Subjective Thoughts on Decatur
A commenter here has been offered a spot at Decatur with a few days to decide about it so I thought I’d offer up my thoughts on the place. These are based on my 1 personal visit and reports from other parents over the past couple years (remember, I start every conversation with “where does your child go to school?”)
Before I toured Decatur I had heard that the school was a bit strict and the administration kind of controlling and uptight. I’d heard that parents are not really welcomed into the building (like if you are picking up your child and you need to go in to use the bathroom, forget it.) I’d also heard that in the time period AFTER school notifications, they give minimal (possibly no) school tours – kind of with the attitude of “you should have done your homework ahead of time.”
So I attended the tour with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, intenting to ask about the anti-parents policy. Well, I could not have been more surprised. The principal seemed warm and friendly. The school “vibe” was very positive (althought the school was freezing) and the students all looked truly engaged in their learning. The principal or teacher would have kids in some of the classes speak to us and of course with all these 99%+ kids, it was very impressive. The racial diversity was like a parent’s dream. The teachers looked motivated and engaged. And I DID ask about their acceptance of parents in the school and although they didn’t promise that one could come in to pee, they certainly embrace parental involvement in appropriate school activities (and of course fundraising.) I left the tour wanting my son to go there.
Regarding academics, the test scores are fantastic, but of course when you’re taking all 99% kids you’re off to a good start. I was a little freaked out when the principal stated that kids are pretty much expected to be reading at the first grade level right from the start and will be given minimal time to catch up. I’m sure the kids who actually test in have no trouble.
The “Classical” thing puts a unique spin on the place. Kids learn Latin and tap-dancing as part of a “classical” eduction which is cool but I picture a lot of these kids getting their asses kicked when they get to high school if parents aren’t helping to raise their cool-factor a bit.
I’ve heard that the discipline is pretty no-nonsense, even for Kindergarteners. They simply don’t tolerate “bad” behavior and expect the parent to make it stop. I think someone with a young boy who has a hard time sitting still could possibly be setting up their child for frustration.
One other challenge I’ve heard is that because Decatur is a small school that doesn’t have a neighborhood component, they face more hurdles in getting funding. Parents can fundraise but they don’t have an aldeman or a neighborhood Friends-Of group rallying for them. The building probably needs some updating (I think there is no lunchroom) but they’re basically at the mercy of CPS to help them. On the other hand, there is a nice small-school feel to the place. The teachers and admin probably know all the kids by name.
So overall, I think if you have a kid who tests in it’s worth a shot. If your child is reading before Kindergarten you may not want them in a class where some kids are still learning their letter – it’s just a matter of preventing boredom (in my opinion.) Just like any other CPS school, there will be some unique quirks about the place, there will be years when the teacher is fantastic and years when they’re not. If you have a good neighborhood school, the benefits of attending there might outweigh the commute to a place like Decatur (or other magnet/gifted school.) I think a lot of it come down to how much the child really *needs* an accelerated curriculum – if they really do, it’s probably worth the effort to get them there.
Disclaimer: These are my personal and biased opinions. Please feel free to add yours in the comment box!