Friday, February 02, 2007

North Side School Reviews

A few more contractions today, but mostly when I'm standing up from sitting or bending over to pick something up, and not when I'm sitting still and relaxing. Yes, I am trying a few of the well-known home induction measures, but not castor oil. Yuck. I have an induction scheduled Feb. 13, so ask me about castor oil on Feb. 12.

In the meantime, I toured another local school this morning. I'm going to use some of my peace and quiet today to catalog the pros and cons of the Chicago elementary schools I've toured so far. Obviously, these pros and cons are very subjective -- for instance, most parents wouldn't object to preschoolers using computers, but I do.

Coonley (toured today)

neighborhood: St. Ben's.

pros: small classes, seems well organized and run, facility appears safe and nicely maintained, band program, many after-school programs for parents who work all day including after-school Spanish and German available starting in first grade. State pre-k open to all kids (not just those who need help preparing for kindergarten as in past), not likely to have waiting list especially if you live in the neighborhood. Short recess after lunch. Gym, music and library every week for K-8. Friends of Coonley fundraising group and plans to start a second kindergarten indicate yuppie neighborhood interest that will probably improve the school over the next few years.

cons: NO ART TEACHER, no foreign language in the regular school day, some of the teachers appeared uninspired and boring -- i.e. reading aloud from a long document, listening to a novel on tape while the students followed along in their books, preparing for ISAT tests. Only one class per grade so no separation of accelerated students from slower ones (although they do try to address this by using small groups and centers in each classroom). Computers are one of the "centers" available in pre-k classrooms.

bottom line: While I wouldn't lose sleep over my children's safety or basic preparedness for further education, it's not a school I would seek out for my children. I think we will avoid buying in this district; if we do we will aggressively pursue nearby magnet schools, of which there are several promising choices such as Inter-American and the Bell gifted program.

McPherson:

neighborhood: Ravenswood

pros: International baccalaureate program for grades 6-8, PTO is applying for funding to get it for the younger kids as well. Spanish taught for 5-8. Short recess after lunch. Pre-k and K open to kids outside the neighborhood. K-8 get gym, music, art and library once a week. Principal has been there 21 years and most teachers are there for entire careers.

cons: Did NOT make Annual Yearly Progress required by No Child Left Behind, which the principal blames on having 10% special ed students. Principal started autism program to accommodate her own children. Pre-K students use computers. Kindergarten teacher sends videos home with kids.

bottom line: again, not a dangerous or disastrous school but not one I would go out of my way to live near.

Ravenswood

neighborhood: Ravenswood

pros: Spanish class once or twice a week starting in PRE-K. FANTASTIC board-certified art teacher who sends her own children to this school. Also have music, libarary and gym. Friends of Ravenswood parent group well established. State pre-k open to all, with no waiting list. Accept out-of-district students. 2 classes per grade (but not separated by ability).

cons: pre-k kids use computers

bottom line: I like this school very much and plan to shop in the district.

Waters

neighborhood: Lincoln Square

pros: As a fine arts magnet "cluster" school, gets 2 extra arts teachers but still takes all neighborhood applicants. Art room well stocked, teacher seems great. Art integrated into other classes. Ecology garden is extension of science program, staffed by a grant, classes have beds for growing plants and do soil samples, study insects, etc. Parent group has a lot of projects going including repainting interior of school and getting asphalt torn up for grass. Spanish taught EVERY DAY K-4. Large Spanish-speaking population mixed with English speakers for lunch and specials. 45-minute lunch/recess compared to 20-30 minutes at other schools.

cons: small library. State pre-k still screens and takes at risk kids first. Kindergarteners get a small amount of homework. Facility needs work -- there is peeling paint (which the parent group is working on). Computers in pre-k classes.

bottom line: This is my favorite school that I have toured so far, and I will shop in the district.

Coming some other time: Armstrong, Boone.

And an update: I have had at least one contraction while sitting still typing this. Of course, I am sitting here drinking red raspberry leaf tea, which does seem to bring them on. I will post later if anything starts happening.

Edited 2/21 to add:
Chappell School

Neighborhood: Ravenswood? Budlong?

pros: Spanish every day from grade 3 up; they have music and art, albeit taught by the same teacher; well-stocked art room and the school actually provided the supplies; nice facilities; seemed like a safe, calm and clean atmosphere; ok library; recess; gym twice a week; test scores comparable to Ravenswood

cons: the principal, who gave me the tour, was extremely lacking in enthusiasm -- however, he's retiring and there will be a new principal next year; very little sense of excitement or innovation in the school; state pre-k seems likely to fill up with high-needs kids leaving no room for the likes of Nutmeg; parent fundraising group was disbanded due to principal's imminent retirement; teaching looked ok but a little boring; didn't get the sense that many kids here excel or aspire to competitive high schools. Computers in pre-k class.

bottom line: While it didn't seem like a terrible place, I think that if I lived in this district I would probably try to get my kids into a magnet school instead. Will be interested to see if new principal punches things up at all or if parental involvement grows.

6 comments:

Kori said...

If we ever decide to move to the north side, I'm glad you have done all this research!

If you guys are itching to get out of the house (I have no idea why you would with these temperatures), you can always stop by. We have red raspberry leaf tea, too.

Hugs. I'm thinking about you!

Notta Wallflower said...

Wow, you really do your research for schools. Usually I'm just used to "shoppers" when parents of a special needs child (usually autistic) is in search for a good program. I think you'll be hard pressed to find schools without computers. When I started in the schools about 8 years ago, they didn't have technology in the state standards (at least not that I can remember). Now tech has benchmarks just like reading, writing, math, and science have. Why is it a con about having special ed or an autistic program in the school? I guess integration is an issue near and dear to my heart, and I think that exposure to kids with special needs is good for our general ed kiddos. I'm sure you know this, but test scores and NCLB are not the end-all and be-all of a good program. It's a little scary, actually, to have people too fixated on it because it shows that teachers are more intent on teaching to the benchmarks (testing) than to what kids need. I'm very impressed with how thorough you are. Also, your descriptions of these programs make me realize how behind CA is regarding education. Nut and Filbertine are very lucky that you guys live where you do and that you're so diligent about making sure they get what is best for them. :-)

tessence said...

Notta -- I didn't mean that having the special ed program was a con, in fact I agree that being integrated with special ed students can be a benefit for the general education kids. At McPherson I noted that the school getting dinged on No Child Left Behind for not making required progress was a con. I am not sure if I buy the principal's explanation that it's the special ed kids who brought the rest of the kids' test scores down and caused them to miss that benchmark.

Also, I don't expect to find a school with no computers, and in fact I wouldn't want to. I just don't like to see the preschoolers using computers, when I feel they should be focusing on interaction, sensory learning, motor skills development, and the like.

Kori said...

My folks, special ed teachers themselves, have spoken at length about how "No Child Left Behind" has really hurt the schools. It is true that having a larger number of special ed kids can make it harder to meet mandates. Testing, testing, and more testing is not a good measure of how children are learning, particularly when the benefits of social and emotional development from participating in mainstreamed classrooms cannot be on a test. If a school works hard to achieve non-testworthy goals that truly benefit their students, they can officially be "leaving students behind" based on government criteria.

It's not even my soapbox, but I'm so well-versed in it, I can jump in in a pinch.

Notta Wallflower said...

I can see your point about computers in preschool. They start kids so early on some things. Kids are doing things in kindergarten that you and I never had to worry about. I misunderstood your comment about NCLB. It's hard to say what brings the test scores down, but our special ed kids do. Even when you give them testing accomodations, they have trouble. Also, in addition to kids with LD and language delays, our very severe kids (kids in the MR range) who should be taking alternate assessments are now forced to take state testing. They have no concept of what that means, much less any idea of what is on the test and how to answer the questions. One special ed teacher I know calls it a "bubble party" - what else can ya do? Kori - I agree with your parents. I see the effects of all the testing on our special ed kids and it's not pleasant. All in the name of something that, I'm sure, was meant with good intent.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoy your blog very much, it passes the time waiting for labor to begin as I am 38 weeks pregnant.

I had to post a comment because I went to Bell School for a year before transferring to St. Ben's when I was 9-10 years old. I loved Bell School, there I learned some sign language in order to communicate with deaf kids on the playground. I remember that art was a big component in my class, and we were always growing things on the widowsill for science (my potato sprouted first).

At St. Bens, I had four teachers over four years who encouraged my creative writing. It was a wonderful school and a great neighborhood. In retrospect, my parents must have paid quite a bit for my education, and my family wasn't religious, so I felt a bit out-of-place when everyone else was taking communion at mass, but, overall, my memories of the place are very positive. We listened aloud to an Italian opera for weeks while doing quiet work before going to see it live, we entered into city-wide short story writing contests, things of that nature. The art component...not as present.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. All your Chicago-speak makes me homesick.

-Leah, a reader in Kansas.