could live up to their standards in some small way. barbara

My daughter is in the 8th grade at Willard and has had a great experience academically and socially. My younger child will enter this Fall. The teachers and principal are very talented and dedicated. karen
My daughter has been at Willard since the 6th grade and is in her last year there now. Although Willard has a 'checkered' reputation, we have found it to be a very good experience for her because of the excellent teaching staff . Each year my daughter has had teachers that she loved, who were dedicated and truly liked their students. This year she has 3 (!) teachers (History, Math, and Science) she feels this way about. Because of the strong teaching staff, I think Willard is an excellent choice for Middle School. stephani
This is our first year at Willard (6th grade). My daughter spent the last two years at a small private school, and before that was in a Berkeley public school. She is doing VERY well at Willard. I thought she would feel lost in such a huge school, but she has welcomed the opportunity to meet more people to be friends with, likes the diversity (economic and racial) and also likes the anonymity of the large group. She has made new friends and has met old friends there. Her teachers are the most dedicated group of teachers I have encountered thus far. They are responsive and caring. My daughter is doing well academically. One of her teachers has taught his class how to ask questions in order to get the answer they need, instead of just saying ''I don't know''. This well be very valuable in the future. There is a lot of homework and sometimes it feels overwhelming. There is a big focus on the grade that the kids get, but to me that's a motivating force to keep at it. It doesn't feel like a competition between the kids from what my daughter says.

We haven't had any major problems. The one incident that did happen was dealt with quickly and efficiently, thanks to the VP.

It's a big school and the communication is pretty disorganized. It works better if you have email, if you don't then you're left out of the loop. Kind of exclusive, as not all parents have email. They do mail stuff out though.

The after-school program took a while to get going, but now it's in full-swing and works really well. The folks who run it are friendly and thoughtful. The kids can do their homework and then go onto a fun activity. The library is also open until 4 (except on Wed) for quiet homework, reading or work on the computers. The library, by the way, is a great place, run by a very smart, dedicated woman!

The 6th grade has something called the ''wheel'', where they rotate 4 times in the year through art (visual and performing), computers (my daughter said this was REALLY good as she learned how to type!), PE (which includes health and swimming), and Spanish. This is the only PE the kids get in 6th grade!!! Disappointing, but my daughter takes dance outside of school anyway.

I was very skeptical about Willard, but now I feel it's the best place for my daughter and she is thriving.

November 2003

Re: music programs in middle schools
Hi, I think I can provide some information on Music in Berkeley's middle schools. My experience comes from two sources. First, I have a daughter playing in the Willard Orchestra right now. Second, I an building a volunteer program to support music in BUSD by putting music loving community members in classrooms to support music teachers and I have spent a lot of time in the last few years volunteering in classrooms myself.

Financial shortages and an very strong emphasis on test scores and closing the "achievement gap" have hurt Berkeley's music program, particularly at the middle school level. With the exception of one class at Longfellow, all middle school music classes have been moved to M-F at "zero period" (7:45 - 8:30 AM).

This schedule could have had the advantage of reducing conflict with other electives like advanced algebra and languages in a six period day which has little room for electives. Unfortunately, important electives are now also being offered exclusively in the morning in conflict with music. The Willard band now has about 25-30 kids, but the orchestra is down to six while many young string players opt for advanced algebra.

On the other hand, there are some very strong positives at the moment at Willard. Both music teachers are excellent. My daughter, a bass violin player, could not receive more encouragement and support. Music is her current favorite activity at Willard. Her orchestra teacher is a talented violist who also teaches on the college level. I volunteer for the band teacher once a week and she is also very dedicated to the kids and full of enthusiasm.

I can't promise you that the same teachers will be at Willard next year. The days of a music teacher being attached to a single school are gone, at least for the moment. Music teachers travel in teams to as many as six schools each week. You could call the Berkeley Music Department and ask about who will be at Willard next year. (510-644-8831)

In addition, all Berkeley middle schoolers have an opportunity in the spring to spend a weekend music retreat at Cazadero music camp where they work in an intensive way culminating in a concert for their families on Sunday. This weekend is subsidized by a grant and costs the kid's families very little ($25-$75) It can be a great experience for your child.

You might also look into the Crowden School after school program. Crowden is a top notch private school for kids whose primary interest is music. They have an after school program for which, I have been told, scholarships are available.

I would be happy to talk to anyone further about Berkeley's school music program, both how to get them most from it for your child, and how to best support it. You can get more information on the volunteer program at Bob

PS - As you are probably aware, BUSD is in the middle of further "belt tightening." Michelle Lawrence, our Superintendent, is now holding a series of community meetings at the schools. This is an attempt to identify core values for the district which will be supported in next years reduced budget. If you have strong feelings about music and art in our schools, it is important to attend some of these meetings and be heard.

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