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Kensington Hilltop School (Kensington, CA)
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West Contra Costa County School District >
West Contra Costa County Public Schools > Kensington Hilltop School
K Teachers at Hilltop
We are going to have a son starting Kindergarten next year at Kensington
Hilltop. Can anyone share their experiences about the teachers?
Soon to be Kindergartner's Mama
Can only speak for Ms Gillespie, she was a great fit for our son. He needed a very
structured classroom environment which she provides. She is fast paced, energetic
and creative. I was concerned about him being bored and under
stimulated/challenged, which is not the case in her class. He really likes school,
and will be more than ready for first grade.
Hope this helps!
Kindermom at Kensington
Kensington Elementary School for easy going girl?
My daughter attends a wonderful preschool and is ready for kindergarten in the
fall. We moved to Kensington in no small part because of the public school but
we're having reservations about Hilltop. I've read all of the older threads on the
public vs private debate but am wondering if anyone can offer more current
information about Hilltop. In the past, I heard nothing but glowing reports from
parents about the school, but since then, I've read some reviews that have
We did not register at any private schools but have the option to continue at the
preschool for another year in a bridge K class which caters more to kids not yet
ready for kindergarten and to those children with fall birthdays. Most enroll in
kindergarten after the bridge year. We'd hope to enroll our daughter in 1st grade.
We toured the bridge K class, and while wonderful in most ways, some of the kids
seemed a little bored.
Our daughter is easy going, not prone to complain much, and might get lost in the
shuffle because she is compliant. She is very verbal, but reserved. Otherwise we
have not noticed any deficits or exceptional gifts. We think she's pretty great.
My gut says she would be fine in either environment but we'd like to give her the
most enriching education we can afford. We're kind of regretting that we did not
apply to more of the private schools.
Help! Is Kensington Elementary School still great?
Glad you posted this. We agonized last year over private vs public vs catholic
school. And the only information we could obtain on Kensington were from families
we knew that were attending. Fortunately we ended up at Kensington, and could not be
happier. My son is in Kindergarten with a very dynamic teacher, who tends to be
fast paced, creative, energetic and a great match for him. I was concerned he would
not be challenged academically, but that certainly is not the case. When asked what
he likes best about school, he replied ''everything''. He is learning about Miro in
art class, Beethoven in music class, loves the focus on chemistry in science, and
great focus on reading. The downside is the 3 hour school day for kindergarten, but
we feel the pros of the school outweigh that con. We do not live in Kensington so
have had to make an extra effort to integrate into the community. And there are
tons of means in doing this, from serving on the several committees, to volunteering
in the classroom. I can't speak for the upper grades, but so far our experience is
very positive and we hope the standard set by this year's teacher continues. It's
been a great fit for us.
Happy at Hilltop
Welcome to Kensington. We moved to Kensington for the elem school over 10 years ago
and have had 2 kids go through it--happily and successfully. This is our last year
there and we will miss it. I can remember, though, that first year starting
kindergarten I was full of trepidation too, mostly because it is such a huge step
for the child, and we had loved our preschool too. But change is good when your
child is ready for kindergarten and Hilltop will not disappoint. I hope you are
lucky enough to get Ms Lieberman as your kindergarten teacher (they are all good but
she's amazing). There are some quirky teachers at Kensington, but IMHO, no more bad
ones, and your child will be in an excellent learning environment. Good luck with
I could not be more pleased with Kensington Hilltop. I graduated one and
have one there now. I have found the assignments and classwork to be
interesting and challenging, and I have found the teachers to be caring
and genuinely interested in the well-being of my childern. I'm not a
huge fan of standardized tests, but this school ranks at the top of the
district, and compares to favorably to other ourstanding schools in
Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Marin and further. The Principal, Judy
Sanders, is an outstanding administrator. Don't think so? Go somewhere
else and you will appreciate her tireless and gentle hand!!! I, myself,
have made serveral friends that I will probably keep for life. I think
it would be a mistake if you did not try it. You can always change
Re: How are El Cerrito/Kensington Schools?
I saw two posts in this week's newsletter related to Kensington/EC schools. Hope
this one response gets to both.. We live in Kensington (moved for the elementary
school - and the lower property taxes.) Our kids started at Kindgtn and now have one
in 5th at Kensington Hilltop Elem and our older daughter just went to 7th grade at
Portola middle school. Hilltop is strong academically, good principal- like any
public school has a few undesirable teachers, but scored the highest in this year's
API (if that is important to you) in our school district (West COntra Costa-WCCUSD)
and higher than any Albany or Berkeley elem school. Madera Elem, also in WCCUSD, is
considered a strong elem school. The quickest summation I have for Hilltop is that
both my kids love school, do well in school, and do well socially- and I give the
Hilltop teachers a lot of credit for motivating my kids in each of those areas.
The jump to middle school is much talked about in our Kensington/El Cerrito
community- many kids leave the district for private schools or finagle their way in
to Albany and Berkeley middle and high schools. Since both post-writers are many
years away from making that kind of decision for your younger kids, I won't belabor
the issues related to that, except to say that we decided to stay with our district
middle school and are glad we did. Our daughter has new challenges at
and academic, and continues to excel due to great teachers there and an exceptional
new principal. If you have other questions, feel free to email me directly.
I've read that it's hard to find candid info on KHS, and there are reasons for
this. The community is very, very close and works hard to make the best school we
can. That's one reason. Another is that the school works well on paper. Our test
scores look great, and they are. And finally, if you intend to stay, you can't
publicly call out the elephants on the carpet. It's a smaaaalll world here and we
have to work together.
We have two kids and have been here for 5 years. What we have found is that, as
your kids advance the grades, parents start quietly sharing their suspicions that
the test scores are about the community, not the education. There are a handful of
really terrific teachers, but most are not terrific. Some are really poor. A couple
My daughter was actually verbally abused by one teacher. She was also stuck in a
classroom with a teacher who taught her nothing, and the whole class started the
next grade behind. She was even in a class with a teacher who seemed to be mentally
ill. We complained about this to no avail. A couple years later the teacher was
transferred somewhere else where the community is less powerful, I guess.
There is no GATE program, no matter what anyone tells you. You're on your own to
get your kid engaged in school if that's an issue for you. Many teachers seem to be
against any kind of differentiation. I have heard this from the handful of faculty
who are quietly trying to be creative in the classroom, and have also seen it for
The school is remarkably traditional, and seems to have adopted nothing new,
creative or innovative. In 5 years here, we have yet to have the good fortune to
get one of the sought-after great teachers there. They have lines out their doors.
On the plus side, the parent community works its collective butt off to get
enrichment classes, funding, special events, help in the classroom, etc. It's a
great community, warm, neighborly, and deeply committed to the education. The
school has fabulous opportunities relative to other public schools because of the
The school's principal is very focused on social-emotional health, and this part
works well too. The school is a very positive place culturally, and this reflects
everyone's hard work, as well as the strong values of the community at large.
I would not recommend KHS. And if you did want to go there, you would need to ask
someone who's been here for a while who to avoid. You would also need to accept
that many of the teachers are content with teaching styles that are uninspired and
far behind the times.
So when we get to the later grades like we have, we've seen others sadly giving up
and sending their kids to private schools. The school explains that attrition as
parents getting a jump on avoiding Portola and ECHS -- might as well start private
now. But there's much more to it than that. We just don't say it out loud too
often. But I've spoken to too many disillusioned 4th grade parents -- I know why
they are going to other schools. We too have decided to move to private.
This is in response to the last posting about Kensington school. While I would love to
disagree with the rather negative post, it is in large part true. However, for many,
the pros outweigh the cons.
First, Kensington is a wealthy community, that's true. A lot of parents try to
negotiate a place in the ''preferred'' teachers' classrooms, but I have not found that
their wishes are granted. Some get the ''good'' teachers and others don't. And my
daughter currently has a teacher that her best friend absolutely hated. My daughter
loves her. So, go figure, right?
I think the poster is also right in that it's true that the school tests well because
it is an upper class school (same is true for Albany schools. Teaching can be pretty
mundane, but kids test well because of their social class). But, the same people who
use this argument are the same who refuse to attend our good-and-rapidly-improving
middle and high schools. Test scores drop there because the population is no longer
upper class (but, in fact, the teaching can be quite good). Suddenly, the argument is
no longer valid and they rush to private schools!
Also, many who flee for the private schools (like the poster said, often in 5th or 6th
grade) seem perfectly happy to tolerate mediocre teaching as long as their kids are
surrounded by upper class families. My daughter is in 6th grade this year and will
attend our local public middle school. Meanwhile, some of her friends went to our
local private school this year, where all they talk about is parties, going out,
shopping, and concerts. None have homework. None seem interested in school at all
(it's all about the social scene, who has what, and who is friends with whom). This
has not been the case at the public elem. school, nor at our public middle school,
where students participate in National Jr. Honor Society, volunteer work, science
projects, and so on. Oh, and they get to enjoy a wonderfully diverse student body at
the public middle school, too (just like real life!).
I feel that California schools ARE simply mediocre, at best. It's a crap shoot. But,
great private schools are few and far between. Don't get sucked into the hype without
giving our local schools a try first. If they do not work for you, give private a try.
But, you may find yourself very surprised; who knows? It may be great, for you and
Will NOT be attending private!
Re: Schools with great cohorts
We have kids in those exact grades at Kensington. Their cohorts
are actually really sweet, something we comment on quite often, as
do the teachers. I can't say too much about the kindergarten
cohort as it is still so early in the school year. Academically
our children our challenged and have peers who are equally
academic. We have been incredibly happy there.
Hello BPN folks,
we're considering a district switch and hoping to find some elusive answers to
a few questions about Kensington Hilltop. We would be so grateful if a parent
or educator could chime in.
What can you tell us about the GATE program there currently and is it expected
Class size for 2nd - 5th?
If you are in the El Cerrito area zoned for the school, are you more likely to
get waitlisted? How does it work if you're coming in to a grade later than K?
How do you view the school for a bright kid who thrives with critical thinking,
longer projects and challenging curriculum?
Anything else we need to know?
many, many thanks!
looking for the right school
I can't answer all your questions about Kensington, but our experience
there has been very positive. We transferred in when one child was in
4th and the other in 1st, and the only adjustment we noticed was that
the academics at Kensington were generally more advanced than the
school we left. There are many bright kids who work above grade level
and the teaching there caters to them. There is also a lot of support
for those who need help. GATE funding has essentially gone away, so
there is really no formal GATE program left that I know of. Some
teachers differentiate instruction for GATE students, but how they do
that depends on the individual teacher.
Because we are part of WCCUSD, class sizes are large. I'm not sure
what the 2nd and third grades will have (I think the current max is 28
students) but the 4th through 6th grade classes have 32 or 33 each.
There are extra classes in science (with a required extended science
project each year), art and PE, and a really great after school band
and recorder program. Parents are very involved, and there are lots of
opportunities be part of the school community.
I can't tell you whether or not you are likely to end up on the wait
list, but I can definite recommend the school.
Happy Kensington Parent
HI there, not sure if you will get many responses on this, as I have
noticed, too, that info on Hilltop is hard to get (I had similar
questions when my kids were headed there in the beginning). Can't speak
to the EC transfer issue as we live in Kensington, though my kids have
plenty of classmates with EC addresses.
My kids are bright and energetic and have thrived at the school-- like
any other school there are some great teachers and some that are less
than stellar, but my oldest is in 5th now and I am pleased by the
overall high quality of the school (the principal is great).
GATE is there,and both my kids ''qualify'' but I haven't seen that it
is a super strong program at Hilltop. One year the whole class my
daughter was in was taught GATE curriculum, other years, I don't hear a
peep about it.
Class size jumps up at 4th grade, but unless you're in private school,
it's the same everywhere. You just have to hope for good teachers who
know how to handle it. Hilltop is a solid school, and some teachers
are exceptional and are able to manage the diversity in learnig
abilities of their students-- your child could certainly have a good
experience at Hilltop unless you have unrealistic expectations of a
public school in California.
If you live in the El Cerrito hills area zoned for Kensington Schools you will
be enrolled, not waitlisted, I believe. It's just as if you lived in Kensington
only you have to drive up the hill.
El Cerrito too
My son will be starting Kindergarten this Fall '09 and I am
trying to figure out which program to go for - morning or
afternoon. Schedule is not an issue, rather getting the right
teacher is. I keep getting conflicting information about the
teachers in both programs and would appreciate any feedback or
advice. I am (of course) looking for a nurturing teacher that
prepares him for 1st grade. Thanks for your help!
anon in kensington
Everyone is very good. I really would not worry. Also, there could be
Someone who teaches K might decided to retire or switch to a different
happened last year and there is no saying that it could not happen again.
If I were
you, I might politely make a request, but I would not be upset or surprised
if it did
not get honored.
I sighed when I read your question-- I was very nervous having
my kids start at Hilltop kindergarten because I too didn't know
what to make of the kindergarten teacher options and the school
is not open to observing the classrooms. My kids are now 1st
and 3d graders at Hilltop-- both had good (morning)
kindergarten experiences with the same teacher, though
personally I did not warm to their teacher. I will say that if
you get Ms. Lieberman (who just moved from teaching 1st grade
to kindergarten) that you and your child will have the best
possible kindergarten experience-- she's the most well-rounded
teacher (and all-around person) I've yet come across. The
principal, Judy Sanders, is also a great person to talk with--
she will work with you if you have any concerns along the way.
We've just gone to register our five year old for Kindergarten at
Hilltop (we live in
Kensington) and have been told we're waitlisted. They've instructed us
to show up
at class on the first day of school and that if there's room he can
stay, but if not
they'll redirect him to another school. That leaves us eight months to
worry, and it puts him in an awkward position: imagine a kindergartner
a new classroom and then being told he can't stay! I'm not sure I want
to put him
through that. He's third on the waiting list. Does anyone out there
have any idea of
what kind of odds he has? Any other advice? Thanks.
Today, Jan 31, is the last day of WCCUSD kindergarten
registration. Kensington should have space for 80
kindergarteners. There is no way more than 80 other in-zone
resident 5 year olds have already signed up. The school needs to
know in the next week or two how many in-zone students are
registered so they can notify prospective transfer families.
Transfer families might not know if they are in until the day
before school starts, but I really don't think resident families
should be concerned if they registered on time.
-- WCC parent
I did not see the original post, but hopefully this will help
My child was wait listed last year at Hilltop. I made a big
stink about it because the fact that there was a wait list was
absolutely unacceptable. We just spent $17 million dollars on a
new school that is supposed to serve all of the Kensington
comunity, not just the 80 that show up to register.
So now they know that they have a problem with enrollment, but
they are doing nothing about it. I even asked Bruce Harter
(Supt. WCCUSD) point blank at a PTA meeting, and his response
was the enrollment across the entire district was declining. If
you are a resident of this zone, I encourage you to call him
directly and tell him that he has a problem. You are paying a
lot of taxes to live here and you deserve to send your kid to
the school closest to you. Tell him to hire another teacher,
get another classroom.... make it work.
As an aside, my child did clear the wait list and is now
I'm looking for a safe and creative environment for my child when
she reaches the kindergarten or first-grade level. How are
Madera and Kensington Hilltop in this regard? Do teachers
encourage independent thinking? Do they have open-ended art and
creative writing projects? Do they use manipulatives to help
children learn, or do they mostly lecture? Is bullying a concern
in the school yard? If so, can I volunteer to supervise children
in the yard as often as daily, for the first month or two? My
child may skip kindergarten and enter as one of the youngest kids
in first-grade, as her development so far has been advanced for
her age. Any advice on whether to skip kindergarten at these
schools, or how to ease the transition would be helpful. If
skipping kindergarten makes her social integration too difficult,
we may decide to place her in a private school with mixed-aged
classrooms instead. She is a happy child of average height. She
has many playmates who will be going to Hilltop, both her age,
and a year or two older.
El Cerrito parent
Hilltop teachers use manipulatives quite a bit. Creative writing
is not a big focus, but there is some. The early grade children
largely write journal entries, letters, reports, etc.
Some of the classroom teachers offer a more open art experience.
The environment is warm and supportive with strong community;
many parents volunteer extensively, and you would be very welcome
on the yard. Bullying doesn't really appear until about 4th
grade, and it is not wide spread. There is a ''social/emotional
curriculum'' in place. The vast majority of the kids are
emotionally well-supported children raised by engaged parents,
and consequently the kids are not tough or mean, and they're
getting help at home on social skills.
I haven't met any parents who feel safety is a
problem. Social integration would not be a problem, if your child
is reasonably socially adept. I have seen a few children in my
children's classes who were too young for the peer group (not the
academics) but you sound confident that wouldn't be a problem. I
think the main question to address is whether you're comfortable
with the confines of the state of califonia curriculum. Within
those stringent confines, Hilltop does a superb job.
hilltop parent of two
I have two kids on the waiting lists for Kensington and I wonder if
anyone has any idea
how much movement there is on these lists. Both kids are entering
(NOT kindergarten). What do I do if they don't get in? Am I supposed
to register them,
too? I called the WCCUSD but no one called back. Any suggestions?
This whole proces is such a mystery to me...
The transfer office is overwhelmed with calls at this time of
year from parents asking about where they are on the waiting list
so that may be why you didn't get a call back.
You need to register both of your children at your ''resident''
school soon. Grades 1-6 usually register at their home school
The district website, http://www.wccusd.k12.ca.us/index.shtml,
has a directory of resident schools indexed by street names and
numbers. Once you determine where your resident school is, you
can call your neighborhood school's office directly and ask what
hours they are open for registration.
We applied for a transfer years four ago, didn't get in, and are
very happy at our resident school (Harding) in the El Cerrito
flatlands which has lower scores but more diversity in terms of
race/ethnicity, students with special needs, and socioeconomics.
The teachers are excellent and the parent community is fabulous.
So be aware that there are some very good schools that don't look
so good ''on paper''. The Harding website has some good information
about documents to take with you when you register (PG&E bill,
birth certificate, etc.) and it explains the process step-by-step:
If you call your resident school now they may have an Open House
coming up so you can look at the classrooms and meet the
teachers. It's also a good idea to talk to families in your
neighborhood who actually attend the local school. Most of the
folks I talk to who have bad things to say about W. County
schools have never actually attended one or their experiences are
from several decades ago.
Most of the schools also have websites with information about
their activities. You will find links to those on the district
Best of luck!
I have a child wait listed for Hilltop as well. I am interested
in finding the other people wait listed. I am only interested
in finding residents - not transfers. If you are a resident,
you have been wait-listed and you are motivated and are willing
to work to get good answers and a workable solution, please
contact me directly.
I'm assuming that if you are on the waitlist, then Kensington is not
the school you are zoned for. In this case, you should absolutely
register at your neighborhood school. Depending on where you are on
the waitlist, you may or may not be called with an available opening
after the school year begins. Not knowing how old your children are,
I can say that there are very few openings in the K-3 classes. More
spaces open up each year after 4th grade and up as some families
choose private schools as their kids age and class size increases to
30+. If you have any questions you can call the school office and
speak to the secretary Pam who will probably tell you something
similar but may be able to give you more specifics.
HI Mystified Mom, We have a kindergartener at Hilltop and while
we are zoned for the school, so did not have to petition for a
transfer, I just wanted to let you know that the several times
we called the school last year for various purposes, we also
never got calls back. At the time several people chalked it up
to the fact that the school administration was a bit chaotic as
they were finishing constructing the school and moving back on
campus, etc.. etc.., but even then, you could kind of tell,
calling back people who have left messgaes is WAY DOWN on their
prioirity list. I wouldn't hold your breath. While my child
is doing great at the school and we do like the school
community as a whole, I don't think the Hilltop administration
cares much about having transparent processes/policies,
outreach to new families, etc. etc..-- I would guess showing up
in person might get you a response, but the response may
be ''we'll let you know when it's decided''. Good luck and I hope
they don't make you wait until a few weeks before school
I wanted to thank the people that posted answers to my question. They
helpful. Now I can take some action. What a great resource, thanks
Not Quite as Mystified Mom
I am wondering if anyone has any opinions/information to offer about
vs. Albany Schools. Both Albany and Kensington have great test scores
but I'd like
to know more about the quality of the teaching and teaching methods
the archives, Kensington is described as ''traditional'' - but I'm not
really sure what
that means. I am looking for a school that will engage my child and
not just teach
to the test and the curriculum standards.
Since I can't visit Kensington Hilltop, I can't tell if there is much
diversity -- which is
important to me. Albany looks great in that department, but has no
and I want to make sure that my child is challenged and not bored by
Any insight would be much appreciated!
I recently moved to California and did the weighing realizing
that I would need to not buy a house because the house was great,
but buy the house because of the school my children would then be
able to attend. We looked at Albany as well as Kensington among
many others as well as private. We decided on the Hilltop school
in Kensington,and feel very satisfied. I feel like the teachers
stimulate my daughters and encourage the best in them as
individuals not just as a group. I feel that they are safe and
respected and taught to respect others. The classes are diverse
and the teachers embrace the differences. There is also talk of
making this a k-8 school in the very near future. There is strong
family support. We are very satisfied with our painstaking
decision as we have moved from the midwest this last summer,
where a good public school was expected and more the norm than
the exception. I was shocked to find it such a struggle within
the districts out here . I hope this helps. Good Luck!
Oct - Nov 2005
I'm interested in hearing current posts from parents at Kensington
Elementary. I did some preliminary research of private schools;
Because of their expense and the extraordinary amount of time it takes
to visit private schools, we have decided not to do any further
But....I do cringe when I think about my neighbors choosing Prospect
SIerra over Kensington, about the fact that only 50% of the families in
Kensington use the public school and about all the other people I know
that simply won't consider public schools as an option. It is hard to
good about the decision to send my daughter to public school when it
would simply not be “good enough” for others that can afford to opt out
of the system.
The aspects of public school that I like is that they are egalitarian,
community based and less likely to exert undue pressure on kids. (If I
were paying $18,000 +/- a year per kid at a school, boy would my
expectations be high.) For these reasons, I may send her to Kensington
even if I had the extra money to burn.
In some ways I think I may be lucky to be in the group that can't
private education for two kids. Since for economic reasons it's not a
really a choice, it also feels overwhelming.
Is there anyone who has been slated for Kensington Elementary
school, but has made a decision to send his or her child to
private school instead? If so, can you share your thought
process with me? Where did you decide to send your child?
Thank you for any thoughts you can share.
Hoping For Guidance
We live in Kensington and go to private school. Although we know
many happy families at Hilltop and can see the strong community,
we feel public school's high teacher/student ratio and teaching
to the test does not offer the education we seek for our
happy at private school
we chose private over Kensington Hilltop (3 years ago, for
kindergarten and on) though you may want to re-ask your
question to people who have left Kensington for private school,
since they will not allow parents to observe the classes at
all, and therefore isn't an easy basis for comparison. That was
one of the issues that swayed us towards private, in addition
to concerns about our 5-in-August child who was shy in many
ways, but would be considered a ''good'' student by teachers and
staff- my worry was that in a larger public school her
emotional development might thwart and over-burdened teachers
would depend on her quietness to balance the rowdier kids and
in essence ignore how she's doing emotionally. None of this is
based on my own or 2nd-hand experience of the school itself,
but simply because we knew what pr! ivate school had to offer and
were not allowed to observe in a kindergarten, and their
orientation night was long after the deadline for commiting to
a private school (financially.) Also even though there are
great teachers who can adapt within state standards, the drive
for motivation based on standarized test performance is not my
ideal for education (though I may have to adapt and switch into
a public school in a few years as we cannot easily afford it.)
I didn't read the orginal post but we are choosing public school
Kensington Elementary has a good reputation, we don't like the
exclusive unwrtten curriculm of privledge at private school and we
assure that we'll have $30,000/year +/- (after taxes) to pay for two
to go to private shool plus save money for college and our own
My son entered Kindergarten at Kensington Hilltop in August.
Although it has only been a few months, we are very happy
there. He is learning a wealth of knowledge, has created some
great friends, loves his teacher and has begun reading. ; There
is a great amount of family involvement. I have not had any
negative or positive encounters with the Admin. The Principal,
Jon Stokes seems very nice and attentive on the surface. We
are very proud to be part of this community and support the
Just another opinion....
I'm a bit hesitant to reply to this question, and I intend to sign this
anonymously. However, this feels like such an important issue, and one
that comes up frequently, and I know that I have a unique perspective
that will quickly identify me to many people. I have two children who
were students at Kensington School, one who is now in college, and
one who attends El Cerrito High School. I am also a teacher at
Kensington, and have been for many years. I am a staunch advocate of
public schools for many, many reasons (including the fact that both my
husband and I are public school teachers!). I do remember when my
older daughter was approaching kindergarten age I felt many of the
same pangs that you are probably experiencing. We, too, looked at
private schools, if only cursorily, because we, like everyone else,
wanted the best for our children. After much soul searching we decided
to choose the public schools, always with the caveat that if things
work out we could change our minds. I have never regretted this
decision. That's not to say that things have always been perfect at
Kensington, Portola, or ECHS. But my daughters are wonderful people
who have learned much about the world, who are compassionate,
hard-working, intelligent, and believe that it is their responsibility
for the betterment of their local community. I can't imagine that they
could have received a better education anywhere else. My older
daughter, now a student at UC Davis, says that she was as well, if not
better, prepared for college than her cohorts who attended prestigious
private or suburban schools. My younger daughter is preparing to apply
to Ivy League colleges. Many of the students who attended Kensington,
Portola, and ECHS are now attending Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown,
and the like. They are all great kids who have learned the value of
working for the greater good, rather than looking out only for oneself.
know that people make their decisions for a variety of reasons, and that
no decision is necessarily good for everyone. But it truly saddens me
see that so many people make the decision to opt out of the public
school system, when their presence could make such a difference for
My child just started Kindergarten at Hilltop. We also considered
private schools. We liked Windrush, but sending two children to private school
would have been a sacrifice.
So far we love HilltopFor this simple reasons:
1 - my kid loves it! The teacher is amazing, kind, motivating,
he made so many friends already, and so did I. And we
don't have to drive across town for playdates or birthdays parties,
everybody lives 5 minutes away.
2 - Since I don't pay tuition, I actually have more money to spend on
classes (KASEP classes are amazing!) and donations (which are also a
of private schools, I believe).
3 - I have more time to spend with my kids instead of having to work to
for their education.
4 - The community is extremely warm and the level of parent's education
5 - The kids are very fortunate to have science, music, art, computer
and weekly visit to the library.
6 - The view!
I am so happy we opted for public school. Some of our neighbors didn't,
notice they suffer a little for not being a part of this nice and small
At the beginning I thought this first year of Kindergarten would be a
and I can already tell that we are not changing.
Hope this helps a little.
Please don't waste another minute worrying about sending your
child to Kensington Elementary (Hilltop). I know, I know, it's
hard to be a parent and NOT worry about your kid's education.
But take it from this consummate worrier: Living in Kensington
and being able to send your kid to an excellent public and
local school is a real gift.
Our daughter just finished 7 years at Hilltop. She's made
great friends and has come out a very high-performing and
energetic student. Her friends' parents are my husband and my
closest friends -- we rely on each other and are a part of each
others' lives on a daily basis. It is what you'd want in a
To live in this town and not take advantage of the public
school seems like throwing away both a great education and a
lifetime of strong friendships with people on your street and
neighboring streets. Again, believe me, I know how easy it is
to worry about things like this. But in this case, you really
don't have to.
Take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that you do not have
to scurry around applying to many private schools or hoping for
a transfer to a decent public school. It's an enviable
situation . . . try to relax and enjoy it while it lasts (only
through 6th grade, you know). Feel free to contact me if you'd
like more information.
Both my children attended Kensington Elementary through 5th
grade. They've done private middle school, and public high
I would urge you to give Kensington a try, and not feel
dispirited by your neighbors choosing private elementary school.
One of the great things about Kensington School, that you don't
hear much about, is that there ARE so many kids from outside of
Kensington attending, from El Cerrito, Richmond, and
San Pablo, as intra-district transfers (because the school has
more space that is ever filled by Kensington students)While some
complain about this, I saw the presence of transfer students as
a real positive. While at Kensington, my children made great,
still continuing friendships with kids from Richmond, etc. and
in doing so were exposed to a much wider world than they ever
would have been just associating with kids from Kensington. The
transfer students, for the most part, come from incredibly
motivated families who are willing to drive them some distance
each day, so that they can attend what is known as the best
elementary school in the school district. As parents, my husband
and I also appreciated the opportunity to meet a lot of really
nice people, again from outside of the narrow cultural confines
of Kensington/North Berkeley, through our kids' friendships.
Some of the teachers at the school are fantastic; there are also
some lemons. You will find this at private school too. But the
students are great - most come from families that really give
the right message about school. There is a huge amount of
parental involvment (sometimes too much!) and a very nice
community feel to the school. Finally, as my children moved on
to private middle school, I found thatthey were thoughly
prepared to handle the academics - they were not behind their
private school peers.
Middle School is a tough time for many kids, and a lot of
parents who can afford it do what we did and move to private
school during those years (but not all - some go to Portola
Middle School and do just fine there too). If finances are an
issue for you, I would save your money for private middle
school, if need be. Contact the President of the Kensington
PTA - I'm sure she can put you in touch w/ other parents with
kids currently enrolled. Good luck!
I made the public/private decision five years ago and have been
actively engaged in helping others through this process since
then. One of the most important things to realize at the outset
is that nearly everyone from whom you ask advice is heavily
invested in their decision and will do almost anything to
validate it. When someone pays 18K a year for elementary school
they will (most likely) not want to have any doubt about it. By
the same token, many who choose public school will be very
defensive about quality.
I chose public school for almost the exact reasons you state in
your post. Now I have two children in elementary school and I'm
very happy with the decision. That's not to say I don't have
the exact same worries about doing the best by my children
ALMOST EVERYDAY. I venture to guess you will too, if you choose
public school. The constant barage about public school failures
in the press add even more pressure to that we feel from our
friends and neighbors.
My kids have many friends in private schools. So far, I believe
mine are doing just as well or even better, but I do keep my eye
on it. I know many parents of children at Hilltop. Ithink you
will be pleased if you go there, though I cannot defend their
policy on observing classes - I think it's illegal! My
experience is in Berkeley, though, so there are differences.
I certainly hope you choose public school because the system
needs peope like you in order to thrive. Your kids will learn
everything they need, including th important value of upholding
the social contract. Just don't expect to sit back and feel
fine about it everyday.
I have loved Prospect Sierra for many years. I thought maybe my
kids could go there, but the expense is too much, out of the
question for us. That said, I wouldn't go there now if I could
afford it since my children are at Kensington. I love it
there. It's a great school, with caring parents and dedicated
teachers and staff. What they have to offer is amazing to me.
In kindergarten my son has music, art, science, library, royal
reader, activity time and acedemics that are challenging. The
setting is beautiful and relaxed. Plus the onsite after school
care is very good and nurturing. Why spend all that money on
private when Kensington is so good. Yes, you have to fundraise,
but you do at Prospect Sierra too. The kids at Kensington are
kind and fun loving. We've met very good friends that are local
wit! h lots of easy playdates. Some people are private school
folks and some are not. We really like Kensington.
We live in Kensington and bought our house planning on using
Hilltop. However, as we approach kindergarten we worry about
whether it would be an appropriate setting for our child. She
is extremely shy, and is easily overwhelmed by new situations
and people. Since we are unable to see the school, or meet the
teachers, it has been impossible to make an informed decision.
Furthermore, I find the administration completely unwilling to
reach out to prospective parents; I definitely get the feeling
that because it is a popular school they don't feel the need to
cater to anyone. We can't help but wonder if that attitude
will continue once we enroll our child. Our specific areas of
- What makes Hilltop a 'good' school, other than test
scores? Are the teachers excellent? Is there an emphasis on
making learning fun? Is there any creativity in the
- Are teachers responsive to the needs of individual
students? What about the principal? How are concerns handled?
Do teachers make themselves available to parents? If so, how?
- Is the atmosphere 'warm'? How does the school handle
conflicts among students? Do teachers address social problems
(such as teasing/bullying) or do they ignore it? Do teachers
help kids integrate socially? Are the teachers 'kind' and
responsive to the children.
- What are the individual kindergarten teachers like? Any shy
- What about the after-care program?
We would appreciate both positive and negative responses.
we lived in Kensington when our also very shy daughter was
entering kindergarten, and ultimately chose a small private
school because we felt the atmosphere more nurturing and the
transition easier. Like you, I could only speak with other
parents to get feedback- I found the administration to be
unapologetically unresponsive to newcomers questions, and in
their old facility I felt like I was in a 1970's timewarp,
including the feel of secretary/ administration behind a
counter much higher than a child's head. That said, I believe
what helps make Hilltop so ''good'' is incredible parents,
community and parent support (finacially and involvement) which
means they usually have an extra aide (parent) in the room and
many great extras that other schools in the district do not. I
cannot understand their refusal to allow tours in ongoing
classrooms when most (all?) other public schools find ways to
manage it; however there is always the option of trying it out
for kindergarten and switching to private if it's not working
well (in hind sight I now think switching at first grade would
not be so traumatic as it seemed.)
What makes Kensington Hilltop a good school?
1. The parents. The school has an active, dedicated,
committed foundation, a Dad's Club, a strong PTA and families
committed to academic achievement.
2. The new principal. He appears to be a strong leader.
Don't let the fact that the school has been relocated this year
(to accommodate modernization of the old building) put you off;
this year is an anomaly for the school.
3. The teachers. There are some wonderful teachers and there
are some less-than-wonderful ones, just as in any school, but
in our experience the good ones dominate. The teachers at
Kensington have for the most part been teaching there for many
years; there is a wealth of expertise at this school.
4. The extras. These are provided by KEF, the school's
educational foundation. They include art, music, science and
other specialized programs.
5. The after school program. The after school program is
offered by Neighborhood School.
Ginger, the program director,
is innovative, caring and thoughtful in how she plans the
program. It's worth the cost.
My child has been at Kensington since kindergarten and his
experience has been overwhelmingly positive. He too is a shy
child, but he has made good friends and feels safe and
encouraged at the school. He is also slightly younger than his
classmates (he started kindergarten at 4 yrs)and has some
developmental delays but has never been teased or bullied by
his peers. His teachers have always made time to meet with us
to discuss his development and to modify his assignments as
Hope this helps.
A Kensington Parent
As president of the Kensington Hilltop PTA, I would like to
encourage you to join the Hilltop family in the fall, and I
would like to address some of your concerns.
As you probably know, Hilltop school has been relocated to a
temporary campus on the Portola middle school site as Hilltop
is re-constructed and added to. I'm happy to report that
construction is on target, and the school plans on opening on
time for the '05-'06 school year (the first day of school is
Aug. 23!). Given our construction status, life for all
involved (staff, parents, kids) has been out of the ordinary;
so please accept my apologies for any brushed off feelings you
have felt. We are quite fortunate to have a brand new school
to move into in the fall, but it has come at some cost in terms
of inability to conduct business as usual. And this is
probably the source of your inability to get the information
you want, rather than, as you've characterized it, ''it being
such a popular school that they don't feel the need to cater to
anyone.'' There will be a kindergarten orientation session that
has yet to be scheduled in the May time frame. I will post the
notice when it is finalized. But again, because we are under
construction, we cannot see actual classrooms because they are
not yet completed! More immediately, there will be a walk-
through/update of the construction site on Friday, March 11 at
3pm. This is for adults only as it is a construction site.
Meet at the north gate of the campus (Arlmont/Highland Blvd).
I encourage you to attend this to get a better feel for how the
campus is laid out and how it will serve the needs of our kids.
I truly believe Hilltop is a great school for a combination of
reasons. We have very experienced teachers, and a very
participative parent body. As with many other public schools,
grades K-3 have a 20 student class size limitation (guaranteed
in our District due to the passage of a parcel tax for the next
4 years), so teachers are able to be responsive to individual
kids' needs. We do have a new principal, and he brings real
energy and commitment to ensuring a safe learning environment.
Parents are very involved at our school. From driving on field
trips, to helping at the library or in the classroom, to
funding of programs (library, science, music, art)not offered
at other schools, to volunteering as noon duty supervisors,
parents are frequently seen on campus. And it's this
participation that creates such a warm ''family'' environment at
There are 3 service organizations on campus: PTA, Kensington
Education Foundation (KEF), and the Dad's Club. The PTA
advocates for the child, KEF fundraises to provide the
enrichment classes, and the Dad's Club keeps the campus looking
spiffy. All 3 groups work closely together with the principal
and staff to ensure that the needs of our kids are being met.
Afterschool options are available in the form of childcare
through Neighborhood School (524-8641) or enrichment classes
through KASEP (525-0292). Kensington Nursery School(KNS) also
offers a walk-down program for KNS pre-school
Hilltop is in the West Contra Costa Unified School District
(WCCUSD), and like other school districts in our area, WCCUSD
is facing a budget shortfall for the upcoming year. Cuts will
have to be made to close the gap, and until our governor
decides that education is this state's priority, we will have
to battle to maintain the programs necessary for our children's
I would be happy to chat with you further. You can contact me
Kensington Schools separating from WCCUSD?
Well, after attending the WCCUSD meeting, I'm thoroughly
depressed. My son attends Kensington Hilltop which is part of
the WCCUSD, formerly Richmond school district. We just found
out that class sizes from K-3 were going up to 30 kids from
around 20. This is just plain unacceptable. One of the reasons
we moved to Kensington was the excellent local elementary
school. Now this standing is at risk. It's ironic because
Kensington as a community could probably afford to keep class
sizes at 20, however, Kensington Hilltop is a strong school in a
very large and academically and economically weak school
district. Has there ever been any discussion of Kensington and
El Cerrito schools breaking off from the WCCUSD? How would one
organize such a change? Would it have to be approved by the
A Concerned Parent
Perhaps you already know all this, but I think the following is
important to consider
What your suggesting, it sounds like, is that Kensington break
off from WCCUSD and become a Basic Aid funded district as
opposed to an ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funded district.
Background in case you need it Back in the 70's California
decided to distribute state school funds equally among districts
to address the inequity between wealthy and poor communities.
However, they also created the loophole for the wealthier
districts that if they wanted to opt out of the standard state
(ADA) funding, they could collect their own parcel taxes and
fund their schools independently. Several districts in the Bay
Area are funded as such.
In this current budget crisis, Gray Davis has announced his intention to collect 80% of
the tax revenues Basic Aid districts collect (beyond the amount
they would receive as ADA school districts)and put that money
into the state general fund (not even the education fund). So
it's doubtful that creating a Kensington Basic Aid district
would be worth it financially at this juncture. Furthermore, I
believe a district needs the state's approval to become a Basic
Aid district and I wonder whether the state would even grant
such an application at this time?
Perhaps you were not intending to make Kensington a Basic Aid
district, and just think it could manage ADA funds better than
the WCCUSD. Perhaps, but given the current economic climate for
public schools it's not going to be easy to get a new district
off the ground.
Best of luck to you.
It would be very difficult to separate off from WCCUSD. It would
probably take a voter initiative to form a new school district--I
don't think WCCUSD would have the ability to veto that. While the
community is getting younger, El Cerrito is still predominantly an
older community and the voters wouldn't likely be interested in
having to pay taxes to form a new district. I don't know how
costly it would be, but I suspect any new district would have to
take on some part of WCCUSD's debt to the state (something WCCUSD
would surely demand), as it's been in receivership for many years,
as well as pay something to create a new administration. I've
never heard of a movement to separate, though I've heard many
individuals suggest it.
Yes, Kensington parents visited this issue back in the early
1990s when WCCUSD (then Richmond Unified School District) went
into bankruptcy. At that time, they were interested in joining
the Albany school district.
But, wait! I'm sorry to hear that class sizes will be increased
throughout the district, but class sizes have only been small for
K-3 for the past 5 years. In the past, Kensington school had many
ways to help deal with larger class sizes like pull-out programs
where 1/2 the class went to science or reading and the other 1/2
stayed with the teacher. And, just so you know where I'm coming
from, both of my children went to Kensington school with large
classes all the way through. During that time, the school won a
California Distinguished School award and was consistenly a
highly rated public elementary schoool. My son just got into
UC-Berkeley and my daughter is an almost straight-A student at El
Cerrito High. Of course, special needs children may do better in
smaller classrooms, but the majority of the students can do fine
in larger classes. I wouldn't sweat it too much if I were you.
former Kensington school parent
If you are unhappy with WCCUSD, perhaps you could use your time
& resources on improving the public education system. Organize
other concerend parents to improve the situation for ALL
children. Talk to the
Ed Fund, the school reform group for WCCUSD. Go to school board
meetings. TAKE ACTION!!!
Virginia, a parent in the El Cerrito Hills
Hi, I've checked the website and read all available information
on Kensington Hilltop School. The information is somewhat out
of date and not answering all of the questions/concerns I have.
(Yes, I'm nervous and anxious!) My daughter is entering
Kindergarten and I'm not yet concerned about the academic
aspects of school. I'm more worried about how my child (and
each child in class) will be treated. I hope for a cooperative
learning environment for my child, where she can have fun
learning, where she can be treated with respect/love/caring and
as an individual with unlimited potential. And, I hope for this
for all childen, not just mine. All children deserve this!
Here are my specific questions for those who have experience
with Kensington Hilltop:
1. Are childern (esp. in K-2) treated with respect by teachers?
2. Do children (esp. in K-2) have fun learning?
3. Do children learn to think and not just memorize facts?
4. Where do childern usually go after grade 6?
I'm committed to help the school in any ways possible to create
that loving environment for the children. Your comments are
greatly appreciate. I want to know how best I can help. Thank
Anxious Kensington Mom
The answers to your questions about Kensington School vary by
both child and teacher. I know children at the school who adore
it, and those who don't. My two children, for example, differ on
liking the school. I know phenominal, respectful, gifted
teachers, and some closer to the other end of the spectrum. The
early grades tend to have more memorization and rote learning, in
all schools, than higher grades do. This may be more that case at
Kensington, where the approach is fairly old-fashioned and
traditional, than elsewhere. None the less, some teachers work
wonders in those confines.
After 5th a fair number of students leave to a wide variety of
private schools, since that's when the private schools add a
class, and it's very much harder to find a spot the following
year. A large number also go on to Portola after 6th. If you look
at the Outlook picture of graduates from the ''town'' of Kensington
every spring, you'll notice they've gone to every different high
school in 50 miles.
Public school is always a mixed affair. Kensington benefits from
an outstanding parent organization which fund raises and pays for
numerous enrichment programs, such as music, art, science,
library, a special reading support program, and an annual
oceans-week immersion program. It suffers from being part of a
truely impoverished district, and what is now a truely
impoverished state education system.
Kensington mom of K and 2nd grader
Our experience with Kensington Hilltop school was not very
good. In fact we took our son out and put him in private school
after Kindergarten, despite the fact we bought our house there
because of the school. Admittedly, my son is not an easy kid,
and has had trouble with school ever since. But a big part of
me is convinced that if his Kindergarten experience had been
more positive, he might have thought of school as a good thing,
not a punishment, and it would have been easier later on. The
first teacher he had there, who taught the K/1 mixed grade
class, definitely showed him a distinct lack of respect.
Examples: she let him help her with something that was wrong
with the computer because he said he knew how to fix it
(remember, he was only five) and got mad at him when he crashed
the computer; she sent him to the principal on day 3 for pushing
in line (they had to line up every morning before class.) By
the end of six weeks, he was thinking of himself as a ''bad kid'',
always in the principal's office. When a new class opened up
after six weeks (that was the year they were decreasing the
class sizes mid-year) they supposedly had a lottery to see which
kids would be moved, but I noticed that the new class that was
formed had all the youngest kids, several who didn't speak
English, and all of the kids with working parents (none of the
kids with moms as classroom helpers had to move) and of course,
the difficult ones, like my son. (We were thrilled that he got moved
since his new teacher was very kind and did really well without the support
other teachers had.)
My son is now in the Albany schools, and while he still hates
school, he has a wonderful teacher who has worked hard with him,
and not fought against him. If your child is an easy one, or if
you're really involved in the classroom, Kensington seems like a
good option. If not, I would look for other options.
Kensington Hilltop School is the public school that we feed.
While many parents say wonderful things about this school,
I can get no information about it from the school people
themselves. They say that prospective parents are not
allowed in the classrooms-ever, we cannot talk to teachers
at the back to school night (this is in the teachers
contract), and we can get no information about their
teaching philosphy or ciriculum. This is new this year. I
have talked to two different staff there, and the
priciple, and I get the same story. I can visit the
grounds, after the school is closed (which I did), but I can't
even see the classrooms. We are looking into private schools as
well, and they are so much more accommidating. My questions
are: how do I get in for a look at the teachers in action?
and what have other parents done?
My 11 year junior sister went to Kensington and had a fantastic
experience. It is very community oriented and the kids really
feel safe and protected. Drawback being it is rather
homogenous. I hear Madera is much more diverse with an
excellent quality of education.
As a teacher at Kensington Hilltop School I read your
posting with interest and concern. While it is true that
our contract allows only parents of enrolled students access
to classroom visitations, it is certainly not true that we
are not accessible to talk with prospective parents about
our school's curriculum and educational philosophy. It can
be very disruptive to the classroom functioning to have
parents or other visitors, however interested and
well-intentioned they may be, during instructional time. As
a parent, however, I do understand your wish to visit any
school before making a decision to send your child. I would
recommend that you consider visiting Kensington Hilltop
during Open House (March 27, 7:00-8:00). On that evening
all classrooms will be open for visitors, you can meet the
teachers and talk with other parents, see the science lab,
computer lab, library, and other facilities. Hopefully the
information you gain that night will help you make an
informed decision regarding your child's elementary school
I'm about to register my daughter for 1st grade in Kensington
elementary. I know some about this school from observing and
previous postings on the list, but I would love to hear
any recent experiences people had there. 1st grade teachers
(especially important), activities, after school programs,
any information you can offer will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you all in advance.
I'm obviously nervios...
I have two children at Kensington (3rd and 5th grades)
... my oldest is now in Middle School (she attended
Kensington from grades 3-6). As far as public schools
go, I believe Kensington is the best in Contra Costa
County. I was on the waiting list (my children are in
on a transfer) for 3 years, and I feel it was worth it.
Regarding after school program/care... I send my
children to Rainbow Hill because it's located right
on the campus. I'm a working, single parent of three
children, so after school care was my priority in
choosing which school to send my children to. I didn't
want to have to worry about my children getting to
their after school care safely, nor could I take the
time from work to drive them someplace. There are at
least two after school programs offered near Kensington.
Rainbow Hill is, as I mentioned, right on the campus.
The other one is down the street. I can't rate the
other day care site, but I'm very happy with Rainbow
signed...another parent who worries about her children
We have a 4 year old who will be attending Kensington Hilltop School
for Kindergarten next year. Are there any parents out there with
experiences good or bad particularly with Kindergarten that they
could share? I saw on the parents website that there were concerns
about an overly regimented and oppressive atmosphere in the Kindergarden
classes but those postings were from a couple of years ago. Has that
changed for the better? Any feedback would be helpful. Thanks.
Rob and Diana
My son had a really good kindergarten experience at Kensington Hilltop
School. His teacher was Mrs. Dey (pronounced day). She has taught at that
school for years (with some years off to spend time with her own kids) and
she does many creative, hands-on, active things with the kids while still
effectively teaching the alphabet, math concepts and beginning phonics
skills that the children need when they get to first grade. To request a
particular kindergarten teacher, write to the principal, Judy Kantor. It
doesn't guarantee you will get the teacher you want, but the school tries
to accommodate requests especially if you turn in your request early and
give a good reason (how your child's personality, needs and outlook would
match up with that teacher's strengths and personality). If your child is
to enter kindergarten in fall 2002, you should call the school this fall to
find out when the kindergarten enrollment and visiting periods will be
(probably in February or March 2002). Then you should call early to get an
appointment to visit a kindergarten (Try to visit the teacher you think you
want for your child.) Good luck! Betsy
I am wondering if anyone who has children enrolled in Kensington
Elementary can comment in general about their experiences there and
level of satisfaction with the school.
I am considering enrolling my daughter, who has been in privite school
for K and currently 1st, in Kensington Elementary for the 2nd grade. I
would also be very interested in talking with
anybody that has a child going into the second grade there. Thank you
My daughter has gone to Kensington Elementary
from the beginning. She's now in 3rd grade. My wife
also went there from the beginning. She's now the
librarian. We're a little biased.
I have a hard time imagining a better elementary school.
From what I've seen, kids thrive there. My daughter
certainly has. The only problems I'm aware of are:
1) The school district has been in financial trouble
and is still struggling.
2) Some of the teachers have minor negatives
(I won't name names because you might
not feel the same way.)
On the positive side are:
1) The recent school ratings show how well the
kids do academically.
2) There is an unbelievable amount of parent
interest. This gets reflected in many ways.
I could go on and on.
Maybe you could get the same benefits at a private school
but why bother? We are very happy there. Jon
Our daughter started at Kensington Hilltop elementary school as a
kindergartener, and will be entering second grade next year. She's
learned a lot, made a lot of friends, and is very happy -- as are we,
her parents. She's our only child, though, so we can't compare Hilltop
directly to any other school. Nevertheless, I'd be happy to talk about
our experiences there.
Regarding the query about Kensington Schools, I have a few words to
say. I have a daughter in first grade at Kensington Hilltop School
who was also there last year for Kindergarten. In addition, my wife
went there when she was young so we also have an historical
perspective. In short, I don't think there could be a better
elementary school in such a mixed school district. Keep in mind that
KHS is part of the West Contra Costa County school district, which
includes schools from a wide range of economic levels. Perhaps an
elementary school in an exclusively wealthy district could be better
but that's another question.
One of the things that make KHS so good is parent involvement. The
number of volunteer hours there is truly staggering. There are at
least 3 major groups there that take on fund raising, contruction, and
educational projects. Every year there's the Garden Party that manages
to raise almost $50,000 in one night! Educationaly the school is great
too. They've benefited from the new reduced class size policy and
there are lots of special programs like languages, science, and
One potential side effect of this is that there are rumors that the
middleschool that KHS feeds into has recently started to improve, due
to the KHS culture being transfered. I don't know how true this is but
the middleschool issue is the only thing regarding Kensington schools
that I worry about.
I recently visited a kindergarten class at Kensington Hilltop School,
where my two sons will soon be enrolled. I was horrified by the
punitive, antiquated teaching methods I witnessed.
The children were forbidden from speaking for the entire 45 minutes I
saw, including during a single file walk between outdoor buildings and a
snack period. As they were unable to comply with so long a silence, they
whispered and rustled a bit, and one boy was consequently singled out to
eat alone for having spoken. A child proudly telling the teacher that
he was learning cursive at home (the children worked on letters
worksheets for 20 25 minutes) was angrily told he should not be learning
cursive at his age. The environment was singularly joyless and
When my older son becomes a student there, I intend to volunteer in the
classroom once a week. What can I do now? Is there an appropriate
message I could give the principal? I know this school has a good
reputation; please tell me this class is an anomaly.
Marty & Valerie
My son is currently in kindergarten at Hilltop and I am happy to say that I
have not observed or even heard about the conditions you mention. I have
volunteered in the classroom several times and have seen the kids chat at
snack time and while lining up to go outside. Having said that, I know
that they spend long periods of time on paperwork and that the atmosphere
is more rigid than I had expected. My son is happy there, but has had a
tough adjustment time. I certainly hope that what you describe is not the
standard routine. I'd recommend visiting again and talking to the parent
volunteer in the classroom if you can.
Perhaps you should observe another class to see if a different teacher has
more progressive (and effective) teaching methods. As someone who has been
teaching undergraduates for six years, I am without a doubt that a spirit-
crushing environment like the one described is not at all conducive to
learning at any level. Your story broke my heart. You should at the very
least be able to request a teacher other than the one you observed for your
son. Good luck-
I currently have a 1st grader at Kensington Hilltop but my two older
boys also went through Kensington. I can tell you that the procedure
you describe above is the norm at this school. I didn't like the fact
that I couldn't specify the teacher that I wanted but do understand
the reason behind it. It gets rid of alot of the jockeying the
parents do and leaves the teachers and principal to do their work. I
haven't yet had a bad teacher, they are all very good...and if they
are not...the parents will let the principal know about it. The PTA
is very active there, and there is a DAD's club that is super
terrific! They were the onesthat got the new kindergarten playground
installed with alot of hard work, sweat and help from all sorts of
I have been very happy with the kindergarten teacher my son had
and have been happy with his 1st grade teacher as well.
My child will start kindergarten this fall, at Hilltop Elementary in
Kensington. I am looking for an after school program until 3pm only.
Kensington Nursery school, the Neighborhood School, they both offer
walk-downs, but their programs are 'til 5, 5:30. Does anyone know of
other options? I read previous letters, but found nothing about this.
[no replies received]
I cannot seem to find an after K program near Kensington Hilltop
school that goes until 5 or 6 pm. They all end t 3. What are
the options?? I have called Kensington Nursery, Neighborhood
School and Skytown. Is Rainbow Hill OK? Are there other options?
THANKS- thanks also to everyone who gave me advice about
Kensington Hilltop school!! It really helped.
The Berkeley JCC
has an afterschool program that runs
until six. They hav a van that picks kids up at Kensington
schools and take them to the JCC. The JCC is on the
corner of Walnut and Rose, in North Berkeley. There is
some jewish content in the program (celebrate shabbat on
Friday afternoons) but lots of non-jewish kids attend and it's
a great program. Call 848-0237.
Actually both Kensington Nursery School (KNS) and the
do in fact have ''walk down'' programs for
Kindergarteners and are open until 6pm. My son is walked down
the hill from Hilltop 3 times a week by a teacher at KNS and has
been very happy with his after-care program. KNS is a co-op and
as such has great parent participation and has super teachers.
Our only beef is that there is no after-care beyond kindergarten
at KNS. Feel free to contact us further if you want more
We are planning to apply for an intradistrict transfer to
Kindergarten at Kensington Hilltop (due to location of after
school care). We cannot get any information on actual numbers
that they take each year. We heard that they reject the majority
of the applications, and then we heard that some years every
transfer is accepted. Given the construction going-on, does
anyone know what the prospects are of getting a transfer into
Hilltop in 2005 school year? Can anyone give us any advice on
how to approach the application process?
Concerned about Transfer
[no replies received]
I am trying to gather information regarding Kensington Hilltop
Elementary; my child would be starting Kindergarten next
fall. I am absolutey baffled and distressed by their no
visitation/no open house policy (until May!), and worry that
such a message of rigidity and exclusion permeates in other
ways in the school environment. I have read everything I can
find on the school, much of which speaks to a strong community
of parents. I would so appreciate feedback from current
families on their experiences at Kensington, as well as *any*
advice on how I might be able to experience the feel of the
school ''in action''. Thank you so much!
Our daughter is in kindergarten at Kensington Hilltop and we
love it. The lack of openness pre-enrollment did not bother us
a lot because we had long-standing plans for her to go there,
so we weren't making any deecisions and had no need to compare
to other schools. I can't say that we find the administration
very open or responsive. But what is important to us is that
our daughter is happy, highly engaged and thriving. She had an
unhappy experience in a preschool she was in last year, daily
telling us she did not want to go (in retrospect we should have
moved her, but instead we tried to work with the school -
another story for another time). Since she has started
kindergarten, she has not said that once and in fact regularly
reports ''today was the best day of my life.'' She is a bright
child who I am confident will do well many places, and we do a
lot of learning activities outside of school, so I do not worry
overly much about the rigidty of the curriculum or teaching to
the test. I simply want her to love learning, and that is
happening at Kensington. Her teacher is FABULOUS and works
hard to add in exciting projects and activities that are
outside the curriculum. And her teacher has been much more
responsive and helpful dealing with issues than the staff at
her previous preschool ever was. And, as has been emphasized
in previous reviews, the community involvement is
extraordinary. Parental involvement in the classroom is
welcome and encouraged by her current teacher, and it is great
fun to do! We very quickly created a tight-knit community
among the class parents, who all watch out for each other's
kids. There are lots of playdates and outside contact. The
benefits of the excellent fundraising are weekly art, music,
science and computer lab. In addition, the on-site before- and
after-care is wonderful - creative art projects, great
teachers, and other activities. Finally, KASEP provides
additional options for activities (tennis, carpentry, critter
adventures and creative movement/theater - all for
kindergartners, to name a few).
Downsides? Our experience is greatly colored by the wonderful
teacher we ended up with, and may not be the same for all
classes. The community can seem a bit Stepford wife-ish at
times. And I do feel sorry for the few kids I see whose
parents are not invovled - I think they lose out on some of the
social aspects. And it is not a very diverse community
happy Kensington parent
Hi Julia, although not entirely unheard of in other schools, I
think most kindergartener parents are put off by Hilltop's no
visitation policy. I know I was. I have a 1st grader now at
Hilltop and a kindergartener starting this fall too. You are
right about there being a strong parent community at Hilltop--
I don't think that the atmosphere at the school is one of
exclusivity though. That policy, I believe, is set by the
administration, not the teachers, and I definitely get the
feeling they don't care what the parents think. You may be
aware of the uniform policy, that in my opinion was poorly
thought out and certainly poorly implemented at our school. So
my 2 cents about Hilltop amount to this-- we are very happy
with the teachers, not too impressed by the principal, not at
all impressed by the School Board members, BUT most important
it comes down to the teachers in the classrooms and our child
is thriving at the school. Also if diversity is an issue for
you, you cannot help but notice how white the school is. As
for the classroom ''in action'', if you want to be involved in
the classroom there is ample opportunity to do so-- the
teachers seem to welcome the help and participation
I am posting this for a friend, who has a son who will be
going into the 4th grade next year. They are looking at
Kensington Hilltop, the elementary school in their
district. She is concerned about not being able to visit
the classroom, as this is Hilltop's policy. She wants to
know if there is any way around this policy, and if not,
if this policy hampered the decision process for other
prospective Hilltop parents. Any advice would be
I work at a public school in Oakland and we do not let
prospective parents observe the classroom either. We
believe it is very disruptive to the teacher and the
students in the classroom to have various parents coming in
and out. The Principal conducts school tours every other
week and we encourage new parents to attend the
Kindergarten orientation in January, Open House in the
spring and PTA meetings. Try to talk to some of the other
parents at the school or make an appointment to meet with
a school secretary and a parent
Kensington Elementary is not alone in their policy of ''no parent
visits.'' A friend of mine is a former principal, who explained how
disruptive it is for classes, and difficult for students, to have maybe
100 prospective kindergarten parents and maybe a few dozen other parents
all visiting classrooms, which is what would happen at Kensington.
Their policy does support the students who are there, even if it is
frustrating to prospective families.
My children are in 1st grade at Kensington Elementary, where there are
many excellent teachers. Their curriculum seems to be fairly
traditional, but they do the job well. I have heard of difficulties
only from parents with children who have some kind of special need.
Kensington Elementary School parent
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