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Prospect Sierra School (El Cerrito, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Prospect Sierra School



Sept 2014

A question was posted a while ago from a prospective Kindergarten family, asking for reviews of Prospect Sierra. I wrote a review at the time about our experience with our older child who transferred to Prospect Sierra in 1st grade from a Berkeley Public School. Now that we've had the Prospect Sierra Kindergarten experience for our younger child, I feel inspired to write an updated review.

Kindergarten at Prospect Sierra provides a safe, nurturing and playful beginning to the Elementary School experience while laying the groundwork for a love of academics. Kindergarten has it's own newly-renovated playground and outdoor dining area with the same beautiful, wide-open feel that the larger elementary playground has. The classrooms are stimulating and organized with a variety of short activities throughout the day at tables and centers. Two experienced teachers in each classroom provide lots of one-on-one attention for each child. There is no homework in Kindergarten which meant that our child could spend his day at school getting excited about learning and then could come home and play and rest and process all the new information he was taking in. I remember when he had his first research project: they transformed the classroom into a Sonoran Desert and each child got to host a table and share with visiting parents an aspect of life in the Desert. Our son was spotting cacti everywhere we went for months afterwards and was illustrating images of desert life with hela monsters and burrowing owls. I saw a spark in him of pride and excitement and realized he was having his first real academic learning experience and was loving it! On his own, he decided to ''write'' and illustrate a book called ''All About Owls'' which he proudly shared with his teacher and she read to the class. I cannot imagine a more nurturing and stimulating environment to spark a child's love of learning as they start their elementary school years.

Now that we are in our third year at Prospect Sierra with a child in 1st Grade and a child in 3rd Grade, I am more impressed and thrilled with the school than ever. The specialists in Art, Science, Library, Drama, PE, and Tech all have beautiful classrooms for twice-weekly visits from the kids. Their new Spanish program will add a language component that has been missing from the lower grades until last year.

After the first day of school, I had a car full of my son's 3rd Grade buddies and I asked them how the first day went. They all said ''We LOVE it. We LOVE our teacher Holly! She LOVES all the things that kids love. She's really fun. When it's time to be strict, she's strict, but in a really nice way.'' That is how I feel about the whole school -- it is a structured and joyful place that sparks a love of learning in children.

Moving to Prospect Sierra has been a great choice for our family and we highly recommend it. Jessica


June 2014

Re: Academics, Soc/Emotional, and how boys learn!

As a mother of two boys I have read research on how boys learn. Boys learn better when they are in an environment that does not hinder their want and need to be in motion. Take for example a young boy who is reading a book and swinging his feet back and forth. In some schools they might have to get his attention and ask to please ''sit still'' so he won't disrupt the other students. Some boys natually have to be in motion in order to learn. That is just part of their PREFERRED learning environment. My child goes to Prospect Sierra and althought it is not a school you mentioned I want to tell you what I see in his classroom because its something you might need for your son. At P.S. the teachers are totally awesome at paying attention to the children's emotions, social activity, and academics.Part of the curriculum they teach involves emotional development. They have a thing called the toolbox where the kids learn how to deal with their emotions and behvaiors by using certain ''tools'' from their toolbox. For instance, they have a garbage can in their tool box and they are taught to simply ''throw away'' any hurtful or unfriendly comments/actions they see, hear, etc. They learn these emotional development tools throughout the school years - not just in one year.

One more thing I want to share with you. As we know most kids of young age can't sit still for too long. I volunteered in my sons class for reading time and when I walked in the class there were kids reading everywhere in the classroom! I mean kids were reading under the tables, in the corners, under their chairs, on bean bags, on the rugs on their backs with the book in the air. It wasn't about keeping order in the class room (because as you can see the kids were literally everywhere!) rather it was about letting the kids be comfortable in whatever position/place they learned best in. And the kids were so quiet and well behaved!! I hope this information is useful. I love Prospect Sierra because it encorporates all the best learning practices for my son and I know he is being motivated in all aspects.

Good luck! Prospect Sierra Parent


March 2014

Re: Private vs. Berkeley public school education

One of my priorities in choosing a private school (Prospect Sierra) over a public school was the social/emotional curriculum. In my observation there's no question that PS has an outstanding program. Not only are the kids well aware of how to respect one another from the earliest age, they are going to be responsible citizens when they grow up. It was important for me to have my sensitive child in an emotionally safe space; it opened the door for better learning. I am constantly amazed how empathetic she is, how she looks out for others, how she can discern right from wrong so readily.

Also, we live in Berkeley where many, many of the PS families live, so (1) we have plenty of Berkeley friends and (2)Sharing rides a few days a week makes the commute very doable and a great relief for us drivers. That said, I cherish the 15 minute car ride everyday as it gives me some good time with my child, where we can prepare for or dissect the events of the day. Financially, it is a sacrifice but one I am willing to make. Don't overlook financial assistance; many families receive something and you should always apply before assuming you won't qualify. Happy Berkeley parent


Feb 2014

Re: Private schools for gifted child
Our family has a one-year experience with a public school before moving to Prospect Sierra. Your assessment is surprising. We find that our son has been challenged at Prospect Sierra so much more, and in so many different ways, than at his previous school. Clearly it would be a big decision to move your child out of the school so soon after he/she started. Have you talked to the teachers to ask for additional homework/classroom tasks for your child? Have you contacted the division head or the head of school with your concerns? I have always found the Prospect Sierra teachers and administrators to be receptive to questions and ideas from our family. I am sure that they would like to hear from you first-hand, so that they can have an opportunity to make adjustments so your child's needs are met. But they can only do that if they know there's an issue. Should you feel a need to talk to a fellow PS parent, please feel free to contact me. C


August 2013

Re: Entering 8th & 5th Grade from overseas
I would recommend looking at Prospect Sierra. Some of the private schools you listed are on the Oakland side of Berkeley, whereas Prospect Sierra is in El Cerrito (we live in Berkeley), however when we were choosing a private school we seriously considered Black Pine Circle and Bentley and toured Head Royce (of the schools you mentioned). Ultimately we selected Prospect Sierra because of their very strong focus on social responsibility, the environment and their strong and progressive academics (although the last is always open to interpretation). David


August 2013

Re: Looking for the right school for my daughters
Have you considered Prospect Sierra? They are very progressive and into supporting and challenging children both emotionally and academically. We are really happy with them. They are in El Cerrito, but there is a bus that goes through Oakland (a school bus, not a city bus). The teachers pay a lot of attention to each child, and at least with ours, who is gifted, they have provided differentiated instruction and special challenges, which our child found inspiring. happy Prospect Sierra Parent


Dec 2012

Re: Private K-8 with strong science? Does it exist?
To the person looking for a K-8 school with a strong science program: my son is currently a student at Prospect Sierra School. He has always been drawn to Math and Science more than to Art, Music or reading. Prospect Sierra has very strong Science and Math programs, but not to the detriment of Art and Music and the traditional curriculum. We feel that he is getting a well-rounded education in all of the subjects. Prospect Sierra is a K-8 school. Please feel free to Google it and check out the website. This is a timely question, as the admissions process for the 2013-2014 school year is happening as we speak. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have specific questions about the school. corina


Prospect Sierra or The Berkeley School?

Nov 2012

We are in the midst of the search for the right K and hopefully K-8 school! Both The Berkeley School and Prospect Sierra look amazing... I am wondering about people's experience with Kindergarten...I am looking for one that is not too hectic (I have noticed differences on the various tours), warm, flexible, able to follow children's interests, encourages family involvement, and does a good job balancing social-emotional & academics. I know what both schools preach but I'm wondering about parents' experiences?! Also I would love to find one that really honors the big transition that K is for many children (beginning of 5 day a week, full school day) and helps makes the transition as easy as possible with input from the child's family. Another question is...I see that TBS utilizes TERC math curriculum while PS uses Everyday Mathematics as well as Sunshine Math...I am looking for feedback about how either of these are working for your child throughout elementary? Last one...the yard/play area is so much bigger at PS, does TBS feel too small, especially as the children get older? Any parent feedback is greatly appreciated! Thank you!


This fall we transferred our son into 1st Grade at Prospect Sierra and are in the midst of applying for Kindergarten for our younger son. We have been thrilled with every aspect of the school so even though we haven't yet had the pleasure of experiencing the Kindergarten, I wanted to give very positive feedback about the school. We were also looking for a school with a calm classroom environment and one that balances the social-emotional and academics. The teachers do an amazing job inspiring the kids to learn while keeping them focused in a clear and loving way. This balance (social-emotional/academics) infuses every aspect of the school and both are palpable in the culture of the school as equal components. They are working with researchers at Yale to use something called RULER which helps to develop emotional literacy and the faculty, staff, students and families are all encouraged to use this tool. Also, we love the campus layout and the large outdoor area. The school feels spacious and open with lots of room to breathe and to run around. Lunch is eaten outside (unless it rains). The layout of the school, the rooms and the outdoor space is one of the big things we love about the school. I cannot say enough good about Prospect Sierra. Good luck with your decision. Jessica

Editor note: reviews were also received for The Berkeley School


Oct 2012

Re: Hands-on, no-homework private/charter elementary?
Why don't you take a look at Prospect Sierra? There is an unbelievably good social and emotional program, and virtually no homework in K. Homework starts in first grade, but it takes my kid only ten minutes a night (at most) and he enjoys it. The academics are superb; and he is making art and friends to boot. They also have a very generous financial aid program. If your kid is a good fit, I'm sure they'll make it work. Happy PS Parent


Elementary school - Prospect Sierra vs. Madera

August 2012

We recently moved to El Cerrito and although Kindergarten is still a year away for our son, I am trying to get as much information as possible. We are able to afford private school (yes, we are thankful) but ''in principle'' I like the idea of public school. Our neighborhood school is Madera so basically my question is - how so I decide between Madera and a private school like Prospect Sierra? I know this is not an easy question to answer unless you have children who went to both! I plan to visit the schools and talk to parents but since that is a year away, I am turning to the collective wisdom of BPN. I am particularly interested in hearing from families who may have gone to Madera and went private for middle school - how did the 2 experiences compare? Or if you went to Prospect Sierra for elementary, how did you decide? Appreciate any advice which will be helpful since we are new to the Bay area and are still figuring things out. El Cerrito Mama


Get ready....California education is a brutal shock.

I also do not have direct experience with Prospect Sierra or Madera, but have many friends that have attended Prospect Sierra. They are both good schools, and in some ways are similar because a sizable population of Prospect Sierra comes from Kensington and Madera. Some of my friends chose Prospect Sierra outright; would not even consider the public school system. Some transferred in. Some transferred in and then back out. Reasons are varied....some finally could no longer afford Prospect Sierra. Some were afraid of the local middle school. Some wanted smaller class size. Some wanted a different experience. Some found more variety in public school.

As for me, I am like you - fortunate enough to be able to write the check for both kids to attend a private school, but I see no reason to do so. I'm sending my kids to public school in WCCUSD, and they are doing great, and our experience has been nothing but positive.

I am writing to encourage you to at least try your public school first. Madera is an excellent school. Good, tight-knit community, good, strong PTA and excellent test scores. I know there were some issues with the old principal, but they have a new one now. It may be too early to tell how that is turning out, but the Supt. of Schools met with parents in the selection process. They were allowed to voice their desires in selection of a new leader.

The WCCUSD school district has tough, tough issues, there is no doubt about it. This is a vast district that incorporates the very well-to-do of Kensington and Madera to the poverty-stricken of the Iron Triangle in Richmond. The needs are beyond diverse. Funding is always an issue. Class size is big. Teachers are underpaid. But we need people dedicated to making it better. And we are turning corners. The district is out of bankruptcy. We have a renaissance happening at Portola Junior High School. We are renovating 30,40, 50 year-old campuses.

A great education should not only be available to those that can afford to send their kids to private school. We need people to make it better for everyone. I am hoping you will join us in any one of the million ways that you can make a difference. It really counts and it really matters! -Public School Advocate


We live in El Cerrito and our child has been enrolled at both Madera and Prospect Sierra in elementary school. We have had positive experience with both schools. I would be more than happy to share with you how and why we decided to move from one to the other. Please e-mail me if you'd like to talk. C.
As a parent of two Prospect Sierra students (2nd & 5th grade), I have seen my children thrive. Not only are they receiving a top-quality education in the core subjects, but the Science, physical education, Technology, Art, Drama, and Music programs are outstanding! Students are taught to be supportive, inclusive, and kind to each other. The teachers are excellent. Their enthusiasm creates an atmosphere where the children love to learn. Our neighborhood public school is good, but Prospect Sierra is great. It is a big sacrifice to send my kids here, but it is worth every penny. I highly recommend Prospect Sierra. Happy Prospect Sierra Parent
My children have been going to Prospect Sierra since Kindergarten and we have never regretted the decision. I live in El Cerrito and I have a middle schooler (6th grader) and an elementary school child (3rd grader).

I hear good things about Madera, but for me, Prospect was the best choice for my family. I wanted my children to have a strong educational foundation and I value the quality that Prospect offers. (Yes-saving for money for college is indeed important, but for me, so is my children's education RIGHT NOW. If my children do not develop a good foundation from the get go, how can I expect them to do well in high school and then in college? So I guess you can say I'm investing in my children's future now and not ten years from now.)

The curriculm at Prospect Sierra is very well rounded, enriching and completely hands on. My children are engaged in all of their subjects-and they have fun in school. The administration really knows what they are doing and my children LOVE their principals. I love that the teachers are not teaching to an overcrowded classroom and I love how wonderful the libraries (and librarians) are (it puts Barnes and Nobles to shame) The art rooms have REAL art studio supplies-indian ink, a kiln, quality paper, etc.

I have to admit that I love the stability of the school. I have never worried that due to state budget cuts, PE is going to be eliminated from my children's lives. I've never had to worry about the safety of my children at school (there is zero tolerance for drugs and violence at Prospect). And honestly, I've never had to worry about my kids getting a lousy teacher -unlike a public school where it's nearly impossible to get rid of a terrible teacher, the teachers at Prospect Sierra are top notch and selected with a lot of care.

I don't subscribe to the ''good test scores'' idea. Yes, Prospect students do exceedingly well in state tests-but I don't feel that my children are being taught to ace them (I'm not a ''No Child Left Behind'' fan.) Prospect Sierra children are taught to be independent thinkers and there is a natural love for learning there.

Well, that is my two cents. Good luck with your decision and best to your family. M.


We were in your shoes two years ago, trying to decide between private here in El Cerrito and Madera. We toured 3 schools and ultimately decided that the private option was the best fit for our family. Definitely tour both schools and talk to families if you can.

Everyone at Prospect has been welcoming, friendly and inclusive. Our son thrived in kindergarten and told us he ''loved'' school. He found the curriculum to be fun and challenging. As parents, we loved the projects that tied into the curriculum (e.g., Poetry Day, field trips to Canyon Trail park to study the ecosystem, the school-wide play). A happy Prospect family


W/o a doubt, Prospect Sierra is a far superior school. My daughter and son attended Madera. They were both transferred to PS b/c of the academics, smaller class size and enriching afterschool program. My children love PS because it was easy to meet friends and became a safe and nurturing environment for them to explore who they are as little people. My daughter graduated from PS, and is a very successful sophomore at BHS. She misses PS so much! My son is a happy second grader at PS. Classroom size coupled with teacher:student ratio was a critical element in our decision making (PS - 2:20; Madera 1:24). PS teachers show a genuine interest in the development of EACH child, which is almost an impossible feat in public school due to the large no. of students. PS fosters a strong culture of community, self responsibility, respect and integrity. Heart, Mind, Community is its motto. Instructors are seasoned, but not burnt out; well-educated yet down to earth; gentle but firm; kind and approachable. Teachers make themselves available through various modes of communication: email, text, phone. Coomunication is immediate when an issue arises. The school gladly welcomes parents to get involved IN the classroom. The elementary head of school knows every child's name. The middle head of school is well-loved by the students and her own children attend PS. The music program is taught by professional musicians. The campus is expansive, safe and clean. The facilities staff is attentive, helpful and hard working. The administration is very hands-on in a positive, not menacing way. The after care program has a large array of choice, including Mandarin, chess, fencing and gymnastics. My only disappointment is the lack of diversity. I was born in Oakland, and a product of CA public schools K through BA at SFSU. Although I remain a strong believer in free public education, resources continue to dwindle, which most certainly impacts the quality of tax-funded institutions. We know we've made the right choice for both our son and daughter, and don't regret the decision or the money. With that said, each child is unique. Good luck with your decision. S.
Regarding Prospect Sierra vs. Madera: We are in the Madera district, but chose Prospect Sierra for both of our children. My son is now in the middle school at PS. I too wanted badly to make Public School work. It was a hard decision since we had heard good things about Madera. But, I attended many gatherings at the school (back to school night-I crashed and was not inspired, and a gathering with the Principle). My intention here is not to diss Madera. But, I need to say it was very clear to my husband and myself that Prospect Sierra would give our children more attention (one on one) as well as a very broad and deep education in the arts, sciences, and humanities which due to lack of funding for the arts, public schools are seriously lacking. (not their fault). Unlike all the rumors I had heard about PS before I applied, it is not an elitist school. There are many and mostly working families. Highly educated and valuing education. The curriculum is very strong and most importantly it emphasizes compassion, community, as well as mind. My friend's father is a John Dewey scholar in Primary Education at the University of Chicago. When I asked him what are the most important years to spend money on if we have a limited budget, he answered ''hands down, primary K-8. That is when students learn how to learn and develop lifetime skills''. We will be sending our kids to public high school. We love Prospect Sierra and the community. The only drawback is we have to pay tuition. That said, it is well worth it!!! Prospect Sierra Mom

Editor note: additional reviews also received for Madera


Prospect Sierra vs. Head-Royce for El Cerrito family

March 2012

Hi all, We are trying to decide on a school for my daughter and have narrowed our choices down to Prospect-Sierra and Head-Royce. We like the open spaces and hands-on labs at Prospect however worry that our daughter will need to apply for a High School as opposed to Head-Royce where she is all done until college applications. Head-Royce is a bit of a commute from our home near El Cerrito but we do not mind it if the education quality is that much better. I am truly confused between these two amazing schools and wanted to see if any of you have made a similar decision and can share some pros/cons. Aside from the commute which is do-able, my only concern is whether Head-Royce offers enough hands-on art, science and music experience in the Lower School. Thank you in advance for you help! K


Hi there, I wanted to take a moment to comment on your decision. I am a parent of two PS students who have been there since kindergarten.

- Geography does matter. You will be driving a lot. Not just to and from school, but to play dates and parties, school events and to volunteer. It makes a difference.

- My children, now in the middle school, love science, drama, art and music. It is wonderful that those subjects have been an integral part of the curriculum since kindergarten. PS does a wonderful job having the kids learn to speak publicly, whether to their classmates, a large crowd or complete strangers. It is woven in seamlessly with all that they do.

- The vast majority PS kids get in to the high school of their choice. You can speak with the guidance counselor, Lalia, and she will tell you how they guide the 8th graders the process. Most kids are ready for a different environment by high school. I wouldn't look at that step with fear or as a negative.

-I cannot speak to the education quality at Head Royce. What I can tell you is that my kids are thriving. They are avid readers, participate in math competitions and do well, do remarkably well on standardized tests as compared to kids on other independent school, love to write and look at the world through learners eyes. Good luck with your choices. PS Parent


Commuting to PS from Oakland?

Jan 2012

I toured a school I thought was fantastic (Prospect Sierra, in El Cerrito). But we live near Chabot Elementary, in Oakland. The commute makes me pause. I know there is a bus, but the thought of a 40 minute ride each way for my child is not a happy one. Nor is the thought of slogging through rush hour traffic in our car. Does anyone make this commute? What is your experience? How far would you drive for what seems an ideal school? anon mom


Hi there - I am the parent of a current Kindergartner at Prospect Sierra, and we live just a few blocks from Chabot Elementary. We LOVE Prospect Sierra and would encourage you not to be daunted by the distance. The bus is one of our child's favorite things about the school! We chose PS because to us it is an ideal mixture of academics, service learning, and a progressive pedagogy/orientation. The teachers, administrators, parents, and children are great, and I am always so impressed by the middle-schoolers - who give me a sense of the ''whole people'' that this community of students, parents, and educators are nurturing. Please feel free to email me if you would like to discuss further - shannon
My wife and I live in North Oakland and when we considered Prospect Sierra we had the same feelings and concerns as you have about the school and the commute. Our kids attended Lakeview (plug: awesome preschool!) and Prospect Sierra was the perfect fit - first for my daughter, and then for my son. My daughter was the first of the two to attend Prospect Sierra. We considered the nearer options to which she was accepted (all within 5-20 minutes away) and we just decided that even though Prospect Sierra was farther away, we wanted to do what was best for her. On the first day we dropped her at Rockridge BART to get on the bus. She immediately loved the bus. She loved the fact that she was going to school in a big yellow school bus (just like in a book) and she liked the closeness with her classmates and the older kids on the bus, which she wouldn't necessarily get otherwise. (The bus carries all grades, K-8. By the way, I just interviewed them again before writing this post.) My son, who followed two years later, also loves the bus. He says the time flies and it doesn't seem to take very long at all. (There is a special bus culture: when the big kids sitting in back got off at Avis campus, they used to ''high-five'' the younger kids, who then moved to the back of the bus! And my kids get great music recommendations from the other kids.) If you don't want to put your kids on the bus, there are other options. We've arranged car pools with other parents and it works, even though our kids are pretty active (now both in middle school, with drama, basketball, BandWorks, guitar lessons, piano lessons, etc.). I've driven to other local schools (Bentley, Head Royce, St. Paul's, Redwood Day) from our house, and by way of comparison I don't at all mind the relative distance. We both work in S.F., but I go to the school regularly for various meetings, parent volunteering, etc. In my humble opinion, the quality of the education is definitely worth the few extra minutes in the car. Our two kids are very different, but the school has been perfect for both in how it has educated them. The head of school, Katherine Dinh, is top notch and nationally recognized - on national boards and sought after as a speaker and officer nation-wide; the teachers are amazing and really care about and are familiar with the kids; the school doesn't just talk the talk, but really walks the walk on social-emotional development (see TEDx conference on compassionate education in June 2011; RULER program with Marc Brackett from Yale starting in 2012). We couldn't be happier with our decision to send our kids to Prospect Sierra, even though it is farther away from North Oakland than other well-respected independent schools. Bill
June 2011

Re: Recommendations for a good school
I highly recommend any family looking for a balanced education for their children to consider Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito. Our children are engaged and thriving. We know that we are partnered with great teachers in the nurturing of the whole child. The curriculum provides challenge but allows plenty of time for imaginative play and emotional development. As our boys approach middle school we are witnessing just how thoughtful the school's leadership has been to bridge the transition to adolescence. At a time when other schools struggle to maintain programs PS is committed to an integrated education. If you aspire for a neighborhood school, Prospect Sierra offers the warmth of fellowship and shared values. Passionate about Prospect Sierra


I couldn't help but respond to this, because we have been so THRILLED with the community, the academics, and the warm environment for our kids...the school has such a respect for the kids as individuals, and such a great social consciousness. The teachers are engaged and inspired. The kids are engaged and inspired. It is truly a special place. Feel free to contact me, or pass my email along to your friend! Prospect Sierra ROCKS! alisa
Feb 2011

We are thinking of applying to Prospect Sierra for our rising middle schooler and wondering if it would be a good match. Our child is friendly, smart and eager, but a bit young and open (sometimes trying to work things out repeatedly with kids who just aren't ready to play nicely yet, leading to disappointment). We are having communications problems at the current school, where something will go wrong in class and we won't hear about it for months, at which point it is too late for us to help our child learn from it and build on it (somehow that information never appears in the stories about school that day!). We've heard only good things about Prospect Sierra. We are wondering how parents find out about what is going on and how the shared process of educating the kids is perceived by the school: how are the children being supported by the school to help negotiate their challenges, in what ways do the families get information to collaborate in this? Also, our kid really is in no rush to grow up, and we wondered how accepted this attitude would be at PS. (We have the impression PS has very high level academics, which are totally appropriate for our child and very important to us.) Suggestions about other schools or even ways to get our current school to keep us more in the loop are welcome too. Many thanks. anon


Hello, I respond to your question as a parent of two Prospect Sierra students. Your question seems to be several questions really. In terms of school communication, both initiated by the school and responsiveness to individual parent concerns, I would say both are excellent. In addition to regular school and classroom newsletters, teacher conferences and the like, there are frequent grade specific coffees with administrators that give parents and administrators a chance to talk, share concerns and interests and give input. Additionally, teachers are always willing to talk and have welcomed emails and extra face to face meetings as we have felt necessary on subjects ranging from bullying, academic needs and adolescent changes. 6th grade has a anti-bias, anti-bullying, social-emotional health unit. The teachers facilitate group discussions. Your last question is about where your child is on the spectrum of adolescent/social development. Prospect Sierra students, like at all middle schoolers I imagine, run the gamut, from quite young and child-like to those who are wanting to explore the teenage world. It is one of the inherent tensions of middle school. That isn't to minimize your concerns for your child, it is just that I don't think you will find one school that has children at one place on the spectrum. I can say that the school does work hard to create and atmosphere of respect for one another and is sensitive to working with individual students and their families to make that child's experience a positive one. Good luck to you in your search. A PS parent
Jan 2011

Re: Middle School Options in Oakland/Richmond/Berkeley
Please look into Prospect Sierra Middle School in El Cerrito. We are a South Berkeley family that gets to school in about 20 minutes on an average day, and after almost 9 years (my children attended the elementary school as well), I can't believe we are nearing the end of what has been a wonderful experience for us all. The sense of community and the celebration of each child's talents and personalities has created a learning environment to be cherished. The children who enter in 6th grade are very quickly kids you thought had been there for years. The relationship between students and teachers at these tricky tween-age years is precious and personal without losing sight of the excellent teaching parents seek in an independent school. Please do yourself the favor of checking it out. Margaret


If you are looking for a great middle school, we would like to add a strong recommendation for Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito. Our daughter is a sixth grader and loves all of her teachers. (Our son, a fourth grader, loves it there too.) The middle school is strong in every area: art, drama, music, math, science, literature and the humanities. We particularly like it because all of these subjects are equally important -- everything is part of the core program. We were initially blown away by the art program and the teacher at the elementary school when we were touring, and she sealed it for us. The teachers and the staff are caring and they seem to really get to know the kids as individuals. We think that's one of the reasons our kids like their teachers so much. Our daughter also enjoys playing basketball and she's in the spring drama production. There is a lot of talk these days about preparing kids for life and work in the 21st century (safe use of technology, critical thinking, collaboration with others, problem solving and sustainability) in addition to a rigorous academic program, which Prospect Sierra has. We can tell that the school is really preparing our kids for a successful school and personal life in high school and beyond. About half Prospect Sierra grads go to Berkeley High. The rest mostly go to independent schools in the area. We asked for last year's stats and 91% of the kids who apply to independent high schools get accepted at their first choice and 97% accepted to their first or second choice. It's always great to have a choice when you graduate! The head of school, Katherine Dinh, is respected around the country due to her position on the Board of the NAIS, and we've found that the new middle school division head, Heather Rogers, is energetic and easily accessible to kids and parents. We (and our kids!) couldn't be happier with Prospect Sierra. B and L in Oakland
Oct 2010

Should your family be making choices for your child's education in K-8, Prospect Sierra School provides a vibrant learning atmosphere with the finest teachers. In our fifth year with the school, we are so proud to see our boys approaching middle school with the life skills that will make them successful at the next level. We have heard so much criticism of the math program however we can report absolute appropriate or advanced math competence. The school's curriculum balances the challenging core subjects with the arts and public service. We know our children will have full-time physical education, art, music, and science instruction. Our family is focused on rearing good citizens and scholar-athletes and Prospect Sierra is our partner in this pursuit. We encourage you to attend the next Admissions Information Day to understand our pride in this lovely school community. Take the time to seek out the schoolC-s leaders. They are dynamic, experienced and skilled advocates for our children. -Parents of three PS students


Sept 2010

Re: Private Middle School with strong academics
I recommend looking at Prospect Sierra. PS combines strong academics with service learning, a strong commitment to emotional and social development, a wonderful arts program and an excellent critical thinking/writing program. A fellow parent, teaching chemistry at UC Berkeley said some of the 8th grade science students would be ready to conceptually understand his university chemistry class. We have two children at the school, both strong students, who continue to enjoy school and are curious about the world and generally nice people. We have been happy with the school and it is more than worth taking a good look. Good luck, a happy Prospect Sierra parent


Dear Middle School Mom-to-Be: I strongly encourage you look closely at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito. It is K-8 on two campuses, and the school admits an additional class in 6th grade. I believe every aspect of education you mention is a staple at Prospect Sierra. I am a South Berkeley mom of twins who have attended since Kindergarten; this is sadly our last year as they are eighth graders. Check out the website www.prospectsierra.org, and plan on attending the Middle School Admissions Information Day on November 7th. Don't let the location fool you; it takes me 20 minutes to get to school, and there is a schoolbus! Needless to say I am an avid supporter, but with no affiliation other than parenthood. Maggie
May 2010

Re: Moving from Boston ... which school?
Welcome to the bay area! My husband and I both used to work at UC Berkeley and it is really a fantastic community to be a part of.

In terms of schools, our son is currently a 1st grader at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito. It is K-8 independent private school that has families who live anywhere from Oakland to Hercules with most families living in Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito. It is a fantastic school that not only has strong academics but really focuses on the love of learning and the overall child. This week, my son's class took a field trip to an organic farm, talked about the idea of integrity in class and had waste free lunch day in the school's continuing effort to be aware of the environment. We have just been thrilled about the curriculum, the care the teachers give to his individual needs and his growth as a person and as a learner.

To answer your specific questions... There are 2 full time teachers in each class of 24 kids on the elementary campus which is for K-4. The outdoor space is very large compared to other schools we visited. There is a PE teacher who works with each class twice a week who focuses not only on activities but health in general. There are organized playground activities at lunch, the highlight of which is a capture the flag game that almost all the kids participate in each Friday. The afterschool program is extremely well run and their are enrichment courses that you can enroll in based on your child's interest. My son has tried Mandarin, fencing and lego engineering over the last two years. The older grades do take standardized tests and I believe they do well on them. We have not even thought about standardized tests as it is never brought up or taught to the younger kids.

We can not recommend the school highly enough and regardless of what city you end up settling it, would really encourage you to look into Prospect Sierra as a community for your family to join. I would also be happy to answer any questions you might have. Good luck with your move. Kelly


May 2010

Re: Race to Nowhere - Questioning Public Schools
Race to Nowhere is such a thought provoking movie and I can completely understand why you now have doubts. My husband and I struggled with the same issues just 2 years ago when we were trying to decide what school our 5 year old would attend for kindergarten. We were similarly worried about being able to afford private school but we decided that our children's education was top priority.

We chose Prospect Sierra, a fantastic independent school in El Cerrito and we could not be happier. Our now 1st grader is thriving and becoming not only a confident learner but a thoughtful and mindful person. Prospect Sierra focuses on the whole child. Kids are engaged in activities from a school garden, to service learning in the community to CSA boxes. The art studio and the science lab that all graders go to weekly are places where the passion of the teachers are shared with the kids and the creativity and imagination of the kids just blossom.

My son plays in the elementary school orchestra, plays capture the flag at lunch and plays with his friends after school. He loves doing his homework because he gets to write stories and illustrate them. He is definitely encouraged to think and be an active participant in the learning process. My younger child will hopefully start kindergarten in a year and he can't wait. He sees how much fun his older brother is having and how great it is to be able to read, to write and to do math. To him, learning these skills is just part of the fun. I would definitely contact the school if you are interested in touring the campus and checking out their program. As I said, we also were concerned about the financial impact private school would make on our family and the school has been able to ease those worries with its financial aid program.

Basically, we think Prospect Sierra is the whole package and we couldn't be happier about our decision. Best of luck with yours and please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Kelly


May 2010

Re: Race to Nowhere - Questioning Public Schools
I'd encourage you to visit Prospect Sierra school. We have been at the school now for 5 years and feel very grateful to be a part of it. The teachers and the curriculum are most inspiring and truly engage the children. I feel both my children are learning in an authentic, engaged way...a far cry from the rote learning of my childhood. I feel the school strikes an amazing balance of truly rich academics while still being mindful of engaging the whole child. Veronica


Oct 2009

Re: Elementary schools where African American boys thrive
My children attend Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito and I recommend you check it out for your son. The school has made a huge effort in two areas relevant to your post. 1. There has been a steady increase in racial diversity in the past few years. 2. There is an emphasis on social/emotional health of children and, programmatically, that extends from teacher education to lots of work with the children - mutual respect, inclusion, conflict resolution, differences, kindness and more. It is a kind and happy place.

I am sure the admissions director would be happy to let you speak with other parents of color to discuss their children's experiences at the school.

And, besides all that, it is a wonderful school! Good luck. A Happy PS parent.


March 2009

Re: Black Pine Circle vs. Prospect Sierra
It is a difficult decision to choose a private school that is best for your child. We were in a similar situation several years ago choosing between Prospect Sierra and Black Pine Circle (we were attracted to both for the same reasons you are). We have been at Prospect Sierra for 8 years now, and could not be happier (we have 2 children, one in the 4th grade and one in 7th). The curriculum at Prospect is so creative and integrated, and really fosters an excitement for learning and and for creative thinking and questioning. In addition, Prospect focuses on writing skills, which seems to be a lost art these days. I too was concerned about only having one class per grade, and I have to say that the fact that my kids have the opportunity to make new friendships each year and navigate different social groups is very enriching. All in all, our experience at Prospect has been wonderful and we feel great about the choice we made many moons ago! Please feel free to email me if you would like to discuss further. We would be happy to share our experience and answer any specific questions you may have.


Hello, I am writing as a parent of two children at Prospect Sierra. Since you asked specifically about the social aspect and I can say that when we were looking at schools we ended up ruling out schools that had fewer than two classes per grade and now, 3 and 5 years later, am so happy we made that decision. With two classes there are approximately 24 kids per gender. As our children develop so do their individual personalities and friendships. Having a larger pool of kids from which to choose from seems so healthy, and necessary! There is some turnover each year and that seems good too.

The curriculum at Prospect is just fabulous. Critical thinking, time management, group learning and learning how to learn are all there in addition to the other skills and are invaluble. Both of my kids love school and I appreciate how many different skills are tied together and woven throughout the curriculum.

Good luck with your decision. It is highly personal and even then you can never be absolutely certain it will be right for your child. I can say that we are still very happy with the choice we made for our family. PS parent


March 2009

Re: Cragmont Elementary vs Private school
In response to your question judging the value of a Prospect Sierra education, I would answer without hesitation that it is worth every penny. As a parent of two Prospect students paying full tuition, I recognize the trade offs required to fund their schooling. For my wife and I, it is not about the money. We place a high value on the enrichment our children are receiving every school day. When we see their engagement in life and see their work product, the value proposition of our investment is definitively positive. I am not familiar with Cragmont but Prospect provides full-time library staff, full-time art staff, full-time music staff, full-time science staff, and full-time PE staff. If you have visited the campus and have seen our fine facilities, and our beloved, inspiring teachers in action, then you have witnessed those qualities that set Prospect Sierra apart from other schools. Finally, without our caring, embracing community of families, past and current, Prospect Sierra's aspiring outlook would not be possible. If you share this vision and hope then I invite you and your family to join us.


Jan 2009

Re: K-8 private / public school around or in Berkeley
I want to direct you to consider Prospect Sierra for your child's K-8 education. My boys are thriving in this school community. The school provides a rich environment for a child to develop his/her unique qualities. My words may sound overinflated so I encourage you to pay a visit to the classrooms and witness the culture of our lovely school. If you are searching for a well-balanced curriculum in a neighborhood setting then Prospect Sierra deserves your consideration. Richard


Dec 2008

Re: Bullying & "mean girls" - private vs. public
I can't speak to ''mean girls'' in public school. My fourth grade daughter is at Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito. There are approximately 24 girls in each grade. There has been some turnover each year - natural attrition and the like do to job changes, etc - so there has been fresh faces to add to the mix each year. Also, in 6th grade a whole additional class is added in. This allows for choices of friends.

Regarding the social mix - Prospect Sierra places a big emphasis on social issues - kindness, respect, compassion, problem solving, open-mindedness and community. The teachers and staff have always been willing and able to get involved on an individual, grade or school level to work on any issues that may come up. I have found the parent body to be interested, active and involved in the social dynamic - all in a good way. The kids learn methods of problem solving and social interaction. It is even woven into the academic part of the curriculum. Sometimes, fourth graders, for example, will read the writing of younger kids and give feedback and suggestions on their work - learning to give positive examples and support.

So...our experience has not been one of ''mean girls'' at all. It is not to say that social issues, typical for the age, have not arisen. It just doesn't seem out of the ordinary and, in fact, there are the resources and willingness on part of the larger school community to work with the kids about positive social interaction. Public school is likely to have a broader range of kids and different types of issues but I would be hesitant to say that one, public or private, is likely to vary that much. 4th grade mom


Oct 2008

Re: Looking for a good K-8 school
Our son is now in first grade at Prospect Sierra, and we are so happy with our choice of school! The community there is warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic. Both parents and kids are kind and respectful. All the teachers we have encountered are outstanding -- bright, professional, full of energy, and wonderful with the kids. Highlights of the program at Prospect Sierra include art, music, and service learning. In art, the kids explore a variety of media to make creative, thoughtful projects that are so in depth they often take weeks to complete. Not only is our son learning to be a rigorous thinker with great study habits, he is forming deep friendships. I love watching him grow in this environment as we all become a part of this wonderful community. Happy Prospect Sierra parent


I am writing to urge you to look into Prospect Sierra as an option for your child's new school. I currently have two sons, enrolled at their Tapscott Campus. We transitioned from a Montessori Program that we absolutely loved. It was only after a visit to PS that we followed our hearts and instincts to make a change. I don't characterize this as a leap of faith because PS demonstrated to us from the very beginning that it is a thoughtful and compassionate community. We had heard numerous criticisms of the educational and social atmosphere there but all those apprehensions were put to rest. On the educational front we have found that the teachers are the finest in the East Bay. They are passionate and share their individual joys with their students. Their classrooms provide the ideal atmosphere for learning, upbeat, positive and respectful. We appreciated that there exists a nice balance between learning by experience and some traditional teaching practices. We know that our children are achieving a learning of the basics with a clear understanding of how these skills impact the world outside the classroom. Of equal importance to us is the development of the person. Our family culture is being reinforced and augmented by the teaching of emotional responsibility and community values. The Administration is a hardworking and passionate group of educators. They are responsive to parent inquiries and have shown a deft talent in managing both crucial issues and minor concerns. They lead with grace and charisma which is not lost on the parent community. I am pleased to see such a wonderful level of communication between the administration and the teachers. The leadership gives the teachers the resources and the space they need to educate. The parent community is highly supportive of the school. A criticism of an elitist atmosphere is terribly unfounded. The Parent Association is engaged with insuring that all are welcome and no matter one's situation you are a part of a compassionate and caring body. We look out for each other and the focus remains on the welfare of *all* our children. This positive view of PS is not sugarcoated. I have never felt that there is a perfect school. What I am convinced of is the fact that PS and its leadership is continually involved with self-evaluation and has a vision for the future. The school is offering an Open House on November 2 that I encourage you to attend. Richard
We went through this same dilemma this time last year and are now thrilled with our decision. I am now the proud parent of a kindergartener at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito. We love the combination of service learning, community building and academics that Prospect offers. There is a very active parent community, extremely caring teachers an an amazing administration that know each kid and each parent by name just one month into the new school year. There is plenty of open space for kids to run, a good amount of structure for kids to learn and a sense of belonging that is not only taught but naturally felt by the kids. My kindergartener not only has a buddy in 1st grade and 3rd grade but has joined a ''family'' made up of a kid from each grade. This family stays intact through their entire school experience and welcomes into the group a new kindergartener each year. When we toured schools, there is one piece of wisdom that a parent shared that I will never forget. They said that we should pick a school not only because we felt that our kids would be comfortable in it but also one that we would feel comfortable in because this is going to be our community and our friends for many years to come. I took that advice to heart and we've found a second home, an extended family and a fantastic new group of lifelong friends at Prospect Sierra. Happy Prospect Sierra Mom
April 2008

Anyone have somewhat recent experience with Windrush or Prospect Sierra? Any and all input (relative to staff, academics, parents, etc) would be appreciated. exploring our options...


Prospect Sierra will feel like home to you.... My experience is based on six years at Prospect Sierra. What to say? The teachers are outstanding. What is especially impressive is that they work K-8 to articulate both the curriculum content and the student skills, so your child gets a very cohesive, well-thought through experience from the beginning. Every content area is strong. There is a new Head of School, and she is FANTASTIC. She's thoughtful, knows the students and the parents, is honest, transparent and smart. The community feels like home on many levels. Families support one another through a caring committee, many school events and service projects. Students work in multi-grade ''families'' for special events and assemblies on both campuses, contributing to a warm feeling among students of all ages. The school community is doing amazing work on social justice issues through the humanities curriculum, assemblies and ''families''. It's a safe place for all kinds of kids.
We have two children (a boy and a girl) at Prospect Sierra lower school, and we've been extremely happy (children and parents) with our experience. Academics are thoughtful, creative and strong by subjective and objective standards (kids are curious, engaged and love school and perform well above average on standardized tests). Faculty and administration seem to undergo continuous training. Smart, dynamic and very talented teachers do an excellent job of customizing the carefully conceived curriculum for each child through ''just right books,'' levelled math challenges, and other activities to fit the special needs of each child. I rarely, if ever, hear complaints about boredom, stress or pressure. The adult community - parents, faculty, and administration q is comprised of kind, respectful, warm, nice people with interesting and very diverse life stories. There are many, many opportunities to be involved with the school and the community, and families are very generous with their time. We especially like the commitment to social responsibility which begins in the classroom and extends out into the broader community and world. If a tour doesn't answer all your questions, ask for an introduction to a family or students (the best testimonials!) to give you a fuller perspective on the school. Good luck! KMS
Our family is in their second year at Prospect Sierra and we are very happy with the school. It is difficult to provide you advice when choosing between PS and Windrush as we have had little contact with Windrush beyond our initial introduction. However, we are confident in offering our reasons for our complete support of PS. We believe that PS is educating the whole person. We find there to be good balance among the core educational values, creative arts and character development. This was important to us having transitioned from a Montessori program. The community is socially active. Just this week for Earth Day, children, parents and teachers are working on a handful of projects outside the on-going community projects. Our research of schools uncovered perceptions that PS is elitist, snobby and overly-regimented. We happily discovered these as misconceptions. We were welcomed, embraced and we are immensely proud to be a part of the vital PS community. The physical plant is tremendous but its greatest assets are dedicated, passionate teachers. The school is blessed with responsive, hard-working and attentive leaders. With this combination, we remain an effusively proud Prospect Sierra family. We encourage you to search the BPN archives for other views on the two schools. Should you care to hear more about the richness of a PS education, we invite you contact us. Best of luck with what is a very personal choice. Trust your heart, we did! Jody and Richard

[Editor note: reviews were also received for Windrush]


Feb 2008

Re: GOOD Middle School in Oakland, Berkeley Area ?
I would encourage you to check out Prospect Sierra private school in El Cerrito. We live in Berkeley and our 2 daughters go there (one daughter is in 6th grade at the middle school, the other is in 3rd grade at the elementary school campus). Both our girls started at Prospect Sierra in kindergarten, and our experience has been wonderful. Prospect Sierra is a very special place and really delivers on its mission to develop heart, mind and community as well as instilling a love of learning in the kids. We really like the integrated curriculum , the teachers are fantastic, the enrichment classes are terrific, and I feel so comfortable sending my kids to school every day! A great way to get more information about the school is to check out the Prospect Sierra website at http://www.prospectsierra.org, and in particular, check out the Admissions ''Hear from our Families'' videos that can give you a sense of this wonderful community. You can also contact the school directly to find out more about the application process. Best of luck in your transition to the Bay Area! Prospect Sierra Parent


Dec 2007

Portola Middle School is about to be closed because it's on landslide ground that could cause the building to collapse in an earthquake. But Prospect Sierra is right across the street from Portola, so does anyone know if it's similarly unsafe? Susan


Prospect Sierra's campus on Avis Drive is SAFE. The site has been extensively studied and reviewed by more than one geotechnical engineering firm over the past twenty years as the School was exploring a variety of potential expansion plans. Within the past seven years, two geotechnical firms were hired to again study the Avis site as the School prepared to build first, the Library Building, that now exists along the slope of the property's western boundary and most recently, in preparation for the construction of new Arts Building, situated on the east side of the campus. In both cases these geotechnical studies were reviewed by El Cerrito's planning and building departments, architects and structural engineers. In both cases, the site was deemed safe to build on. It should also be noted that the geotechnical firm hired to work on the Arts Building had consulted on the problems at Portola Middle School and was thoroughly familiar with the significant differences between the two sites. Hope you found this information helpful. Steve Harrington Facilities Manager Prospect Sierra School
My minimal understanding, is that Portola is on an historic slide, which also includes Prospect Sierra. And that the State does not allow public schools to be built on this type of land. So its very likely that private developers can use the land when Portola moves, just as Prospect Sierra has gone thru all the reviews and studies to build in that area. a concerned parent
Prospect Sierra School is on safe ground. Geological engineers familiar with both Portola Middle School and Prospect Sierra's Middle School campus draw clear and significant distinctions between the two sites. Portola School sits on top of an historic landslide that is about 45 feet thick and extends thousands of feet upslope. It is reasonably likely that a large earthquake could cause the soil beneath Portola to move downslope. The Prospect Sierra site was effectively cut off from the Portola landslide deposits by extensive excavation work done during the original construction of the school in the mid 1950's. The excavation work involved deep cuts along the uphill side of the Prospect Sierra property, extending through the deposits at the southern edge of the landslide exposing in-place bedrock. The result is that the Prospect Sierra site has been effectively isolated from and no longer feels the ''driving force'' exerted by the adjacent, uphill landslide deposits. If you would like further information, please call the school at 510-527-4714. Steve Harrington Facilities Manager Prospect Sierra School
Nov 2007

Our family has been at Prospect Sierra School since 1993; our youngest daughter is in 8th grade there, heading to Berkeley High next year.PS has been spectacular for our family. Although PS IS expensive(as are all the independent schools) there are also many families like ours there: middle class, going into debt in order to send our kids there.PS has an amazing scholarship program &a strong commitment to diversity.Community service projects are central to every grade, and the After School programs are phenomenal. The teachers and administration at PS are master educators,there is always room for parents to give feedback,& ample opportunity to serve on committees that have real power at the school.There are children with MANY different learning styles,& accommodations are made for all the kids. Probably the best review for the school comes from our oldest daughter, now a college sophomore. During her years at Berkeley High, she thanked us for her an elementary education at PS - she felt she had a terrific foundation in study skills, time management,& sensitivity to all kinds of people. She says that her experience at PS gave her a strong center to thrive at Berkeley High (which she did), and that when she has children, she wants to send them to a school like PS...what better recommendation could anyone ask for? So as our family prepares to say 'good bye' to Prospect Sierra, the least we can do is let others know what a great place it was for us. Laura


Sept 2005

Re: Looking at Prospect Sierra and Windrush

I am a Prospect Sierra parent - and a happy one at that. We never looked at Windrush but there were a few factors that lead us not to look at Windrush which may or may not be relevant to you. 1. Windrush has only one class per grade. After talking to many parents who had children in small schools - this can start to be less desirable for the kids at a certain point. They need and want more kids. 2. We live in Berkeley and Windrush seemed to have a higher percentage of kids from all over, particularly farther north of the school. This seemed undesirable to us in terms of creating a community of friends and other families. Prospect Sierra does have people from all over - Hercules to El Sobrante - but we liked that there were so many Berkeley families.

Other people can probably speak more authoratatively to the academic differences. We are very happy at Prospect Sierra - socially, academically and the breath and depth of the curriculum. We wish they would start foreign language instruction earlier than they do - 4th grade- and we wish the administration were a bit more transparent, open and communicative - but overall the school is great and everyone in our grade seems happy too. The school is working on bringing in a more diverse student body and faculty as that is something that the school community has asked for. Good luck with your decision. Prospect Sierra Parent


It's difficult to really compare two schools unless you have had kids at both. I will say that we have been very happy with the quality of education and the learning and social environment at Prospect Sierra. This is our 4th year at the school. We chose Prospect Sierra because of the balance between traditional academics and the arts. Our son has loved his music and art classes, and we very much appreciate the incredible writing and reading program. When we were considering schools, the large open lawn area and the efforts the school went to to let us know they really wanted and welcomed our family made the decision for us (we are a two dad family with children of color). Robert
My twins are in the 3rd grade at Prospect Sierra School; they started at Prospect Sierra in Kindergarten. We are a South Berkeley family and we are extremely happy with our choice. With two classes per grade, we have a large community that is at the same time a close-knit family. In the mornings my children take the bus, which serves only the two campuses of Prospect Sierra (lower school grades K-4, upper school grades 5- 8). The highly qualified faculty members are tireless with their care of our children, and this applies to ALL the faculty, from classroom teachers to specialists in Art, Music, Science, P.E., Library. Our Service Learning program inspires all grade! levels to think beyond themselves. The afterschool program is a favorite place to be, and the available enrichment classes are many and varied. We have forged strong friendships, children and parents alike. A family in the Prospect Sierra community can count on support in times of struggle, and there is very strong communication between staff and parents. We have found so many ways to be involved on a multitude of levels. We are very fortunate to have found our way to this school and would highly recommend it. Margaret
Re. your question comparing Prospect Sierra v. Windrush

We have a daughter in 2nd grade at Prospect Sierra. Given we don't have children enrolled at Windrush, I can't really make a comparison, as we only know of Windrush from the application process.

WE have loved our experience at PS. Our daughter is engaged and excited about school. Their integrated curriculum is impressive and gives all of the learning context. Most impressive has been an across the board excellence in teaching. Each year's teachers have been very different and yet all have been able to reach my daughter and engage her in the work. In addition, there' s real emphasis on the kids treating each other well. The parent community has been great and includes West Berkeley Artists, City Lawyers and stay at home moms and dads.

The school has a buttoned up image and the administration reflects that. They have a very strong point of view when it comes to how the school is run. Some schools, Windrush may be one of them, are more concensus building when it comes to administering the school. However, that being said, all of the administrators and teachers have shown considerable willingness to listen to issues. For our family, we value that the administration is professional and runs the school well. We look to them to be the experts. If you have any further questions, you can contact me at dhtchk


Our experience at Prospect Sierra has been so lovely that I felt compelled to write. My daughter is in her second year there (first grade) and absolutely loves it. Though I had always been extremely impressed with what I had seen and heard of the school, I was a little nervous at the beginning as to whether or not we would feel out of place. I was a little worried that everyone there would be wealthy (after all it was a private school) and that it might feel exclusive. I cannot emphasize enough how much this is not the case. First of all, about 20% of the students there receive financial assistance. There are many different types of families there, with varying income levels, different cultural backgrounds etc. What struck me the most though, was how unbelievably welcoming the school community was. Both the administration and the parents are so warm and enthusiastic; I immediately felt comfortable. I knew going in that the academics were strong, but what mattered to me even more was that I wanted my daughter to enjoy school. That's the really special thing about Prospect Sierra to me; the students are celebrated there. It is such a happy and fun environment, the kids are adored by the faculty and administration and it shows. I am continually impressed by how nice the kids are to each other. There is a great deal of emphasis put on self-esteem and being kind to others. I am delighted by what she has learned so far, but I am even happier about the fact that she feels so secure there. The school really does manage to make you feel like part of a family. It is a very special place. Caroline
Prospect Sierra - Grade 3 and Up

June 2005

Hello there, I'm considering Prospect Sierra for my daughter in a year or two and would like to start collecting information sooner rather than later. Could anyone who has experience with Prospect Sierra please help me? I have the following questions:
1. How is the academic program for grade 3 and up? I understand that there are a lot of group learning going on, but how about the individual learning? Is the program strong in math and English? How do you feel about the foreign language not starting until 4th grade?
2. I heard rumors that parents at Prospect Sierra tend to be very competitive. Is this true? We are a middle class family who would like our kid to learn and grow in a cooperative and nurturing school environment, one that provides solid academics but also think about each child as an individual human being. We focus on human values. We are not competitive - we encourage our daughter to do her best and to help her friends. We have a nice little house. We are not rich. We are a mixed family -- Caucasian dad, Asian mom, and an angel daughter who looks more Asian. Our daughter is shy, but truely a wonderful girl. Will our family fit in at Prospect Sierra?
3. Are there bully problems at Prospect Sierra? How do the school and the teacher deal with this problem?
4. How are the administrators and teachers? Are they warm and loving to kids?
5. How are the kids -- both elementary and middle school? Will they react well to a transfer kid? Are there clique problems? Any other problems that we should know about? We would appreciate any insights anyone can give us. Thank you very much again. Anonymous


We have a daughter at Prospect just finishing up 1st grade. I can't speak to middle school issues as we're not there yet. But I can address some of your issues. Frankly, we had a choice when it came to schools and we, somewhat reluctantly, settled on PS. Our hesitations surrounded similiar questions to those you are asking. Ultimately, we knew the academics were strong and that so many kids in our neighborhood went that we allowed those to be our deciding factors.

After two years there I can say that not only were our ''positives'' realized (amazing academics and learning environment; we see PS kids around town all the time), but our concerns about ''competive parents'' and the type of kids that we'd find there are gone. We've met amazing families there, from a cross section of life and strata. We have found the parent, staff and administration warm, welcoming, compassionate and down to earth. Yes, the administration is no nonsense; you won't find them trying to take the pulse of the parent community much. However, we, personally, find that liberating. They are the education experts and we expect them to execute the curriculum, and they do. Yes, I guess there are some ''high powered'' families there, but frankly, i've never met them. Instead I've met a variety of families, some with both working parents, some with a parent at home, s! ome with a grandmother gardian, some living in live/work art studios in west berkeley, some ''commuting'' from south Oakland and Pinole, some with houses ''in the hills,'' some paying full pop, some on full financial aid. One unifying factor: Everyone is excited about the school and their child's opportunity there.

Kids will be kids, everywhere. But in two years, I can recall numerous situations where the conduct of the kids has amazed me. The school fosters a community atmosphere and teaches respect for the individual. Kids are taught to talk things out and are EXPECTED to treat each other well.

PS is filled with numerous families of color, especially of mixed heritage. The school just completed a parent survey intended to identify all the school's cultural diversity and make that information available as a teacher resource --ie bringing families in to share their talents or experiences. Sure, the school is more white than not, as with most private schools, but I'm impressed with the schools commitment to celebrating and expanding the school's reflection of our larger Berkeley area community. Email me if you have any other questions. Dana


My son will be starting second grade this fall at Prospect- Sierra. We did K in BUSD, and K over again at Prospect, so we have a baseline for comparison. He is thriving and we couldn't be happier with the school and the parent community. I'll try to address your issues point by point.

1) Academics. Can't speak personally to Grade 3 and up, but some of our friends have older kids and we hear that academics are solid and rigorous. I believe math has been a bit weak in the past but the administration is committed to building an excellent math curriculum and by all accounts they are succeeding. Yeah, there are a lot of group activities, but individual contribution is defined and required I do not believe individual learning suffers at all. There is a good balance. Personally, I would like to see a second language started earlier, but there are only so many hours in the day. I believe the admin has made a deliberate decision to defer a second language in favor of other stuff (better fundamentals, more program breadth) and it is basically a judgment call. If it's really important to you, you may want to consider an after- school class for your child.

2) The parent community. I have seen no evidence of the competitiveness you describe. Sure, there are a few individuals who are a little, uh, intense, but you will find those anywhere. One of the really wonderful things about Prospect for us is the parent community. It does tend to lean to the affluent end of the socio-economic scale, but you'll find that at any of the area independent schools and there are plenty of working families of relatively modest means as well. From how you describe yourselves I would guess that you would fit in very nicely there.

3) Bullying. This is an extremely important issue to us and high on our radar as it was rampant in our experience at Berkeley public schools. Bullying is simply not tolerated at Prospect Sierra. More importantly, they work very hard to create a culture in the school that does not allow for the seeds of bullying to take root in the first place. Mutual respect, inclusiveness, cooperation, personal responsibility, and problem resolution are as much a part of the curriculum as reading and math. I know I sound like ad copy for the school, but they take this stuff very seriously and do a great job of creating an environment where it doesn't happen often and when it does it is addressed head-on.

4) Teachers, administrators. Our teachers in K and 1 were great, especially this last year in first grade. All of the teachers I have been in contact with, both the primary classroom teachers and the ''specialty'' teachers (music, science, art, etc) are smart, caring professionals who really seem to love what they do and get to know each kid. Administrators vary from competent to great. Generally very responsive and proactive. Haven't had enough contact to say much, but the school is run very smoothly and positioned as a service to its constituent families. 5) the kids. This kind of goes back to (3). There are cliques anywhere. But inclusiveness is wired into the DNA of the school. A transfer kid would do just fine. Please feel free to e-mail me with other questions. Dan


I understand you're looking at Prospect Sierra, but I'd like to put in a plug for Windrush School. (see Windrush for the rest of this review.)
December 2003

Does anyone with kids in 1st through 4th grade have thoughts on the school: what works what doesn't? I'm particularly interested in whether or not the structured education ends up limiting kids' enthusiasm for searching out projects and working at their own pace. We're trying to compare this with a montessori approach. Many thanks! torn mother


For ''torn mother'':

I am the parent of a 3rd grader and an incoming kindergartener at Prospect Sierra. We, too, considered a Montessori school when we were living in Connecticut. However, since enrolling our son in kindergarten at Prospect Sierra in the fall of 2000, we have not only been 100% satisfied with their program, but also enthralled by the teachers and the curriculum at the school. Given the ''spiral'' nature of the curriculum, each child has the opportunity to conduct in-depth research on topics of their choice while applying skills mastered from year to year. One example of this is the wonderful writing program that is in place. Our son has learned to write creatively, use proper grammar and spelling, edit, rewrite and edit again, all while researching topics as varied as impalas in Africa, space exploration and a recent family trip. Math is approached through group problem solving, the use of manipulatives, discussion, charts, graphs, and other interactive methods. Each child has something to contribute and has the opportunity to see a problem approached from many different angles to come to his or her own best understanding. There is plenty of room for each child to master skills at his or her own pace given the attention to detail among the teachers and the high level of parent participation in the classroom.

Our son takes pride in his work and is an engaged learner supported by his teachers and peers. We feel that Prospect Sierra provides an academically challenging environment to all learners, balanced by a wonderfully intensive arts program. We have been happy watching our son blossom socially and academically during his time there. Hope this helps! Feel free to call me if you have further questions.

Wendy


November 2003

It's high time that the comments listing for Prospect Sierra get a posting more current than 1999!

Surely, many of the great things that are mention in the previous posting still exist at PS. Now, fall of 2003, PS continues to build on those. Our daughter is new to the kindergarten class. She's not the most outgoing kid in the world, so we were a little concerned about the class size (24) --- despite the good teacher/student ratio (1:12). But she is thriving! The day is pretty structured, which suits her well. However, there are frequent ''free'' times throughout the day, both inside and out of doors. The specialist programs are extensive --Art, music, library, PE --keeping them moving, busy and engaged. Science starts in first grade; foreign language not until 3rd --yes, it'd be nice to have that in kindergarten, but what would we trade for it? Its facilities are impressive, but what's more striking is the consistant excellence in teaching. Plus, the administration runs it like a well oiled machine - -as a parent, you are very well informed.

The community of parents and staff are welcoming and encouraging of involvement. Is it as diverse as any of us probably want, either racially, family structure and/or socio-economically? No. But,it is successfully increasing diversity, in all categories, with each new kindergarten class. That reflect's a commitment to diversity from the top down.

We're thrilled to be on this side of the ''school search process'' and at Prospect Sierra.

Signed, One Happy Kindergartener & her two moms.


We decided to go to private schools largely because we found the Berkeley Public School system uninterested in serving our family (they wouldn't let us go to the school near our house and assigned us to our third choice school in our zone without explanation).

Our daughter started kindergarten at Prospect Sierra in September. Lots of stimulation, both academic and artistic, great teachers, great resources. It's a wonderful place for her. She's grown a lot in the couple of months that she's been there. She also loves going to school every day and that's worth the money to me. The parent communnity is also very nice. Ann


October 1999

Our names are Jeanie Mitchell and Fred Cannon and we are parents of three children (7th, 5th, and 3rd grades) at Prospect Sierra School. Jeanie is also president of the school's Parent Association, and, not surprisingly, we are big fans of the school. After reading the comparison of Prospect Sierra and Windrush by a Windrush parent (recommendations 11/9), we feel compelled to respond, to offer our thoughts about Prospect Sierra. Our comments are based on information obtained through Jeanie's participation on the school's Long Range Strategic Planning Committee and from our many years of experience with the school, its teachers, programs, administration and staff, and its children.

SIZE: Prospect Sierra has about 500 students this year, split between its two campuses (the elementary school--"Tapscott"--has about 275 children in grades K-4 and the middle school-"Avis"--has about 240 students in grades 5-8). By September of 2002, Prospect Sierra will reach its final configuration of two classes of 22-24 students in grades K-5 and three classes in 6-8, with a projected enrollment of 482 divided about equally between the two campuses. With 22-24 children in a classroom, Prospect Sierra has a student-teacher ratio of 10.2:1. As a result of this great ratio, Prospect Sierra is a community where the children are known not only by each other and their teachers, but by the other adults in the school as well.

The low student-teacher ratio combined with the two campus configuration, results in a feeling that Prospect Sierra is a small school, with big school resources. The lower grades all have lead teachers with an assistant teacher for all or part of the day. The amount of assistant teacher time in classes decreases through the grades, as the kids spend more time in small groups with the specialist teachers. Prospect Sierra has a rich specialist program, offering classes with science, art, technology, PE, music, library, and math specialists. Beginning in the 4th grade, children begin either French or Spanish.

With two classes per grade in the K-5 program, and the remixing of classes each year, the children have many opportunities to develop a variety of relationships and to move around and experiment with kids from both within and outside of their own classrooms. The school provides many opportunities for intra-grade activities. For example, this year the entire third grade has already taken two field trips together (to Kule Loklo at Point Reyes and the Marin Museum of the American Indian). The entire third grade also works together for a variety of "math lab" activities, where the kids mix between the classrooms, giving them the opportunity to get to know the kids and teachers from each of the classes. And of course, the children mix it up on the play ground at recesses and lunch.

The middle school is really divided between 5th-6th and 7th-8th. The 5th and 6th grades are run much as classes are at the elementary school: the classes are homeroom based with a lead teacher who instructs in the core curriculum. Like the elementary school, the kids spend time with specialist teachers, either in their homerooms or in the specialist's rooms (e.g., science, art, technology, etc.). The 5th and 6th graders are also separated from the 7th and 8th graders at recesses and lunch (one luxury of multiple playgrounds and separate spaces). With the 5th graders, this is by design--their designated space is the lower yard. However, according to our 7th grader, while the 6th graders can, and do, visit the 7th and 8th graders on the upper yard, the majority tend to prefer staying on the lower yard.

The 7th and 8th grades are divided into small advisory groups which meet briefly with their advisors at the beginning of each day and for one full period a week. Their days are then divided into periods, where they rotate from class to class. In addition to their required classes, the 7th and 8th graders can choose one to two elective classes each trimester (some of the offerings are drama production, lacrosse, art, study hall, jazz band, orchestra, yearbook and special literature groups).

The middle school also has a growing after school sports program beginning in the 6th grade, with offerings such as volleyball, basketball, flag football and cross country, with equal offerings for both boys and girls.

TUITION AND SOCIOECONOMIC DIVERSITY: Prospect Sierra strives to keep its tuition in the midrange of comparable schools in the Bay Area. The school's Board and administration have determined that teacher salaries and benefits are a priority, and as a result, Prospect Sierra teacher salaries are among the highest in the East Bay. This allows Prospect Sierra to hire and retain the best. Prospect Sierra teachers have an average 16 years of teaching experience; 67% of our teachers have graduate degrees, and continuing professional development is actively encouraged and supported by the school. Our salaries allow us to retain teachers of maturity and depth of experience.

Prospect Sierra has a strong Financial Aid Program. This year, approximately $560,000 of financial assistance was awarded to 20% of our students. The assistance amounts vary from small to substantial, allowing the program to include middle-income families as well as low-income families. We would guess most families at Prospect Sierra fall in the "moderate means" category. We know Prospect Sierra doesn't feel like a "rich school."

SITE: The Prospect Sierra campuses are each former public schools: the classrooms are spacious and the playgrounds large. At Tapscott, the kids have the use of a wonderful grassy field and at Avis, Cerrito Vista Park becomes an extension of the school for PE classes. The middle school has new science and technology labs (1997), and its beautiful newly renovated gym and performing arts center opened in the fall of 1998. The school formed a Strategic Facilities Master Planning Committee in the spring of 1999 which is looking at short and long-term site improvements for both campuses.

FAMILIES/STUDENTS: Our families come from Oakland to Vallejo, with the highest concentration from Berkeley, El Cerrito, Albany and Kensington. I think it would be difficult to accurately describe the "type" of student who would thrive at Prospect Sierra. Prospect Sierra is a school that values creativity and independent thinking, while never losing sight of the "basics." Our three children, for example, have very different learning styles, interests and needs, yet at Prospect Sierra, each is valued, appreciated, and encouraged.

As we said at the outset, Prospect Sierra has been a wonderful school for our kids. It has also been a great community for us, both in and outside of school. We appreciate the accessibility and receptiveness of the faculty and administration. And, most of our social network revolves around the wonderful friendships we have made through school.

Our children haven't taken advantage of the school's AfterSchool program for a couple of years now, but I know it offers many specialist classes such as hiphop dancing, steel drums, tennis, songsters, supersports, carpentry, science, textiles, ceramics, dance, drama, etc.

We encourage all to visit Prospect Sierra. Tour the school--elementary and/or middle--and meet with representatives of the administration, faculty and parent body. Also, log on to Prospect Sierra's student created and maintained web site at http://www.prospectsierra.org.


Editor Note: Older reviews of Prospect Sierra School (1998 and earlier) can be found here.
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