How To Find The Right East Bay Elementary for your Family, Step-By-Step - 510 Families

How To Find The Right East Bay Elementary for your Family, Step-By-Step

In the East Bay, we are fortunate to have many excellent school options, including great public schools and a diverse array of private schools. Researching the schools and reflecting on which attributes will best serve a child can be overwhelming. Many parents say “All the websites sound the same, how do I know what each school is really like?” 

This sponsored article was created for by Natalie Crowley, an educational consultant with a focus on school placement. She’s helped dozens of families in the East Bay find the best-fit school for their children.

teacher and kindergarten students

Here are the steps Natalie recommends for parents to find the right school for their child. Generally, she recommends families begin one year before their child will begin school (e.g. start the process now for the 2024-2025 school year). 

Evaluating Schools: A Timeline for Parents and Caregivers

Pre-Work: Identify your child’s grade of entry 

The main points of entry for most public and private elementary schools are Transitional Kindergarten (TK) and Kindergarten. Your child’s age and date of birth will determine what grade they will enter.

Is my child eligible for Transitional Kindergarten (TK)?

TK offers a bridge year between preschool and kindergarten, designed for 4 and 5-year-olds. California has been gradually expanding TK eligibility over the past few years so that a greater number of children can benefit from public education before they are of Kindergarten age.

  • For the 2024-2025 school year, all children who turn 4 between Sept 2-June 2 will be eligible for TK.
  • By 2025-2026, all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1 can enroll in TK. 
  • TK is available in every public school district in California, but not at every elementary school site. 
  • Also offered at some independent schools (may be called Junior Kindergarten or Pre-K)

When is my child old enough for Kindergarten?

Children who turn 5 by Sept. 1 can enroll in public Kindergarten (some private schools have slightly different age cut-offs/guidelines) 

👉 For public schools, if your child turns 6 by Sept. 1, they will be required to enter 1st grade, even if they have not completed a kindergarten year. Keep this in mind if you are considering “redshirting” your Kindergartener, i.e. having them complete an extra year of preschool to delay their entry into kindergarten for academic and/or social reasons. 

Step 1: Identify and prioritize your preferences {August}

Here’s where the deeper work begins. To get really clear about what your preferences, limitations, and capabilities are as a family, consider:

  • Commute. How far away can you travel to a school?
  • School hours. What are the minimum hours of childcare you would need?
  • Extended Care. Do you need a school that offers morning and/or after-school care? 
  • Cost. How much money can you comfortably afford to spend on school and related expenses (gas, aftercare, extracurricular activities, etc.)? 
  • Class size. What environment will best suit your learner?
  • Philosophy. Public, private, charter, progressive, religious, co-ed, single-gender, Montessori, etc.
  • Extracurricular activities. How do these compare across schools?
  • Physical campus. How important are facilities? 
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Is there support for neurodivergent students, students with disabilities and/or learning differences. Is student and staff diversity supported?

Step 2: Research schools {August-September}

Next, you’ll begin making a list of schools that meet your criteria.

Resources for researching public schools

Resources for researching independent schools

School Selection Success is a self-paced online course created by Natalie to show you exactly what to do in each step of the school search and application process. The course is made up of bite-sized videos with accompanying action steps and customizable worksheets.

Save 50% on this course with code 510FAM50 at checkout >

Remember, you are looking for a school that is the best fit for your child– and that may be a very different school than is best for your neighbor’s child, your coworker’s child, or even for your child’s older sibling. Also, pay attention to dates; there may be a lag between schools reporting data and it being published.

If you want to work with Natalie one-on-one, book a free 30-minute consultation at Live Oak Educational Consulting.

Step 3: Attend tours and admissions events {September – December}

Public school tours typically begin in October or November. You will find information about tours on the school’s website or the district website. If you don’t, email the principal to inquire. If you live in a district where you will be able to rank your choices when you apply (Oakland and Berkeley), be sure to visit all the schools you’re considering.

Private schools will have an inquiry form on their website inviting you to learn more about and reserve spots for school tours, open houses, information nights, panels, and other admissions events that will happen throughout the Fall. 

Step 4: Enroll and/or Apply {January}

Narrow down your shortlist to 4-6 schools (could be a mix of public and private) and submit enrollment paperwork or completed applications.

For private schools, the application process can include parents writing essays, being interviewed, completing assessments and evaluations, and navigating waitlists. For public schools, this could be a simple enrollment process, or it may involve participating in multiple rounds of a lottery.

Need some guidance? Book a free 30-minute consultation at Live Oak Educational Consulting to take the first step in finding the best-fit school for your child.

Thanks to Natalie Crowley for this helpful information. Visit her website at

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