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  1. Video

    CPS 101: Understanding Tiers

    Maybe you’ve heard about tiers, but you aren’t sure what they are, which one you’re in and if you should care. In this last installment of a four-part series that helps parents navigate Chicago Public Schools, Grace Lee Sawin of Chicago School GPS tells you how to look up your tier and explains how tiers affect the lottery, acceptance and waitlist systems. Recorded in February 2019.
  2. NWEA. OAE. OMG. We just want the best education for our kids, right? There are many ways to define “best” and there are choices — they just require thoughtfulness and planning, sometimes years in advance. Online CPS resources define which options are available for your student. What you won’t find at go.cps.edu are guidelines to help you decide which path is right for your student and family. [Related: How to apply to a CPS school in 5 easy steps] What’s your family’s tolerance for pressure? The stress associated with testing and applications varies with each family and student. For students who test well and organized parents with time to commit to the process, it’s not that hard (full disclosure: our children attended our neighborhood elementary school through 8th grade and then selective enrollment high school a quarter-mile from home). The hurry-up-and-wait pipeline for selective enrollment is long: for example, test* in winter of Grade 3, apply fall of Grade 4, wait by the mailbox for decision letter in the spring to begin fall of Grade 5. Just remember: it’s a choice. *Students enrolled in a non-CPS school must register for NWEA MAP testing before they intend to apply as the test scores are used to qualify students for selective enrollment. How many school-age children do you have? Consider if one school will meet the needs of all your children; coordinating drop-offs and pick-ups at multiple campuses is a challenge. If you have young children, get involved with your neighborhood school before you need it: support the parent organization, attend local school council (LSC) meetings (or run for a community member seat on the council), subscribe to the school’s newsletter, visit the website and school often. Neighborhood schools become great schools when families, communities, teachers and administration work together, and you’ll get the inside view before you need to choose. [Related: How to apply to CPS preschools] Does your student want to attend college? It’s believed more prestigious high schools lead to more prestigious colleges and universities. Truth is, your student can attend various CPS schools and get into college. One student may thrive with a heavy AP or IB workload, while another’s GPA suffers under strain, impacting their credentials. One student may thrive in a program in which they can work hard, earn a great GPA and get a little more sleep or family time, while another loses interest for lack of a challenge. The only right answer is the answer right for your child alone. Consider these additional questions and go forth — you have some homework to do. Does your community have resources to support your neighborhood school? Will your child feel safe both inside and outside the school? “Safe” is subjective and includes considerations like enrollment size. What makes your child tick? Schools, even of the same type, can have widely differing programs. What does diversity mean to your family? Some schools are quite homogenous while others attract students from across the city. How much importance do you give to social-emotional learning? Many schools use the words, but some schools really work this into practice. If prestige is one of your considerations, understand why. Getting in isn’t reason alone to attend. It may play a role in your student’s plan, or you may find another school characteristic that has a longer-term impact.
  3. Many Chicago parents, myself included, start thinking about high school at the same time we're applying to preschool. This phenomenon isn’t limited to “type A” parents or “helicopter” parents or overachieving parents. We begin thinking about high school so early because our children’s access to education can influence major life decisions such as where we live, and because to new and not-so-new parents, public high schools in Chicago are something of a mystery. [Related: High School Admissions 101 (members-only video)] What are public high schools like in Chicago? Are they all the same or does each school offer different programs? Is there an application process? Is it the same for all schools? These are just a few of the questions I had as a preschool parent. If you have questions like this, too, you'll love this useful resource from Chicago Public Schools that lists every public high school in the city, each school’s programs’ eligibility requirements, selection process and more. CPS organized all of this information into one document, which you can find in the Elementary and High School Guide at go.cps.edu. To go directly to the list of high school programs, eligibility and selection process, click here. CPS hasn't publicized this document, as far as I can tell, so I want to make sure other parents can find it! In this document, one section is organized by the type of admission screening required, such as an audition, an essay, attendance at an information session, and more. The next section lists the schools with IB programs and service leadership (formerly military) programs. The last section lists each high school and gives detailed information about program eligibility requirements and the selection process for each program at each school. Some high schools, such as Lincoln Park High School, have six different programs to which students can be admitted and this document lays out the differences in eligibility and selection for each one. [Related: You have more CPS high school options than you think] This information would have been enlightening for me to come across when my children were younger, when I wanted to know what public high school options were available. Now as a parent of a 5th grader, this information got me up to speed quickly. At this point, I am casting a wide net for my son and this document has it all. When my son is in middle school we’ll use this information to narrow down his high school search, prioritize his choices, and prepare his application. I still have questions about the high school search, but for now, at least, some of them have been answered. Check out NPN's school search tools to make your school search easier! Our School Directory compiles up-to-date stats on every school in the city. And look for upcoming NPN School Choice events such as CPS 101.
  4. Article
    Preschool in Chicago is not required, but many families consider enrolling their children into a local preschool option when their child is 3 years old. To attend a CPS-based preschool, however, requires understanding the differences between the options. If you’re thinking about CPS magnet schools for preschool next fall, the time to look into those programs is…now! Because you can apply nearly a full year before entry, this is the fall to apply, presuming your child was 2 by this past Sept. 1st (so they'll be of age next fall, for programs that start at 3 years old). Applications for the 2022-2023 school year for two magnet preschools (Suder and Drummond) opened on October 13, and are due December 15 at 5pm. Parents can create their student’s CPS ID at Go.CPS.edu. If you are thinking about other preschool programs hosted in CPS schools (Tuition-Based PreK or Chicago Early Learning Programs), the deadline varies as outlined below. [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] Here’s a quick rundown of the programs and application requirements for CPS preschool programs: Tuition-Based Preschool (TBP): Full-day programs that provide childcare in addition to preschool (10-hour day; hours may vary by school). Housed in seven elementary schools, children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Applications are processed one year before entry either first-come, first-served or via selection criteria directly through each school. Priority for open seats goes to returning students and their siblings. Tuition for 2020-2021 is $15,275, which includes a $700 non-refundable deposit required to hold your child’s spot in the class, if offered. Visit the CPS Tuition-Based Preschool page for a list of school locations and to print an application. Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): Either half-day (2.5–3 hours) or full-day (7 hours) programs housed in select elementary schools, with tuition determined by a sliding scale or waived (announced pre-pandemic). Children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Typically, 3-year-olds are hosted by community-based sites while 4-year-olds can be in CPS school-based locations. The application process is completely online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants are typically added to a waitlist until the number of open spots is determined. Visit www.chicagoearlylearning.org for application information and updates; the application period will begin in Spring 2022 for Fall 2022 entry, but some sites may have rolling availability. Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at two magnet elementary schools, Drummond and Suder; children must be age 3 and potty trained by September 1. Seats in magnet programs are awarded via a computerized lottery, with priority given for applicants who are siblings of current students. In the entry year of a magnet program, priority is also given to those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school and then any remaining entry year seats are distributed evenly by CPS Tier. The Choice Elementary CPS application is required for the two magnet preschool programs; the online application period for 2022-2023 opened on October 13 and closes December 15 at 5pm. Go to go.cps.edu to apply. Acceptance into the magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive. [Related: What's up with Universal Pre-K? Here's what we know.] COVID has shifted some tours and open houses to virtual formats this year and it’s always best to call each school you are interested in to get the details on how to apply and/or get on their waitlist; some programs have not yet determined the number of seats that will be open for next fall. A couple of important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: Residing within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program does not guarantee admission into that school’s optional preschool program; an application is required from all entering students, and acceptance into a CPS preschool program that is not your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program (except for the magnet programs described above). Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Updated Fall 2021
  5. It’s the time of year again! Chicago Public Schools (CPS) opened its applications for the 2022-2023 school year on Wednesday, October 13; the deadline to apply is December 15 at 5pm. Students entering kindergarten through 8th grade may apply for open seats at schools across the city, with a limited number of pre-k options available as well. Learn about Universal Pre-K status. [Related: 9 questions parents should be asking schools] In CPS, there are two main types of schools to which you can apply: 1. Magnet schools and lottery admission programs – These include magnet schools, magnet cluster schools and open enrollment schools. A completed Choice Elementary Application is required; seats are determined via computerized lottery with no testing involved. 2. Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) – These include Classical Schools, Regional Gifted Centers (RGC) and Academic Centers for middle schoolers. A completed SEES application is required; students are selected through a testing process. For kindergarten entry at any CPS school, children must be age 5 by September 1 of the year they are entering kindergarten. (The only exception is via the Illinois Accelerated Placement Act.) Here's an abbreviated guide to getting the application process started in 5 manageable steps: 1. Activate an account (if applying online). Go to go.cps.edu to request a CPS ID for each child who is new to CPS. Each applying student needs a CPS ID to open an online CPS application. Paper applications do not require a CPS ID. All applications are due by December 15, 2021. 2. Apply. Select the schools for which you want to apply via Choice Elementary (lottery) and/or SEES (test required) applications. For the Choice Elementary application, you can choose up to 20 schools with no ranking required for the lottery. For the SEES application, you can select up to 6 Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center (RGC) schools and must rank them in order of preference. 3. Schedule a test date. If you wish to have your child tested for SEES, you will be asked to choose a test date via your portal at go.cps.edu after applying to any SEES programs. There are separate tests for Classical Schools and RGCs. If applying to kindergarten for both types of schools, each test will be administered on the same day. If applying for both types for older grades, your child will be tested on separate dates. Testing will occur from November 2021 through February 2022, or until all applicants have been tested. Students who take their test in November will receive their test results before the December 15 application deadline. 4. Submit your application by 5pm CST on December 15. You should receive instant confirmation of your online application and sending via certified mail is recommended for paper submissions. Notification letters and test results (for students who took their exam(s) after November 2021) will be posted to your online application portal (or mailed to paper applicants) in April 2022. 5. Visit the schools you are most interested in. This is a very important step in the process and ideally should be done before you select schools and submit your application. Check out NPN School Directory to get an overview of each school, contact schools for virtual or in-person tour dates and open houses, and try to connect with parents whose children attend the schools you’re considering. Bear in mind that the “hottest” schools might not be the best fit for your child. Also, don’t underestimate your own neighborhood school, as it may be a “hidden gem” and the perfect place for your child—and for you and your family to become part of an active school community. [Related: CPS 101 video (members only)] These are just the basic steps in the CPS application process. Please note that there may be variations to these steps, depending on the particular programs and/or grades your child is applying to. Visit go.cps.edu for more information and details. Remember: No application or deadline is required for your neighborhood school. Every street address in the city is assigned to a neighborhood school where your child is guaranteed a seat. However, keep in mind that the public school nearest to your home may not necessarily be your neighborhood school (even if it’s right across the street!). Enter your primary residential address on the CPS School Locator to determine your neighborhood school. Then contact the school directly for a registration timeline and other pertinent information for incoming students and families. Looking ahead to the 2023-2024 school year (or beyond)? Members can watch the CPS 101 Q&A video (recorded 10/8/21) and the four-part CPS 101 video series. Keep your eye on the NPN Chicago School Choice events on the calendar. Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum.
  6. On Friday, Chicago Public Schools released a lot of new data. While CPS's continued enrollment slide made the biggest headlines (enrollment is linked to how much funding each district receives), the new school ratings are likely more important to parents, especially those in the thick of school search. Find out where your school—or the schools you're considering for your child next year—ranks here. [Related: Want to make your community better? Consider your neighborhood school] My son's school's rating dropped from a 1+ to a 1. That's disappointing, for sure, but this article about what these ratings really mean helped me understand the data that drives these ratings, and why perhaps you shouldn't put too much stock into them. Possibly the most controversial data point in these ratings is attendance, which is weighted more than all other factors. A "perfect" score is 96% attendance. Attendance is no doubt important, but if a school slips below that 96% attendance rate, its rating takes a huge hit. "For example, last year Saucedo Scholastic Academy just barely received a Level 2+ rating, with 2.9 points," the article states. "Students at Saucedo had a 95.9% attendance rate. Had students been sick just a few days less, their attendance would have increased to 96.0%, and they would have become a Level 1 school." [Related: The little-known strategy of getting into Chicago schools] So if you're researching schools for your child, by all means take these school ratings into account. But my advice is also to consider the many other aspects that make a school successful, such as a committed principal and a highly involved parent group. Luckily, my son's school has both. Check out NPN's school search tools to make your school search easier! Our School and Daycare Directory compiles up-to-date stats on every school in the city. And look for upcoming NPN School Choice events such as CPS 101.
  7. “When is the best time to begin my school search?” is a question often posed by families looking to start the always dreaded but ultimately necessary rite of passage known as the “Chicago School Search.” Sometimes the question is followed up by a plaintive, “Oh my goodness! Am I too late?!” Rest easy, Chicago families. The answer is not as cut-and-dried as one would think — and ultimately, you are never “too late.” [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] As the third largest city in the U.S., Chicago is home to a vast range of school types, sizes, options, and admissions processes. Even within Chicago Public Schools (CPS), there are various pathways for entry from preschool to high school. Overlaid with the multitude of private and parochial schools, there are always choices for parents whenever they embark on their school search. That being said, one of the keys to increasing your odds in any endeavor is to know when those odds are at their best. “Entry Year” odds For school admissions, when a program begins is known as the “entry year” of a school (e.g., a K-8 school’s entry year is kindergarten). This is typically the time when the school has the most spots available. But it can have the most applicants, as well. For example, a school with two kindergarten classrooms of 25 students each will have 50 spots to fill, and perhaps 500 applicants (a 10% admit rate). Conversely, that same school’s first-grade class may have just one spot open, but only five students applying — so it could have a 20% admit rate in a non-entry year. Considering how difficult it is to predict if any upper-year spots may be available, a good strategy is to be in the applicant pool of the entry year for your desired school. Some common or little-known entry points are: Infants (6 weeks: Montessori Academy of Chicago) 3-year-olds (University of Chicago Lab School, Frances Xavier Warde, many Montessori schools) 4-year-olds (Chicago City Day School, Inter-American Magnet) 5-year-olds (most CPS schools) 5th grade (additional spots at Latin School) 6th grade (additional spots at Francis Parker) 7th grade (CPS Academic Centers) 9th grade (high schools) [Related: Want to make your community better? Consider your neighborhood school] September 1 cut-off Most preschool and early elementary programs have a strict age cutoff date of September 1, so keep that in mind when determining your child’s entry year. Once a school’s entry point is confirmed, be sure to apply one year before the program starts to be in the running for available seats. In other words, if you are interested in a school that begins at 3 years old, then plan to apply that fall when your child is 2 years old. Whatever year you enter a school, you are allowed to stay until the school ends, which is typically 8th or 12th grade. Targeting the entry year can increase your odds of acceptance at a school of your choice. Good luck with your school search journey, and may the odds be with you! Updated Spring 2021
  8. A week ago, the Chicago Tribune broke a story about the lack of response, action and follow-through regarding sexual abuse at Chicago Public Schools. Since this report broke, CPS has taken steps to address the issue, including sending this plan of action to community-based organizations like NPN. We're sharing this here with you so you can be aware of CPS's plan, and to facilitate a discussion about protecting children from abuse. What do you think about this plan of action? Do you think CPS should be doing more? Doing things differently? Or does this seems like an appropriate plan? NPN members can go to this thread on the main discussion forum to discuss the many facets of this issue.

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