Posts filed under ‘CPS’

So I guess Arne really was good at his job…

Wow, so the news is out today.  Arne Duncan, the CEO of the Chicago Public School system is headed to DC to be the new Secretary of Education.  Of course my first thought has to be “how will that affect us?”  For those who had inklings that he was doing something good here in Chicago, I guess the selection by Obama confirms that he’s impressing people at the highest level possible.  It also makes me realize the benefit of sending your child to Harvard – they get to play basketball with future presidents.

I had the thrill of meeting Arne last year.   For lunch.  My fellow school-obsessed friend had purchased the lunch as part of a school auction and was on a mission to beg for extra funding for our neighborhood school.  My significant-other advised me not to go, worrying that I would “get up on my soap-box” at some point during the lunch.  Which at that point was actually pretty likely except for the fact that I would need to keep my ever-complaining mouth shut so as not to ruin our chance at begging for money.

In the end, the meeting was one of the highlights of my school-obsessed era.  In addition to being totally down-to-earth and just plain nice, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much it seemed like he “got” the issues that parents have about our beloved school system.  He ranted about the lack of funding and talked about how he was trying to get other superintendants to rally together to protest for more money.  Nearly everything he said made we want to say “I KNOW!  That is SOOO true!” like a giggling school girl.  In some way he felt like my education soul mate.   He got why nobody want big class sizes.  He expressed the opinion about a certain “turn-around” school focusing more on their building and less on academics (I know! That IS so true Arne!  I think that too!)  He truly had a great appreciation for the parents who are making school improvement their personal mission.    It was like having a great conversation about education, but the person you’re talking to isn’t just some random parent you run into who is willing to listen to your daily rant, but someone who can actually affect things.  In a big way.  Or theoretically.  I also got the feeling that there were politics or bureacracy or something else here in Chicago that were preventing him from fulfilling all his ideas.

But now – there’s no stopping him.  I cannot wait to see what happens in this country with Arne at the top of our education system.   But again, I come back to “what about us?”

UPDATE: For all you Arne fans out there, here are a couple good articles about his appointment.   If you haven’t read the book Freakonomics, I highly recommend it.  There is a lot about CPS in there.

December 16, 2008 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

Roofs for Sale

Did you know that many CPS schools are “selling” their roof space to cell phone companies in exchange for putting up cell phone towers?  Schools that are offered this opportunity can earn $24,000 per antenna, with a typical offer of up to three per school.  That is some serious money for schools that are getting minimal funding from the city.   Supposedly there are over 100 schools that now have cell antennas on their roofs including Bell and Bateman on the north side.   The cell companies need to fill in their dead zones and schools often have the highest roof in residential neighborhoods. 

The trouble, of course, is the nagging questions of whether these antennas are causing a health risk to the students and teachers who spent all day every day in the buildings.  You can search the Internet until eternity and find “research” that supports both sides.  The American Cancer Society says there is no theoretical reason why a cell antenna should cause health problems.  But we live in reality, not theory.  The antennas DO emit microwaves. The questions is whether prolonged exposure to these waves affect the human body.  There has been no long term definitive study that proves either safety or danger.

So what is a school to do?  Making up for $72K through fund-raising is daunting, if not impossible.  But if a kid in a school gets seriously ill a couple years after the antenna goes up, who wants to be left wondering if their decision was part of the cause?  On the other hand, these microwaves are in tons of products are us every day and if the phone companies don’t get their antennas on the schools, chances are they’ll find some other building nearby who is eager for the money (so the microwaves will be nearby anyhow.)  Its easy to argue each side.

The guy from CPS who brokers these deals is an impressive smooth-talker but left me on the defensive based on two things from his pitch that reminded me of a late night infomercial:

  • The school needed to “act quickly” so they wouldn’t lose the opportunity.
  • He would provide the research about safety only after we made an official expression of interest.

Any comments are appreciated.  I think only people in the city with kids in CPS can really understand a school’s desperate need for money.

October 13, 2008 at 11:35 pm Leave a comment

Two Weeks of CPS

So…shocking as this may be for those who know me, I have no complaints yet.  My son’s teacher is very sweet and good-natured, exactly they type of personality you hope for in a Kindergarten teacher.  Inital chaos at the school has come under some control.  My son is talking much more animatedly about school than he ever has before (mainly art, gym, computers, and science – but still.)  When I emailed his teacher with some suggestions for our Open House evening, she was already on top of it all. 

His enjoyment there has made the whole school-switching process more bearable for me (oh, and him too – guess that matters too.)  Seems like most parents of Kindergarteners at any school say its going well, the kid is enjoying themself.  I have to wonder if putting on a good Kindergarten is fairly easy.  Throw in the “specials,” a snack, and some center time and you have a fun and progressive-seeming day.    I was freaked out a bit when I overheard a mom near the school telling another mom that her daughter said “Kindergarten was fun – now it seems like we just sit at our desks and work all day.”  Yes, I know the older they get, the more work they do.  But I am SO hoping that it will continue to be made fun and engaging.  I suspect THAT will be the challenge going forward. 

But all in all, so far so good.  With the exception of 2 comments I suspect I may not have heard had we stayed in private school:

“The first day the bathroom had a big pile of garbage.  Like paper towels and used pull-ups.”  Ewwwww!

“What we did in music class?  Just marched in a circle the whole time.”  Please tell me that is helping them learn some sort of school-related skill and was not how he’ll spend the typical music class.  It could be death for his future dancing abilities.

September 15, 2008 at 11:26 pm 1 comment

SURVEY: Improving School Communication

I’m working with a couple other neighborhood parents to gather input about school communication.  Clearly some schools do it better than others and we want to get some ideas on the best things schools are practicing, along with some of the blatant screw-ups (certainly more fun to rant about.)  The hope is to give feedback to our school/s with some ideas for facilitating communication.  And to find ways that WE can help THEM give us more of what we need.  Short of web-cams in all classrooms and hourly text messages, there are ways to build the bridge between the admin/teachers and parents.  Can you help us by sharing your experiences?

Think about your interactions with the administration – i.e. the office staff and secretaries, teachers, principal and assistant principal, the lunchroom staff, janitors, the nurse, social worker, etc.

Think about the steps involved – what it’s like when you call or visit the office, inquire about something or set up an appointment… maybe you need to pick up your child early one day or for an emergency, or you simply have a question about an event coming up.  Any and all instances of contact are fair game!


We’d love input on the following 3 questions… 

1 – Think about a great experience in communicating with your child’s school administration… what was the situation/which people were involved/how did it play out?

2 – Think about a poor and/or frustrating experience in communicating with the administration. Again, describe the situation, people and outcome.

3 – Finally, what are your thoughts on how to make communication with the administration/teachers effective and helpful for this coming school year? What might you or the school do differently?


August 31, 2008 at 1:36 pm 2 comments

Big idea – “make your own high school”

Whoa – big news possibly coming soon regarding a north side school.  I have heard unofficially that a particular well-regarded north side elementary school has gotten approval to add high school level classes to their school. 

I’m guessing that parents were begining to freak out about the prospect of high school for their kids (much as I am, 9 years in advance) and figured the best bet was to keep them together.  No more stressing over test scores.  No more hauling all over town.  No more going to a giant school without any of your friends joining you.  Sounds like it could be a great solution.

Of course it also means having high-schooler on the same grounds as pre-schoolers which could be equally annoying for each of those ages.  Hopefully the teens will keep their potty mouths and crop-tops away from the 3 year olds. 

I’m curious to see if it really happens and how many kids stay for high school.  Or if they’ll let other kids lottery in?  Or if other schools follow suit?

August 31, 2008 at 12:49 pm 1 comment

What’s with all North Side gifted programs?

OK, I admit it – I am excited to have my kid in a gifted program.  It is probably the closest I’ll come to being able to “brag” about my kid in any way.  I’ll never utter the words “My son goes to Harvard” unless his Dad and I plan to sell our house and live in a box under Lower Wacker Drive to pay the tuition.  I’m quite sure I’ll never be saying “My son, the doctor” since he currently freaks out like a wild banshee if he has to look at a scrape on his own knee.  So his greatest educational achievement may have come about from a test he took at age 4.  Go figure.

So although I am thrilled to have scammed into this opportunity, I can’t help but wonder what is up with this plethora of Gifted Programs on the north side.  Edison, which used to be located way-too-far-to-consider (unless your child is really really smart and needs to be with like-minded smarties,) is moving to Albany Park this Fall.  Coonley is located curiously close to Bell.  Beaubien is up north, and of course Decatur skims off some of the pool.  So in an fairly narrow locale there are 4 accelerated classes that a kid can test into.  It begs the question, “Isn’t it a wee bit inefficient?”   Does it make sense to have Bell and Coonley existing with similar programs like little RGC “twins?”


It’s a good idea on several counts:

1. In theory, the principals of Bell and Coonley can pop over to visit one another to share best practices (let’s face it, in this day and age I’m guessing they’ll just be emailing each other, if anything.)

2. It makes it easy for the French teacher who will work in both programs. (Maybe this was all HER idea! Merci Beaucoup! – I hear she is fantastic, BTW.)

3. Perhaps Coonley is being positioned to take the overflow of Bell, which is close to bursting at the seams.

4. CPS has something up its sleeve.  (Conspiracy Woman emerging here.)  My personal suspicion is that Coonley is being set up as the buffer for Bell.  If the Bell neighborhood continues to grow, they’ll have to either redraw the school boundaries or move someone out of the school (choices are the Deaf program or the Gifted program… who would you feel worse about booting?)  And the RGC could easily be phased out grade by grade, starting at the bottom.  Or heck, they could just move it all out of Bell in one fell swoop like they did with Edison.

5. The Coonley neighborhood is ripe to transition into a Bell-esque neighborhood – with a strong school that attracts families and drives up property values.


The downside of having several gifted programs clustered together is:

1. Well, it just doesn’t seem fair.  Most people choose schools that are generally close to home.  So I have to figure that kids in certain neighborhoods, whose parents may lack reliable transportation are stuck without a gifted option, even if they test well.

2. Terrorists could pinpoint Chicago’s epicenter of youthful intelligence and wipe out a chunk of smart kids with one well-directed missile. (Just kidding, that is only in the Hollywood version of the CPS story, which will clearly never be made into a motion picture.)


Only time will tell whether it was a good “business” decision or if my paranoid conspiracy radar is working accurately.

July 13, 2008 at 10:43 pm 4 comments

Getting into a Chicago Public School

No, I’m not talking about winning the Magnet lottery or stalking the principal to show them how eager you are to send your kid there.  I am talking about the physical process of actually ENTERING a CPS building and the difficulty of finding the main entrance.

I cannot even count the number of times I have arrived at a school building, eager for a tour yet running late as usual.  I park and run towards the building.  Hmmm… all the doors look about the same.  Metal.  Unadorned.  No markings.  This would be exciting if I were trying to get into one of the cool nightclubs I’ve heard about that have no signs and you need to know where it is to get in.  But no, this is not cool.

Typically I approach the closest door first, looking wildly for a way to signal my entrance.  Nothing is ever just open, allowing a random stranger to enter.  No, our kids are clearly in vaults.  The doors are too thick for a knock to ever be heard inside.  No buttons or speakers are visible.  I must be at the wrong door.  Rats! The buildings are huge!  It’ll take me another 5 minutes to go around the block to another entrance.  Can’t some friendly janitor spot me and just let me sneak in? 

I silently curse the administration for not anticipating my needs and VOW that I will personally make signs for any school I am involved with.  I VOW that I will contact CPS and beg them to improve their signage efforts.  I VOW that I will leave earlier next time I go for a school tour.  Of course none of this ever happens.

So here are a few pointers for getting (your body) into a Chicago Public School.

  • Read the address carefully.  It seems like the Main Entrance typically faces the street of the address.
  • Speaking of Main Entrance, each CPS school has a Main Entrance sign posted at one doorway.  Once you learn this, you’re golden.  Somebody, at some point in time had the smart idea to keep consistency with the Main Entrance signs.  Trouble is, the sign is often a small, ratty piece of cardboard that is hard to spot from a distance.  Look for the sign with red stars and blue stripes..(that is the City of Chicago flag.)  Or sometimes an American flag.

    City of Chicago flag - look for it on the Main Entrance sign

    City of Chicago flag - look for it on the Main Entrance sign

  • The Main Entrance does not always LOOK like a main entrance.  Some are oddly non-descript and plain.
  • Don’t look for a bell/buzzer to tip you off.  These are typically small/dingy and made with a chameleonesque quality so that they blend in with the wall behind them.
  • If you are going to a school at non-school hours, well, good luck.  You’ll have better luck getting into the Pentagon.  If you’re lucky, someone will be walking out and you can slip in, free to do as you please.  If the staff are all in a meeting upstairs, you can stand there banging endlessly, as your knocks disappear into a black hole.  (OK, that is a bit dramatic, but it can be angst-producing if you are trying to drop off your lottery application and can’t get inside.) 
  • Keep your hand on the door as you wait to be buzzed in.  You’ll approximately a half-second to pull the door open once you hear the “click” sound.

July 3, 2008 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

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