Junipero Serra Elementary School: A Love Story

by Jaysa Kass Zablatsky

I am a parent of an incoming kindergartener this coming fall. We didn't have J. Serra on our Round 1 list but were assigned it.

(Yup, we were in that 16% that didn't get anything on their list.) Well, after investigating, it turns out this is a really wonderful little neighborhood school and we are really excited to attend. We aren't even going to do Round 2.

 Image courtesy of greatergood.berkeley.edu

Image courtesy of greatergood.berkeley.edu

The published demographics are a bit deceiving, because they have 2 kindergarten streams, one is Spanish (English learners) and one is general/English. The English one has a better mix demographically that the overall school demographics might show.

The school was recently given a "6" rating on Great Schools which is a big jump from their previous rating. Their test scores have been going up every year.

We chose this school despite our initial lack of interest because:

It has a great principal. 

The school does amazing things without an affluent PTA (the top schools in this city are all top because the PTA gives lots of time and money). 

It is good for kids to be in a more diverse situation with fewer kids that are exactly like them.

Because it is good for kids to be exposed to kids with different levels of privilege so that they learn to appreciate what they have and not take it for granted. There are a nice group of parents currently attending from the Bernal Heights neighborhood, all of whom have really great things to say about the school. 

The kids in the classes are attentive to their teachers and are engaged.

The kids in the playground are happy and having fun.

And it is in a really great location across from wonderful Holly Park.

But what most changed my mind was that the test scores were actually on par with our Round 1 first choice. Yes! Actually.

This little neighborhood school for which I originally had little regard was actually nearly as good academically as our 1st choice. And they achieved those test scores with a group of kids of which 50% didn't speak English when they started kindergarten. And without PTA funding.

They did this through: Focus on computers. Focus on academics. Focus on great teaching. Way back, they put in a good computer lab with a full time computer teacher, and every single kid in the school gets computer lab time a minimum of 1x per week. The principal will settle for nothing less than excellent teaching and with an expectation that every kid in the school can achieve academically regardless of language barriers, background, or anything else. The school get lots of grants and pilot programs because of the percentage of disadvantaged kids. And they use the money well.

They are currently having construction at the school, but he construction will be done in a year and when it is done, they will have an all new (yes, every classroom is getting completely redone) school with more space for enrichment, a nice library, a better computer lab. It will be as nice as our Round 1 first choice school is now.

J. Serra seems it is completely under the radar for many Bernal Heights families who leave the neighborhood to attend more popular public schools. But I hope more families will consider it for this coming kindergarten year or future years.