Posts tagged ‘CPS’

What’s good about CPS

CPSObsessed.com is mentioned in the newest issue of Time Out Chicago Kids in a little Q&A section titled “Will I really have to move to the suburbs once Junior’s ready for kindergarten?”

 http://www.timeoutchicagokids.com/things-to-do/baby/34007/will-i-really-have-to-move-to-the-suburbs-once-junior%E2%80%99s-ready-for-kindergart

Assuming that parents who read this article might be opening their eyes for the first time to the idea of CPS, I figure it’s worth a nice post for them to read, so they don’t get scared off hearing about high school, tiers, tests, and other topics that are boring to parents of babies/toddlers.  I will always remember my first tour of a CPS school – Alcott.  I went to check out the preK, as it bought you a spot in elementary.  As I sat in the auditorium waiting for the tour to begin, the bell rang and I actually got teary-eyed imagining my then 2-year old son in a school where grown up things took place – like school bells and lunch rooms. 

The more I’ve I thought about it, I think the beauty of CPS lies at the local level.  Many kids (and their parents) are having great experiences and are getting a good education in Chicago.  Despite the obstacles of the system, there’s a lot of good that goes on in CPS.

I’ll share mine… feel free to share your experiences so other parents can learn about CPS.

To me, a school – any place, any where, in any building can provide a good education if you have an engaged staff and involved parents.  My son has had excellent teachers so far in his 3 years in CPS – teacher swho are smart, enthusiastic, and make it clear they have a genuine interest in the kids and in teaching.  I feel like they do their best to make class/learning as fun and engaging for the kids as possible, while still challenging them.  I get the sense that the kids’ different learning levels have been taken into account in an appropriate way.  Yes, worksheets seem to be an ongoing factor in learning, but the classroom activities and project have provided a nice balance.

The sense of community at our school adds a lot to the school experience.  Parents are always around helping out, and during warm weather, families hang around after school playing and talking on the school grounds.  This creates a nice sense of connectedness and community for the kids (and parents too!)

I think there are a lot of great teachers in CPS, and plenty more who may be just waiting for some parents to raise the bar and re-engage (don’t we all feel like that in our jobs at times?)  There is a bit of a “do-it-yourself” factor to CPS.  You want karate classes after school?  Make it happen.  You want a car drop-off lane?  Make it happen.  I happen to like that vibe.  The “we’re all in it together” and “yes we can” mentality.  No, it’s not for everyone and for some, the suburbs or private school may be a better fit.  If you find a neighborhood you like, it’s so great to send your kids to school with the neighbors’ kids, see them out trick or treating or at the park, and to run into people you know from school while you’re out and about.

I cant’ compare directly to a suburban school.  Is any CPS school going to be the same as an elementary school in Winnetka or Hinsdale or a city private school that costs $24K per year?  Probably not.  Maybe I don’t even want it to be.  But I feel like many CPS school could easily hold their weight against the decent suburban school.

As long parents pay attention, speak their mind, keep the school on their toes (and put in our share as well) I think we’re in good shape.

The last line of the article says “with careful research followed by a calculated move within the city you can land a good school fit and find the sense of community that makes the suburbs seem so appealing.” Ok, for the record, I don’t find the suburbs appealing, just their school funding.  🙂

February 8, 2011 at 5:56 pm 6 comments

Pre-School for All – How does one apply?

A reader writes in… (is that line from the old Roseanne RoseannaDanna SNL skit?)  (for those of you old enough to remember, that is.)

Anyhow, got this note today and I figured since it takes a village to figure out CPS, perhaps we can all join in to help this guy out…

I have a 4 1/2 and a 3 year old daughters and we live in the city and we are trying to figure out the CPS game. I was wondering if you had any ideas on how the free Pre-K for all enrollment works. I know is is based on income. However, it seems like there are more factors then just income. Also, I know that there are waiting lists at schools for spots. How would I go about making sure both my daughters got in at the same school and the same class? Any thoughts on how that would work?

Well, to start off, nobody knows how much longer Pre-K for all will be around.  Funding was retained this year and frankly I’m not quite sure why since CPS is so broke.  In the past, the free PreK (called State Pre-K) was used almost exclusively by families with kids who were considered “at risk” in some way.  That could be financial or developmental.  It was supposedly pretty easy to get your child in… for instance I was told that by having an only child I could convince CPS that he had socialability needs that needed addressing, etc.  But it wasn’t all that popular with families who didn’t have “at risk” kids. 

Once our pal Rod Blago instituted Pre-School for All (great idea, just no money to fund it, Rod!) it became the hottest ticket in town.  Who wouldn’t want 5-day a week free play-based PreK just steps from their home?  Suddenly the programs were overrun with applicants.  Depending on the neighborhood, many kids applying are not high risk at all, but they do qualify.   

Here is my understanding of the program:
-Kid who are at risk still get priority (financial or physical or mental etc)
-The principals seem to decide how to prioritize who gets in and there doesn’t seem to be an official CPS policy (for instance some give neighborhood kids priority, some give 4-year-olds priority.)
-Much of it depends on how many classes the school has.  My neighborhood school has 2 classes.  My son’s school has 6 classes.  Big difference.
-Not every school has PKFA.  For instance Bell does not have room for it.
-Living in a neighborhood does not in any way guarantee you a spot in the local PKFA as it does for Kindergarten.  (Which has been a source of apparent rage in many neighborhoods.)

And here are some of the challenges:
– Because there are so many applicants chomping at the bit, the principal is up against a wall to figure out who gets the spots.  Early.  However in theory they should be saving some spots for kids who are truly at risk but come in to the school to register in the summer.   Those are the kids who really NEED those preK spots.  But I’m not sure whether principals ARE indeed saving spots.  Or how they would know how many to save. 
-Principals have to decide whether to prioritize siblings of kids who may live out of district.  Many schools have kids in older grades who’re out of district and of course the parents want all the kids at the same school.  That causes problems.

How it usually works:
As far as I can tell, there is a bit of anarchy here.  Each school does it differently and begins to take applications for the following school year at some point in the spring of the previous year.  The principal then has their pool of applicants and has to decide who gets the spots.  Some may do first come/first served.  Others may use their priority scheme.     I don’t *think* there is any CPS standard for this.  And parents can apply to as many as they want.

So, answer the freakin’ question already, lady! (Ok, ok!)
For whatever school/s you’re targeting, I would get in there about a week after school starts (give them a week to settle down or they’ll hate you for bothering them) and inquire as to their specific process of admission.  Keep asking until you get a firm answer (this could take a few tries and you might even get different answers!)  Confirm your knowledge with other parents to up the chance that you have correct information.  Get your application in as soon as they say you can.  confirm that they have your application in the right pile/place/folder.   Continue to “maintain a dialogue” (nice way of saying staying on their butt) to let them know of your interst in a nice, flattering way.  Ask whether they have a priorty scheme and what it is to determine whether your 3yo has a shot at getting in (so you know whether to have back-up.)  Continue to monitor the waiting list progress without being a pain (since you’ll have to suck up to get both kids in the same class.)  Wait until next year’s budget comes out to determine whether PKFA will exist next year.  Ponder whether you should apply to any private schools just in case.

God, this is getting comical.  (And long.)
However I think it might be an accurate representation.  I haven’t actually gone through the process though.

Can anyone else help me out here?  Does your school do it differently?  Any tips for this guy?

And as Roseanne RosannaDanna (played by Gilda Radner) would end her little speech, “It’s always something… “

July 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm 24 comments

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.

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/nobody-better-than-arne-duncan/?scp=4&sq=arne%20duncan&st=cse

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/us/politics/16educ.html?scp=3&sq=arne%20duncan&st=cse

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

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

Oh God, what have we done? (Part 1)

I had a conversation today that put me into a panic about entering CPS (I am guessing what will be my first among many.)  I had a nice young woman come over to meet us as a potential babysitter.  She works as a Kindergarten/First grade teacher in CPS.. in a big, big school on the West side.  Of course I had to ask her subtley interrogate her.  I don’t get the teacher POV very often so I was a bit out of my element.  The “insiders” have a slightly different viewpoint than the parents do, I’m finding (I was tipped off by her comment of “wow, I would hate dealing with all those parents” as I started giving her background in my school involvement history.)

She seems like an intelligent, capable person – the type I’d easily hire for a job in the business sector.  The type who will probably have ideas about how to improve CPS that will never get heard, let alone implemented.

The school where she teaches exemplifies the problems of CPS.  The student body is huge and she told me how the principal is busy dealing with things like gangs and fighting.  Parents are not involved.  Test scores are low, yet the principal can barely focus on academics when she’s trying to keep kids and teachers safe. (I remind myself that near here, the schools are smaller and safer, something I am grateful for.)  

It was her feedback about the big class sizes was more relevant (and frankly frightening) to me.  I asked about the experience of teaching a large class with no aide and she said it was “challenging.”  “It’s all about the management” she said.  It took her a few years to figure out how to do it.  (No mentors?  No advice from the principal?) She had continued with one class for Kindergarten and First grade which helped make classroom management easier in year two.  It’s a good idea which I’d never thought about before.  The kids know the drill right from day one which must help immensely.

So ugh.  I’m sending my son into an environment where he will be “managed?”  It just sounds a bit too much like the army and not the type of place where he’ll be inspired.

Oh, how much better I’ll feel if I run across a few CPS teachers who say “I LOVE my job!”  Or a principal.  I asked the Bell principal on my tour what the most challenging part of his job was and he said it was dealing with the bureaucracy of CPS.  He has ideas that can’t be implemented for one rigid reason or another and frustrations with the systme abound.

Can parental involvement/interest/silent auctions/raffles really overcome this behemoth of bureaucracy and inefficiency?  Sometimes I wonder….

June 17, 2008 at 11:08 pm 2 comments

Private vs Public?

One of the big questions that weighed on my mind during our Kindergarten decision was the benefit of private school over public.  Our situation was a bit different because our private school experience would also combine the Montessori method, making it hard to isolate the private vs public factors but I felt I needed to figure out whether the benefits of paying almost $11K in tuition would get us something worthwhile.

The obvious benefit of private school in Chicago is the class size.  You can’t really argue with having 20 or fewer kids with 1-2 teachers compared to CPS who allow up to 30 with 1 teacher.  I know (I KNOW!) that “a good teacher can handle a big class.”  But let’s face it – the union situation with the CPS teachers ain’t exactly breeding the best of the best.  If I were guaranteed of getting one of those good teachers, I’d be in for sure.  To alleviate my fears, several people have told me that during the Baby-Boom era, elementary classes could easily have had 40 – 50 kids.  “And they turned out fine.”  Well, they turned out fine because the Boomers’ sheer mass has allowed them to dominate U.S. culture and policy for a while now.  And BTW, don’t I want my kid, my child with UNLIMITED potential to be more than “fine”?! Of course I do! That’s why I’m sitting here writing this blog instead of watching Swingtime on TV.

I suspect that the teachers in private schools are somehow better because if they aren’t, they can be fired – unlike in CPS.  On the other hand, I believe that private schools probably pay their teacher less than in CPS or the top suburbs so maybe the teachers AREN’T better.  Or maybe they are better because they are doing for the love of the job, not the pay.  Argh! I guess it’s impossible to say which are better.  Subjectively, I’d go with private.  I know (I KNOW!) there are fantastic teachers in CPS.  But as my neighbor told me (who has a daughter in high school,) “She has had some fabulous teachers and others who… well, lets just say that if some of them were found dead in the parking lot with a drill in the head, it would probably be my doing.”  This from a woman who I’d say is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.  Yikes.

Certainly the smaller student body in private schools allows the staff and administration to really know each child and give them the personal attention they need.  OK.. good.  On the other hand, if your child is outside the norm in a private school (slow learner, ADHD kid) there are not typically the resources available to help them.  OK… doesn’t matter since my kid will be perfect in school (ha.)

Let’s move to the important topic weighing on the mind of every parent of a 5-year-old.  High school.  According to a 2006 Chicago Magazine article, 14-18% of the kids in the selective high schools come from private/parochial school.  Seems fair.  However 30% of the kids at Northside College Prep (the high school with the top scores in the whole state) come from private/parochial.  That seems pretty impressive, I gotta say.

The downsides of private school, in my opinion, are the small student bodies (can you really get an 8th grade crush on a kid you’ve been in class with since Kindergarten?), lack of diversity (both ethnic and socio-economic) and of course the freakishly high price tag that could be redirected into a college fund.  Or a new kitchen.

On to CPS.  The advantages often include bigger student bodies (more options for friends and activities,) definitely more diversity, its free!, and importantly, the chance to work with your community to build a great local school.

But the downside, CPS can make a mother break into a cold sweat.  Bureaucracy.  Budget cuts.  Teachers union.  Big classes.  Yucky bathrooms.  A general sense of chaos.  Weird-smelling hot lunches.  And worst of all, just today my son asked me if there would be bullies at his new school.  At his private Montessori I could have given an unqualified “No!” (private schools can get rid of the trouble-makers.)  Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about CPS.  It’s a scarier environment with lots of big kids running around, parents who are less-involved, and ultimately the school must take the neighborhood kids whether they’re angels or bullies.

In the end, my personal conclusion was that private schools probably have more a personal and academic focus (they better for that price!!)  I’m just not sure if the benefits are worth paying thousands and thousands of dollars for over a decade.  I have to believe that if we make education a priority in our household that our son can learn nearly as much in CPS.  If we work with the school and work along with other parents to push for progressive education and engaging classroom activities, we can get pretty close to what we’d get at a private school.  I don’t think it can happen unless parents get involved.  But I’m hopeful that if we all demand it, we can get it.

June 12, 2008 at 11:24 pm 8 comments

Kindergarten Craziness

The Kindergarten decision.  In Chicago, the stress involved is as great as applying to college.  Or come to think of it, maybe more stressful.  At least for college the child in question will share in the decision-making, sparing the parent the burden of single-handedly choosing the “wrong” school and messing up their kid for life.  For now, it is up to us to make the call, wondering what the 8th grade version of our child will be like and what type of education/environment is best suited for this nebulous concept of a child.  (Of course most of us are envisioning studious, vibrant, and talkative 8th grade offspring who have developed a true love of learning rather than the type who will roll their eyes at us, slack on their homework, mumble answers to our questions, and cause various types of trouble at school.)

And Kindergarten Chicago style is more crazy than any friends in the suburbs or other states can even imagine:  Touring schools, sending out lottery applications, gifted/classical testing, application fees, play parties, reading message boards, shmoozing principals, talking to random strangers at the playground…. it is almost enough to drive one to the suburbs.  Yet we persist.  And pray to the Gods of the CPS lottery hoping we’ll hit the jackpot.

I have been preparing for and anticipating the Kindergarten decision for over 2 years.  Half my son’s life, in fact.  And now, with a brain full of knowledge and experience, I feel the need to continue charting my progress as we dive head first into CPS.  I’d also like a place to share information with other parents who are going through this strange and interesting journey.

At the aquarium the other day, my son and I threw pennies into the fountain and made a wish.  He wished for a machine that could transform him into a robot.  I wished for a good school experience for him.  Not to be selfish, but I hope mine comes true before his does (although I could put that robot to work around the house….)

 

June 10, 2008 at 7:15 pm 1 comment


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