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Hello, I am considering buying a house in the Madera attendance area and am curious to learn more about the school, with a particular focus on diversity issues and the level of creativity in the curriculum. As a teacher myself and the parent of a mixed-race child, I am less interested in test scores and more interested in whether the school is an inclusive community for students with different backgrounds and learning styles. I'd greatly appreciate hearing from any parents or community members who have thoughts on these aspects of a Madera education. considering El Cerrito
We recently moved to El Cerrito and although Kindergarten is still a year away for our son, I am trying to get as much information as possible. We are able to afford private school (yes, we are thankful) but ''in principle'' I like the idea of public school. Our neighborhood school is Madera so basically my question is - how so I decide between Madera and a private school like Prospect Sierra? I know this is not an easy question to answer unless you have children who went to both! I plan to visit the schools and talk to parents but since that is a year away, I am turning to the collective wisdom of BPN. I am particularly interested in hearing from families who may have gone to Madera and went private for middle school - how did the 2 experiences compare? Or if you went to Prospect Sierra for elementary, how did you decide? Appreciate any advice which will be helpful since we are new to the Bay area and are still figuring things out. El Cerrito Mama
I also do not have direct experience with Prospect Sierra or Madera, but have many friends that have attended Prospect Sierra. They are both good schools, and in some ways are similar because a sizable population of Prospect Sierra comes from Kensington and Madera. Some of my friends chose Prospect Sierra outright; would not even consider the public school system. Some transferred in. Some transferred in and then back out. Reasons are varied....some finally could no longer afford Prospect Sierra. Some were afraid of the local middle school. Some wanted smaller class size. Some wanted a different experience. Some found more variety in public school.
As for me, I am like you - fortunate enough to be able to write the check for both kids to attend a private school, but I see no reason to do so. I'm sending my kids to public school in WCCUSD, and they are doing great, and our experience has been nothing but positive.
I am writing to encourage you to at least try your public school first. Madera is an excellent school. Good, tight-knit community, good, strong PTA and excellent test scores. I know there were some issues with the old principal, but they have a new one now. It may be too early to tell how that is turning out, but the Supt. of Schools met with parents in the selection process. They were allowed to voice their desires in selection of a new leader.
The WCCUSD school district has tough, tough issues, there is no doubt about it. This is a vast district that incorporates the very well-to-do of Kensington and Madera to the poverty-stricken of the Iron Triangle in Richmond. The needs are beyond diverse. Funding is always an issue. Class size is big. Teachers are underpaid. But we need people dedicated to making it better. And we are turning corners. The district is out of bankruptcy. We have a renaissance happening at Portola Junior High School. We are renovating 30,40, 50 year-old campuses.
A great education should not only be available to those that can afford to send their kids to private school. We need people to make it better for everyone. I am hoping you will join us in any one of the million ways that you can make a difference. It really counts and it really matters! -Public School Advocate
Based on OUR experience, here are several areas where the private school worked better for US than the public one:
1) Small classes: At our school, the student/teacher ratio was approximately 10 to 1. At Madera it is now 28 to 1 (even in K) or 33 to 1 (Grade 3 and up, I believe). The advantages are obvious.
2) Tighter community: Madera has over 500 students (maybe even closer to 600). Our school had about 70 families. So you really end up knowing every child and parent.
3) The overall curriculum was a lot more interesting, according to my kids. There was a lot of emphasis on science than at Madera.
4) Much higher diversity within teachers in terms of gender, age and race.
5) Better after-school program.
Here's where Madera worked better for us:
1) Larger classes translate to larger pools of potential friends for your kids.
2) We are not that wealthy, so we (the parents) did not really connect that well with the private school parents, whereas at Madera we had quite and nice group of people to interact with.
3) One of my kids has a learning disability, which our private school had no ability, desire or obligation to accommodate. It was on us to find the solution.
Good luck to you with your decision. anon
That being said, my family has attended both private El Cerrito schools as well as El Cerrito public schools. Here is our take:
- Smaller class size
- Freedom in curriculum (students do not take the state test)
- Slower or faster pace; no need to stick to a standard pace due to testing
- Teachers stay on the kids about homework and turning in assignments (more hand-holding)
- LOTS more money (bigger houses, better cars, electronics, vacations...)
- Higher education of most parents
- Less diversity (mostly white, upper-class families; professional families)
- More family resources
- No advanced classes beyond the grade level and no services for learning problems (''get a tutor'')
- Tight community, but also a community that is removed from the larger community of El Cerrito
- Larger class size
- Not a lot of freedom for core courses
- Must stay on track in terms of curriculum pacing (testing)
- Students must be and act independent and be responsible (not a lot of hand holding)
- More diversity in terms of religion, ethnicity, and socio-economic status
- Kids can take classes at El Cerrito High School during middle school, for more advanced math and science classes
- A community that is interwoven with El Cerrito neighborhoods
Which do you prefer? A lot of families LIKE the struggle of public schools, like being involved with their local communities, and like helping to fund programs that serve ALL students (not just the wealthy). Other families LIKE keeping their kids isolated and removed from the problems that plague public schools (but also withhold their resources, too. Imagine if that $22,000 or $25,000 were given to public schools! Even $1000 would help!).
What one family values may not be what YOU value, and vice versa. To the response someone made about private schools being superior in terms of academics, I disagree. Having had children in both private and public, I am confident in my views. Our daughter transferred from PRIVATE to PUBLIC after two years and was far behind her public school peers. Our son's friends chose PS over Portola and tell him they have little homework and that the expectations are a lot lower than what they experienced in the 5th and 6th grade at their El Cerrito public school. El Cerrito High teachers will tell you that many Portola students are equally prepared for high school as the private school students. Public schools need you
Editor note: additional reviews also received for Prospect Sierra
Hi, my kid will be entering Kindergarten (hopefully) at Madera Elem. in El Cerrito in the fall. How are the K. teachers? I understand that there are 4 classes this year. Pros and cons will be helpful. Thanks. Kim
Re: New to El Cerrito - Junior High and Elementary
Welcome to El Cerrito! We love it. Great community, wonderful local park and pool, great community center with lots of activities, great sport programs....
Madera is great; so is Kensington. A word of warning: A local private school has come upon very difficult times, and a number of students have left for the public schools. I believe Madera is currently full, as are the other elementary schools. Do call and see. If your local, neighborhood school is full, you can receive an interdistrict transfer to another El Cerrito school.
Good luck in your move, and we hope to see you in our local public schools! It Takes A Village (and we welcome you)
Madera has a very active parent community which raises money for music, arts, science, PE, you name it. There are lots of events and enrichment activities. It is a diverse and interesting student (and parent) population and all in all a pretty happy campus, with an effective and accessible principal.
Madera just added a 6th grade this year, so Portola is now a 2-year middle school. Some kids do fine there, others do not. (Some kids do fine anywhere -- others would be better served elsewhere for sure.) The mantra is ''if your kid is academically strong and takes all the advanced classes and has a tight cohort of friends and plays in the band and/or plays sports ... Portola is fine.'' In any case, two years is not forever, and lots of kids leave during middle school years (for another district, or homeschool, private school, independent study); some return to the district for high school. Maybe when the new Portola campus is built, this will change.
Best of luck, hope Madera has a slot for you (I can't really speak to that question, although they do make every effort to seat someone who is a resident . Reasonably happy, but learning should be so much more fun than it is
I am looking for an after school program or group in Albany, for a six yr old with a disability. Possibly one that has other girls, small, maybe at someones home, and can possibly pick up from a Richmond school. (Am currently seeking transfer to Albany school.) She seems like a normal girl. Her disability is not noticeable to most. But would really like someone who has experience with disabilities, similar to high functioning Asperger's. Would be a miracle if I could find the right support person. Thank you tons.
My child will be attending kindergarten at Madera this fall. Originally one of the parents was going to be at home and as a result, we did not sign up for the after school care. Well, circumstances changed very suddenly, both parents will be working and now we are frantically assessing our options. We put our names on the wait list for Madera after school care, but I am not sure our chances are really good, since it's now the end of June and everyone has probably signed up in February- March. In retrospect we should have probably signed up for the after school care even though we didn't think we needed it (but then another family would have been waitlisted, so that's not ideal either). If you are familiar with the Madera program, can you tell me if this is a lost cause at this point? What other options we have? If it's a different school, what does one do for transportation. Stressing Out
Also, there is a child care provider on Key Blvd. one block uphill from the Del Norte BART that has a van and I believe picks kids up from local schools for aftercare. It's a pink house. I believe it's called Casa de los Ninos. I stopped and talked to them once, and recall that it was pretty affordable. Best of luck. Madera parent
My son will be attending Madera Elementary. Both parents are currently working full time and it is highly unlikely that the situation will change by the time he is in school. It is my understanding that the after school care is provided at nearby Castro School, with kids being shuttled to the location. I would love to hear from Madera parents whose kids are enrolled in the after school care. What is your opinion about the program and this particular arrangement? What does and does not work? Do your kids enjoy it? If you were considering the program but in the end decided against signing up your kid, what were your reasons? Thanks in advance for your responses. anon
My kids have been enrolled in the program both last year and this year, and I am quite satisfied with it -- and they really seem to enjoy it! The staff is great, and they always seem to have fun projects planned for the kids. The afterschool program has four different activities to choose from each day, and kids sign up each day for the group/activity they want to do that afternoon -- play games outside, do an art project, do a cooking project, etc. In addition, your child can sign up for one of the MASEP (Madera Afterschool Enrichment Program) classes offered by the city. These are once-a-week classes and include things like carpentry, art, keyboard, and science, and typically last about 6 to 8 weeks, I believe. Many of the classes take place at Madera, but a few are at the El Cerrito Community Center, and in that case, the afterschool program will provide transportation to and from the class for kids in the full-afternoon afterschool program.
Did I mention how much I like the afterschool staff?
All in all, we've had a really good experience with this program, and I highly recommend it. Sign up early, though! The afterschool program tends to fill up pretty quickly. A Happy Madera Parent
The program has been wonderful. Our child loves it. The kids get to know children of all ages if they stay after 3 pm, which has been a great experience. They also get to know other kids in their grade-level, which will be helpful next year, when they have a whole new set of kids in their class. In fact, my child has made better friends through the after school program because there is little time to socialize during kindergarten, itself. I have no hesitation recommending the program. Madera parent
Our 4 year old will be starting up kindergarten at Madera School in El Cerrito in September 2008. After years of full time daycare and preschool, the short school day seems so short! How have other parents with full-time jobs dealt with this? Can you give me feedback about your experience with the El Cerrito (or other) after school care programs? Thanks! Mom of soon to be big kid
I would like to learn more about your child(ren)'s experience in upper grades in Madera school. We are interested in transfering our child next year, to the 4th grade. We have heard many positive comments about Madera, but so far I only know about K to 2nd grades. What kind of special elective classes there are for older kids? How do they handle larger classes? How are teachers enjoying teaching, or being challenged with large group of kids? Thank you very much in advance!
My daughter's 5th grade teacher retired after 25+years and the replacement teacher, a former Madera parent of four and very involved and exceptional volunteer, completed her teaching creditials a few years ago. The 4th & 5th grades average about 29 students, but can technically accept 33. My daughter was a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) student, as were about half of her class. While there were no special elective or separate classes for GATE students, teachers prepared more challenging work folders for students to complete. Thanks to one very committed volunteer, we do have special pull-out sessions for our high achievers...but this exists solely from this one parent's extraordinary energy and gift of time and resources.
Madera continues to be one of the top public elementary schools in the state and our API score has been our highest in recent years. A very involved parent community raises funds to support many programs, including computer lab, music, field trips and cultural enrichment. This type of support allows our faculty to excel. vicki
Hi, Would parents of students at Madera share how they like the school? My family are considering moving to El Cerrito area and hear about this elementary school. What do you like or dislike about the school? What is learning atmosphere, discipline issue, teacher quality, after school care like? Thanks! anonymous
We are new to El Cerrito, and will be enrolling our two children in either Castro (our neighborhood school), or requesting a transfer to Madera (also very close by). Can parents chime in on the current standing (socially, academically, physical building issues, and so on) of these schools? Also, our children would be attending the After School Program wherever they end up, so I am interested in that, too. We are looking for a safe, nurturing environement for our quiet kids, and also some help for our son, who is not reading at grade level. So, any comments about reading or resource specialists is also greatly appreciated! Want to Stay Public!
We have just moved back to the area and our local school is Madera Elementary. We have missed all the tours and have been told that it was too late to organize anything now! could anyone who have toured the kindergarten, who know of the kindergarten program, teachers, materials, facilities, aftercare program and other aspects (whether negative or positive) give us their views and impressions? Thank you! anon
The other issue I see happening in the school is a lack of harmony between the PTA and teachers (even though they are both supposed to be part of the group, it feels to me like the PTA is pretty much just parents with a token teacher attending each meeting). I think both groups are very committed but there is some concern expressed by long term faculty (and people do seem to stay for long careers at Madera) that because parents are there for a shorter time, they don't understand the needs of the school as well. Just my impression.
However, I have many positive feelings about the school. All three kindergarden teachers appeared to be wonderful- warm, committed and leading kids into the world of school and ''formal learning'' in a very positive way. The PTA is very active and currently has two co-presidents who I think are doing a great job. You may want to attend the next PTA mtg. May 9 at 7:15 to get an idea of the community. The facilities are beautiful and there are many events, assemblies and after school learning opportunities that are interesting and educational.
If you start at Madera, I would recommend getting involved early with getting to know the other parents and PTA and even volunteering in the classroom if possible. I have found that increased involvement has helped me to know and appreciate the school. Good luck. anon
I would like feedback about Madera elementary...class size,
quality of teachers, curriculum, diversity. Is it a safe
place for my child to be?
El Cerrito Hills Mama
My son will be starting kindergarten next fall. I'd like to hear about experiences with Madera Elementary, especially from parents whose children have attended the school in the past two years. The school does not allow parents of future kindergarteners to visit (per the prinicipal), which makes it difficult to decide if this is the right school for our child. luyo
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