I would be happy to give this school 5 stars but I can't. I'm sure that some of the issues we see are partly societal and that many schools are struggling with, but regardless we pay a lot of money in taxes to live in Oak Park and I expect the quality of education to reflect that. Teaching to the test is a real issue, my son is in 4th grade and it is all about the testing for the past 2 years. Using loss of recess as a punishment when kids only get very little recess time is inappropriate, counterintuitive and unhealthy. Kids don't work better and faster when they sit all day. Classroom overcrowding is a big problem. Brookside is clearly over capacity. "Individual attention" and "personalized learning", although talked about quite a lot, are more of a wishful thinking than a reality. Wasting such a large portion of instructional time on movie watching, computer games, and various fundraising campaigns feels very wrong, particularly for a school where every 4th student had failed state English test and almost every 3rd had failed state math test. The school runs too many fundraisers, just because we live in a nice neighborhood doesn't mean that we should be treated as ATM machines. And I think it's completely unethical that the school uses the children to try to guilt parents into the fundraisers. Although all donation requests come with a disclaimer, children feel like they'll be ostracized if parents don't donate enough. Not sure but to me, some of the fundraisers are inappropriately extravagant, but probably they are just a reflection of new Brookside principal vision of the school and local community. The situation is rather unfortunate because I was always a believer in public school. Not so much anymore.
I feel very fortunate to have found this warm, welcoming community at Brookside. Having moved from LA USD (where the annual "give" was $975/kid on top of the endless donations for school and classroom supplies), we have no question that this was the best move for our family.
The teachers are caring and loving and extremely involved, both in and out of the classroom. They also welcome the support that parents want to give which is very different from our experience in LA USD. I love that they are helping to prepare our kids for jobs that don't yet exist and embrace technology. In our previous school, resources were so scarce that they didn't always have the ability to provide our kids with the latest technology.
The PTA is extremely professional and very well run and are transparent about where our contributions are being spent. They have embraced our family and have numerous opportunities for parents to get involved; it doesn't have to be project managing an entire event, it could simply be donating a few hours of time in the evening. The families we encounter through school and sports are loving and involved parents, with the shared goal of giving our kids a happy and positive upbringing with a strong emphasis on education.
Fantastic and caring principal, and an incredible amount of parent involvement and well-run programs. Wonderful weekly communications to help parents stay informed, and a caring staff. As a parent, I can't tell you how wonderful it is when your kids wake up and are excited to go to school and love their teachers and principal. My kids love the lunchtime enrichment options they have to play with Legos, go to the field to play organized sports with Masters of the Playground, or read a book by the book cart on the days when they need some downtime. It's nice for kids who may be a little more introverted to have options.
We are a family who moved to Oak Park a couple of years ago, and our kids have been to private and Magnet schools before coming to Brookside.
I am continuously impressed with the amount of time and energy our principal and staff put into making sure all students are successful! We have an incredibly talented group of teachers who want nothing but the best for our students and families.
Our PTA President and committee members have provided an atmosphere where my family and I have been able to feel welcomed, and has touched the lives of our kids one way or another by providing a fabulous variety of programs to help make my kids' learning journey enjoyable. The amount of dedication that these individuals are showing is truly amazing, and it has been what has set our school apart from others.
Brookside asks for hefty donations, but honestly I would be willing to pay every year 3X as much as the current requested amount for the school to limit the use of computers in the classrooms. Brookside classrooms are literally overflowing with all the latest gadgets and "educational software". The kids are constantly swiping, pressing, checking, clicking, dragging, you name it. Even normal classical language arts work was replaced with some spellingcity junk. And I've already lost the count of how many "education math software" we have used the past years, ixl, coolmath-games, coolmath4kids, and so on and so on. It feels like every year the school administration hopes to find some new magical software that would instantly turn each student into a little math genius. Technology doesn't teach, it is just an instrument. And improperly used technology, overuse of technology in elementary school setting becomes a major distraction or even detriment to meaningful education. It is February now and my daughter didn't have a single homework this year asking to write at least a sentence, not even speaking about an essay. She is doing lots of game playing on spellingcity as homework though. I have a high tech job, and can tell for sure that the software Brookside students are learning now will be outdated in 2 - 3 years. Ability to click on a link or navigate between the screens on a tablet is not something students should be focusing on. Spending hours on mastering these skills doesn't guarantee that a kid will grow up tech savvy and will pursue a STEM career. It can only increase his chances of game addition and vision and neck problems later in life. An elementary school should be teaching students how to approach a problem, how to concentrate on one, how to provide logical arguments (and how to write them down), how to listen to others, how to express own thought on paper; should encourage kids not to be afraid to have own thought, should encourage critical thinking, should teach how to interact with teachers and peers, should provide plenty of hands on experience. Kids should learn to see the beauty, the complexity and the interconnections of the things in the real world around them, not have their minds locked in a primitive virtual reality.
My husband and I have very mixed feelings about Brookside. We were excited for our son to attend this school as we had heard many good things about it, but what was communicated to us is very different from our experience and observations.
Another person noted a high level of computer and "TV time". This is true. On rainy days, that is what the children do. Nice for teachers, I suppose. I would love to see them engaged in an art project instead.
The PTA is very exclusive and a number of the members are pretty aloof. A couple of reviewers mentioned that the school is expensive. This is also true if you are giving at the level the school and PTA want. The supplies alone that families have to provide every year are ridiculous. There's no other way to put it.
There is a new enrichment company providing after school classes. My son's taken a couple and had a good experience. These classes are also not cheap.
The teachers do their best. I couldn't say any are exceptional. My son has liked most of the teachers he has had so far. He particularly likes the music teacher, Mrs. Benjamin, and the librarian, Mrs. Shaver.
Honestly, I don't believe Brookside is anything out of the ordinary. My son has felt pressure to perform which caused some anxiety. We are considering switching districts before 5th grade as I have friends in the Oak Park Middle and High school that are not having a good experience for very similar reasons, only the pressure is substantially greater and the students just don't have the skills to deal with it.
Despite quite a few good things that can be said about Brookside, such as uniform student demographics, parental involvement, some lunch time programs, OK test scores (although on 2015 Common Core BES performed the worst of all OP schools and much worse than Willow and Woodland Hills Elem.), we feel that disadvantages outweigh all the advantages and will be leaving the district after this year. The disadvantages I consider worth mentioning. 1. Amount of TV watching and computer time in the classrooms. Students are shown a full sized animation every 2-3 weeks and get daily TV time on rainy days and the week before holidays. Students are rewarded with an hour of computer game time on Chromebooks 2-3 times a week. For parents not keen on the idea of daily TV/computer game time that is something to be aware of. 2. So called "customized Common Core program". Customized CC program created by the district and adopted by BES has all challenging assignments removed from the workbooks. Students are reminded every week not to do problems marked as challenging as part of homework. Customized math program with more difficult topics removed (i.e. topic on the order of operations, including parenthesis, is removed so students are ask to memorize distributive property without understanding its meaning) results in big gaps in the flow of logic and makes homeschooling/tutoring mandatory. 3. New district schedule. Starting this year OPUSD school year runs mid august - mid may (Aug, 11 2015 - May, 27 2016) and is not synch'ed with any of the local summer camp programs. The new schedule combined with the total absence of school-run afterschool/summer program creates a real problem for families with working parents. Afterschool care in Mae Boyar Park already has a long waiting list. 4. Campus safety. As BES doesn't have a fence around the perimeter and doesn't keep the gate on Conifer locked, the sports/PE field and upper grade playground are used by local dog owners as an off-leash dog park. This situation alone was somewhat unsanitary and caused damaged to the sports field, but was never taken seriously. After several students were attacked by dogs (thankfully no bad injuries) last week during the lunch break, we longer feel that our child is safe at school. Considering the amount of wildlife in the area, and number of coyotes seen on the streets I'm even more concerned.
This school is probably no worse than any other school in the area if your child does not have a learning disability. However, it can turn into a true nightmare for families of kids having any kind of learning disorder. Be prepared to be the one to bring issues regarding your child's academic performance to the attention of the teachers and administration, and not vice-versa. Don't anticipate teachers to have proper experience and qualification, my child's teacher actually expected me to tell her how my child should be taught. The school doesn't have a full time diagnostician, neither they have a plan in place on how to work with students with learning disorders or how to integrate them into a regular classroom. Despite being long time Oak Park residents we had to transferred our child into a neighboring district. I have met several other local families that had to leave OPUSD because of lack of interest and resources to work with their kids with learning disabilities. Although the review below praising BES of 10-12 years ago is very touching, one need to understand that the district and the school are not at all what they used to be 10-12 years ago. A decade ago the school used to hold on to every student to keep the funds, classes were small and teachers had time and incentive to work with each child individually. Now with dozens of out-of-the-district families on the waiting list and classrooms filled above the physical capacity the district neither wants to waste time and resources on educating "second class" students, nor they want to put their testscores at risk. Today's Oak Park district prefers to deal only with regular students, they no longer have any interest in working with children above or below the norm. Parents of children with learning disorders are getting told to either transfer to OP Independent school or leave the district altogether. It's too bad that when selecting a school most people are only comparing testcores without understanding how OP schools demographics is different from that of other local schools, and that high testcores at OP schools are not the result of having highly skilled and enthusiastic staff, smaller classes and better programs, but a result of removing not performing children from the classrooms and filtering out potentially problematic children and families when considering out-of-district applicants.
We also have had positive experiences at Brookside so I am surprised to read these negative reviews; we spent a lot of time researching schools before selecting Brookside as our elementary school and have been here now for almost four years and don't regret our decision to move here. Of course there are things that could be done better, as at any school, but it's a wonderful community of parents and teachers. As for the donations, having come from another district and having read up on the economics of California school funding, they really should look at other schools in detail. Title I Schools like Sumac receive a lot more funding from the state than OPUSD schools and are able to offer certain programs as a result. Donations are exactly that-just donations, not a cost of schooling--they are not mandatory. The programs are funded for the benefit of all children. If one cannot afford to donate, there are so many other ways to contribute to the community, but one would be hard pressed to find one elementary school that doesn't have a foundation or parent organization in place to help support music, computers, art, and more. The education is free, but the extra programs are made possible by those investing for the benefit of ALL students. Computer teacher time, Music teacher time, performances, Garden program, lunchtime enrichment programs, including a library book cart rolled out twice a week during lunch, LEGOs run by parent volunteers, CREATE Art on Your Campus, parent education, community events, and so many other programs offered. It's a wonderful community that supports a vast array of programs for our students to expand on their interests outside of the classroom. We feel very fortunate to be a part of this community.
My husband and I have had all four of our children attend Brookside Elementary. I am sorry to read some of the negative reviews others have given this great school, because I do not agree with them at all. My children were not the top students in the class, and often received support from programs at Brookside to get them on track academically. My oldest children are now extremely successful high schoolers (at OPHS) and I attribute that to the strong foundation they received from caring teachers and aides during those early elementary years. Oak Park is known for its rigorous curriculum, however they focus just as much on developing citizens who contribute to their community. There is a character counts attribute focused on each month, highlighted during school assemblies, and whenever my child was having difficulty socially with a peer, the principal and teachers were consistently there to problem solve with us. As far as a well rounded education, there are musical performances, lunchtime enrichment activities, a wonderful computer lab with assignments each week that compliment the classroom curriculum, a strong (and fun!) PE program with wonderful coaches, art docents in the classrooms, a district science specialist that spearheads trips to the Channel Islands for the upper elementary students, the list could go on and on. The administration has taken the lead in educating the parents on the new Common Core Standards and supporting us as we all try to provide homework help to our students. There are parenting seminars led by the counselor and many fun activities aimed for families planned by the PTA. To say that Brookside is a great school is an understatement. It is a fantastic school, and while not every organization is perfect, at the heart of it are teachers, parents and administrators working together to the best of their ability to provide a rigorous and appropriate education to students. I would with my whole heart and no reservations recommend letting your child be a Brookside Tiger!