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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Why we can't move...

Pretty, pretty Mir asked me some questions about magnet schools, so I thought I'd just address them in a full-out post. When I look back at what I went through this year in terms of research, school visits, sweat, and tears, it definitely seems post-worthy. Also, it might help other parents in Chicago, because it is frickin' CONFUSING!!

The whole process starts the year before your child starts kindergarten (some parents start their research earlier, but, we weren't here, and in retrospect, I just don't see the point). During the fall, you'll need to start making a list of schools that you are potentially interested in, and then you'll need to try to visit as many of these as you can. The visits generally take place during open houses, which last about two hours. This is a big hassle for both working and non-working parents. If you are working, this is a lot of time away from your job. If you are not working, this is a huge babysitting expense. I didn't visit all of the schools we applied to - there just wasn't enough time, and we applied to almost 20 schools.

Yes, you read that correctly. We applied to 20 public schools. In Chicago, any child can automatically go to his or her neighborhood school, and if your neighborhood school is a good one, then you can just ignore the rest of this post. We don't care for our neighborhood school. (At the open house, the principal ignored us - bad sign.) You can also apply to other neighborhood schools, because if they don't have enough kids in the neighborhood, they accept other children via lottery.

Some of these neighborhood schools have specialties (they are called magnet clusters, but that's really confusing). So, our neighborhood school is actually a fine arts magnet cluster school. Others are math and science, or literature and writing, etc.

There are also gifted and classical schools. Gifted schools are for the kids who are truly gifted - they learn differently. Classical schools are for children who are advanced in their learning - they are reading and writing at a level above their age group. For these, your children need to be tested. We tested Dylan for both, and although she did very well, she didn't get into either, primarily because we are white. In Chicago, they still operate many of their schools on a racial quota system. They accept 1/3 majority (white kids), and 2/3 minorities. I have a big problem with this system (I'd prefer they do outreach to people who don't have the time, money or wherewithal to navigate this insane system), but it's still here, at least for now, so it doesn't matter what I think.

Finally, there are magnet schools. These schools all have a focus (arts, language, Montessori, math/science, etc.), and they take children from all over the city. They also operate on the quota system.

We applied to a slew of different types of schools, and Dylan only got into a few. We didn't apply to any private schools. First, I don't want to pay for it. Second, I knew that if we didn't get into any of the schools we wanted, we could just move into one of the neighborhoods with a great school (we are renting). One of the schools she DID get into was a Fine Arts Magnet.

Mir asked, "You're supposed to pick an area of interest for your 5-year-old that's going to work for them until their teens? What happens if her interests change?"

My answer is, it doesn't really matter. I happen to be pretty sure that Dylan will always enjoy some aspect of the arts (it's really broad. they have art, drama, music and dance). Also, it's all based in academics. So, yes, they learn how to dance, but they also do reports on famous dancers, and learn about dance styles, etc. It's very cool. But, irrespective of all this, I had no way of guaranteeing that she'd get into an arts school. It was complete and utter luck. 700 students applied for this school's kindergarten slots. They had 43 available. And only 1/3 of those slots were for white kids. TOTAL LUCK.

So, that is the story of Chicago Public Schools. If you live here and want more information, feel free to email. My friend and I have an Excel spreadsheet, a Word document, and a whole bunch of anecdotal stories to share. It's been quite a journey. And, as alluded to in my title, it has made me not want to ever leave Chicago. I can NOT let all of that time go to waste.


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