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El Cerrito High School (El Cerrito, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > West Contra Costa County School District > El Cerrito High School (El Cerrito, CA)


Nov 2013

Re: Public High Schools that offer Japanese

El Cerrito High. Best to live in one of the areas where that is your assigned school, transfers are not easy to come by, even with the reasoning of it being the only school offering Japanese. Chris


El Cerrito High offers Japanese. The teacher is a native Japanese speaker who the kids seem to love. Jon
El Cerrito High offers Japanese. And there is a fairly large Japanese American community in the El Cerrito area, though now an aging one. There are a few good Japanese restaurants along San Pablo, and a great judo dojo on San Pablo, too. (One of the head senseis is a woman who competed in the Beijing Olympics.) More info than you asked for, but hopefully helpful! EC resident
My daughter was also hoping to study Japanese, but was not approved for transfer. As far as I know, the only public schools in the area that offer Japanese are El Cerrito and De Anza, both in WCCUSD. We applied to transfer to El Cerrito, and were placed on the waiting list. Victoria
Previous postings reported that El Cerrito High has a Japanese program, but no one mentioned what a great series of classes it is, with a cultural focus, every-other-year trips to Japan, and most importantly a wonderful instructor. With one child currently in Japanese 3 & one in Japanese 1, I highly recommend it!! Susan

More Information on El Cerrito High School

July 2013

Hi there, First of all, I'd like to thank you all for the input regarding El Cerrito High and Albany High. It's very useful and we're grateful for it. May I please ask a few more questions regarding El Cerrito High? 1. How does the Block system work? I went to the website and saw a reference to A Period (7:15 - 8:00 am). Does this mean that all students are supposed to be at school at 7:15 am? There is also a reference to Block 1 (1A & 1B), Block 2, Block 3 and Block 4 (4A & 4B). What does that mean? 2. How do I make sure that my daughter does not get lost in the system if she joins El Cerrito High? What should I do to help my kid and to help the school? My daughter is bright, but she needs encouragement to participate. (She's entering the teen stage when she wants to hide that she's intelligent...) How big is the class size in general for sophomores and up? Do teachers take the time to get to know the students? Do they allow after school hours for kids to go ask questions? 3. Do teachers respond promptly to e-mail enquiries from kids and parents? Do teachers post classwork and homework on the website? 4. Do teachers allow kids to make up assignments and tests to improve the grades? I'm a firm believer that everyone can learn if given a chance. I think the kids should be given a 2nd chance to demonstrate that they're willing to work harder to learn the materials and to try again, if they make mistakes the first time. I know that some schools do not allow make up assignments or tests, and some do. How does it work in general at El Cerrito High? (Now that my daughter is entering the 2nd year of high school, I guess I cannot avoid thinking about GPA any more.) 5. I heard about foul language and a high % of suspensions at El Cerrito High... Do they disrupt learning to a great degree? Or is this a high school thing that is unavoidable? For parents whose kids successfully avoid the temptations to get on the wrong path, would you mind sharing the wisdom? How did you guide your kids? That would be such useful information regardless of which school we end up. Thank you so much again. Anonymous


In response to your questions about El Cerrito High School, I have a daughter who just graduated and one who will be entering ECHS as a freshman in August.

The block system is interesting. Some students love it. It has its downsides and its upsides. Classes are 90+ minutes long, every day of the week. That gives students and teachers long enough to make sure that the information being conveyed is understood (especially important in math), and time to do some of the homework or other problems in class to spot gaps in the instruction before class is out. Students take 3 block classes one semester (same 3 classes 5 days a week), and 4 the other semester. They may or may not have first block or last block depending on which classes they take. That means your child may start school at 8:00 a.m. or at 9:30 a.m. Their end time may be staggered and change between semesters as well.

In my experience, the teachers at ECHS have been overwhelmingly good or great. They care about the students' individually (even going so far as talking to eachother and then calling me when they were concerned about my daughter's stress level), they work with the students to help them succeed, and have been very good about helping students to do what is needed to improve their grades. One math teacher even holds Saturday office hours at a donut shop where students can get help, take and retake tests, etc. He will help students who are no longer in his class!

Teachers have been very responsive to emails, answering promptly and thoroughly.

ECHS is not perfect, but it is a school in which academically-minded college-bound students can excel, and where there is a place for students who are not as focused on academics. In general, once past freshman year, the kids who cause trouble are not in the higher level classes. Problems with students are dealt with promptly and seriously, which may account for the higher suspension level. The administration tries to ensure that kids who are disruptive do not interfere with other students' ability to learn. Having said that, it is a public school with a diverse student body and all of the associated issues such diversity brings. ECHS Parent


Moving from private school: ECHS or try for Albany transfer?

June 2013

Hello there, Could someone please help us? We have to move our daughter from a private school after her freshman year and are now considering El Cerrito High or Albany High for this upcoming school year. Our daughter has never been in a public school and we don't know how to start the enrollment process. Could you please help us with the following: 1. What steps do we take and whom do we talk to if we want to enroll our daughter at El Cerrito High? 2. What steps do we take and whom do we talk to regarding the possibility of transfering to Albany High (which would involve interdistrict transfer from W. Contra Costa)? 3. We would appreciate any insights into the current academic, social and safety aspects of each school. Our daughter is very social -- too much so in her freshman year and we need to regain focus on academics to improve her grades. Thank you very much. Worried Parent


It is very hard to get an inter district transfer from contra costa to Albany. almost impossible. Your reason cannot be ' I want my kid to go to another high school.' so I would say enroll your child at el Cerrito high and stay supportive and involved. My kids both graduated from Albany high and had great experiences there (we lived in Albany-very expensive-I spent a ton on a house to ensure my kids could get into these schools) but I have friends whose kids attended el Cerrito high and had great experiences there-went on to great colleges etc. anon
Dear Worried parent trying to decide between ECH or Albany high. I'd absolutely recommend Albany over ECH, i know cause my 20 year old kid went to EC, and even though she graduated with good grades, she felt that it was a almost complete waste of time being there. Another reason why she hated going to EC is because there were so many kids enrolled from out of district, many of them being trouble makers, that it was hard sometimes being in school, but that's just my opinion. MR
FYI, trying to get an interdistrict transfer from W. Contra Costa to Albany High is very difficult, e.g. it is highly unlikely that you will get it. Go ahead and try but don't count on it. former BHS parent
Background so you can put my comments in context: I have been tutoring kids math and physics at AHS, ECHS, BHS and other high schools for many years. Both my daughters graduated from ECHS and then attended UCLA and Brown. The majority of my students year after year are from AHS.

First a general statement; both high shcools can provide at least as good or a better education than many private schools, so you should have no qualms in that regard. I feel both schools offer better math and physics programs than many private schools which often leave significant gaps because they are not required to follow state guidelines. I've not been overly impressed with private schools academically.

No doubt Albany high is the better school academically which means it is also more rigorous and competitive and so harder to get good grades. El Cerrito is more of a mixed school. But for the good kids who want to apply themselves, it also offers a good education with the added advantage that it is less competitive and so easier to get good grades. Also, fewer students are applying to the choice schools and so they seem to get better results than AHS. Both schools have almost new school buildings and both are on the smaller side for Bay Area high schools which I see as an advantage. I would prefer ECHS over Albany because it is ''realer'', meaning there's a more real world mix of kids both racially and socio-economically. Education is more than just books. Your daughter may have an easier time finding friends in the more diverse ECHS culture than the lily white/asian uppper middle class hyperacademic AHS. That statement was intentionally un-pc and also accurate.

However, you can't just go to AHS because you want to. You must live in Albany or have a very good way of making believe you live there. They are such a small town and school and there are so so so many parents trying to get there kids in there, that the district actually checks and makes house visits to ensure that the student actually lives in Albany. Probably the only school district in miles that does this. Transfers from other schools districts are not allowed, period. Many of my students live elsewhere but use the address of a relative in Albany and keep a room there as if they live there. Short of that you will probably not get your student in, because ECHS and AHS are not only in different districts (very different), and different towns, they are in different COUNTIES.

In closing, if you live in the WCCUSD your child will have to go to public school there and you should check to see which high school that will be, meaning you are not guaranteed ECHS unless you live near there. In the past the WCCUSD had a stated policy of giving preference to minorities to transfer to ECHS if they lived closer to other (far less desirable high schools). So unless you live near ECHS, you may be facing greater challenges than you thought. But, the WCCUSD is far less on top of things than Albany and so it is easier to game the system. Email me directly if you want to talk more. Sean


As others have stated, you are not likely to get a transfer to Albany High unless you live in Albany. If El Cerrito is your area school, embrace it and help your child find the best at ECHS. I had 2 children attend ECHS, so was involved in the school for 8 years straight. I will tell you that yes there is a mix, the ''interdistrict'' transfers you mentioned were mostly kids from other areas within the district who used relatives addresses to attend ECHS rather than Kennedy or Richmond Highs. And I know many of the people on this list have done the same for their children - used an address to get their child into a better school. That being said - El Cerrito is a very diverse school - ethnically, racially, economically and academically. If your child is a good student then they will get a great education. There is actually a wider range of classes, sports and AP classes available at ECHS than Albany because it is a bigger school. My children did sports and achieved academically. Their peers went to Ivy's, UC's, CSU's and some went to community colleges. One year, ECHS had more graduates attend Ivy's than my friend's children'sschool in Orinda!

Yes there are problems, but Albany has had its share of issues as well. They have had fights, alcohol problems, its share of issues as well. Even the schools over the hills have their issues. The more involved you are at the school, the better the experience will be for all. ECHS parent alum


Music program in El Cerrito High

April 2013

I am posting this question here because I tried calling El Cerrito high to get info, and since all their open house events are over, they can't put me through to talk to someone. My son is a freshman at De Anza High. He is doing well academically and he really likes the Piano class (elective). Although during admission they told us that they will shortly be starting a tennis program, it did not pan out and may not happen for a while. He really wants to play high school Tennis and hence we are checking out El Cerrito High for a transfer. He still wants to continue with his music.. I know that El Cerrito high has a jazz band but it says that for the beginners jazz band you need to be concurrently enrolled in the concert band. Does that mean the student has to take 2 music electives to be part of the jazz band? If so, for sophomores, how does that work for students who still need to take Spanish classes (usually this is an elective too for sophomores). Also, do you know in El cerrito high if Piano is included in thier concert/symphonic band other than jazz . I would have really liked to talk to a counselor there, so we can make some informed decision, its unfortunate that we can't talk to anybody in the school. If anyone know about their music program, I would really appreciate feedback Santi


Your post requested information on the ECHS Band Program. I recently heard the music director speak at a WCCUSD Board mtg, and encourage you to contact him directly. He is young, energetic, dedicated and should be able to answer your questions-- his name is Keith Johnson (ECHS Band Director) and using the WCCUSD email formula you should be able to contact him with this address-- kjohnson@wccusd.net

Hopefully you'll get other responses from parents with kids in the program already-- we are not at the high school yet, but will be soon. Good luck. Luisa


El Cerrito High School has a wonderful music program and I think the best person for you contact is the music director himself. I did email him and he is available to answer any questions you have about the music program at ECHS. His name is Keith Johnson---- keith@echsbands.com anon

El Cerrito High School for academically minded kid

Feb 2013

I'd appreciate hearing recent reviews of El Cerrito High School. Our child is a very motivated student,an athlete and a musician. He has been in an independent school since Kindergarten. We didn't expect that ECHS would be a good match but we are now considering it. We like the closeness to home and the reality that it seems the music program is thriving and academics/athletics seem fine. We like the new administration and the seeming sense of community. The Math department also seems strong. What about others? I would very much appreciate a reality check. I realize class sizes are an issue, the curriculum is limited and the block schedule less than ideal. Given all this, what is the reality for a good student there? I'd appreciate all very frank comments. Thank you. anon


As forewarned by others, the experience improves past freshman year as kids track into AP and specialized classes, and see less in class of the kids who don't really want to be there (who tend to be more lumped together in general early classes). The bright kids get involved in leadership, music, sports, debate, or drama, which are all impressively strong programs, and these are great kids who seem to like it there. Nice school size (neither too big nor too small), strong sense of community, beautiful campus, and surprising amount of staff support re: college visits, scholarship opportunities, and other academic supports. Teachers are a mixed bag but I have experienced that everywhere. Math program especially strong, also French and Japanese. Lack of choir, Latin, lacrosse, and field hockey a disappointment. Ideal? No. But having been the private school route, I say save your money for college and let your child have a real-world, solid-enough, happy high school experience that leaves him or her eager --and well prepared -- for college. It's Fine
While my kids are way too young to be thinking about high school yet, our neighbors' son is a jr. at ECHS and according to them, he and his friends are thriving academically, AP classes, prepped for special high achiever summer programs etc. etc. El Cerritan
We are happy you are considering ECHS, even though your private school may be pushing/promoting a private high school for your son. Please know that ECHS has many things to offer students, some of which you have already mentioned. Here are some more reasons to attend:


-- Japanese as a foreign language option
-- Incredible math department (you mentioned that, but it is worth mentioning again)
-- Diverse student population (more aligned to the real world, university campuses, and work place)
-- New, amazing theater (theater program is up and coming, too!)
-- LOTS of clubs (this is so important. It gives students a place to belong, a group to identify with, and a purpose beyond academics. There are service clubs, activity clubs, leadership clubs.... Something for everyone)
-- Speech and Debate Team is OUTSTANDING. Hands-down better than you will find at any private school!
-- Academies/small schools. I believe there are four or five right now. Students seem to really enjoy them.
-- Very responsive teachers, willing to reach out and talk to students, parents, and so on. Lots of support.
-- Very rigorous academic classes. Not a lot of hand-holding, but a lot of support, if needed. Classes are extremely rigorous, especially after freshman year. Junior year is very rigorous.

The best reason: Ask yourself, what is the purpose of high school? What is the goal? If you believe the goal of high school is to prepare students for success in a top-notch university (a UC, a state university, or a private university), the ECHS does that. If the goal of high school is to prepare students for the real world, where not everyone is exactly like them in SES, race, religion, and so on...then ECHS does that. If the goal of high school is to prepare students to have some sense of independence, responsibility for their own learning, experience success and failure...then ECHS does that.

Freshman year can be hit or miss. That's okay. Get your feet wet. Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years are great. Come take a tour (given by students). Talk to parents. Talk to kids. Visit. We will welcome you!

And again, thank you for considering your own public school. It is worth a second look (so is Portola, for that matter. One step at a time). See you in the fall!


El Cerrito High has always had high academic standards. Every year many students move on not only to UC campuses but to private prestigious campuses such as Harvard, Brown, Yale and Stanford. Both my children have recently graduated and attended UCLA and UCSD straight out of El Cerrito High (and graduates of Portola, too, by the way). All a person has to do is attend the awards party in May and you will see all the graduating seniors attending prestigious colleges. Many educators (and former students) feel the block scheduling is very good for college preparation as that is more realistic to college schedules. The AP classes at El Cerrito are excellent, not only can the college credits transfer to college but students are stimulated and challenged in those classes. former ECHS parent
I have two teens at El Cerrito High School, and I think it's a great school for academically minded kids. The freshman year, unfortunately, is much too easy. But even then there are opportunities - you can sign up for Spanish 3, or example, or take an excellent Japanese class. The block schedule allows you to ''double up'' on math, science, or language - my daughter took both biology and chemistry during her freshman year. 9th grade English has writer coaches for every student, which allows for a lot of individual instruction. The creative writing elective is very good. Overall, however, freshman year is pretty easy for academically minded kids.

After that you can choose your path. The math and science classes (physics, algebra2/trig, precalculus) are fast-paced and rigorous. Teachers provide support for this past pace through a lot of before and after school availability. You can definitely find a challenge in these departments. Other classes depend on the level and the teacher - some are fairly easy and others are quite challenging. There are plenty of AP classes as well. Japanese is an excellent program, if your student has an interest in it. Sometimes individual accommodation can be made with the school or with individual teacher if your student has special needs (which includes a need for advanced learning). Good luck, Pat


Nov 2012

Re: How are El Cerrito/Kensington Schools?

Our kids are doing El Cerrito public schools (elementary, middle, and high school) and with the exception of a few teachers that they really didn't mesh with, it's been an excellent education.

El Cerrito High is like a smaller version of Berkeley High. A wide range of choices for kids (Special Ed to Advanced Placement), a strong sports program, drama, art, dance, It's a palace compared to the high school I attended. public school mom


Seeking legitimate transfer to Berkeley High School

Oct 2012

Hi, I was hoping to get information about legitimate ways to get a transfer into the Berkeley School District. My child would very much like to attend BHS but we are El Cerrito residents. We also wanted to know what the chances are for our child to get the school of their choice (#1 AC, #2 IB) if they do not enter the lottery in the winter before school starts, and especially if they get an ok to transfer after the school year starts. Thank you. Anonymous


Pardon me for not answering the question that you asked, but I would like to put in a good word for El Cerrito High School. My son is a sophomore there. Although I can't say that our experience with the school has been 100% positive, I will say that the types of issues we've had have related to the school being very big and diverse: the same issues that Berkeley High students will have. EC High has great teachers, fabulous extracurricular activities, and the added benefit of a cadre of kids who all live in the same area, so the social opportunities are very easy. I have been extremely impressed with the level of teaching overall at EC High. I have also been very happy to see how the kids in general behave toward each other: looking out for each other, having a very healthy group dynamic. One final thing: if your child will be a freshman next year, the group of students who will be leaving Portola to start EC High next year are a pretty special bunch, and would be a great group of friends to have your child join up with.

Two really good ways to start EC High with a good foundation of friends are to join Marching Band (which rehearses during the day for a week or two before school starts) or Speech and Debate Club (which hosts a 2-week pre-school daytime ''camp'', as well as possibly other summer events). Good luck to you and your student, at whatever High School you choose!! Just My Two Cents


El Cerrito High School Homework and Environment

May 2012

Living in El Cerrito, I had de facto considered El Cerrito High the school our soon-to-be ninth grader would attend, although we've also applied to a public charter in a nearby city. After an ECHS school tour, I have concerns about homework time (we were told by both a teacher and a student to expect 4-6 hours per night). With sports and other extracurricular activities, I am questioning whether 4-6 hours of daily homework is feasible for our child or family. This time commitment seemed extreme to me, based on the homework time in the (academically oriented) middle school our child attended. Because of class sizes, I also wonder how ECHS works for a quiet, more reserved type of student--is it easy to get lost in the crowd and have little contact with teachers there? Or does everyone seem to find their 'niche'. My impression from the tour was that an outgoing student would do well there -- how about a quieter student? I understand there will soon be 'academies' or mini schools within the school but not for 9th graders. El Cerrito Parent


El Cerrito High School is a bit different than other high schools. Here is our take:

1. Students take three to four classes each semester; every class covers an entire year in a shorter period of time. This is both good and bad. It is good because students only have homework in a few classes every day, rather than in six or seven classes everyday. Our daughter (current 10th grader) tries to schedule classes with the ''difficult'' classes spread out over each semester. So, one semester she has homework ONLY in English and Math (her elective did not have homework); the next semester she has homework ONLY in AP World History, Chemistry, and Japanese (PE has no homework). So, as you can see, this allows students to really focus on a few classes at a time; it also means that classes move very quickly, and students really cannot miss school, because each day covers about two or three days of curriculum.

2. Students may have more homework one semester, and less the other, depending on their classes.

3. If students only have three classes (they usually have three one semester and four the other, which equals a total of seven for the year), they get out of school around 2:30. If they have four classes, they get out at 4:00.

4. Our daughter seems to have about two hours of homework daily (give or take half an hour). She NEVER has four hours of homework! She does have homework on the weekends, and also over breaks.

5. So far, the homework seems reasonable. The classes do move at a quick pace, but kids manage. Of course, AP classes have a lot of work, because it is all crammed into one semester. But otherwise, homework has not been an issue for our family.

Hope this helps! EC Mom


My kids both thrived at ECHS and both found a niche quickly. They both developed relationships with teachers that continue even though both have graduated. Like any school there are positives and negatives but I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. 4-6 hours of homework a night? Never our experience unless one of them procrastinated on some big project. Cathy

Starting ECHS next year ...

Feb 2012

Our 14 year old will start El Cerrito High in Fall 2012. I am interested in any feedback on your son/daughter's experience there, especially in regard to class size and academics. My hope is that there is the option of my 14 year old taking classes that are academically oriented. In addition, I have some concerns about class size being extremely large and I am hoping this is not the case. Any feedback appreciated... Future ECHS Mom


El Cerrito High has a large array of challenging classes, a large list of AP and Honors classes and regularly sends kids to a number of high ranking Ivy League, private and public universities. In fact the year my daughter graduated ECHS sent more kids to Ivy's then Miramonte did. Your child's placement will initially be determined by testing in middle school and interaction with their counselor in the middle school. If a placement is really off, there are usually ways to get classes changed. And because of the block system at ECHS, it is actually possible to take more than 4 years of certain subjects, I'm aware of one child taking the equivalent of 7 years of French (and being able to test out of foreign language at college), my daughter took 7 years of ART, many students take extra math and science. Our children loved their time in ECHS, and I found that I usually was able to manuever things to work for my children when needed because I became very active and involved and got to know the staff and who to talk with when something was needed. former ECHS mom
My dad is a math teacher at ECHS and I have gone to help out many times. Class sizes can be quite large, depending on what he's going to take. Academically, ECHS has some exciting things going for it. One, it uses a block schedule, which means your son will be able to tailor his high school curriculum a little more to his interests. In a traditional schedule, it would be hard to take more than four years of math. But schools on a block schedule go through a year's worth of material in a semester, so someone who wants to focus on math could take every math class available! Plus, block schedules are more like college class schedules which can make the transition to college a little easier. Two, ECHS has three optional Special Academies: Information Technology Academy, Media Academy and Auto Technology.

ECHS is a little bit of a weird mix, demographically. You have a lot (a lot) of kids who are coming from the worse parts of EC and Richmond and are very behind academically. But then there are the Kensington kids and the kids from EC and Richmond who are doing just fine. For a teenager who is already on track, ECHS can provide a good college prep education. (It can for a teenager who is behind, too, but that teenager has much bigger hurdles to jump.) Jessica


We have a 10th grader at ECHS. Here is our take:

PROS:
-- Math department is top notch. Great instruction, support, and challenge.
-- English department is also very good.
-- Opportunities to take a variety of electives. I have heard that art and photography are both very good classes. Our daughter has taken drama and creative writing.
-- Japanese is one of the foreign language choices
-- COMMUNICATION: any time I have ever e-mailed a teacher or an administrator, I have received a response the same day (including the principal).
-- Teachers are responsible and communicative with parents and teachers
-- Every kid seems to find their niche and their place in the school
-- Lots of great clubs to belong to. Clubs have a lot of support and some are nationally known
-- New, beautiful campus
-- Safe atmosphere. There have been a few fights, but always between two parties who have a history and who seek each other out; other students are never involved or targeted. I feel that in every case, the school responded appropriately.
-- Some Academies (three or four, I think) that kids can apply to. They are on the website.

CONS:
-- Class size is large. Some classes are larger than others.
-- Freshman year is a little bit of a gamble (but ONLY freshman year). It's hard to navigate to get the ''right'' classes, and the classes are not as tracked freshman year. That is, for example, your freshman in Spanish 2 may have seniors in the class who need to take the class to graduate. That is not ideal, because the needs are different.
-- Spanish department does not seem to be that great
-- Some kids are not interested in being there (is this the case with all public high schools? Maybe. I don't know). This really annoys my child.
-- The sports programs vary. Some are great; some are very mediocre or poor. Depends on the sport. Coaches seem transient.
-- Academics vary. Freshman year is sort of hit or miss. Sophomore year seems much better in terms of challenge and expectations. I expect junior year will be more so.

When talking to our many, many friends in Albany and Berkeley, it seems that there are pros and cons in all of the schools. I have not seen the drugs or alcohol at EC that I hear people talk about in Albany schools. I have also heard that Berkeley can be hit or miss as well. So, there are good things and bad things about all three local public schools. Personally, I am happy with EC, and am involved in my child's classes and keep communication open with all of the teachers. Happy to stay in my community


Nov 2011

I am considering moving my son from Piedmont Middle School to El Cerrito HS next year. (He's got residency in both.) He's not a super-motivated kid, and loses homework almost as often has he loses focus, but he's bright and responds to good teachers. He is an athlete, and is probably most motivated when we tie sports participation to grades. He likes history. He makes friends easily. He could be the kid who slips through the cracks if we let him. We'd like him to emerge from high school with good decision making and problem solving skills, some educational exposure to politics, economics, (including critique), strong enough math and science skills for him to build on should he need to, and a stronger interest in making the world a better place. We'd like him to be able, even if he's not ready just yet, to go to a good college that won't bankrupt us. Is this likely to be a good match for my kid?

We're attracted to ECHS' diversity, and the reputation for it not being clique-ish. Still true?

I've heard good things about El Cerrito High, and the postings here are almost completely positive, but they're a few years old; nothing since the economic meltdown and the loss of funding to schools. How's ECHS holding up? Is it still a safe school? Potential El Cerrito Parent


We have a freshman at ECHS and we couldn't be happier with this school.

Thanks to the generosity of W. County voters, school bond funds paid for a new earthquake-safe school. Hallways are pristine with brand new lockers, classrooms are beautiful, the science labs are fully equipped, the gym has a workout/cardio room with high-end treadmills, ellipticals, and stationery bikes used by the P.E. classes, and brand new playing fields are currently under construction.

There is a world-class performing arts center on campus. The music program is fantastic and I was impressed by the dance teacher when she had her students perform. They also have a drama program. There are many options for sports and special interest clubs and good second language options (French, Spanish, and Japanese). The school has a radio station, an auto shop class (rare these days), and some good vocational ed options to prepare students for the work force. However, most of the students in our neighborhood go on to attend four year universities after graduation.

My student likes his teachers and I was particularly impressed with them when we visited the classrooms during back-to-school night.

This is a very diverse school with a wide range of students, from very affluent households to lower income households. My student attended Portola before coming to ECHS so he was well prepared, both socially and academically, to thrive at a public high school. The experiences he is having will prepare him for college and for life.

I am grateful to have such a wonderful school in our community.


Sept 2009

Our daughter will be attending El Cerrito High School next year, as a freshman. She is currently an eighth grader at Portola. I am wondering how the academics and opportunities at El Cerrito High School match up to those at Albany High School. Our daughter lives half time with her father, who lives in Albany, and can attend either high school. She wants to attend El Cerrito High School. Can any one chime in on the following points?

--Academics
--Safety
--School culture and climate
--Opportunities and electives
She is happy at Portola, but I am concerned with the number of substitutes and temporary teachers, the huge class size, the way the adults seem treat the students (yell first, ask questions later), and the lack of rigor. I am hoping that the high school is better! Thank you for your feedback!
I can't reply to this question from a current perspective, as my ECHS graduates are now college students. I can tell you that for my daughters, ECHS was rigorous enough to allow them to be accepted at the most prestigious universities in the country and to excel once they entered those universities. Their classmates at ECHS were accepted at, and attended, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oberlin, U Penn, Columbia, Cal, UCLA, and many other top tier universities. If that's how you measure academic rigor, then I think for students who are self-directed, hard-working, and intellectually motivated, ECHS is (or was) just fine. Judy
My kids attend Albany High School-not El Cerrito High. However, I know some folks whose kids attend EC High and they have told me they are quite pleased with the school, academics, etc. From what I can see, El Cerrito High has kids from a wider variety of socio economic backgrounds which brings more diversity. My Albany High daughter told me she wished she could go to El Cerrito high as her GPA would be higher since there are fewer high performing kids there....who knows if this is correct or not as this is a teenager's viewpoint-but AHS does have a fairly high pressured academic environment and there is a lot of pressure to succeed. Some kids rise to the occasion and others feel crushed by it. anon
From time to time there are e-mails asking about the academics at El Cerrito High School. Let me assure those of you interested in ECHS that the academic level is high. EC has many advanced placement classes--more than Albany. EC also has a debate class and Albany does not. To the Albany parent whose child thinks her GPA would be higher at El Cerrito because its more ''socioeconomically'' diverse, ah, wrong again. And, an additional bonus, the advanced placement classes are nice and mixed. This is my daughter's last year at ECHS and I just wanted to correct some of the incorrect information that gets reported. Thanks. -Sincerely, sociologically disadvantaged with a B.A. and a J.D.
Editor note: a review of Portola Middle School was also received.
Dec 2008

We are thinking of moving to either Berkeley or El Cerrito, and would appreciate some input on how El Cerrito High compares to Berkeley High. El Cerrito is much more affordable, but more of our friends live in Berkeley. (If we can find a place in Kensington, that would put us in ECHS too, right?)

BHS seems just too darn big. I like the fact that ECHS is 1/3 the size. But how does ECHS compare to BHS academically, socially, athletically, and in terms of race relations, drug scene, teacher and administration accessibility?

We have two kids, one who is very sociable, very organized, loves English, Social Studies, Drama. The other is an introvert - he is a good student, but when struggling (math) does not ask for help easily. He also is slower to make friends. He is is athletic (lacrosse, track/cross-country, rowing) and very gifted at languages (French, Spanish, self-taught Japanese). I know BHS has lacrosse and rowing, but ECHS has Japanese.

I've read the reviews on the BPN website, and the one thing that isn't clear to me is how kids choose classes at ECHS. Is the whole program open (unlike BHS with its obligatory lottery assignment to a specific program/school?) Also, ECHS has a block system (but rumor is BHS is about to shift to block). What do people think of the block system as it exists at ECHS or may exist at BHS?

But mostly, would we be crazy to move to El Cerrito rather than Berkeley for the high school? Thanks! ...swimming upstream to El Cerrito?


I have two children who graduated from ECHS in the last 5 years. One is a student at UC Davis, the other is at Stanford. ECHS prepared both of them very well for the rigors of college. I, too, appreciated that they were at a school less than half the size of Berkeley High. They both felt that the block system allowed them to take more classes than they would have in a regular class configuration, and was very similar to the class schedule that they found in college. In fact, both of them have reported that students in college who came from high schools with a block system are better able to deal with the fast academic pace found in the university system. Obviously there are less sports options at ECHS, but we found the administration very accessible and the teachers, for the most part, were great! There is an after-school math help program, staffed by UC Berkeley folks, that was a lifesaver for both of my daughters when they were taking calculus. Just from anecdotal evidence, I'd say there's just as much of a possibility that your child will be involved in drugs and alcohol at ECHS as at Berkeley High, but it's very possible to avoid that whole scene and find a group of like-minded peers at ECHS if that's your child's choice; in addition, I did LOVE that ECHS has a closed campus and my children weren't wandering around downtown Berkeley during their lunch hour. Happy with ECHS
Both of my kids went to ECHS and we loved.it. They both went on to attend UC schools, and many of their friends went on to excellent schools, including Yale, Harvard and Stanford. There are many AP classes and many of the teachers have been there for many years and their own children have attended and graduated from ECHS.The principal,Jason Reiman is wonderful and easy to talk to. I would pick ECHS over Berkeley any day. Ellen Ellen
May 2008

I am considering El Cerrito High for my daughter. I am hoping some parents will share their experiences and insights into their children's experience at the school.


ECHS is a mixed bag. My oldest daughter went there, did great, now at UCLA with 12, yes 12, others ECHSers from her class. Others went to Brown, Cal, Cornell, etc. Two girls from this years class are going to Brown. My youngest is a junior there now. Also good experience. EC ahs some great teachers and some poor teachers. Languages seems to be an ongoing problem while math and most sciences are very good. I am a math and physics tutor so I know exactly how good they are. And the new school due to open Jan of 09 so that's good.

I say mixed because while there is a smallish group of excellent students, there are also a lot of students who don't want to be in school, poor grades, attitudes, troublemakers. Socioeconomically this is a very mixed school, rich kids from the hills and a lot of kids from inner city Richmond whose parents don't want them going to two of the worst HSs in the state, Richmond and Kennedy. While there are constant problems including some fights, there is an EC police officer on campus and tight security. I asked my daughters many times if they feel safe there and they always said yes. And they say no one ever bothers them. If your child is one of the good kids (political correctness be damned) who studies and has good friends then s/he should have no problems.

A plus is that EC is one of the smallest public HSs in the area. Another plus is also that the school is a mixed bag. I like that. I don't want my kids going to some lily white school full of rich kids. I want them to get a practical, real world education as well as an academic education. My daughters' best friends are all college track kids but they also have many friends they met in class or sports who didn't/will not go to college; who are working at silver screen video or the supermarket etc. The admin. is okay. I've had good and bad experiences with them. I like the new principal, good guy.

A neg. is not a lot of AP courses to choose from. They offer what I would say is the minimum; Calc AB/BC, Chem, Bio, US Hist. and a few more.

Overall I would say EC is adequate and for the good kids it's pretty good. sean


My family is graduating after 8 years (2 kids) at El Cerrito High. We have loved our experiences there, there is a wonderful group of teachers who are also very responsive to parents and the students, new energetic administrators and a very involved core group of parents. The academics can be as challenging as you need for your child, there is a full range of advanced and AP classes. They will be moving into the newly constructed building over the winter break so altho ugly, the current temporary campus has worked out well. The new Gym will be available for the school to use when classes start in Fall which will be really fabulous. There is a full range of sports, music, art - kids are going to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UCLA, Cal, Brown, etc. If ECHS is your neighborhood school you should definetly consider it - Even my son who was a lazy highly disorganized student had a teacher recognize his potential and she worked with him on her own time and by the time he graduated he had taken a number of AP classes, learned to take notes, organize his tasks and is totally self monitoring in college. I hope you choose ECHS - the new school building is gorgeous and will be so amazing for the kids and teachers. sad to leave parent
My older son graduated from El Cerrito High and my younger one is there now. Both had gone to Catholic school K-8, and I was terrified. I was sure that they would either be preyed upon by hoodlums or become hoodlums! I couldn't have been more wrong. Certainly, they learned that there are all different kinds of people in the world, some of them nice and some of them not so nice, but they never felt unsafe, and they both made very nice friends. Academically, I don't think that I could have paid for a better education. Both boys have been very well prepared for college. The teachers have been, by and large, dedicated, caring, and yet quite demanding. They have all been very responsive and helpful -- no concern of mine ever went unanswered. If you are looking for AP classes, there are plenty of them.

Of course, a great deal depends upon your child. If you have reason to fear that he or she may be especially vulnerable to falling in with ''bad companions'' or cutting class or taking drugs, all of that is certainly a possibility -- as it is anywhere, even in private school. Overall, we've found that most of the kids are good kids, most of the teachers are very good teachers, and most of our experiences were quite positive.

One of my boys went to school, made friends, got reasonably good grades, but never really went out of his way to participate in any school activities. He had a good time, he turned out just fine, and he is doing well in college. But the other boy really made an effort to belong and to participate in activities. There is no doubt that his experience of the school was much richer. (I'll put in just one small plug for the Marching Band. It provides an instant place to ''belong.'' I can't think of a better niche for a kid.)

This is all pretty general. If you have more specific questions, post them and I will try to be more specific in my answers. anonymous


I know 2 families who have sent their kids (four in total) to ECH. They seem pleased. One had a son who was able to graduate a year early (not GED), and another was very involved in the music dept. Visit and make sure its a match for your kids. Jenny
If you visit ECHS, you may recognize the difference between ‘Diversity’ at ECHS and at private schools. You should look at the students coming out from the back gate not only the front gate. Yes, it is a mixed bag, and it makes first two years at ECHS difficult. Motivated students are placed in a same class where others don’t want to study at all. It gets better when AP classes start.

There are enough AP classes to take GPA higher than 4.6 or .7, and these students were accepted to Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, CAL, UCSD, and UCLA. Many of them belong to leadership or volunteer programs. At least two of the top ten students do sports, one was accepted to Cal or UCLA, and other was accepted to Cornell and CAL engineering. The latter goes to US championship, too. There are students who were accepted to Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth. Several students were accepted as chancellor's scholar or got into honor programs at UC. At least 6 students were accepted to Cal engineering.

ECHS provides the best Math education. Two Math students at CAL started tutor programs for ECHS students several years ago, and it is working really well. Many students took 5 on both AP Calculus AB and BC exams. It is a trend to finish Calculus AB and BC by junior year, so students can submit AP scores when they apply colleges. A few of them take Multivariable calculus at CAL or BCC during senior year, and the tutors still help them. You don’t need a private tutor.

Science classes do not have enough money. There was an egg experiment in the Biology lab, and it was the same experiment my daughter had at her elementary school. Although my daughter took AP science classes, it was hard to take good scores for AP exams and SAT subject tests. Taking science classes at a community college might help.

My daughter enjoyed Two AP English, US history and Euro history. World War II simulation class is something that you can not miss, although it is not a AP class. She was disappointed about a French teacher and a Japanese teacher.

Although there are many good teachers, some of the administrators cause the problems at ECHS. Until last year, the school often sent a school event notice same day or after, so I missed the several. It was difficult to talk to one of the vice principle. She stayed in her office and sent a student to a counter to talk to me. Sending the student back and forth, finally she gave ma a wrong information, and I almost missed the due date. I called the office later, and the administrator helped to solve the problem. Textbook librarian also focuses on private phone calls, so students need to wait 20 minutes to obtain her signature. ECHS used to have good counselors. One moved last year, and one retires this year. We are disappointed about the new counselor.

My daughter didn’t feel unsafe at ECHS except two students forced her to pay money for the student who was killed at a party two years ago. They got money from the class saying ‘Donation,’ but they didn’t have permission. We reported school, but nothing was done. Also two boys were attacked by students when they were freshmen, and one of them sent to a hospital on a Freshman Friday three years ago. We have a hard working new principal. The situation might be better now. Mom of 2008


I have spent my last four years at El Cerrito, and it's safe to say I am satisfied with my experience. I have taken a lot of AP and Honors classes, and have a cumulative 4.2 GPA. Despite this, my class ranking is in the mid-30s. This just goes to show that a motivated student at ECHS is going to be able to do as well as they would like.

This year there are students going to many prestigious schools: Brown, Yale, Columbia, USC, Cal, UCLA, Stanford, Dartmouth and many others, including most (if not all) of the UCs.

Pros: We have a very strong math department, with free, wonderful tutoring available. We have a strong upper-division English department. Both AP English teachers (AP Literature and Composition and AP Language and Composition) are young, enthusiastic, and very knowledgeable. The sciences have their strong points, including a great Physics/AP Chemistry teacher. Your student will not enjoy his class if he/she is not willing to work hard. Social sciences at El Cerrito are phenomenal in the upper division/elective level. US History (both AP and regular), AP European History, and World War II all have very enthusiastic, caring teachers who want their students to succeed. The arts are strong at El Cerrito, covering music, theater, art, and dance. The ITA Academy teaches students about computer programming, etc, and helps place them in jobs and internships. UC Berkeley's Educational Guidance Center helps students with everything they need to get them into college. It is a great resource, and I highly recommend utilizing it.

Cons: The administration is new, and somewhat overbearing. Mrs. Quein, a great counselor, will be retiring after this year. Many lower-level teachers' classes are somewhat lackluster and uninspiring. This is countered by that fact that if you work at it, you and your student can find the gems at ANY level. The transitional campus is small, crowded, and almost entirely asphalt. Again, there is a counterpoint, in that the school is expected to move into the newly-built campus sometime next year.

The student environment at ECHS is really open and laid-back. We have a very involved student body, and that is something I liked most during my time at El Cerrito. In general, students mix together, and socioeconomic stratification is not as readily apparent as you might think. Students here are generally accepting of everyone, whether they're different on a racial, sexual orientation, religious, or any other plane. It's a really nice environment to spend your high school time in, and still experience diversity on almost every level.

Overall, if your student is motivated to do well, they can get a high-quality education at El Cerrito. It helps to be strong-willed, as sometimes you have to annoy the administration to do what you need them to do, but the tradeoff is far worth the trouble.

I have been speaking mainly to the motivated student thusfar, but it's important to know that students who simply want to get through high school, graduate, and move on with their lives have a place at ECHS as well. There are easier classes that will fulfill a student's graduation requirements, help him or her get into a community college or trade school, or simply move into the workforce. There are rumors that the Auto Shop and Wood Shop classes will be returning with the new building, although I am not sure how true these will be.

Good luck! EC Student, c/o 2008


March 2003

We have been considering El Cerrito High for our son as a freshman next Fall. I am very concerned with the changes I hear are coming as a result of the major budget cuts . I understand that this is the reality for all schools and in our already underfunded district the changes could be very fundamental. From parents who have experience at El Cerrito, would you start out a freshman there next year given what is likely to happen? What I know of the changes so far are the ending of the block system and the letting go of many teachers, starting this month I understand. Is there anything other than working through our representatives etc that we can do to address this situation? Any input in general about El Cerrito would be appreciated as we need to make this decision asap.. Thank you, Jennifer


We've had two daughters in ECHS. Both are high-achievers and we've found the education there better than any public school in the area, even public schools known for their excellence, and on a par or better than most private schools.

Of course, it's not perfect. As with all schools, some teachers are better than others. ECHS seems to have a high percentage of very caring and talented teachers. We've known Vince Rhea, the new principal, since was vice principal there and he has always been hard working and supportive. The counselors are over-worked and have, in the past, been unhelpful -- however, the current group of counselors seems much improved.

The down side of ECHS is, unfortunately, its facility. It's depressing to see how the community has allowed a place of education to deteriorate so badly, and it's a credit to the teachers that they are able to teach so well despite the poor physical conditions there.

The looming budget cuts are a serious problem. All public schools face them. Although teachers have received lay-off notices, they have not been laid off yet. The decisions about budget cuts have yet to be finalized. We all need to contact our board of education and state representatives and governor to let them know that we will not tolerate any cuts in education.


October 2002

To the family asking about El Cerrito High and schools outside of Berkeley and Albany:

In our family's experience, ECHS is excellent. It is half the size of BHS. As at most schools, there are both good and bad teachers. Generally, the science, math, history, and English faculties are topnotch. French is good. Spanish can be problematic. There are excellent music, dance, and drama programs. The debate program has been nationally recognized, although it's undergoing changes since the wonderful coaches retired. The community is very excited about the new principal, Vice Rhea, who had previously been a vice principal there.

Which school is better depends on your student. ECHS seems to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of students. It has a full program of advanced and AP classes, and also receives special assistance from Cal and other programs.

About middle school, although Portola has had problems in recent years, it has a new principal who seems to be well- liked, and its size should be decreasing since a new middle school is opening in Richmond. I don't think it's necessary to live in Albany to get a good education in the area. Good luck!


To the family asking about El Cerrito High and schools outside of Berkeley and Albany: My son is a junior at ECHS, and my opinion of the school is much less glowing than the former one. My son is bored in nearly all his classes, but we don't have the money to send him anywhere else. The school on the outside looks nice, but the halls and classrooms are reminiscent of the fact that the West Contra Costa school system was, if not still is, bankrupt. Granted, nearly all kids have to be outwardly motivated during these years, but the motivation is not there with my son. My son is smart enough to be getting A's if he were motivated to do so, and the fact that he's getting C's is not making us happy. I am disabled and do not think of solutions to problems readily. I just wanted to present "the other side of the picture."
Dec 2001

Does anyone have anything to say about El Cerrito High School, good or bad? How has the block scheduling worked out for your children? I was really surprised to see that there were no entries at all for ECHS on the UC Parents website. Wendy


See replies about Block Scheduling
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