This blog entry will update you on my experience and hopefully provide some tips for parents figuring out the system now and in the near future.
My family has been fortunate to have the selective enrollment process work out better than I could have hoped. Through the luck of the draw my son got into a Kindergarten program at an excellent lottery based magnet school, Sheridan Elementary. We passed on that offer when we learned Nigel was accepted to Skinner West Classical after testing with a reading score in the 98 percentile and 99 percentile in math. Again, I know children with higher scores who weren't offered spots. We hit the jackpot. He's thriving in school socially and academically; making friends from a variety of cultural backgrounds. His homework load is challenging, but leaves enough time for extracurriculars. This year, just for kicks, I had him sit for the gifted exam again. His standard score improved by 12 points and he has been offered a seat at Keller Regional Gifted Center for first grade. Of course I'm thrilled, but find myself in a dilemma. In just a few months we've become part of the Skinner Superstars family. His test score increase is a testament to his abilities, but also the quality of instruction he's receiving daily. As an active parent and frequent substitute teacher, I've built relationships with faculty, staff and kids all over the building. Though I once considered Keller our dream school, now Skinner feels like home. Ranked number 3 and number 6 respectively among Chicagoland' s best elementary schools, both have phenomenal reputations, active principles, and diverse student bodies. They consistently blow away AYP (annual yearly progress) benchmarks. My ever practical son says not to worry, we'll check out Keller's open house together and make a decision from there. Sometimes I feel guilty. What a luxury for my family to have a choice between two of the best. What a travesty that too many have no choice at all.
1. As your child advances it becomes increasingly difficult to test into selective enrollment schools. Once Kindergarten classes are full, transfers out are rare. Only a couple of seats may be open, following a family's out-of-state relocation for example. That's why testing for Kindergarten and 1st grade admission is crucial as this is when seats are most plentiful. Of course that means getting kids prepared by starting preschool by at least age three. They will gain valuable social skills, become accustomed to spending their days with teachers, adjust to varied amount of structure and so on. Whether you choose a traditional curriculum or Montessori program is up to you and your child. Homeschooling is an option as well. They say "Education begins on a mother's (or father's) knee". You must be their first teacher well before they enter the schoolhouse. You don't have to be the flash card crazed Mom, but teaching language and listening skills, introducing fine and gross motor activities, math through music, age appropriate consequences for naughty behavior, etc are ways we can start raising tiny scholars as early as 6 months old.
If your child isn't admitted during primary years think about transferring in for sixth grade. Many pupils of SE schools move on to 7th and 8th grade prep programs, especially the Academic Centers within high schools like Whitney Young, Kenwood Academy, etc. This migration leaves multiple seats open during middle school years. The academic boost, if only for a couple of years, may increase your child's preparedness to test into top public high schools for ninth grade.