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Harding Elementary School (El Cerrito, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > West Contra Costa County School District > West Contra Costa Public Schools > Harding Elementary School


Questions & Advice about Harding See Also


2010 - 2014 Recommendations


Oct 2013

Re: Moving to El Cerrito or Richmond Annex

When it comes to El Cerrito elementary schools i would say don,t rule out the other options that are there yet. I have two kids at Harding Elememtary and we have been very happy for the 5 years we have been there now.This year we have actually a 1st grade class that came down from Madera. I believe due to space issues.As well as Maderas T-K class. We have kids from Kensington as well that had been on the wait list there.So if those schoola send kids to ours i can just imagine that it might not be so easy to transfer into since they seem to already be overmaxed. open mind


Buying a house in the Harding neighborhood

Sept 2013

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


I am a former Harding parent. Most Harding events such as the fall faire and the ice cream social are open to the community, so join the PTA email list and start being part of the community! http://www.hardingpta.org/PTA/PTA%20Home.aspx. Moms and dads can join the Dad's Club. You'll meet tons of current Harding parents with current info on how it is. EC Mom
My GATE kid ''graduated'' from Harding and is now attending Portola. Our older child went through as well and is thriving in High School.

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


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.

Harding has strong academics, excellent teachers (with a few notable exceptions), and is a very safe campus. It's a beautiful school.


Dec 2011

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


hi, we moved this year from a private school to harding which is our neighborhood school. it's only been a few months but so far, it has been really good. i have found the school community to be very welcoming and friendly with an active pta who supports lots of extras including music once a week and a good afterschool program. my son's teacher is fabulous so that is making for a great year academically. my son is a little slow to make friends, but that is happening now and in general, i have found the kids to be friendly. also, harding has special funding for the next few years that caps all classes at 20 students. i don't know the details of the funding and it does go away eventually, but for now, it's great. being able to walk to school and to have playdates close to home is also a huge plus.

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


July 2011

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


Regarding your question about Harding Elementary School i just want to say to not rule it out already...my daughter is going into 2nd Grade after the summer so we have been at Harding for 2yrs now and sure like every public school you need to do your part...help out at recess or just buy some supplies for the classroom...the testscores are steadily getting better and the school has been lucky to not have to increase class sizes yet as so many other schools(amongst others Kensington)My daughter has been very happy with her teachers and she is very happy at the school,which is important to me.The teachers have always had time to talk or give advice or listen to any concerns i might have had.There are many great enrichment programs to choose from which she has enjoyed alot..We live close and bike or walk to school most of the time.Personally it gets very frustrating when i see my neigbours driving their kids to school all over the place without even having looked into their own neigbourhood school. out of fear?.Out of fear because the numbers don,t look quite as good as others?(we,ll be there i,m sure) We,d probably be there already if parents would support the school they are zoned for.Out of fear that it is more diverse? My daughter is lucky to form friendships with kids from different backgrounds.Out of fear that their kids don,t get the best?what is the best? Go to the open house,go to the Harding Carnival(sept.i think),talk to parents at pick-up.Look ..so many parents send their kids to private school and there they don,t even have those test scores and standards you are asking about. And you know what someone else will really want to go to Harding and would love to have your spot! Astrid
The academic standards are pretty much the same in all California classrooms and are mandated by the state.

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.


Hi, I have a preschooler and am zoned for Harding as well. Everyone in my neighborhood loves Harding and sends their kids there. I have a friend who lives in the neighborhood and works for Albany schools and she plans on sending her kid to Harding even though she is allowed to send them to Albany (she plans on sending her child to Albany schools for middle and high school). She told me she has examined the demographics and scores between Harding and the Albany elementary schools and kids in the same ethnicity groups score EXACTLY the same between the schools. The major difference betweenthe schools is that Harding is more diverse. Don't knock Harding yet!

2005 - 2009 Recommendations


Changing from private school to Harding

Nov 2009

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


The WCCUSD Kindergarten curriculum is less than inspiring. Nonetheless, I would encourage you to try Harding. We had a rough K year there, enough that I went and toured the other options, but first grade has been fabulous. We could not be happier. Personally, I would enroll at Harding and write the principal a brief (1 page ) letter about what your child needs from a teacher, so they can consider that when assembling classes. The good: diverse family backgrounds (everybody's dad isn't an attorney), some great teachers, hardworking principal, involved parent community, Dad's club, neighborhood school. The bad: a few deadweight teachers that are hard to get rid of, mandated curriculum, so-called "bad district.'' Overall, the plus has outweighed the minus for us. Harding parent
My kids had a great experience in kindergarten at Harding so I was surprised by the somewhat negative comments of the previous post.

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.


I second what the last person responded regarding Harding K- program.I just wanted to add that I currently have a child in the K program and we LOVE his teacher. She is new this year. Young, vibrant and inspired. Our son is thriving. We have another child at the school and didn't have a great K year with that child. But the subsequent years have been good. It is a wonderful community, very diverse, which we love. I agree about some teachers who have been there and should probably move on because they are burned out and uninspired but, they have seniority. Each year it seems we either lose or are on the brink of losing some really stellar teachers and that is really unfortunate. There is a large group of parents that are very involved in the school. Even though we don't raise as many funds as Kensington or Madera we are a committed community of families and that outweighs the negatives. Harding parent
May 2009

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


Hi there. I have two kids at Harding. One finishing up 3rd grade and the younger one finishing up kindergarten. I don't think that test scores are the end-all and be-all, but I also understand that it matters to a lot of parents. First of all, our test scores are trending upward and should go up again. More on that later. When we started kindergarten, the principal was moving on and while I really liked her as a person, she was pretty tired and already on her way out. The school was also under construction for 3.5 years, which drove away many resident families who didn't want their kids in portables or in a construction area. Our first year, the kids didn't have a playground because the portables were still on campus. Our second year, we got a rookie principal who made numerous mistakes and alienated the parents and teachers, so in a sense that was a lost year in terms of leadership. Last year, we got Mrs. Garrett, and she is fabulous. The kids are her first priority. She came in and said these kids are bright, so why are the test scores not reflecting that. She really worked hard with the teachers to get them on board and to give them resources and tools to help the kids. If you look in the classrooms, you'll see what the weekly lesson plans are so that not only the teachers know what's expected of them, what they're supposed to do, but the kids also do, too, which is actually important. So everyone knows - teachers, students and parents: Here's what you're learning and why. She has created an atmosphere for celebrating the kids and telling them that they are all scholars who can succeed. Before last year, the kids were never given the practice tests to understand strategizing, etc. The difference showed a year later in the scores. She is on the yard and visible before school and throughout, going in and out of classrooms routinely. Now I will say that we are losing four absolutely stellar teachers in 4th and 5th grades, and that is tragic; they and we parents are a victim of the teachers' union, which deems seniority above all else as the number one criterion for getting a position in the district. We have a grant that enables us to keep class- size reduction in the upper grades and even in K and 3rd, so our school is very attractive to many teachers. These teachers have gotten pink slips because these senior teachers want their spots. I have a major, major problem with this, but sadly there is little our principal or even parents can do about this. It's a teachers union criterion for WCCUSD. We just hope the incoming teachers are as good as the ones we have/had (but really, why do they have to go in the first place?). Otherwise, we are happy with Harding. Our family and others have worked very, very hard to boost the school from what it was when we entered kindergarten; let me emphasize that the school has made great strides in the last four years. Our kids have formed great friendships, as have we with the parents. We are big boosters of the school. Happy Harding parent
My son just graduated from Harding. He was there for 7 years and he struggled in some academic subjects. He had compassionate teachers willing to help him reach his full potential. He also took full advantage of all that the school has to offer. He has a nice group of friends, played in the band, loved the art classes and fun in science lessons, enrolled in the after school enrichment classes, enjoyed being a conflict mediator, acted in a play, etc.

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.


Harding after-school programs

April 2008

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


The after school program is really three programs: (1)Harding Park--This is a city-run on-site wrap around daycare program. It includes most of the elements you would find in any rec program: some structured activities (dance, Spanish, crafts), homework help, snacks, and lots of opportunities for free play. There is also a before school program available for parents who need it.

(2)There is also low cost/free childcare available for families who are low-income. This grant-funded program includes all of the above plus offers after school tutoring/academic intervention. For kids who are struggling academically, it provides extra help. Children receive a healthy snack in the cafeteria and then are escorted to small group tutoring. After tutoring, they go back to join the other kids. Tutoring is also provided for kids who are not low-income.

(3)The Harding After School Enrichment program is a partnership between the PTA and the City. K-6 students take a variety of classes: dance, guitar, tennis, chess, science, etc. The offerings change each term and there is a fee for each class. The PTA and city also provide scholarships for any student who cannot afford the fees.

All 3 of these programs use the Harding campus and the integration is fairly seamless. My kids absolutely love the enrichment classes and my son met his best friend in the on-site after school program. It's not perfect (what is?) but when compared to most of the schools in the district, I think this is one of the strongest, most diverse (in terms of what is offered) and most affordable programs around. Harding mom


On the Harding Wait List

April 2008

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


May 2008

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!


April 2008

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


I only have one child attending kindergarten at Harding so I can't speak about the older grades. I can say that we have been really happy with the after school program. I was concerned about sending him there but I have be pleased. The teachers there are really warm, thoughtful, and willing to respond to requests. Harding also offers after school classes on site that my son loves. The parents in his class are really friendly and have been willing to exchange child care when needed. His class is great. He runs to school in the morning and has been learning a lot. Again, I don't know how the other grades will be, and I can't say anything about the greater school culture, but so far so good. mw
[Editor] Advice was also received for Harding after-school programs
March 2008

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


I have a fifth grade student at Harding and I think it's an excellent school.

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/


JCC After Care-Tranportation from Harding

May 2007

I have signed my daughter up for the JCC kindergarten after care program, Center Stage, in North Berkeley. She will be attending kindergarten at Harding Elementary in El Cerrito in the Fall and needs to have transporation from Harding to the JCC 3 days / week at 11:50. The JCC needs to have 3 or more kids from each school in order to schedule a pick up. I would love to hear from any other Harding families who are signed up for the same program or would consider it. You can go to their website to get more info and print out an application http://www.jcceastbay.org/jcc/center_stage.htm. It's suppossed to be a great program, open to everyone and serves the Albany, Berkeley and WCC schools. Additionally, If anyone has any suggestions for a transporatation service I might use that would pick my daughter up from school and take her to the JCC after kindergarten gets out I would love to hear about it. Thanks, Nicole


I've heard good things about the JCC program. We considered doing an off-site program and ended up going with the on-site program instead. From what I can tell, most of this year's current kindergarten families are enrolled at Harding Park. They also provides escorts to and from after school tennis, art, yoga, basketball, music and science classes--the offerings vary each term. Recently, we were informed that this city-run program is eligible to receive an after school grant that may significantly reduce the cost for incoming families. JCC is an excellent program but I would encourage families to check out all the after school options, including the on-site daycare facility. Spots at Harding Park tend to book up fast so if you are interested, I would reserve space ASAP. For more info about after care options: http://www.hardingpta.org/school/childcare
April 2007

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 Elementary in El Cerrito (a West Contra Costa public school) is a very welcoming school for all types of families (same-gender parents, single parents, multi-ethnic families, etc). There will be an open house in late May. Get more info and/or ask specific questions via its website, www.hardingpta.org. -- Harding parent
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 kids are very comfortable there. They love their teachers, have made friends easily, and we have felt welcomed by everyone in the parent community. Most of the public school parents I speak with tell me that their schools are very tolerant/accepting of all family types. Our school welcomes any parent (gay or straight) who is willing to volunteer in the classroom, attend PTA meetings, or help plan student activities.

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.


September 2006

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.
kindergarten mama


Kindergarten, and so far 1st grade, at Harding has been a wonderful experience for my child and for me. Kindergarten with Ms. Smallfield was appropriately academic in a fun way. The PTA- sponsored art and music were also outstanding. We are looking forward to five more years at Harding! Check the Harding website, www.hardingpta.org, for events and activities open to the community and you'll see for yourself
-- go Tigers!
My son is a first grader at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito. He had a fantastic kindergarten year. Both teachers have been teaching for years (in the teens). His was a former microbiologist. Both teachers are incredibly approachable and really good and patient with the kids. His teacher had a good read on him (strengths and weaknesses, one of which I wasn't aware of), which helped my husband and me in terms of how to work on those weaknesses at home.

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.
pen


We chose Harding over a couple of other public schools in El Cerrito/Kensington because of the reputation of the teachers + the PTA. Despite an unanticipated + uncharacteristic start to our Elementary School career, we are pleased to have transferred to Harding Elementary. I truly believe the rough start (due to extra + extra-wonderful Kindergarteners being enrolled!) was quickly remedied because of the support and quick action of the PTA and our Superintendent. Additionally, the Kindergarten teachers (all 3, now) have been fantastic -- they know their strengths, they concientiously listen to the children and quickly address the needs + energies of same, and... my son has already requested that his teacher be invited to dinner! A ringing endorsement if I've ever heard one
Happy 2 keep it strong at Harding
June 2006

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


After two years in portable classrooms during a major re-construction where enrollment and morale dipped, I have seen a renewed energy at Harding now that we are in the new building. Last year Harding parents raised enough money to sustain and expand the art, music, and science offerings. We also had more field trips than in past years. Our parent community launched an extensive after school enrichment program that has been very popular, formed a parent softball team, upgraded the school website, and significantly expanded the collection of books in the library.

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 am a Harding parent and I think Harding is great. The best thing about Harding is that everyone is so normal. Normal kids, normal families, normal teachers -- this is good, there seem to be no negative extreme behaviors such as unruliness or snobbiness. Most families seem to be from El Cerrito, with a few from Richmond Annex and Marina Bay. Everyone's contributions are appreciated and there is no pressure to contibute, time or money, more than you can. Although I have not spent much time on the playground or lunch room, kids seem to be having fun and are well supervised. On-site after-school care for Harding and Madera is from the City of El Cerrito Recreation Dept. I like the after-school care a lot as well. The kids are engaged and having fun. If you visit the current El Cerrito summer day camps, you will see many of the same kids and staff as the after-school care. --We like Harding
Most of the families that attend Harding are from El Cerrito. We also have a few transfers from Richmond, particularly the Richmond Annex due to its proximity to the school. This year we had a few transfers from Kensington and Madera. Not sure what the reason was but one parent told me he liked the parent community at Harding.

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.


My son finished kindergarten at Harding (my daughter will attend in 08), and we are very happy there. We are a transfer family, though we are close enough to walk to Harding, which we do twice a week with another family. There are a fair number of transfers to Harding; if you look at the resident boundary for Harding on the WCCUSD Web site, you'll see that Harding's draw is a very narrow peninsula and many older folks live in the draw. Many of my son's friends live in the Richmond Annex, close by. A lot of families are moving into the Richmond Annex area, friends who live there tell us.

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.


November 2005

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 read with great dismay the recent post by a parent who attended the K tour at Harding. Not everyone who attended that tour felt the same way as this parent. I have spoken with 2 parents who are kind of stressed that their transfer request to attend Harding won't be accepted.

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.


I was not there the day of the tour, so I can't respond specifically to what you observed that day. My daughter is currently in Ms. Smallfield's class. I have volunteered in class and my daughter loves going to school. Not only does she find school fun, but my daughter is receiving instruction on and learning according to the very-detailed California Content Standards, as should be the case at all public schools. The greatest intangible of Harding is the nice sense of community and that whatever families can do, or can't do, for the school is accepted and appreciated.
From my experience in the classroom last year, your concerns about Harding are completely unfounded.

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 am responding not to convince the anonymous poster who is requesting "the real story" on Harding of how wonderful our K teachers, art teacher and principal are, rather I am addressing other families out there who are considering Harding and haven't gone on the tour yet and acquaintances who have approached me and expressed interest in Harding.

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.


Because my child did not begin attending Harding until 3rd grade, I can't speak to the quality of the K teachers. I would like, however, just to contribute an alternate view to those I saw in response to your posting, and say that our experience at Harding was much less than positive. Your observation regarding the lack of support staff was my experience also, most likely a function of lack of funding from the district. I also did not find the enrichment classes to be a positive experience for my child, who got pretty turned off to art and PE as a result.

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.


This is in response to the recent posting of a parent who attended a Kindergarten tour at Harding and had some reservations about one of the Kindergarten teachers. As a current k-parent (and previous tour taker) I also noticed that one of the k-teachers got a bit stiff and nervous in front of groups of parents and I was also a bit concerned. But speaking from experience of her as a teacher she has proven herself to be fantastic. My child (who is very challenging, bright, and talkative) has benefitted greatly from being in this teacher's class. She not only has learned a lot academically (I couldn't be more pleased with her letter and number recognition and her beginning reading skills) but she also loves her teacher as a person and recognizes in her a kind and caring influence. Is this teacher a great on-stage performer? No. But is she a really strong and positive teacher? Yes. And, in the end, that's what I decided was more important in terms of my child's academic performance.
Harding is a fine school, it is a public school, same district as Madera and Kensington, that means they all teach the same curriculum. You must have caught the teachers on an off moment because they're both very good. In the lower grades there is often a parent ''helper'' in the classroom, but again this is public school and there are no paid aids (aside from special needs teachers for individual students). The PTA is strong and there are some very hard working parents involved. I highly recommend you choose your neighborhood school and work to support it. Harding parent.
Part of the school choice process is to examine your own values. Choosing a school in the East Bay is a bit like shopping for a house. If you are a picky parent, you will probably have to make some compromises.

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!


Harding Park Before and Afterschool Program

Oct 2005

My child will be a kindergartener next year, possibly at Harding Elementary in El Cerrito. I will require before and after school care and have looked into the rec. center program at Harding Park. I was shocked to find out that this program will cost $850 per month! Do any current parents using this program have insights about this program, thus warranting the very high cost for part time care? I'd appreciate the feedback. The last review was not favorable and a few years old. Thanks!


I wish the City of El Cerrito would increase the subsidy for its on-site after school programs. Affordable after school care is a challenge most parents face in this district and throughout the state. It's really unfortunate that our governor promised to fund after school programs before he was elected and has yet to deliver. It puts parents like you in a difficult situation. Harding Park is expensive compared to some of the other options but, for me, it's worth it because of the convenience of on-site care. Also, I understand that approximately 50% of the Harding kindergarten kids go there so your son or daughter is likely to be with other kids they know. The facility is very cheerful and they have their own separate play structure. Rayel, one of the staffers, is a particular favorite of mine. He is very kind. I sometimes also see the kids walk in and give Nousheen, the director, a hug. It will be even nicer next fall when the landscaping is finished at the school because there will be a lot of greenery around the Clubhouse.

Harding Park works fine for most of the parents I know but if you have concerns about the program, I would suggest looking at other alternatives such as hiring someone to provide care (perhaps sharing with another family to reduce the cost?) or looking at home-based preschools that offer after-school spots. I have heard good things about De Los Ninos near Del Norte BART too. Also, just so people know, not all elementary schools in El Cerrito have the option of on-site after school care. Fairmount students are transported over to Harding Park in a van for after school care.


My twins attended Grace for 3 years. It was a wonderful, relaxed, non-academic (which I wanted!) environment for them. One of Grace's biggest pluses is the large play yard. It has a number of different areas for the kids to disperse to and is really much nicer than many of the playyards in the preschools I visited. The families were very warm and friendly and committed to the school. The only negative I would say, and I think it is a negative common to co-ops, is that when you have parents working sometimes it seems like discipline is a little tentative. My son, in particular, could be somewhat intimidated by loud, rough, aggressive boys ! and not all parents were willing to take that on in their co-oping days. That was really only a problem one year -- it was just the mix of kids attending that year. If you'd like to talk any further please email me off- list. I usually don't read the schools message board and just happened on it this time. Erin
My daughter is in kindergarten at Harding and attends the daycare at the Harding clubhouse. Yes, at $5.50/hr, the monthly total is a little high. But the most expensive block, kindergarten care from 11:50-2:30, goes away after one year. Also, you don't pay for days the program is not open, thus November, with four holidays, is slightly cheaper than was September. I like the convenience of the program being onsite; I like the sense of community my daughter feels by being together with older Harding students and the students who come by van from Fairmont and Castro; I like it that after being in a classroom with a lot of structure, that she has a lot of free play in day care. We visited the daycare three times the spring before she started kindergarten. I would recommend making an appointment to visit and asking for references from current parents. --Liz

Before and Afterschool programs for Harding in EC

Sept. 2005

My daughter will possibly attend Harding Elementary in El Cerrito next Fall. I am looking for before and afterschool programs besides the recreation department. I'm in shock at the cost of this program and imagine that there must be other alternatives close to school. Thanks.


We used Harding Park a few days a week for after school care when my son was in kindergarten and it was very convenient (the staff collected him from the classroom and walked him across the lawn to the clubhouse). Also, he had a few friends going there so it was nice for him to see familiar faces. I think the City of El Cerrito does offer some scholarships but don't know what the income cut off is to qualify.

There is also a family day care called ''A Mother's Care'' near the school. The owner, Colene Turrell, has a few after school spots for kindergarteners. It is a Waldorf-based program. She reads books and does artwork, crafts, and sometimes bakes or gardens with the kids. I don't know what her fees are but if you would like to check it out, her e-mail cturrell AT sbcglobal.net


Childcare at Harding Park is expensive but that's pretty much true of most after school rec programs. The staff need to make a living wage.

I wanted to suggest a low-cost alternative. I know of at least one SAHM at Harding who gets paid to bring another child home with her every day from school. She wants to be at home with her children because her youngest is a toddler but she needs to makes some extra income. Her ''client'', a single working mom, needs to work so she has a place for her that is cheaper than an after school rec program.

You may want to consider which friends or neighbors are planning to go to Harding for kindergarten and ask how they would feel about this kind of an arrangement. Also, I think if you pay the registration fee which is around $50, Harding Park will let you do pay-as-you-go drop-in so that gives you a backup in case of emergency.


May 2005

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...


From attending a recent open house at Harding, I understand that the Harding test scores reflect an average of all students there, including the relatively large population of special needs students. potential Harding parent
I'm a second grade parent at Harding, active in the PTA, and I can assure you that while the scores did fall slightly last year, over the last five years they have gone up around 55 points. There are a couple of factors that impact test scores at Harding. The biggest one is that, percentage-wise, we have the largest number of special ed students of any elementary school in the district. There are five ''special day'' classes. Two of these classrooms are for hearing impaired students and many of the children in these classes have significant language or developmental delays. Sadly, one of the rules of No Child Left Behind is that students like these are required to be tested at their age grade level, not their ability level. These classrooms have a smaller student to teacher ratio and are somewhat (although not totally) segregated from the rest of the school population. The blending/averaging of scores from special day classes and the general education classes doesn't give an accurate picture of student performance in either program. Another factor is that having been in portables for two years during a $14 million reconstruction project, our enrollment has dipped. Fortunately, the school will be finished this fall.

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.


My daughter went to Harding from K through 6th Grade. I guess the school's overall test schools are considered mediocre, however, it is a big mistake to equate mediocre test scores with a mediocre education. If you value education, your child will probably do well almost anywhere. Some bright kids don't test well and others don't do well in school because, from what I have observed, their parents don't value education and don't monitor their child's progress.I was very satisfied with the education, with the exception of one teacher. Fortunately, the next year's teacher more than made up for it. My daughter found ! a great group of friends, most of who are now at Portola Middle School with her. The teachers and administrators are very responsive to any concerns. I live in El Cerrito and enjoy seeing a large group of kids walking to Harding in the morning with a couple of parents. The PTA is very involved and funds a number of great programs, notably, a music teacher for the lower grades. My daughter still visits Harding after school and really loves the teachers there. My advice is to check it out, and talk to some PTA members. harding fan
We are sending our son to kindergarten at Harding Elementary School this fall. We attended the open house in February and really liked the principal and what the parent speakers had to say; it showed us how committed and caring they were. I already know a number of Harding parents, and Iím really impressed by their commitment, not just to their childrenís education, but to the school. I know that Hardingís scores arenít impressive like the test scores at Kensington, Madera, or the Albany schools (I know that some Harding parents will be addressing the specifics on Hardingís scores). For my husband and me, affording our two children a great education is not tied to test scores. When I say great education, I mean one that enriches their lives and makes them want to learn more, as opposed to having curricula solely focused on getting kids to score high on standardized tests, which is something that my mother-in-law says is happening not only at the school where she teaches but at many other schools. (Iím not saying this is whatís happening in our area, but my two sisters, one of my cousins, and a few friends are teachers in and out of state, and they say that this seems to be the trend these days.) My husband and I spend a lot of time enrichin! g our childrenís live; we read to them every night, we take them to museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, etc. My next-door neighbor, who teaches at Portola, told me that our kids would be fine because of our commitment. ďA childís education begins in the home, and how well they do in school begins in the home,Ē she always tells me. A few subgroups at Harding arenít performing well in standardized testing. Iím not going to go too much in depth over this phenomenon because itís a complex issue. But suffice to say, if you have a solid and growing group of parents dedicated to continually improving the education of our children, the school overall will naturally improve. Iím willing to roll up my sleeves to see how I can help not just with my childrenís education but especially those who donít have the advantages that my children have. For instance, I am a journalist and fiction writer with a degree from a creative writing program, and I would love to volunteer to teach a creative writing class to the upper classes as part of the after-school enrichment program. I feel that itís critical to expose kids at a young age to how much fun and important reading and writing are because writing shouldnít! be something that kids loathe or are afraid of, which unfortunately is often the case. A love/appreciation of reading and writing will surely benefit them the rest of their education and life. ďIt takes a villageĒ is my philosophy when it comes to making our public school system work. Making a school great is a collaborative effort involving teachers, students, and parents. My husband and I look forward to being active parents at Harding, and Iím especially looking forward to being a part of the Harding community this fall. Patty and David
My family has been at Harding for 5 years. My two children are in 4th grade and kindergarten, and we've been happy with our experience at the school. The teachers cover the basic curriculum, and then each year is infused with something special, depending on the teacher's interests. Over the years, my kids have had strong experiences in arts & crafts, hands-on science, and drama & public speaking, in addition to the areas covered by the testing you refer to. I've been impressed by the way many Harding teachers also pay attention to social skills. Some do it through formal curriculum. Many teachers continually work on social skills in spontaneous situations. One day last year I was late picking up my son, and he and 4 other 3rd graders were gathered around a 1st grade teacher. Oh no, I thought, what happened? The teacher later told me she had come out of her classroom to find one student pushing another. Her first thought was that this wasn't the beginning of the story. So she brought the children together and had each one talk tell his story. It turned out that a misunderstanding had changed a friendly game into hurt feelings. After talking with this teacher, the kids involved were able to continue playing. I was impressed that the teacher, first of all, didn't label anyone as a bully! or just send the whole group off to the office. Second, the teacher knew the names of all 5 of the children, even though only 2 had been in her 1st grade class. Third, she took the time to do this even though she was off duty for the day. It's kind of hard for me to square Harding's API (those test scores) with my children's experiences. I think part of the answer lies in the fact that a large percentage of Harding students (15-20%?) are in all-day special ed classes, and many of those students probably aren't scoring at the proficiency level. Interestingly enough, what appears as a weakness when measured by test scores is part of what drew my family to Harding. The large number of special ed students has helped produce an atmosphere of acceptance at the school. For a small school (around 300 students), the Harding community is composed of an amazing range of families. This year's kindergarten families are a wonderful group. It's been a lovely experience getting to know a new set of children and parents and coming together as a group who support and enjoy each other. I think it's important to be really clear for myself about just what the test scores and API rankings mean. Most importantly, I don't think that the scores correlate with the quality of teaching. My 4th grader's test scores rank high in national percentiles. I'm fairly well convinced that that would be the case no matter which school my child goes to. We could have attended another school in the district with very high scores, but we chose Harding because we had seen good teachers in action in the classrooms and were welcomed by the family community. Harding parent
Just to put in an alternate perspective regarding Harding Elementary...I have not been happy with my child's experience there. And it has nothing (or not much) to do with test scores and API rankings.

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 am sorry to hear that the person who posted an alternative perspective about Harding is having such a bad experience. It sounds like a very difficult situation for you and your family. No school is perfect and perhaps Harding is not a good fit for your child. All schools have their strengths and weaknesses. Also, attending meetings and being involved has helped me get to know other parents, learn more about the school, and I have enjoyed working on projects that benefit the teachers and the students but it hasn't given me any special access to the principal or the teachers. There are lots of ways to contribute beyond joining the PTA--working in the classroom, joining the school site council, volunteering in the library, writing a check, or attending school events. These are equally important.
After reading last week's post on Harding, I felt that my son's story needed to be told. He entered Harding with his own set of issues -- poor interactions with other kids, erratic self- control in class and on the playground. Thank goodness for his teachers and special ed therapists! They hung in there with him through a very difficult period. My positive feelings about Harding grew out of this experience, and not out of any involvement with the PTA. Quite honestly, I felt like I was hanging on for dear life those first years of elementary school, and didn't have the energy to do more than pay PTA dues. The good news is that my son has come a long way, and the staff at Harding really helped him. Another reason I'm writing is to elaborate on the assessment and IEP process. Parents may not know that they! can initiate this process. A good resource for learning more about this subject is the website of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (or DREDF, pronounced ''dread f''), www.dredf.org. Go to the Children and Family Advocacy section and click on ''IEP Process.'' anon

2004 & Earlier


December 2003

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


We've been very happy with Harding. This is my son's second year there and he has made friends easily, seems to genuinely enjoy school, and both of his teachers have been excellent. I've met some very nice parents who are involved and committed to making sure their kids get a good education and if the new construction goes according to schedule, we should have a brand new school in a year or two and I think that will make it even more attractive.

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.


I wanted to make a few comments about Harding School. My family has been part of the school for the past eight years and our experience has been excellent. The school has a highly dedicated staff of experienced teachers who really care about the kids. In addition to the core curriculum, the school offers art,music, poets in the classroom, band (4-6) and after school classes. We have family math and game nights, and multicultural nights to celebrate and appreciate our diverse student population. We have a variety show and Spring concert to showcase the many different talents of our kids. There are 20 kids per class (K-3) and an average of 28 kids per class(4-6). There are computers in every classroom and we just received a grant to add more. The school is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed next year. The school population is small and diverse and the PTA is active. Harding is a great school and I have never regretted my decision to put my children there. My children have thrived both academically and socially and our overall experience has been positive. ls
This is a reply to a parent's request for info. on Harding school in El Cerrito. I have a second grader at Harding and I think the future of Harding does look bright. Althought the West Contra Costa school System itself may be troubled. Harding has a great group of kids, some very dedicated teachers and an active PTA. The construction is on schedule, so far, and we should be in a nice new facility next fall 2004. Georgia
Well I have a son in the 2nd grade at Harding and we are supremely happy!He attended Fairmont for 1st grade and we were dissapointed not in the staff but in the community of children and parents. Harding has a small but mighty community and an incredibly diverse population of students (which makes us VERY happy).My son has 2 teachers who job share/team teach and it is fabulous. The program is rich with arts and music and we are hoping to begin several reading clubs and ''word wizard'' spelling competetions. The school is under construction,but as a community I think we are all dealing with it quite well,and everything is moving along very smoothly so next year we will have a FABULOUS new campus.I like the neighborhood feeling at this school. Everone feels welcome!Please ask if you have more questions! Oh by the way the Principal,Ms.Taylor is divine... Danielle
To those parents asking about Harding Elementary in El Cerrito: My daughter started at Harding in kindergarten and now is in 6th grade. I had the usual qualms about public school in West Contra Costa because of test scores and lack of district money. However, the teachers each year have been excellent, except for one year. The PTA raises a decent amount of money each year, enough to provide financial support for field trips, and for the hiring of a music teacher for the lower grades.

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


Afterschool care for Harding Kindergartener

Sept. 2003

Hi, My daughter is in K at Harding Elementary in El Cerrito. Though she/we love her teacher, kindergarten in this district is released at 11:50 a.m., thus necessitating, for our family, after-school care. She is currently enrolled in the after-school care program run by the city of El Cerrito, which has been, to say the least, disappointing for us, and not at all cheap. Does anyone know of a good, dependable, affordable afterschool program that would pick my daughter up at Harding and provide her with a reasonable amount of enrichment and kindness until 5:30 p.m.?

Recommendations received:

  • Casa de Ninos
  • Pride and Joy Preschool
  • Willow Street Schoolhouse
    January 2003

    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


    I can speak to both El Cerrito Preschool Coop and Harding as my children have attended both. Harding has many of the challenges of a public school in a cash-strapped district, but it is diverse, has some really great committed teachers, and good PTA. It's also about to undergo a complete re-build (spring and summer '03) under the bond measure passed a few years ago, so by the time you get there it will be all spiffy and earthquake safe (as much as can be, given our place on the continent). This is a lovely community. Good luck finding a place. Happy in EC

    (See also: El Cerrito Preschool Coop reviews)


    We've seen lots of friends and neighbors get really frantic about choosing a school (public vs. private and local/neighborhood vs. transferring to another school) so we decided early in the process to give Harding (our local neighborhood school) a try.

    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


    I would like to see some comments on Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito. My son will be entering Kindergarten. Any experiences with the school, or any reasons people chose not to have their child go there, are much appreciated. Especially interested in school culture, academics, and resources for children of different abilities - gifted, average, learning problems, etc. Thanks!! Thinking Ahead
    I cannot say enough good things about Harding - We transferred there mid-kindergarten and my daughter is now in second grade. The teachers have all been wonderful and my daughter is actually enthusiastic about going every day.

    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


    I just ''graduated'' after 12 years as a parent at Harding School. We chose Harding for our children and we were able to get transfers for both of our children. I found Harding to be the most diverse of all the area school, it has an extremely active parent network that crosses all ''boundaries''. Most of the teachers have been wonderful, we only had one bad teacher. Unfortunately, there was a large turnover as a number of teachers retired last year, but there are still many fabulous teachers left, I just can't speak on the new ones. Also Harding is the hearing impaired school for the district. My children both were exposed to sign language, with many of the classes having a signing aide assigned to a student in the class. This was a wonderful addition. The City of El Cerrito sponsors the afterschool program and having gotten to know many of the city staff through the years, I have found the staff at Harding to be the best. My children are still friends and stay in contact with the afterschool staff. Hallie
    My two stepchildren attended Harding and have very fond memories. Harding had a diverse population which looked more like the real world. The teachers were (and I believe still are) very dedicated to the students and academics. One of the things that always impressed me was the inclusion of children with special needs with the general student body.

    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


    We live in El Cerrito and based on some of the test scores and a few conversations with other parents who didn't send their kids to Harding, we applied for a transfer to Hilltop Kensington. They were too full to accept transfers this year and we are relieved that it didn't work out.

    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.

    --Harding Parent


    2002

    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


    2001


    My older daughter attended kindergarten through 4th grade at Harding & my younger daughter is now a 1st grader there. I have been very happy with the education provided at the lower grades (K-3rd). The teachers in these grades are experienced, enthusiastic, energetic, warm and supportive. The classes are limited to 20 & are sometimes smaller. I was not happy with my older daughter's 4th grade experience, and she is now in 6th grade at our local Catholic school. Melinda
    1999


    Harding Elementary in El Cerrito has a strong kindergarten program, which would probably offer more room for choices and creativity than what you find at Kensington. I believe there are still some openings for kindergarten. The first and second grade teachers are really wonderful at Harding as well. Please call the school office for more information: 525-0273. The school is located at Fairmount and Ashbury, near Fat Apples. Wendy
    I can recommend Harding as a good school. My oldest son went there and now my two nephews go there. I don't have any specific teacher recommendations but I do know that the PTA is very active. I don't know the current principal. There is an onsite daycare program called the Clubhouse run out of the the cafeteria there. I highly recommend it because my sister is one of the persons who runs it :) but mainly because the other woman in charge is Gail Tsukiyama, a well known author and teacher. My oldest son started with her at the Clubhouse and we all know she is very warm, kind, and attentive to the children she watches over. There is no TV., there is a computer, and many games available. She makes sure homework gets done if there is any, and tries to involve everyone in some kind of project. One year they got together and presented a play that they wrote themselves! They manage to hire a high school student (last year it was a male) to get out and do structured playground games with the kids, flag football, basketball games, etc. They only take children from 1st grade and up. Margo
    We have been very happy with Harding. Both my children have been there since kindergarten and they are now in third and second grades. The teaching staff is quite strong, especially in the lower grades. The class size reduction has had a very positive impact, allowing the teachers to spend more of their time and effort teaching. I could not imagine better first or second grade teachers than my children have had at Harding.

    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.


    I have heard mostly good things about Hilltop, but I know much more about Harding. For instance, a co-worker petitioned for intra-district transfer so that her daughter could attend Harding. Mother and daughter are both delighted. In conjunction with some work I'm doing, I have been observing a class at Harding. When I compare the Harding kids to the other class I'm working with -- in Walnut Creek and one grade ahead -- I find the Harding kids to be just as sharp. I should note that the class at Harding has many more English language learners. Eric
    Harding School: I have been actively involved as a PTA board member for 9 yrs. I feel it is the best school in the district (not knowing Kensington, well....) when comparing flat land schools to hill schools. Most active PTA in the district bringing in $10,0000-$20,000 yr. Top of the line computer lab. Multicultural committee and lending library. Outstanding principle, new last year, Mr. Kerr. I can tell you which teachers are the best and worst. After interviewing 3 private and 3 public schools (when daughter was 2 yrs old, now 12), I then had to transfer out of area my girls in. Aleta
    My son attends kindergarten at Harding. We like his teacher, Michelle Severy. She is very organized and ready for the children in the morning which I've learned is important in the early grades. She seems to promote each child's self-esteem and tries to make learning interesting and fun to keep them stimulated. He is learning sign-language because there are six children in a hearing impaired K-class that attend his class part of the time. I think the class size is about 29. This year Harding had two morning kindergartens, 8:30-11:50. I don't know what is planned for next year. We have been a Harding Family since my eldest son, now in 4th grade, started in 1st grade. We have had a few negative experiences but mostly positive over the years. The boys both have really good, caring teachers this year. The PTA is strong and involved in improving the school. The school has a very nice computer lab with teacher, science room with teacher and library that is run by volunteers. I know that the kindergartners have computer lab and library time each week. I think that overall it offers a good quality education for a public school. Sharon
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