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  • Laura Baginski

    Laura Baginski is NPN's Director of Marketing and Content and mom of two energetic boys.

    A primer on elementary school terms

    Here are the terms you need to know when you're searching for Chicago preschools and elementary schools.


    It’s your kids who are starting school, but for many parents searching for schools feels like being in the classroom all over again! You’re taking notes on various schools, coming across brand-new terms you’ve never seen before and—gasp!—maybe even compiling a spreadsheet to keep everything straight. 

    It’s overwhelming, and the urge to play hooky to escape all this is tempting. But we at NPN are here to ease some of the anxiety that comes with finding the right school for your child with our Preschool & Elementary School Fair, CPS 101 classes and more. 
    Let’s drill down on the basics: a lesson on elementary school terms. 
    Charter (adj.): a school that gets both private and public funding but is not subject to the same regulations and school-board policies as traditional public schools. Students must apply, and the schedule and curriculum may be different from other public schools.
    Used in a sentence: I have one child in a CPS school and another in a charter school, and even though their days off don’t always align, it’s still the best option for our family.
    Lottery (n.): a computerized student-selection process that is, on its face, random, but is actually influenced by a few factors. If your child has a sibling in the school; if you live within 1.5 miles from the school; and/or if you live in an area that, according to U.S. census data, is considered to be in a low socioeconomic tier, your child moves up on the list.
    Used in a sentence: I am praying to the lottery gods that our proximity to the school will grant my son a spot.
    Magnet (adj.): a school that specializes in certain subjects, such as math and science, or teaching and learning styles, such as Montessori. Students are selected via lottery (see: lottery).
    Used in a sentence: The school right across the street from me is a magnet, so I can’t count on my daughter getting in.
    Magnet cluster (adj.): a neighborhood school (see: neighborhood school) that specializes in certain subjects or teaching styles and accepts students based on attendance boundaries. Students who live outside the boundary may apply, and they’re selected through a lottery (see: lottery).
    Used in a sentence: Affordable real estate surrounding Lakeview’s Blaine Elementary, a highly rated CPS magnet cluster school that focuses on the fine arts, is hard to come by.
    Neighborhood school (n.): the CPS school your child is automatically accepted into, based on your address.
    Used in a sentence: The CPS School Locator tells you what your neighborhood school is.
    Selective enrollment (adj.): schools for academically advanced students; testing is required for acceptance.  
    Used in a sentence: Bob and Judy have been using math flashcards with their daughter since she was 6 months old in hopes she’d test into a selective enrollment school.

    Related articles:
    9 questions parents should be asking schools
    The ABCs of applying to CPS preschools

    Laura Baginski

    Laura Baginski is NPN's Director of Marketing and Content and mom of two energetic boys.

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