some CPS lessons learned / advice for new families….

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      so I have used this forum a lot over the years and am very grateful to other parents who post.  After going through about 8 years of this with multiple kids in different schools,  I wanted to leave some thoughts behind in hopes that they help people especially new families entering Kinder:

      1) remember that navigating CPS can be a journey and that it sometimes has to be taken a year, or even a day, at a time.  if you are a ‘planner’ and like certainty, that can be real hard

      2) remember that while parents help one another and are happy to give input, any input you get is depending on the point of view and has some level of bias.  one family may love a particular school and for another it may not be the right fit.  for some, CPS is not what they choose.  families have different needs and parenting styles.  do your own research!

      3) it is usually best to start with your own local neighborhood [or the neighborhood you think you want  to stay/live in]. Try to visit your neighborhood school which you are in radius for and look online to find out how it performs academically, if that is an important metric for you.   There are some great neighborhood schools.   Talk to other families.  Yes, it’d be great if we all sent our kids to the assigned neighborhood schools and everyone could ‘walk to school’.  I’m not going to get into all the reasons why that doesn’t happen…..but if you decide you want options, keep reading….

      4) remember that CPS is a big system and all schools in it are part of that system and all that comes with it [including CPS wide policies, and yes, the teacher’s union].  but each school is individual on some level, run by a principal, a group of teachers and involvement from parents.  Every school is different.

      5) be aware of your Tier and what that means – both for lottery, and for admissions to any selective schools.  know the impact living in a certain tier may have on academic center and high school and plan accordingly.

      6) for elementary – if you decide that you are in the boat of ‘considering options besides the assigned neighborhood school’ – there are a few routes to go.

      The Magnet Route:  I think the biggest advantage here is, like the assigned neighborhood school, siblings are virtually guaranteed admission if another sibling is enrolled at a Magnet.  Also each magnet has a focus or ‘theme’.  Magnets have a variety of academic performance levels and often some are better in one subject than another.  They pull kids from the ‘proximity lottery’ and from across the city via Tiers.  If considering Magnets, find out which magnets you live 1.5 miles away from – it is often a lot easier to get a seat through that lottery than from the Tiers, although both are possible.  Magnets have more variety of academic levels of kids than selective enrollment and there teachers have to differentiate more.  In addition to local families, many magnet families go there for the ‘theme’ and/or travel far to get to the school, so they tend to have some good energy and many perform really well academically overall.

      The selective enrollment route:  In my experience, the big advantage to SEES is that they are academically accelerated and help kids have a better chance to get into an academic center or selective high school later on.  This is not to say that kids from other types of schools don’t get those seats – they do – it is just that the SEES kids often get them at higher rates.  The main drawback to SEES is that is siblings don’t get an automatic spot and there are two types of tests [Classical and RGC] so a kid may be better on one test or the other, and you have no way of knowing that going in.  Yes, you can prep your 3 or 4-year old, but it’s by no means a guarantee and it’s by no means a guarantee to get a spot close to where you live.  Also, two siblings can score well on the opposite tests.  Not all SEES schools have the same scores needed to get in, although there is a minimum score.  Another drawback is, many are located far and wide across the city and you don’t always get offered one where you live.  Like the magnets, each SEES school is a bit different.

      The Magnet Cluster or ‘choice’ neighborhood school route:  Because of ‘school choice’ you can write down any school in CPS, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will have space.  Still, based upon where you live, it’s an option to explore if you have a school you like, that you are out of the boundary for.

      Specific needs:  There are dual language, programs for specific types of ‘diverse’ [formerly known as special ed] learners, and SEES for English learners…

      7) once you sign up with GoCPS – understand how the system operates and make sure you don’t miss important dates.

      8) as you are riding the wave of waitlists, understand that you may get multiple offers or you may get none, and that most waitlists do move, and they move all the way up to September [except if a school is truly full or overcrowded not accepting outside kids].  while ‘entry years’ like Kinder are super important because there are more seats, it is possible to get a seat in a later year.  be flexible and have a backup. Also – if you accept a SEES you give up your other SEES waitlists but remain on the “magnet” or “choice” waitlists.  If you accept a “magnet” or “choice” seat, you remain on all other waitlists you signed up for including SEES, unless you withdraw from the list.  This is why there is a continuing ‘movement’ of waitlists throughout the summer and sometimes into fall, and why people get those late calls.  Non entry grades can tend to move later than entry grades because the seats come available when people move away.

      9) don’t have your heart set on a ‘dream school’ [unless you live in its radius] and think you are going to necessarily get it, especially if it is one of those with hundreds [or thousands] of applicants.  there are lots of options and sometimes unfortunately you can’t fully choose where you go.

      10) your waitlist number, or your SEES test score, may not be as bad as you think and people do get surprise calls.  It depends on which school it is for, whether it’s an entry grade, and what type of waitlist you are on [tier, proximity, sibling].  Some move more than others.  So if you are really waiting on something, try to understand those factors.

      As a last thought – I do think in general the vast majority of families eventually ‘find something’ that they are happy with.  It is a weird journey to be sure, but by understanding the system and persevering you can come out in a good place

      best wishes to all navigating the process


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