Friday, March 23, 2007

Oak Park School Review: Washington Irving Elementary

Everyone raves about the schools in Oak Park. The high school is supposed to be in the top 500 for the whole nation. The OP two schools that I'm looking into -- Irving and Longfellow -- are never listed when people mention the best Oak Park grade schools, but people usually follow their "best" lists by assuring me, "There are no bad schools."

After touring Irving, I agree: It's not a bad school. Is it a good school? I dunno. It had all the programs and offerings that I really want for my daughters. Yet something seemed lacking. Energy and enthusiasm, I think. Some of the teachers I spoke with exuded a calm confidence and some enthusiasm, but not all. I looked into the art room and the art teacher seemed unenthused, the kids were coloring, and I didn't see any student artwork or many supplies around the room, just disorganized piles of paper. Since Nutmeg is very into art, the art teacher always has a big influence on me when I tour a school.

Also, I made an appointment with the principal, who was very nice and enthusiastic on the phone. But when I got there, the assistant principal gave me the tour. She didn't know the answers to a lot of my questions, and although she was nice and had a good rapport with the students, she seemed a bit lackadaisical to me.


- Spanish starting in Grade 1.
- All the specials: Art, music (twice a week!), gym, library, and a weekly class focusing on social skills and character.
- A gifted coordinator/teacher for the school who pulls out kids from each class, twice a week for 45 minutes, to do math problem solving, more advanced reading, etc. The gifted teacher also makes a learning plan for the gifted kids (much like LD kids get) and works with their teachers. I love this, and yet -- the gifted teacher seemed lacking in enthusiasm when I met him, and the kids in his room seemed practically catatonic.
- After-school programs available starting in kindergarten.
- Recess 45 minutes a day, plus some teachers give additional recess
- School play once a year
- At least one teacher I observed was doing an engaging hands-on activity
- Library is large and looks well stocked
- I met a parent volunteer with several kids there who said she loves the school

- More focus on computer use than I've seen at other schools. Kindergartners use a reading program 20 minutes a day AND go to the computer lab once a week.
- They show movies on indoor recess days.
- The overall low-key vibe that I mentioned before.

The problem with school tours is that it is so easy -- at least for me -- to be influenced by the tour guide in my overall impression of the school. It could be that this school has cool programs and activities like some of the other schools I liked better, but the guide didn't mention them. Obviously, I love that they have a gifted teacher.

Overall I'd say I'd be ok with my kid going to this school, but I like Lincolnwood in Evanston better. I'm interested to see if Longfellow, the other OP district where we have a property we like, is any better. I was supposed to tour Longfellow today, but when I was on the freeway on the way there, I called to tell them I'd be a little late, and they told me that the principal was out sick and they had no one else there to give me a tour. Not a great sign. What's worse, I had just dropped Nutmeg off at Epu's office so he could watch her during my tour, after having cancelled her co-op babysitter because Nutmeg is sick with a cold. What's worse than that, I can't even call to reschedule for 10 days because next week is spring break. We are getting closer to making a decision on a property, and I would hate to see the one we like go while I'm waiting to tour the g-d- school.

No comments: