Sunday, April 08, 2007

Last Oak Park School Tours

This week I toured Longfellow and Lincoln elementary schools in Oak Park. These are the absolute last elementary schools I am touring. Overall, I liked Lincoln school better, which just figures, because the house that we will probably buy is in the Longfellow district. There is another house in the Lincoln district that aesthetically we like a bit more, but it lacks features we want -- a garage and a ground-floor bathroom. But more on the houses later.

As for the schools, here is the comparison:

Lincoln -

Innovative programs. Spanish immersion program available to 1/4 of students, starting in 1st grade.
The 1st graders who don't get into the Spanish immersion program (it's by lottery) can choose between looping (keeping the same teacher for 2 years at a time) and a mixed age classroom (1st/2nd, 4th/5th). The mixed aged classrooms are not because of a lack of teachers or space, but for the benefit of the kids. More advanced 1st graders can join with the 2nd graders for some lessons, for example.

The teachers seemed more engaging and the students livelier and more interested.

Great art teacher and well-equipped art room with lots of great projects on display. HOWEVER the art teacher plans to retire in 3 years.

Very engaging music teacher.

Large, well-stocked library.

Courtyard area has a lovely pond and benches that the PTA paid to fix up and make into a living ecostructure where the kids can do science projects.

Recess 3 times a day!


School is located pretty far from the house we'd be living in, and on the other side of the freeway, so the girls would have to take the bus there.



Great young art teacher whom I really liked, who seems likely to stay a long time.

All the good things about Oak Park Schools in general (see below).

1.5 blocks from the house where we'd live.

Large, well-stocked library with cozy couches and chairs.

Good music teacher with lots of fun hands-on stuff in her classroom like marimbas, African drums.

Lunchtime recess, plus more at the discretion of teachers.


The kids just seemed less interested and excited. I saw more worksheets and workbooks in the classrooms as opposed to interactive lessons.

I didn't hear about any innovative programs like the ones at Longfellow.

My guide -- the student representative -- was not feeling well and that seemed to put a damper on her enthusiasm. This made it hard for me to get a feel for whether the staff in general is enthusiastic. This is also the person who called in sick and didn't notify me the first time I was scheduled to tour.

Oak Park schools in general: I like this school system and its curriculum (what I've seen of it) better than Evanston or Chicago. Here's why:

1) Spanish twice a week for grades 1-5 (although I've been warned that current budget discussions could change that).
2) Gifted teacher at each school who does pull-out teaching and coordinates with classroom teachers. I left messages for the gifted teachers at both schools but neither has gotten back to me so far, but I got the impression that the teacher at Lincoln has a fuller program going on than the Longfellow teacher.
3) Half-day kindergarten instead of full day.
4) Like Evanston but not Chicago, all the kids get all the specials every week -- library, art, music, PE.
5) Like Evanston but not Chicago, the teachers and kids appear to have plenty of resources -- computers, reading specialists, psychologists, big libraries, art supplies, well-maintained facilities, etc.

So overall I wish I could have my kids going to Longfellow, especially since that Spanish program would be fantastic. But I certainly like the idea of walking them over to school better than putting them on the bus in the morning. Walking to school I imagine I will have a better sense of what's going on at school by chatting with other moms and seeing the teachers. But they're both nice schools and I'm glad that one of them will probably be Nutmeg and Filbertine's gradeschool.

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