Back to School Fall 2016

September 6, 2016 at 11:33 pm 41 comments


Welp, here we are.  On a bright note, more CPS schools are air-conditioned than ever before.  On the downside, we may face a strike this Fall.  Oh, and principals and teachers seem to be moving out of the city/system (hard to blame them.)

I will be embarking on the high school application year, which now seems less stressful than 7th grade did.  I feel exceedingly more comfortable about the HS options now than when I first started this blog 8 (!) years ago.

Feel free to share any first-week of school experiences.   Our/my main events have been:
-Homeroom/science teacher got plum job in Evanston last week and left unexpectedly
-Child finally gets a male homeroom teacher for the first time ever
-I signed up for the bus but didn’t receive any kind of notification about anything so I need to track that down
-Ongoing discussion of whether all school supplies must be taken at once or doled out over time
-I’m wondering if the lunch options will be better next year in High School so that I can finally stop packing lunches after 9 years
-I occasionally wonder if now that the stress of 7th grade is over, that I’ll somehow space out on getting the PIN and signing my son up for testing, etc. and somehow miss the HS application deadline
-Pondering the weirdness of kids being over-protected throughout childhood and then suddenly told they have to make their way to a giant high school on public transportation






Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Chicago Magazine’s Top Schools 2016 Budget, Pensions, CTU – where is your head at right now?

41 Comments Add your own

  • 1. WY2  |  September 7, 2016 at 12:40 am

    – I’m wondering if the lunch options will be better next year in High School so that I can finally stop packing lunches after 9 years

    Don’t know how food looks in Elementary schools, but HS lunch is a joke. Was running late one morning last year, it was supposed to be a pizza day, so decided that my kid can eat in the cafeteria. Asked him after school how it was: “Mom, it was the worst pizza ever! How do they manage to make it taste so bad?” Well, how many 12 y.o. you know that will throw away their pizza when they are hungry? From what I heard, most of the kids in the AC bring their lunch in.

    On the plus side, though, at least some HS have food truck stops right next to them. So may be there is life without lunchboxes after all? 🙂

  • 2. robin in WRP  |  September 7, 2016 at 5:19 am

    Let’s start with: CPS food is wretched. A thermos with leftovers, or vegetables and pasta with sauce (peanut, marinara, etc.) is quick and easy. rinse the thermos with hot water before filling; heat the foot in the microwave. Plan lunches on the weekend, when you plan the rest of the week’s meals.
    This is a good time for your child to learn about budgeting, and lunch out will be a line item on the budget.

  • 3. Vanessa  |  September 7, 2016 at 5:40 am

    Does anyone know when or if there will be a high school fair? I have an 8th grader that isn’t sure about what high school to go to.

  • 4. Chicago School GPS  |  September 7, 2016 at 6:51 am

    @3- Yes! Our 5th Annual Hidden Gems High School Fair is Sunday, September 25th from 1-4pm at British School of Chicago, South Loop campus. Over 35 public & private schools and several resource vendors to help you widen your search for a great fit high school. Middle schoolers and parents are encouraged to attend, because there will be workshops for both groups. Lots of info in 3 hours but it will definitely kick start your high school search!

    I don’t know about the Parent Power Fair that was at Navy Pier last year and McCormick Place the year before. Their website is under construction.

  • 5. Jen K  |  September 7, 2016 at 7:12 am

    Agree about the HS lunch assessment from early posters. My AC kid gets lazy and doesn’t make her lunch once in a while. She tells me she had “some meat thing but it was gross so I didn’t eat it”.

    The HS kids get off campus lunch so they could go out. And I love the suggestion about lunch as a budget item! I bring my own lunch to work for that very reason…pretty sure I’m not going to splurge on the teen eating out every day!

  • 6. Pritzker Mom  |  September 7, 2016 at 8:10 am

    The busses seem as messed up as ever. I check at the school and was told we were on AM’s route 3. The postcard said AM. Last week IST called us and said we were on their route 1053. We’re driving them this week (at least).

  • 7. Beverly Dad  |  September 7, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Just found out that 19th Ward Ald Matt O’Shea wants to close Kellogg & combine it with Sutherland. Keller would then move to Kellogg, and Mt Greenwood Elementary would move to Kellogg. AWESOME move for Mt Greenwood, terrible move for all the other schools.

  • 8. genxatmidlife  |  September 7, 2016 at 8:54 am

    The last two points really resonate. We are coming from a private school, so we have the additional red tape of scheduling the MAP testing. One year we got calls for MAP testing when we weren’t applying to selective schools, so I am concerned that now that we are we won’t get scheduled.

    And I have this theory of the over-protected city kid.

  • 9. HSObsessed  |  September 7, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Funny about making lunches – my husband has always made a sack lunch for our daughter, since I start work very early in the morning. He really hates it, though. We tried to train her to make her own sandwich a long time ago, as we’ve successfully done with laundry, dishes, etc, to no avail. Last week, hubby hopefully asked her whether she still needed him to make her lunch, given that she’s a senior in high school. She gave him the puppy dog eyes and nodded. So, grumblingly, he was back at the task yesterday, for the 13th and final year. I repeated the parenting mantra to him: You’re gonna miss these days. As I scooted off to work, LOL.

  • 10. mom2  |  September 7, 2016 at 9:33 am

    The last time we did high school, we didn’t need pins and things like that. When do you sign up for a pin and where? Is it first come first served for who gets to test where and when? I’m still stressed.

  • 11. Chicago School GPS  |  September 7, 2016 at 10:01 am

    If you had a 7th grader in CPS last year and are still in CPS this year, your child will get their PIN at school from their counselor.

    If your child is a non-CPS student, then don’t forget to sign up for the CPS administered NWEA MAP test by this Friday, 9/9/16.
    Then your child will get his/her PIN when they receive their scheduled test date.

  • 12. Big Blue  |  September 7, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Basic question from a CPS newbie…. Our oldest daughter will be entering kindergarten next fall. We applied for some of the Pre-K options last year but were not accepted.

    1) Do we need to use the same PIN from last year or request a new PIN when the application window opens?
    2) The magnet and selective enrollment application processes are entirely separate, correct?
    3) Assuming they are separate, do we need to apply for separate PINs for each of these application processes or is it the same PIN for both?

    Thank you.

  • 13. Michi  |  September 7, 2016 at 10:53 am

    “I’m wondering if the lunch options will be better next year in High School so that I can finally stop packing lunches after 9 years”
    No better options but my daughter’s been making her own lunch since 7th. We will blanch some broccoli and place it ready to grab, fruit options, and pack up leftovers of dinner in ready to go containers as she likes leftovers better than sandwiches. No reason mom has to make lunch for high school!
    “Pondering the weirdness of kids being over-protected throughout childhood and then suddenly told they have to make their way to a giant high school on public”
    Yeah, I was thankful our neighborhood option worked for us, as I could let her start making her way to/from school last year, and now she is already used to getting to school herself even if this is a bit farther. We already lost our first Ventra card though.

  • 14. LSmom  |  September 7, 2016 at 10:59 am

    @Big Blue, you’ll need to request a new pin for the 2017-2018 school year. You use the same pin to apply for selective enrollment and magnet/neighborhood schools.

  • 15. IB/IB mom (formerly IB and AC mom)  |  September 7, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I am on to stressing about picking the right school now. Open houses here we come. They don’t have the list up on the OAE, but many individual schools have their date on their websites, and with my oldest one still looking at colleges, my schedule for the fall is CRAZY.

    Also wondering… to prep or not to prep, that is the question. It wasn’t even a question before, but looking at the tier 4 cut off for Jones (currently our #1) it may be necessary to give her a chance. All A’s and NEWA’s are in the 90’s, but I think one is low 90’s and the other is high 90’s so her entrance exam has to be near perfect.

  • 16. majaramirez  |  September 7, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Our teen newly at WPCP luckily has a soph friend who said, DON’T bring everything the first day – lucky since the freshies didn’t get their locker assignments until the end of the day!

    Lunch – if they try CPS HS food and like it, well, once in awhile I guess. I’m happy she’ll still take home lunch, she can’t WAIT to go out with her friends whenever it is they’ll be allowed, I think not till they’re upperclassmen.

    So far I’ve seen no requests for paper towels, tissues, etc, but we did pay a rather large fee a couple weeks ago at freshman orientation.

    I think the HS fair at LaSalle was later in the year, not September. Hopefully it says on one’s school website?

    to #15 – IB/IB mom – she did do prep courses through Drucker Center, and I think it probably helped.

  • 17. Chicago School GPS  |  September 7, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    @15- we have as many Open Houses as we know about on our CSG Calendar and will definitely be adding more throughout the year. Our recommendation is definitely spread out open house visits over a few years, so starting in 6th grade is not too early at all!

  • 18. WY2  |  September 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    WY requested school supplies – none.
    $500 annual school fee that covers textbooks and supplies.don;t know when it was changed the last time, but last year it was the same.
    Constant fundraising for everything – sports, arts, computers, etc. But it is not mandatory.

  • 19. Chicago School GPS  |  September 8, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Any non-CPS families wanting to apply to CPS 5th-9th grade will need to take the NWEA MAP tests administered by CPS. If you want to take them in October, register by tomorrow, 9/9/16!

    Logistics (from CPSOAE’s FAQ’s sheet):
    1.    When will testing take place?
    Testing will take place on October 8, 9, 22, and 23, 2016. Testing will occur during two possible
    sessions on each test day: 9:00 am and 12:00 noon. There will be one additional test date in
    January 2017 for families that do not register by September 9th. That date has not yet been
    2.    Where will testing take place?
    The test locations have not yet been finalized. There will be at least three test sites, located
    north, south, and central.
    3.    When and how will we be able to register?
    Parents can register by submitting the NWEA MAP registration form to the Office of Access and
    Enrollment. Forms can be hand‐delivered or mailed to 42 W. Madison St., Garden Level,
    Chicago, IL 60602, or scanned and emailed to In order for
    students to be scheduled to test in October, the registration form must be received by the Office
    of Access and Enrollment no later than September 9, 2016.
    4.    What are the benefits of testing in October?
    Students who take the NWEA MAP in October will be able to use the online application portal to
    submit their applications for schools for 2017‐2018. They will also be able to indicate their test
    date preference for the NWEA MAP and will receive their NWEA MAP test results before the
    application deadline in December.
    Students who test in January must submit paper applications to apply for schools for 2017‐2018,
    and will not be able to indicate a test date preference. In addition, these students will receive
    their NWEA MAP test results in February/March.

  • 20. artmom2  |  September 8, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    I have a 6th grader planning to take the selective test for Lane’s AC consideration. Has anyone experienced any good (or bad) test prep for it? My Freshman did not want to go the SE route at all, so I am beginning to figure out what we need to do to get into the process!

  • 21. artmom2  |  September 8, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Oh, and my Freshman has commented that the cafeteria lunch (@ ChiArts) is actually worse than the lunches were at his elementary cps, so… yeah. 😦 Keep that Six Million Dollar Man lunch box close.

  • 22. 8thgradedad  |  September 9, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Can you post how to calculate what my child’s current point total is for the application to SEHS? I know the entrance exam is a big part of it, but I’d like to know where my child stands before we put too much effort into the exam.

  • 23. Chicago School GPS  |  September 9, 2016 at 11:32 am

    @22- try the CPSOAE Point Calculation Tool:

  • 24. cpsobsessed  |  September 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

    I’m so sad hearing about the bad high school lunches. With open campus I foresee a lot of fast food in these kids’ lives.

    On another note, I should open a small take out restaurant near Amundsen as there isn’t really any place to get food near the school. Seems like there would be good money in affordable food trucks (not the super expensive food trucks we have downtown.) Then again… selling cheap food out of a truck to high school kids… can there be many people who aspire to that?? 🙂

  • 25. Vikingmom  |  September 9, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    @CPSO “selling cheap food out of a truck to high school kids…” lol
    And actually Amundsen does not have an open campus. My understanding—and I could very well be wrong—is that in order to do so the school needs to gain permission from neighbors within a certain radius (kind of like getting a liquor license) but feel free to correct me if I am wrong!
    I do like the idea of open campus in theory but in reality I could see it for me as being one more opportunity for the kid to ask for money. My daughter who just graduated from Amundsen rarely grumbled about not having it. Like you don’t miss what you don’t know.
    There was talk last year of creating an outdoor space for the students to at least be able to sit outside during lunch but logistics were an issue; however, I don’t think the idea is dead.

  • 26. cpsobsessed  |  September 9, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Ah, that makes sense. I live right by the school and I never see kids out at lunch (then again, I’m rarely around during the day.) Oh well… so much for my teenager-food truck career.

    I do recall on a school visit there seeing a big old room off the lunch room labeled “bakery” that is no longer in use. I’d love to see what kinds of homemade foods came out of these school cafeterias back in the day.

  • 27. klm  |  September 10, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Having done some volunteer stuff in CPS schools, I’ve bought the lunches maybe a dozen times. I purposely do CPS lunches, when possible, to see how the food really is.

    My feeling? Very hit or miss. In a perfect world, there would be fresh food and professional cook. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

    One thing that those of us that live in a Whole Foods Bubble need to keep in mind is that CPS has to provide the USDA levels of micro-nutrients to students, given that the idea that, for some students, CPS cafeteria food is their primary source of nutrition.

    Sure, organic, whole grain bread seems “better,” but it doesn’t have the added vitamins and minerals of seemingly awful-for-you Wonder Bread (as much calcium as a glass of milk, plus added vitamin D to help bodies absorb it), for example. CPS can’t dole Flintstone chewable vitamins and calcium gummies.

    Given the price points they’re dealing with in CPS school cafeterias, they’re often using processed foods to make sure kids get the necessary vitamins and minerals –and upper-middle-class people that shop at the Green City Market and spend $200 dollars a pop at Whole Foods and then drives away in her Volvo XC90s think it’s just awful. However, the kinds of food people eat in Lincoln Park vs. Lawndale isn’t always driven by ignorance of nutrition or access to supermarkets that sell organic baby carrots. Often it’s about money and time (both of which are often in short supply).

    My mother knew about nutrition and fresh food, but when I was growing up in a low-income household we had things like Hamburger Helper and Mac-N-Cheese for dinner because it was all we could afford. When we eventually had more money and my mom only had to work one job, we had lots of fresh produce and my mon made all kinds of good, healthy foods from cook books and recipes she found in healthy living magazines.

    People like the proverbial Lincoln Park mom in Lulu Lemon yoga pants may (rightfully, in their opinion, given what they know about nutrition and the money they have to spend on food –and they have a real point, I believe, don’t get me wrong) may be horrified by the “goopy crap” being served by CPS, but could they provide 100% of the nutrition growing kids need for a buck or two?

    It’s expensive to eat a fresh food, organic, hormone-free diet and it requires some planning to get all the vitamins and minerals one needs from it.

    A serving of Froot Loops (we call it ‘candy cereal’ in our house and allow it only for dessert, occasionally, when the kids have been good and birthdays, as a ‘fun food’ for special occasions), for example has lots more vitamins and minerals than a serving of the “organic” old fashioned oatmeal I sometimes give my kids. I feel good about myself and all, but I know that my kids will be getting all the vitamins and mineral they need from the other food I give them, plus the organic gummy vitamins I buy at Whole Foods. The dieticians and food providers at CPS don’t have this luxury.

    I don’t like it either, but I get that sometimes CPS school lunches are the way they are for a reason other than culinary ineptitude.

  • 28. Don Justice  |  September 11, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    The food at the cafeterias is free, so you get what you pay for

  • 29. cpsobsessed  |  September 11, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    HIgh school food is free too?

  • 30. cpsobsessed  |  September 11, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    @klm, that is true. I recall the “good” food in my high school as being those rectangular pizzas and French fries. No wonder I beefed up in high school.

  • 31. klm  |  September 11, 2016 at 9:34 pm


    I know, right? Me, too.

    Put French fries and public school cafeteria-style over-cooked broccoli in front of most kids and see which one they choose to eat. It’s a no-brainer –and, frankly, who could blame them?

    Not me, honestly.

    One of my kids used to go a Name private school where lots of parents were totally into farm-to-table eating, were upset (really) when another parent brought in Cheez-It’s for JK group snack instead of freshly cut strawberries or apple slices, etc. Half our polite conversations were about foodie topics –restaurants, best place to get organic produce for juicing, etc. Of course, many parents at the school were happy (and able) to pay what was needed to make sure that their kids were “eating right” (i.e., the way upper-middle-class[+] people do these days) for lunch and were pleased when the school switched to a vendor that provided the “right kind” of lunch, had ever-strict rules about what was acceptable fare for JK Snack, etc. There was –I swear to God– organic-vegan lunch days, even. Fresh kale was normalized cafeteria lunch food. It was wonderful.

    Meanwhile, as far as CPS food goes –forget preservative-free organic apple sauce and fresh-baked kale chips with fresh-ground Himalayan pink salt. Kids just need some nutrient-rich food to help them grow for a couple of bucks a pop. It’s kinda’ sad (another example of the bifurcation of American parenting styles circa 2016 between the haves/have-nots and have-mores), but true.

    I’m very grateful for the excellent education my kids are receiving at their respective CPS schools –we are lucky and appreciative. Whatever the school cafeterias are serving is not a primary concern for me. What’s happening in the classroom is.

    If I want my kids to “eat right” I make their lunches and don’t give them money to spend on junk. Problem solved.

    “If it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it.”

    Meanwhile, CTU is a-fixin’ for a prolonged strike in October. That’s the real CPS school concern for me.

    CPS kids are already started 2-3 weeks compared to many of their nation-wide peers, when getting ready for AP exams, etc. A prolonged strike in October (2+ weeks is possible, from what I understand) will make things even worse.

  • 32. Lunch & Strike  |  September 12, 2016 at 10:33 am

    @CPSO: HS lunch is free & you get about three choices. One of my kids refuses to eat the lunch the other eats the main entree & snacks from home.

    @klm: I agree with you about a strike being more of a concern. I believe this is going to be a long one. The longest strike in CTU history was 19 days!!! I hope you are right with 10 & we all need to hope for less than 10. Those of us with seniors like me don’t want graduation pushed back or for all the good summer jobs to be gone! I purposely signed my son up for an ACT retake in October instead of September because I figured with a strike he’d have plenty of downtime to study!

  • 33. ChiTownTake2  |  September 12, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I agree the problem is that CPS starts 2-3 weeks behind suburban schools (although some started way too early Aug 15th) so they are weeks behind learning for standardized testing (fixed state/national dates for ACT/SAT/AP/ISAT/MMAP) and for getting summer jobs or enrichment camps(they can’t start until June is almost over!).

    A strike will make it worse with some kids missing out on getting college applications, transcripts, recommendation letters out and pushing school into JULY!

    Free lunch is above nutrition and not about the latest fad or organic. When you are hungry and poor, you need food which is basically all it is. My kid prefers food from home because the school food is nasty, but he is used to a middle class food supply. If he was hungry and received free lunches, he would be eating it.

  • 34. mom2  |  September 12, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I agree about school starting too late, but every time this subject gets brought up, other parents comment about how much they love the last week of August for vacations. I agree that it is much less crowded and less expensive, but I’d rather give that up to allow my children to be able to get summer jobs that start before CPS usually gets out and be as prepared as they can be for standardized and AP testing. CPS tried one week earlier one year and some students didn’t show up. Seems like they decided one year was enough of a test. I disagree.

  • 35. Tone  |  September 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    “Meanwhile, CTU is a-fixin’ for a prolonged strike in October. That’s the real CPS school concern for me.”

    This is really the issue with CPS. CTU seems determined to destroy the system in its quest to protect awful teachers that have outrageous benefits.

    Free lunch is free. Don’t eat it if you don’t like it.

  • 36. mom2  |  September 12, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I’m sure once we are close to the strike date, we will have a thread on CTU again. Summary from what I remember from last time.

    Most teachers work very hard and deserve great pay and good benefits. I love almost all the teachers we have had (minus a few bad apples). They are amazing.

    However, CTU keeps acting like there is a money tree. There isn’t. It is their job to fight for teachers pay and benefits. But CTU is doing their job. It isn’t their job to fight for the kids even though they say that is what they are doing. They never really fight for our kids because they aren’t allowed to fight for smaller class sizes or air conditioning. They are all about pay and benefits. Their benefits are far too generous and nothing like the rest of us every had or will have. They can only get money by getting it from us and we are broke. They need to stop acting like there is a money tree and start paying much more for their own retirement. Who gets to retire with healthcare forever and enough money to live on for the rest of their life? I wish! If we want to give them social security and a 401K like the rest of us, I’m all for that.

  • 37. kate  |  September 12, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    I just wonder how many kids in Kindergarten eat school lunch? I have a daughter just go to K in skinner west. I haven’t let her bring lunch and just let her eat at school. She told me some children brought their own lunch boxes. From the menu, the school lunch looks OK. How it really is? Have no idea.

  • 38. Wondering  |  September 13, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Questioning our HS decision. I realize we might feel differently in a week – but wondering about transferring and wondering if that is possible or if we’re stuck for the year?

  • 39. Kenwood Parent  |  September 19, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    My son is at Skinner West Kindergarten and he eats lunch at school. My son is a very picky eater, and he’s eating more than he was at his private pre-K which served Gourmet Gorilla. However, I hear that there is a lot of chicken nuggets, burgers, and pizza. I may start sending him to school with a lunch a few times a week for something a little healthier. I believe that Skinner West is not a nut-free school, which is a plus.

  • 40. Chicago School GPS  |  September 22, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Selective Enrollment Open Houses have been released from CPSOAE:

  • 41. Chicago School GPS  |  September 29, 2016 at 9:34 am

    CPS just revamped the website for the OAE office and it looks like there is a new Executive Director, Tony Howard. I really liked Katie Ellis so this will be an adjustment.

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