Posts filed under ‘Applying to schools’

Q & A with OAE (Katy Ellis from the Office of Access and Enrollment)

Hello. Welcome to the Office of Access and Enrollment.  How may we help you?

Hello. Welcome to the Office of Access and Enrollment. How may we help you?

I attended the session tonight arranged by Alderman Cullerton of the 38th ward.  This ward has a neighborhood split down the middle into Tier 3 and 4 which has some parents questioning the designation so they were able to get Katy Ellis from OAE out for a question and answer session.

I arrived about 15 min late, but apparently there really wasn’t discussion about the specific Tier designations out there in Portage Park, but more a chance to ask Katy questions about OAE and the application process.  It was nice to hear the range of questions that parents (well… moms mostly) had and to hear Katy’s answers in person.  SO much better than reading them online.  It was mainly local parents attending it seemed and the Principal and AP from Decatur were there as was theAlderman and Principal from Portage Park school (big, impressive school building with a HUGE auditorium an stage.  Enviable.)

The BIG news.  Starting this Fall, students can take the SEHS placement test in October or November so they know their final score BEFORE ranking their schools on the application.  This will affect kids in 7th grade now who will be in 8th grade next year, applying to SEHS.  If you don’t sign up for an Oct or Nov test spot, you’ll test in Jan and will get you scores on the usual timeline.

With these scores in hand, families can be more efficient about school tours and where they apply by using the cutoffs from the previous year.  If your score is below but CLOSE to a cutoff you should still apply since they vary each year.  But if you’re wildly off, probably can skip applying to that school.

Will AC kids need to test to stay in their high school?

No. False rumor.

Will the switch to Common Core affect the scores for SEHS admission?

No, not at the individual level as they will still be nationally normed.

Has CPS thought about raising the age at which kids test for and enter the gifted programs?

This is talked about a lot (the implication being that it potentially makes sense logically) but… this would disrupt the existing programs, would be upheaval (and we all know how people feel about change in CPS.)  That’s a broader conversation/decision that isn’t really ready to happen yet.

Will people’s Tiers continue to change?

Census Tracts will not be changed until 2020 (they were changed last year.)  But Tiers can potentially be revised by CPS every year.

What are you doing about cheating in the system (in terms of people lying about addresses.)

If a student signs up for school with a different address than they had when they took the test, they have to prove both addresses or they lose their spot.  Specifically, they need to prove they lived in the Tier they used when they applied for SEHS.

OAE has done some audits on “fishy” situations and in each case the family was able to prove their residence.  OAE relies on self-policing and they are “happy” to hear about suspected (I put “happy” in quotes as this must be a pain in the butt for OAE.)  Cases can be reported to OAE or to the inspector general.  In the past year they got 8 reports.  In some of those cases, the student had some other valid reason for getting into the high school other than straight scores (PD, IEP.)

What’s the deal with Magnet Cluster Enrollment?

First they have to take the neighborhood kids, then siblings, then lottery.  Some schools might now know until the 1st day of school how much space they have.  OAE acknowledges that this can be a problem for families trying to get siblings in and confirms that there are no guarantees.

Why 30% of seats set aside for ranked students?

CPS started with 40% of seats going to ranked students.  On the basis of the results and the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Committee, CPS decide to switch to 30% rank.  (I assume too many Tier 4 and/or white kids were getting SESH.)

Have there been changes in the student composition as a result of the Tier system (now in it’s 3rd year)?

Diversity is still the same in that Caucasians have 26% of seats and Minorities have 74%.  There has been a shift in that more Hispanic and fewer African American students have seats.

Why isn’t there Principal Discretion for Elementary School?

The number of seats per school is very small, also, on what basis would a principal select a kindergartener other than on something their parents could do/offer the school.

Why aren’t there more SEHS?

Gifted kids are 3-5% of the population.  There are neighborhood schools galore that parents don’t feel are viable options.  So the question is where to put the resources.  Spend money on new schools? Or invest in the neighborhood schools so parents don’t feel as desparate?  The current thinking is to invest in the neighborhood schools.  There were 14,000 SEHS apps this year for what looks to be 4,800 spots.  Parents have a “SEHS or bust” mentality is the message OAE gets.  So there’s more focus on putting advanced curriculums in neighborhood schools so these feels like an option (ie IB programs.)

Why are grades from a neighborhood school counted the same as a gifted/classical school for admission?

This is a question OAE gets a lot.   The kids from the accelerated programs are likely going to score better on the tests which gives them an edge.  But the neighborhood kids might have an easier time with the grades.  It’s too hard in the current environment to adjust for grades because an A is not an A is not an A at a public, private, Catholic school etc.  If we start weighting those, every road you take leads to a mess.

How many kids applied for SEES this year?

14,000 applied.  5,000-6,000 were at the Kindergarten level  so it’s very competitive.

Are Tiers used in subsequent rounds for SEES spots?

After the 2nd round, pure rank order is used.

How can I ask more questions?

Call OAE at 73-553-2060 or and select “Contact Us” (I recommend this option.)

May 29, 2013 at 11:43 pm 132 comments

2013: Annual Elementary MAGNET Mailbox Watch

Waiting patiently for my letter.

Waiting patiently for my letter.

It’s that time of year when parents around the city are on mailbox watch.  Thanks to all of us and for CPS for helping keep the USPS afloat!

With luck, letters about Elementary Gifted and Classical schools, Academic Centers, and Magnet schools will be mailed this week of March 18th.

As we discussed in a post this week, you wait and wait for this day to arrive thinking “it’ll all be clear” once you find out what school/s your child did or didn’t get into it.

One of the frustrations can end up being that you still find yourself in limbo, waiting.   Your child may have gotten into your 4th choice for a Regional Gifted Center, or in one far from your home.  So you might re-enter the pool, hoping for a school closer to home.

You may have what seems like all horrible wait-list numbers at magnet schools, only to discover that over the next 2 months (even through the summer) many schools work their way pretty far down those lists and you may get an offer.)

You may have had your eye on a certain neighborhood school with open enrollment – and those offers won’t be coming until MAY.


If your child gets into a gifted or classical program that isn’t your top choice, you can decline it and wait to see if you get a spot at the one your want.  This involves some risk as you lose what you’ve got in hopes of getting another.  The higher your child’s score, the better the odds of this working out.

If your child doesn’t get a gifted or classical spot, you aren’t out of the running just yet.  Kids with high scores (usually in the 95% an up range) might be offered something as spots open up.

If you don’t get any magnet school offers, those can certainly come later.  Your odds depend on the schools.  Schools like Hawthorne rarely move down the list past 1-2 kids (but it HAS happened!) while some of the neighborhood schools that are “up and coming” can really go down the list.  If you’re waiting, make sure you are available at whatever number you gave CPS.  Answer your phone if you don’t recognize a number and it’s 312/773.  The schools are *supposed* to give you a day to respond but I have certainly heard stories of schools moving quickly down that list without giving people adequate time to respond or people missing a message on an answering machine.

If you’re at the point of despair, calm down.  We can all discuss it and I bet most people will get something satisfactory figured out.  Maybe not right away.  Maybe not even this year.  But by first grade nearly everyone I’ve met in person or on this blog got something figured out in CPS.  Kindergarten is hard to mess up.  Kids are eager to learn, more Kindergarten teachers are lovely people, and you have the knowledge to teacher your kids at home to supplement, if needed.   So don’t panic.

Finally, Chicago school GPS is holding a session on Thursday 3/22 called “What’s Next? Decisions After Notification”.  Info here:

Photo credit:

March 16, 2013 at 9:03 am 1,748 comments

Ready, Set, Apply…. for the 2013/2014 school year!

“And then our CPS computers carefully process your application!”

It’s that time of year again, when the often-puzzling process of applying to schools begins.

The wonderous process of applying ONLINE (hallelujah!) continues and applications are now being accepted.

STEP 1:  Get your PIN!

You need it to submit an online application.  It will be mailed to you in a few days.

STEP 2: Figure out which school you can/should/will apply for:

Also click Programs at

The applications are here:

Use CPS’ awesome new tool to see where schools are located and how they measure up:

STEP 3: Print or pick up the Options for Knowledge guidebook.  Available online (coming soon!) and in libraries, park districts, schools any day now (high school later in the month.)

This guide will have details on which school have lottery enrollment (ie, neighborhood schools who have extra room to take kids from outside the ‘hood.)

STEP 4: Ask questions!

Always better to ask someone than to assume anything.  Feel free to ask here, but  is a great place to get stuff right from the horse’s mouth and they are seemingly the most responsive office in CPS.  I got an email response at 1am this past Saturday night.  From a human.

STEP 5: When you’re good and ready and have done all your research, submit your application online.  The deadline is December 14th.


There will be separate Elementary and High School guidebooks.  All 8th graders will receive the High School guide.  Yeah!

There will be no CPS-sponsored school fairs this year however CPS will provide a Power Point deck (huh?) in place of that.  So feel free to throw your own fair and show the deck.

South Look Regional Gifted center is enrolling again for grades 2-8

Pending board approval, National Teachers’ Academy is enrolling for a new gifted program for K-1.

South Shore is a new Selective Enrollment High School.

For info on consultants (who can help you navigate this process) and test prep services, see my resources page:

(Thanks to these consultants who help keep me up to date on the latest happenings.)

October 8, 2012 at 6:00 pm 483 comments

Learn about school options: Upcoming Dates for 2012/2013



NPN Annual Preschool & Elementary School Fair (open to members only)
• WHEN: Saturday, October 13, 2012, Parents RSVP for 1hour time slots to help us manage attendance
• WHAT: NPN brings together more than 130 exhibitors to give our NPN member families unparalleled access to representatives of public and private schools, enrichment programs, family friendly businesses, and nonprofits. Each year, nearly 1,000 parents turn to NPN to help them navigate Chicago school search by attending this event.
• WHO: NPN Members/Adults only Event. Free admission. RSVP is required. Parent RSVP will open in September.
• WHERE: Grossinger City Autoplex, 1561 N. Fremont
Parent registration opens one month prior to the event and accessible only to NPN members. Your membership must be current to RSVP. Click to renew or join.
South Side Preschool & Elementary School Fair
• WHEN: Sep. 22, 2012, from 10am-2pm
• WHAT: South Side Parents, Hyde Park Parents Support Network, and Neighborhood Parents Network jointly present this event to help south side families tackle their school search process. Exhibitors include public and private schools, enrichment programs, and citywide businesses and organizations serving south side neighborhoods.
• WHO: Open to the public. Free admission. RSVP is not required. Parent RSVP will open in August.
• WHERE: Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave.
Parent registration opens one month prior to the event. NPN members will receive first access to register and will be notified via email. Not a member? Join today by visiting
NPN Developmental Differences Resource Fair
• WHEN: February 2013, 10 am – 2pm
• WHAT: Our first school fair dedicated to improving Chicago families resources, school programs, service providers, and nonprofits that focus on serving parents of children with developmental differences. Categories of needs include, but are not limited to, sensory processing disorder,autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down Syndrome, and physical disabilities. PLUS 3 workshops!
• WHO: Open to the public. Free admission. RSVP is not required.
• WHERE: Gordon Tech High School, 3633 N. California Ave.

Christine Whitley Education Consulting
ABC’s of CPS Workshops Coming This Fall!

This 2-hour session will give you all the insider information you need to get started on your school search for Kindergarten. Topics include Options for Knowledge, Neighborhood Schools, Magnet Schools, Selective Enrollment Schools, and Charter Schools. You will learn how and when to apply, the lotteries, tiers, gifted testing, and more!

Only $20 per person for a 2-hour introductory session.

Check my calendar for more details


13th (Thurs) at 6:30pm – 8:30pm Margate Park Field House, 4921 N. Marine Drive

15th (Sat) at 2:00pm – 4:00pm Margate Park Field House, 4921 N. Marine Drive

20th (Thurs) at 4:30pm Green Bean Day School (Private Event)

22nd (Sat) at 11:00am College Nannies & Tutors (FREE!!! SPACE IS LIMITED)

23rd (Sun) at 12:30pm Church of Our Saviour (Private Event)

24th (Mon) at 6:30pm – 8:30pm Margate Park Field House, 4921 N. Marine Drive


18th (Thurs) at 6:30pm PRESCHOOL: CPS & Beyond Let Them Eat Chocolate, 5306 N. Damen

20th (Sat) at 2:00pm – 4:00pm Margate Park Field House, 4921 N. Marine Drive

27th (Sat) at 2:00pm – 4:00pm Multilingual Chicago, 2934 N. Milwaukee Ave.


1st (Thurs) at 6:30pm – 8:30pm PRESCHOOL: CPS & BEYOND, Let Them Eat Chocolate, 5306 N. Damen

Call or Email to RSVP

312-218-0329 or

312.324.GPS4 (4774)

“Hidden Gems” Chicago High School Fair presented by Chicago School GPS
Sunday, September 16, 2012 @ 2-5 p.m.
Holy Trinity High School, 1443 W. Division St., Chicago
RSVP online for half price admission and a chance to win raffle prizes
Join Chicago School GPS at our High School Forum & Fair where we will introduce you to “hidden gem” public and private Chicago high school options. This event is geared to middle school parents and students. In addition to hearing from “hidden gem” high schools in a forum setting, parents can attend seminars on the high school application process, private school scholarships, and entrance test strategies, while middle schoolers can attend info sessions to hear from peers currently at these hidden gem schools. There will also be a “mini boot camp” session for middle schoolers on tackling high school entrance and interview essays. Come learn how to “widen your net” and find a Chicago high school to meet your family’s needs!

“What’s on the Test?” Understanding CPS Gifted Testing & Admissions
WHEN: Thurs, Oct. 18, 2012 @ 7-9PM
WHERE: Little Beans Cafe, 1809 W. Webster
$25/person or $40/couple via prepaid online registration
Pre-Register & be entered to win RAFFLE PRIZES! $10 more @ door
Preschool & Early Elementary Parents (PK-3rd) can learn:
• Testing secrets from co-founders, Michael McCurdy & Karen Quinn, Author of Testing for Kindergarten
• Navigating the CPS elementary school admissions process for Regional Gifted Center & Classical Schools
• Entrance test tips & strategies for success
• Preparing your child for testing by Lemi Erinkitola
• Q&A session
RSVP by visiting

September 8, 2012 at 10:05 am 16 comments

CPS New School Locator

If you lived at CPS headquarters, South Loop would be your neighborhood school

So CPS has unveiled a very nice new tool for finding your neighborhood school as well as schools in your vicinity. (FYI, it’s located at the bottom right corner of
If you enter your address, it’ll show your neighborhood elementary school and high school and all other schools within an X mile radius.  If you choose 1.5 miles, you can see the magnets schools in which you’re in the proximity boundary.

This is also the first time the neighborhood school boundaries are clickable online like this.

Down at the bottom are other screening criteria so you can narrow to elementary or high school by different school types.

The CPS tech guys also showed me how to use the school search tool here more efficiently:

For instance if you want to get a list of the Selective Enrollment high schools, select:
Grade Level: High Schools
School Type: Selective Enrollment

You can also select 2-4 schools from a list and choose “Compare” to line up some basic data about them.

**Give the new selector tool a try.  Is it giving you helpful information? Answering your current questions about schools? Letting search in a way that’s relevant?   There is a Feedback link on the locator page.  CPS says they’d truly like any input you have, so just click there to let them know.**

August 17, 2012 at 6:37 am 128 comments

2012 Academic Centers – Post News Here!

These are LAST YEAR’s cut-off scores so we can compare to this year to see if they’ve risen like the high school cut-offs did.  Also will be interesting to see the impact of Lane in the portfolio.

2012-2013 cutoffs are posted here.

Please note that a reader has reported that WYAC will not be doing a second round, per the school AC coordinator.  If you want to turn down something else for a shot at 2nd round WYAC, I suggest calling the school to confirm this.  Good luck!


Like the High Schools, AC admission is based on 30% rank + the Tiers using a score of 900 points that includes 5th grade grades, 5th grade ISATs, and the AC entry test.

If you post news, include your tier and child’s score.

And good luck!

This was the scoring rubric from last year:–%20Academic%20Centers%20and%20International%20Gifted%20Programs%20–%202010-2011.pdf

March 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm 254 comments

2012 Gifted/Classical Letters – Post News Here!

If you post your news, please include Tier, school, and child’s score.

If you applied for Gifted and Classical schools, your child can receive only one offer.  If you accept that spot, you will not be offered another spot.

If you turn down the spot your received, you will go back into the pool and have the opportunity to get in one of your higher choices if a spot opens up.

For applications above the entry year, most schools don’t find out that a child is leaving the class (and a spot thus opens up) until after this round and/or closer to the end of the school year (or even into the summer.)  So these spots often require waiting a bit longer.


March 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm 1,142 comments

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