Here are some tips to help you negotiate the Chicago Public Schools admissions process for selective enrollment and magnet schools:
1. Start early — like, years early. When you're thinking of buying or renting in the city, put thought into the quality of the neighborhood school in case lotteries or the selective enrollment route don't pan out.
2. Don't rule out a neighborhood school after only looking at test scores, advises admissions expert Christine Whitley. Visit the school. Meet the principal. Talk to parents. Whitley says the difference between a great school and a mediocre one can be a group of dedicated parents who volunteer, raise money and ultimately help change their school.
3. For fall 2011, you should be touring schools and applying right now. Applications are due Dec. 17.
4. It's not a good bet to try and use your in-laws' address to improve your chances of admittance. CPS this year plans to verify the address you use on your application when the child is enrolled.
5. Competition is fierce, and it helps to do research and be realistic about your chances. For example, go to CPS' Options for Knowledge Web site at cpsoae.org to check the cutoff scores of high school students selected last year.
6. If you're applying for a selective elementary school (formerly called gifted, classical or enriched academic programs), be warned that children must be tested and need to be able to separate from their parents and to interact with other grown-ups. There are two types of tests, depending on what program you apply for. Classical schools test reading, language arts and math skills. Gifted schools assess critical thinking and reasoning.
7. Look for selective enrollment or magnet schools that aren't as well-known. With fewer people applying, your odds may be better.
8. You can apply to six selective-enrollment high schools this year, up from four. You can apply to up to 20 magnet, magnet cluster and open-enrollment elementary schools on one application.
9. With race eliminated as a selection determinant, living in an area that scores low on socioeconomic factors or has a poorly performing neighborhood school can help your child's chances of getting into a top tier school.
10. Living near a desired magnet school can help your chances, so look carefully at magnet elementaries within 1.5 miles of your home and high schools within 2.5 miles. After siblings are placed, CPS fills 40 percent of remaining seats through a lottery of students who live near the school — though there are exceptions. Under new guidelines, if more than 50 percent of the student body lives in the neighborhood and if more than 50 percent of the student body represents one race, the school won't have a proximity lottery.
by Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune