Posts filed under ‘Applying to schools’

Fall 2014 – Applying to Kindergarten / Elementary School

Bye mommy! Now you can look at Facebook all day long!

Bye mommy! Now you can look at Facebook all day long!

Kindergarten/Elementary application time here!

Welcome! After the long wait from infanthood, it is now time to being charting the waters of CPS elementary school.  

Applying has never been easier, now that it’s all online.

You can apply for a PIN (needed for online enrollment) now.  It will be mailed to your home within a week.

Applications will be accepted starting October 1st.

Details are here and the OAE site now covers almost everything you need to know, very well organized:

When entering Kindergarten (and older grades as well) you have several options:

Gifted and Classical schools – these schools require a test for entry.  For Kindergarten, the tests are given at the same time and kids are tested one-on-one.  For older grades, the kids test in a large group and the gifted and classical tests are on different days.   There is often debate about whether to apply early so your child gets and early test date (benefit: avoid blizzards, get it out of the way) or wait until the end of the application period to apply (benefit: kids may hit that magical reading breakthrough you’ve been waiting for.)  The test scores are normed by age, so it shouldn’t really matter when you do the testing.

Magnet schools – these admit kids via a lottery process.  People who live within 1.5 miles of a school get preference in a proximity lottery.  Others are also admitted, based on Socio-Economic Tier.

Neighborhood schools (also includes Magnet Cluster school, which are just neighborhood schools) – these are schools that admit kids from te neighborhood that surrounds a school.  If you don’t want to attend your own neighbohood school, you can apply to others who have room to spare.  This can only be done through the online application process.  Not every school has space, so it’s wise to fine some ‘up-and-coming’ schools that are growing and have seats to fill.  Or give you local school another look, with some other parents.   Building up parent interest is often a great way to build community and create/uncover a good local school.

One factor that can influence your chance of selection at a school is your Socio-Economic Tier.  Your address determines your Tier (Tier 4, highest socio-economic level, Tier 1, lowest.) NOTE: the tiers for the current application process have not been update yet, so current Tier information may be out of date!!

These are explained here, very cleary by OAE:

Feel free to post questions, comments, or suggestions below.

I don’t see open house dates posted yet, but ideally you’ll tour the schools you’re most interested in.  It’s possible to get a call very late in the application season or even over the summer and have 24 hours to make a decision, which may or may not allow for touring a school at that point.



September 23, 2014 at 9:03 pm 401 comments

2014: SEES Gifted and Classical Letter Thread


OAE confirms the letters are mailing today.

Post your news about Gifted and Classical Elementary admission here.

If you’re willing to share, please include your:

Child’s Test Score
School they got into or didn’t get into based on that score
If that was your first choice

And.. anything else of interest you’d like to share.  Angst, happiness, concern, questions.  We are here to answer them!


March 21, 2014 at 3:11 pm 2,105 comments

Fall 2013 – Applying to Kindergarten / Elementary School

My mother's dream-kindergarten

My mother’s dream-kindergarten

Kindergarten/Elementary application time is upon us!   Those who have been waiting since their baby was born can now dive head-first into the pool of CPS school application fun.

You can apply for a PIN (needed for online enrollment) beginning September 19th.

Applications will be accepted starting October 1st.

When entering Kindergarten (and older grades as well) parents will often have their child tested for the gifted and classical programs, as well as casting a wide net for magnet schools and neighborhood schools that are likely to accept kids from outside the neighborhood.  Some neighborhood schools don’t take any kids outside their zone, while others have a good number of spaces to enroll for.

Christine Whitley (who is not me, though many people assume we’re the same person) offers affordable workshops to help navigate the process.  The organized materials alone are worth the price of admission, plus the ability to hear the stuff from a live person who’s been through it and ask questions…

This workshop will give you all the essential information you need to kick off your CPS kindergarten search! I will cover attendance areas, Magnet Schools, Selective Enrollment schools, Charters, gifted testing, lotteries, and more! I will lay out the timeline for the Options for Knowledge process and give you some tools to maximize your sucess in finding a great school for your family.
If your child is three or four and you are considering CPS, this workshop is A MUST.

Questions? Contact Christine at or 312-218-0329

and the link to register:

Christine is also writing a blog about the Kindergarten application process.  Her goal is to try to get her younger child into the same Gifted Program as the older child, a school with very high cutoff scores for higher Tier kids.  She’s sending her child to a test prep program and will be writing about that experience as well.  You can follow that here:

September 10, 2013 at 7:04 am 560 comments

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

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