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I am looking for any information (good or bad) about Harding Elementary in El Cerrito. My husband and I have been looking to buy a house in the St Jerome's neighborhood and that appears to be the school zoned for my 4yo child. Would love to hear about their class size, teachers, PTA, etc.. Thanks! JD
We live in the Harding Elementary School neighborhood and our son will be a kindergartner there next year. If your child attends Harding, what are your thoughts and opinions of the school? Thanks for your time. Rachel
Harding is an exceptional elementary school in many ways. Not every teacher is perfect and some years were better than others but my kid has the ability to navigate almost any social or academic challenge because her elementary school experience gave her all the tools she needed to be successful in middle school.
It's diverse (reflects the the demographics of our state), there is a large special ed population which helps the kids learn to empathize with other children, and a very strong anti-bullying culture. If kids get caught being mean, they are immediately called out.
It also has a very active and supportive parent community that funds all the little ''extras'' like student study trips, art, music, etc. And there is a great after school enrichment program. public school mom
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.
Harding has strong academics, excellent teachers (with a few notable exceptions), and is a very safe campus. It's a beautiful school.
We are moving to the neighborhood near Harding Elementary in El Cerrito. Just curious if families would share their experiences with Harding - good, improving or otherwise. We would especially love to hear from families who have moved from a private school to Harding. Thank You! new to the neighborhood
there does seem to be more homework than at the private school we attended and we haven't dealt with state testing yet so i can't speak to that. i'd be happy to tell you more about my experiences--you can ask the moderator for my email address if you'd like. good luck and welcome to the neighborhood! happy harding parent
My child will be ready for preschool next year, and we are zoned for Harding Elementary, El Cerrito. Since in general El Cerrito schools (barring Madeira) are rated much lower than Albany schools, I am curious what is the overall feeling about the standards in this elementary school? Also are transfers possible to Kensington schools and if so, what does one need to do? ecr
Harding's strengths are these: a beautiful school, small classes in all grades due to a special grant to reduce class size, a high tolerance/acceptance for kids who are different, and an amazing after school program with sports, visual and performing arts classes, 2nd language classes, etc.
There is only one school in Kensington, an elementary school. It feeds into Portola and ECHS. This is the same for Harding and Madera. The district website is a good place to get information about transfers.
My oldest went through Harding and Portola, and is now going into EC High School. We are sending our youngest through all the same schools. It has worked fine for us but we also provided a lot of academic support and are very involved in the schools. Madera and Kensington are excellent schools too. And most of our friends in Albany seem very happy there.
Our kids have learned to navigate a diverse public school classroom and we think this provides them with valuable life skills that will prepare them well for the future. In addition, our kids can walk to their neighborhood school which saves time and money on gas. Most of their school friends live within 10 blocks so they ride their skateboards or bikes over to play.
It's really a trade-off and there are no right answers. It depends on what your priorities are.
We are considering moving our son out of a private school to attend Harding Elementary in El Cerrito next fall. I would like to hear some opinions from parents who currently have their child enrolled in kindergarten there. How are the teachers? academics? how are the kids and families socially? Our son is currently reading/writing and doing math at kindergarten level already, will he be stimulated enough at Harding? Any advice or knowledge to help us make this decision would be much appreciated. thank you! parent of soon to be kindergartener
All public schools have a ''mandated'' curriculum. Taxpayers want some accountability for their dollars and there is a body of research on best teaching methods that goes into crafting the curriculum for most public schools.
My daughter had a very demanding teacher that prepared her well for the next grade level. Other parents thought this teacher was ''bad'' and told me to my face. Some of them had never had their child in that classroom but felt entitled to have a very negative opinion of this individual. Others just didn't agree with her method of discipline but she ran a very tight ship.
My kids found their classroom experience to be interesting and challenging. Not every teacher was a saint but all of them worked hard to do their jobs. I have never seen a teacher I considered ''deadweight'' but there are teachers who are more popular with certain parents.
Compared to other communities, it's very expensive to live in El Cerrito but it's a very nice community and we are happy at Harding.
My daughter will be starting at Harding for Kindergarten in sept and we feel good about our decision to send her to public school instead of private like most of her friends will do.I have gotten over the anxiety of not being able to afford private school and and the whole hype about private schools.Now one of my relatives is starting to drive me nuts with his concern about the low testscores and keeps sending me e-mails.I try not to let myself be rattled by that but it starts to crawl under my skinI believe test scores are not everything in life but would like to get some new input from Harding parents about the school.I have been on the school tour and met some parents that all strike me as intellegent and knwolegable and i was impressed by the principal.Am i missing something? What is your experience at the school.How are the Kindergarten teachers?What could be better?Why are the testscores low compared to others? Some honest answers very much appreciated. Thank you very much.feel free to write directly to my e-mail.We really like the idea of supporting our community and wish more people would do the same. liissa
Most of the ''fun'' stuff that was memorable for him isn't going to be on a standardized test. He got a well-rounded education and he is a happy kid.
Harding is very diverse community (low to high income, geographically and racially diverse, regular and special ed students) and not all the students score well on a standardized test.
If you want high test scores, look for a school that really emphasizes academics (some extended-day charter schools are like this) or find a community like Albany or Piedmont where the students primarily come from more affluent households. It depends on what you want.
Also, there is a long waiting list for kindergarten so if you decide to go elsewhere, a family that REALLY wants your spot will be very happy to take it.
We are on the Harding wait list. When we got our letter from the transfer office, we appealed. Per the April 11 BPN post, we e-mailed Hardingms principal, Mrs. Garrett, stating we are committed to sending our son if a third K class is added. I heard there are at least 30 families on the wait list - enough for a third class. I also heard that Harding is under-enrolled, but the districtms formula says a school has to have a certain number of residents before letting in transfers. With Hardingms small geographical boundary, we fear the district will turn us away (even though WCCUSD allows transfers in the first place and we are within walking distance of Harding). We let Mrs. Garrett know our back-up option is to leave the district, which would mean less money for the district. Until we hear back, should we write to Superintendent Harter, the school board members? Should we attend a school board meeting and let them know that they would be crazy to turn away families from the district when, in this particular case, there is room at the school and commitment to attend? Will that help? anon
Harding has opened up a third kindergarten class (morning) for the fall. The first 20 on the waiting list were sent approval letters. If you were not within the first 20, you should still contact the transfer office to find out what your new placement is. For others, if you do have a spot as a resident or transfer but are going elsewhere, out of courtesy please contact the school office to let them know, so they can let the transfer office know and those still on the waiting list can be given the spot. Thanks!
Our three children will attend Harding Elementary next year, and I am wondering if any one out there can offer some insight into the Afterschool Program, as well as any other insights or comments about the school in general. Our kids will attend the on-site Afterschool, and because it is run by the City of El Cerrito, I am a bit hesitant. We have not been impressed with their school-run programs in the past, and I am wondering what it is like at Harding. In addition, what is the school culture? How are the teachers? Kids? Parents? Thank you for any information you can share! Because they will be new, and not starting in kindergarten, I appreciate any insights you can share with me. -Kati
What is your experience at Harding Elementary in El Cerrito, in 5th and 6th grade? We are considering transferring our daughter there for 5-6 grade, from another WCCUSD school where she is struggling academically. We don't think she is quite ready for Portola. What are the teachers like, what is the social situation? Thanks! Anon
Harding has a very diverse student population (46% reduced school lunch, one of the largest special ed program in the district, and some English Learners). Unfortunately, not all of our students our good ''test takers'' so we recently qualified for a grant which enabled the school to have reduced class size in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade.
My son is in a 5th grade class of 20 students which allows the teacher to give a lot of individual attention to the needs of each student. With the state budget cuts proposed, I'm not sure how long we will have this grant but it's been so beneficial.
My son has a close knit group of friend--most of whom he has known since kindergarten. Some live a few blocks from our home and a few transferred from other schools so they commute to Harding. He takes band classes and is now enrolled in an after school enrichment class (Drama) that will be putting on the Wizard of Oz.
I have found the school to be very tolerant of differences--race, class, special needs, alternative families, etc. I'm not saying everyone is a saint but there is a general emphasis on respectful communication and the principal is very firm on discipline.
One caveat: I have heard from other parents that it requires patience and persistence for kids entering the school in the upper grades to make friends. Getting involved in the student council, playing in the band, and participating in some of the PTA-sponsored activities (Family Games Night, Family Science Night, the annual talent show, after school enrichment, etc.) might help with this so you can get to know other parents and so your child can get to know the other students.
I would suggest coming to the Open House scheduled for May 15. That will give you an opportunity to check out all the classrooms, meet the teachers, and view student work. You should check the PTA website when it gets closer to the date for the time. http://www.hardingpta.org/
Re: East Bay Schools for child of same sex parents
My partner and I have 2 children at Harding Elementary in El Cerrito. I know of at least 2 other families like ours with children at the school. Both of my children seem to be thriving there--they love their teachers, have made friends easily, and we have felt welcomed by everyone in the parent community. Most public schools are very tolerant/accepting of all family types and they welcome any parent who is willing to help out in the library or the classroom or support the school in other ways. I have also had very positive experiences with our neighbors in El Cerrito. We often have kids running in and out of each other's houses. Even the very religious family that lives on our block has been friendly. We occasionally borrow a ''cup of sugar'' from each other, trade babysitting, and generally watch out for each others kids. Maybe we've just been lucky but I have never encountered any problems at the local public school or in the community--at least none that were specific to being a 2-mom family. With the money you save on private school tuition, you will be able to afford after school enrichment (guitar, dance, Spanish, etc.), participate on local city-run sports teams (soccer, swimming, baseball) and save for college. Public schools with good parent involvement are the best deal around. public school mom
Harding doesn't do special assemblies or presentations about gay or lesbian families but we prefer that. We like the idea that the school teaches tolerance and respect for all students without singling out anyone. I feel that the staff have worked hard to create a safe environment for both of my children and I am grateful for our compassionate and caring teachers.
Re: Looking at kindergartens
I do have a daughter currently enrolled in one of the Harding kindergarten classrooms this year. We got off to a bit of an awkward start because, due to higher than expected enrollment, we had to add a third classroom this year and it took a few weeks after school started to secure a teacher and get the classroom set up.
For us, it was worth the wait because the person our principal hired is kind, caring and energetic. She seems like one of those ''born to teach'' individuals that everyone loves. I honestly feel that the other two teachers are equally strong and have a deep commitment to children. Each teacher has their own unique style but they are all great.
The PTA works hard to raise money for a lot of little extras and
really supports the school (art, music, science, study trips,
after school enrichment classes, library staffing) and they also
put on some very nice welcoming activities for new and returning
parents (a Welcome Back BBQ and summer potlucks to meet new
parents). Also, I counted over 40 parents at the first PTA meeting.
If you aren't too hung up on test scores and you are comfortable
with a diverse public school environment (middle class and
low-income families, children with special needs, alternative
familes, etc.), you'll like Harding. If you want something a
little more sheltered and ''exclusive'', you may want to take some
private school tours.
To get a good feel for the teachers and the school, I highly recommend attending the back-to-school picnic (community welcomed) at Harding Park on Saturday, September 30th from noon to three. Harding has 3 kindergarten tours in November, January and February, where you can meet the principal, K teachers and parents and see the kindergarten classes in action. The teachers also recommend coming to Open House in the spring to get a sense of the rest of the school.
I can tell you that we have 2 fantastic first grade teachers,
and we are very happy with his education, the teachers, the
strong PTA, warm community and many friends we--my son and my
husband and I--have made there.
Would parents of students @ Harding/Madera/Hilltop please share how things are going at their schools? I have two kids that may be transfering into one of these elementary schools in 2006-07. They are curious about what it is like at recess, where kids live that go to these schools and how easy it is to make new friends. Due to the enrollment situation, it seems like we won't know which school they will be placed in until after school starts. And I am also curious about the uniform situation. Will there be uniforms in WCCUSD schools? How do people arrange after-school care? Anything else I don't know to ask? New Kids on the Block
Our kindergarten registrations are up from last year and for the first time in many years, we will most likely have to add a third classroom next Fall. If you are interested in transferring, you'll need to call the transfer office and ask to be put on the waiting list. I believe there are still a few openings, particularly if you are willing to consider the afternoon kindergarten program. As far as I know both Kensington and Madera are full and have long waiting lists. You may want to check with the transfer office about that.
Our school is the district site for the hearing impaired and our students have some unique challenges to overcome so if API rankings are important to you, you may want to hold out for Madera or Hilltop. Fairmount and Castro are also excellent schools. This year, most of our transfers were from other schools in El Cerrito (including a few from Madera and Hilltop). We also have some transfers from Richmond, especially the Annex, and I met one mom from El Sobrante. It's a very diverse group of parents. We had an incoming kindergarten potluck recently and over 20 families showed up to spend the afternoon in the park together public school mama
I personally don't believe uniforms are a good idea for my kids but other parents support them. I am planning to opt out once they are implemented. From what I can tell, opting out will not be a cumbersome process.
In terms of after care, many families choose the on-site after care program. Some of them opt for other sites, a few of which pick up from the school.
My son has found it very easy to make friends and all of them live within 6 blocks of our house. It is a little easier to make friends if you jump in and get involved in school activities. There are many of these. Also, my son met his best friend at the after care program so that's another way to get to know other kids who attend the school.
My daughter will be going into kindergarten and already knows a few girls who are planning to come this fall because we have a little playgroup that has been meeting for the last few months and we also attended both of the PTA-sponsored get-togethers for new parents.
I have found Harding to be a very warm and welcoming place to our entire family and my son has enjoyed all of his teachers.
The one thing I really appreciate about Harding is the parent community and the congenial group of parents in the PTA. Last year, I looked forward to bringing my son to school in the mornings because it was a great time to chat with many of the parents there. We had a dream of a PTA co-president last year and many hard-working committees (many of which are meeting regularly this summer). The PTA is very energetic, and we had 39 people on the various committees. Whether we agree or disagree on a particular issue, we recognize that we are all working towards the common goal of making Harding a great school for our kids.
Another bonus of being active in the PTA (and teaching creative writing in the after-school enrichment program) is that I've gotten to know a lot of the teachers, many of whom I respect and look forward to having my child be in their classes. My son adored his kindergarten teacher and art teacher (Lisa di Prima) and enjoyed music instruction with Ms. Little. He also got to learn some sign language; Harding is the district site for the hearing impaired and as a way of helping to mainstream the kids, the instructor takes time out to teach ASL to the kindergarteners. There are also special day classes for kids with learning disabilities.
The K class has created a nice bond, whereby if a parent needs to have his/her child picked up, etc., there are always other parents to help out. We distributed an opt-in list of family information so if anybody needed any help, he/she could contact someone on the list. I was the unofficial K class coordinator last year and it worked out so well that we are having a class coordinator for incoming kindergarteners and so on, so that every year the sense of community is built up for each class and Harding overall. Because of the many after-school activities and weekend events that go on (some of which are not PTA-related), it is easy for families to get to know one another. Last year, we began a tradition of having a pre-K potluck the summer before school starts, which is another way to get to know families before fall. The pre-K families already had a potluck in the park last weekend, and they will have another one before summer ends.
I'm not sure if the incoming K families will do this, but last year we had 2 play dates at the park--Tuesdays after Harding Park pick-up at 2:30pm and Fridays after school. We included weekend get-togethers so that all families could participate. As for recess, the recesses for the grade levels are held at different times. Our playground is currently being finished and should be completed by fall. The kindergarteners will then have their own playground just outside their classrooms. The City runs the on-site after-care program at Harding Park. My son was there M-Thurs. up until 2:30pm (as a kindergartener). He then took a variety of after-school enrichment classes that Harding After School Enrichment Program (HASEP) offers (last year, he took yoga, art, creative book art, Mad Science, and Lego Engineering). HASEP will continue to add more classes for 06-07. All of the HASEP classes are on site, so parents need not take time off from work and shuttle their kids to, say, the community center for a class. Many of the kindergarteners from both classes were at Harding Park, so my son got to know kids from the other class. Fairmont Elementary School kindergarteners are also bused over to Harding Park. Some kids have other arrangements, such as Casa de Ninos, which does a pick-up from Harding. This coming year, we won't need after-care (I work from home and have a flex work schedule), so we will just do the HASEP classes and then get together with families at the park aftwards (which was the norm last year).
As for uniforms, we will opt out if the district tries to implement it, as my son does not want to wear a uniform. According to the CA Education Code, the uniform policy is not mandatory and your child cannot be punished for not wearing a uniform.
Definitely talk with parents from all the local schools to get their views on *their* schools. I know there are many happy parents at all 3 schools. I'm happy to engage in an off-line conversation if you have more questions about Harding. Good luck! Patty
Editor note: no replies were received about the other schools inquired about.
We're in El Cerrito and have started looking at schools for kindergarten next year. We have heard good things about Harding, especially about one of the kindergarten teachers, but when we went on a recent tour, we were surprised to find ourselves rather dismayed by what we saw. There were no aides, no parents assisting, one teacher for an entire class. Did we just hit them on a bad day? Any insight would be appreciated. We are also considering Madera and Kensington, but had really thought we'd stick with Harding, til this tour. anonymous
I have 2 children at Harding - my son in one of the K classes to which this person referred, and my daughter in 2nd grade. Before my oldest child began K at Harding 2 years ago, we considered only private schools for our children, and went on more than a few tours. At none of them did I witness the kind of caring, concerned parent/teacher community that I have seen at the Harding K tours, and I have attended most of them. These tours are put together by hard-working parents who genuinely care about the school, and about the kids who attend. I cannot say enough good things about both K teachers - they show genuine concern for all of the children in those classes, some of who come from very difficult backgrounds. My very shy daughter, who cried every day straight for the first 2 weeks of school, grew to LOVE kindergarten because of the compassionate, yet firm hand that Kathleen Smallfield, the teacher, took with her, and really continues to shine academically because of the encouragement shown to her by that teacher. Same goes for my son. And the principal, Barbara Taylor, works many long hours to engender an atmosphere of respect for all at the school. No school - public or private - is perfect - the time you spend with your child reinforcing all that they learn at school is what is most important. I have often said that it is an act of faith to leave your child in anyone's care, and my husband and I are proud to say that we picked Harding for our children.
My daughter had one of the teachers you observerd and I volunteered in that class. The children always gathered on the rug and went over the calendar in the morning. The teacher then goes over the day's activities. The class was split into four groups and they rotated from table to table. I usually worked with one group on math or phonics games, other times art projects. It varied. While I was there, the teacher was with a group at their desk working on writing, reading or something more instructional. The other two stations were more independent work but she would check on the children or they knew to raise their hands when they needed help. In the course of the day, the children would rotate through all four stations, unless one project was particularly long. In addition to Spanish, she knows American Sign Language, and incorporates that into the class periodically.
We had a wide range of students last year, everything from academic abilities to maturity. Our teacher could handle it all, always in control of her students and they are always very respectful of her. She knows exactly what her students are capable of, pushes them all to do their best. There was one boy who really struggled early on with the letters and I actually wondered if he might be dyslexic. But by the end of the year, he was reading the required site words just like everyone else in the class. I had talked to his mom one morning and told her how well I thought he was doing and she totally credited our teacher with really working with him and helping her to find ways to work with him at home.
For the kids that were a little more advanced, she finds extra activities for them to do within the lesson plan to keep them challenged.
From day one the kids in her class know what's expected of them. For some it might be a bit of a struggle early on, but they all get with the program very quickly. In speaking to the other parents in my daughter's class, whether their child struggled academically, socially or had no problems at all, all the parents had nothing but good things to say about her. All the parents would want her again if given the choice. I know one parent who had her in fifth grade as her own teacher and told me that she was the best teacher she ever had, and was so happy that her daughter was going to have her.
I should also point out that she has a great sense of humor. She has this image as being strict, but she's equally funny. My daughter would often come home and tell us stories at dinnertime about what her teacher said or did that in her mind was silly. The kids love that side of her.
As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan but I'd have to say what I respect most about her is that she's not trying to sell herself or her teaching style. She's been teaching for years, and she knows what she's doing. She's an incredibly fair teacher with all her students and sadly, people don't treat her fairly by judging her before they know her.
I can confidently say there's an excellent education to be had at Harding. I know people always assume my daughter is doing well in school because she's bright to begin with but really the credit should go to her teachers .
I agree with the sentiment that a child's educational experience is largely shaped by what the parents do at home with their child, but I have seen my son blossom under Ms. Smallfield's care. He's engaged in his work, incorporates what he's learning in class at home, and has told me a number of times in a very serious voice that when his little sister comes to Harding he wants her to have Ms. Smallfield because he really likes her. Lisa di Prima, the art teacher, boasts a big fan base among kids - both at Harding and at her Richmond art class. One pre-K parent who had attended the November tour later told me that she was excited to see Lisa because Lisa has great rapport with the kids and has them create wonderful projects. While my son is not in Ms. Leitch's class, I've have nice conversations with her and met many a parent who is a fan of hers, along with their children. There is always a parent or two who lingers and talks with both teachers when class ends for the day. And I have great respect for Mrs. Taylor, who has had to deal with ongoing construction problems for a school that was supposed to be done last May. She has been at every PTA meeting I've attended this year. And she even called me at home to apologize for having a scheduling conflict that was going to keep her from attending an evening committee meeting that I was hosting.
As one of the tour coordinators, I greatly appreciate the kindergarten teachers' and Mrs. Taylor's consent to allow us to come into their classrooms, given how disruptive it is to have parents often with magnifying glasses troop in while they are conducting class. In the end, I wasn't as concerned with how many of the families in attendance were impressed with Harding or committed to going to Harding, rather I was pleased because I felt we had articulated why we are here. That said, it was a bonus to get positive feedback. A boy from my son's former preschool told my son when we went to pick up my daughter one afternoon that he is Harding bound. His father was at the November tour. I heard that another family went to the office after the tour and asked for visitors' badges to see the rest of the school because they had already decided on Harding.
Remember that tours are snapshots. Tours should be supplemented by talking with parents who have children in attendance. I highly recommend that pre-K families attend other school tours to put everything in perspective. Anonymous may very well find that his or her needs would be better served at another school.
I also know many families have a very good experience at Harding, as evidenced by all of the glowing postings. So, I write this just to encourage you to spend some more time observing and getting to know Harding before you make your decision. Feel free to email me directly if you would like more feedback.
It might be helpful for you to consider the following:
(1) Do you want a school where you can feel part of a community, make friends with your neighbors, and possibly walk to school?
If the answer is yes, I would think seriously about attending Harding. Also, be prepared. A lot will be asked of you in terms of parent involvement but it's the only way we can fund art/music/science in the classroom, pay for field trips, and offer after school enrichment. You will be asked to step up and support the school with your volunteer time and to participate in fundraisers.
(2) Are you comfortable having your daughter attend school with kids who are hearing impaired, are of a different race, may be learning English, and may be poor enough to qualify for reduced school lunch?
This is true of most public school classrooms. If this makes you nervous, I would consider private school.
(3) Are you prepared to pull your daughter out of the classroom after school has started?
If you are planning to transfer to Madera or Kensington, you should know that both of these schools are highly desirable. You may need to stay at Harding for a few days/weeks, perhaps even a few years waiting for a spot to open up. It will depend on where you place on the waiting list for your desired transfer option. This can be very disruptive for some kids who don't transition easily. For other children, it's not an issue.
(4) Do you want a school with small class sizes (11-15 students)?
If the answer is yes, there are some private schools that can provide this experience. Private schools vary greatly in terms of expected parent involvement and tuition. Some will require a minimum number of hours from you. Others just want you to write a check. If you want total control over your child's learning environment and would prefer that he or she only be with other families hand-picked by you, I would consider homeschooling.
We love Harding. My son is in 3rd grade and I will be sending my daughter there for kindergarten next Fall. I think it works great for our family but, like any situation, there are pluses and minuses.
With your support and encouragement, your child will probably be fine in almost any school he or she attends. Kindergarten is usually a much harder transition for parents than for the kids.
Best of luck with your decision!
We are currently weighing the pros and cons of moving to Albany vs. El Cerrito and schools are one of our major considerations. Obviously, Albany has a good reputation here but we're still trying to learn more about El Cerrito schools.
According to the BPN postings, it seems as though many Harding parents are very pleased with the school and that it has a great deal to offer. Although test scores are only one piece of the picture for us, I have to say I was scared off a bit when I saw the most recent test scores (in the lowest 1/3 of the state if I'm reading them right) - that seems to be a significant drop from what I'd read before. I'd love to hear from any Harding parents who might have insight into this -- eg., Am I reading the drop in scores right? Any ideas what might account for it? Are you concerned or do you still feel good about where the school is headed?
I don't want to jump on the Albany school bandwagon based on reputation alone but I also don't want to overlook anything important in this decision. Thanks...
What's kept me at Harding during two years of construction is the great teachers, the wonderful principal, and the amazing parent community. The PTA is very active and this year we launched a website (hardingpta.org), hired a fabulous art teacher, we continue to sponsor music instruction for every classroom, and next year there will be a dedicated science room in the new school building. We're hoping to be able to hire a part-time science teacher to supplement the science curriculum that's already offered. I don't think it in any way hurts my son to be around children who are different. If anything, it has made him more compassionate toward other kids. We'll be sending our preschool-age daughter to Harding year after next.
I do not agree with previous responders' comments regarding the principal and other staff. I do agree that the school has a very strong PTA, and I'm thinking that those parents that are involved in the PTA may have a better relationship with the principal than do I. But, having said that, I should also mention that while I have not participated in the PTA, other than paying dues, I have been extremely available and willing to meet, help in the classroom, etc. to benefit my son. There are some good teachers, and some not so good. But socially and academically my son has not prospered. He went into the school suffering from emotional problems, and at that time both of my attempts at getting him an IEP were unsuccessful. However, knowing this, the prinicipal did not call for further assessment or even schedule an SST meeting when things began deteriorating behaviorally this year. Rather, punishments became more and more punitive as my son's behavior worsened. The entire school (or upper grades only?) is on a ''level'' system that works for many kids, but resulted in my son not having either morning or lunch recess for months. No outside activity for months. There was no flexibility on this, despite the concerns I voiced regarding his need for exercise and socialization. (And fun! We all forget that these kids need and deserve fun!)
My son has recently gotten an IEP because when I realized expulsion was becoming a real possiblity I requested further assessment. Meanwhile, he has been suspended upwards of 15 days, he has developed a school phobia that makes it impossible for him to get to school some days, and has missed hours and days of instruction, sitting in the office or in a kindergarten classroom. And this isn't a violent kid, or an antisocial personality disordered kid. He's difficult; not incorrigable. And, academically, I don't feel too great about Harding either. I really was never concerned with academics either, since my son came from college-educated parents who read to him nightly (still!), since he's very bright, etc., etc. And I too figured the low scores were due to the high number of special ed and ELL students at Harding. Now I'm really not so sure. I heard an anecdote from another parent recently, that a 5th or 6th grade teacher said to this parent ''Why don't these kids get this stuff? They should know this stuff by now!'' And the parent's thinking, ''Well, why don't these kids know this stuff? Nearly all of them have been together at Harding since kindergarten!'' I know my experience has been really exacerbated by my son's emotional struggles, and I know that our schools are severely, grossly underfunded. The principal does not have the support of a vice principal, a school counselor, no school nurse, no librarian. It's horrible. I have no doubt that everyone involved is doing the best they can. But it just wasn't enough for our family, and my son has suffered greatly as a result. Depsite the gross lack of resources, there were things that could and should have been done for my son and simply were not. Someday, in an ideal world, our schools will strive to meet the needs of ALL children.
Meanwhile, might be worthwhile checking out Harding yourself. Take a look at where they've been eating lunch the past two years. Ask some questions about the level system. Sit in on a classroom. Talk to parents that aren't involved in PTA. Get some other perspectives...Good luck!
I just moved to El Cerrito and am wondering about Harding; its PTA, teachers, current construction projects. My little one has a few years to wait for Kindergarten. Does the future of Harding seem bright? Many thanks. Heidi
Those are the positives. On the negative side, the test scores are not all that great although they are improving and the state budget crises is having a negative impact on all public schools. This year, teachers in West Contra Costa agreed to give up a scheduled raise in order to preserve reduced class size and retain counselors but there are no guarantees over the next few years.
However, since we really can't afford private schools and we love living here, we'll continue to do whatever we can to support our neighborhood school.
An added benefit is that after school daycare is adjacent to the school grounds. The same woman has been running the program for at least the past 7 years and she truly cares about the welfare of each and every kid.
If you are the kind of parent who participates in your child's education (i.e., supervising homework, participating in school events) your child should have no problem doing well. Test scores really don't mean much as long as your child is doing well.
I have found that the kids at Harding (as well as other public schools) tend to be more confident and more able to socialize than kids that attend private schools, where their universe of experience is usually limited. In the later grades, 5 & 6, the kids are grouped in math class by ability so if your child excels in math he or she can forge ahead.
If you want a well-rounded, confident child, take a look at Harding (don't be discouraged by the construction!) anon
I am looking to buy a house in the Richmond/Annex/El Cerrito area and am curious about the preschools and elementary schools for my son who is now two. I've heard good things about Harding as well as a coop preschool in El Cerrito. I'm planning on visiting some of the schools and talking w/ the teachers, but any feedback I can get from parents living in the area would be SO greatly appreciated. Lynn
(See also: El Cerrito Preschool Coop reviews)
Both my partner and I are really turned off by parents who push their kids and/or seem overly-invested in their academic accomplishments so we have enjoyed the relaxed, easy going nature of this little school.
My son's teacher Kindergarten teacher, Kathleen Smallfield, is a former microbiologist with over fifteen years experience teaching. We have also found the after school program to be flexible and relatively affordable.
The PTA supports weekly music instruction in the classroom, each teacher is given a generous budget for supplies, and there are a variety of after-school enrichment classes (drama, art, and Spanish, among others). We have also attended the PTA-sponsored ice cream social, family games night, and family math night.
Finally, I've met some pretty cool parents and my son has made several friends.
All in all, we've had a good experience at Harding and we haven't had to take out a 2nd mortgage to pay for private plus it only takes us 3 minutes to get their by car. --Harding Parent
The staff is an incredible group of people who really care about the kids and are dedicated to providing the best possible atmosphere for them. My daughter is an insulin- dependant diabetic and the school faculty was able to adapt and work her needs into the program with minimal disruption.
The afterschool program there is not only affordable but they also have a great staff, with no worries about transportation since they are there on campus.
The PTA frequently sponsors 'family nights' of one type or another, which is a great way for the parents to get to know each other and thanks to their hard work, Harding is more of a community than just another school. I couldn't imagine sending my daughter anywhere else. Happy with Harding
We took advantage of after school care through the city of El Cerrito. It was wonderful to have the program just a short walk away. Staff come and pick up the little ones. It made life much easier. When the kids get older they are able walk over by themselves. If they were not there at the right time we got a phone call asking where they were if we had not notified the after school care program that they wouldn't be there. It really is a special school. Take time to go and visit and see for yourself and let your child also see.
Former Harding Parent and PTA member
Harding is less than 5 minutes away and we love the kindergarten teacher (Kathleen Smallfield). She is a former microbiologist with 15 years of teaching experience and very open/accessible to parents. Both of us have volunteered in the classroom and my son has already made several friends who live close by.
The on-site afterschool program is very affordable and the days/hours are flexible (unlike Hilltop which had very few afterschool slots available if you want a longer day).
The PTA sponsors family games nights, family math nights and has an annual ice cream social. They also offer chess, drama, art and other courses are available through the El Cerrito Rec Dept. The PTA pays for a music teacher to come into my son's classroom once a week plus the teachers tell us they have plenty of money for supplies.
Best of all, my son is eager and enthusiastic to go to school.
We are happy to be at Harding and I would encourage parents in the neighborhood to take a close look at what this school has to offer.
We chose to apply for an interdistrict transfer to Harding and have been very happy there for two years. Harding has taken many transfers the last few years and is not as hard to transfer into as Madera and Kensington-Hilltop. If you are concerned first and foremost with test scores, the latter two will look more attractive on paper, but visit them and see what you think. Harding reflects the diversity of the community, has a super PTA, many experienced and committed teachers, some good afterschool classes and for us, was a good choice for neighborhood convenience and all that allows; walkability, close playmates, etc. Anne-Marie and Tim
Harding is truly a multicultural school. I like the fact that my kids play with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and consider everyone equally as peers. They learn a tremendous amount about other cultures as well.
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