Wednesday, February 11, 2009

School Days

Friday night we had dinner with our friends Jennifer and Dave, of the Best's Kosher fight. They had spent their morning interviewing for one spot, one of only 20 available, from a pool of 260 applicants, for junior kindergarten. Not for them of course, but for their charming and bright 3 year old son, who had already gone through his interview process the week before. They too are charming and bright, both highly educated professionals who I consider to be madly intelligent, resourceful and terribly interesting. They were nervous, and relived to have survived. Now they wait, acceptance letters are sent in March, leaving 260 Chicago families anxiously awaiting the arrival of St. Patrick's Day.

Our girls will start kindergarten in September. Being deeply committed to our proletariat lifestyle, we've decided to enroll them in the Chicago public school system. My fantasies about a Beaver Cleaver lifestyle are driving our desire to be a part of the neighborhood school, all of us walking together to school in the morning, waving goodbye as Jack and I hop on the bus (parents on the bus being a little off the true Beaver spirit) to whisk us away to work, and then home again to retrieve our little ones at the neighborhood school. But last year there was a shooting at our neighborhood school, and the test scores are routinely amongst the lowest in the city.

It's kindergarten, I don't really think this is going to make or break them academically but I cannot send them to a school where I have any concerns about their safety. And so we are in the midst of the CPS application process, the most confusing bureaucratic odyssey I have ever experienced. There are good public schools in Chicago, but you must find them, and everyone else is looking, getting in is not easy.

Jack stopped off at the CPS offices last week, to drop off yet another application and try to make sense of one schools testing procedures. He got one answer, and then another, to the exact same question. He asked if they consider the fact that the girls are twins, is there any expectation that they will get into the same school? The answer is no and the woman suggested that maybe two schools would be good for them. "You don't have twins, right?". She did not.

The girls had lunch with their dad today while I went to a book luncheon. A woman at my table mentioned she lived across the street from one of the schools very high on our list. Aha! When the speaker finished I cornered her, "do you know anyone at the school? Neighbors? How about the principal, what do you think of her? How's the area around the school, ever notice any stray guns laying around?". She took my name and number and promised to pass it along to someone on the parent's board. And then she ran away, very fast.

Mary and Kate have their own interviews next week, and then we sit among the millions of Chicago families waiting to see where our young students will begin their long academic career. Our hope is for a challenging yet nurturing school, a diverse student body where multiple languages are spoken and taught, an interesting arts program, a commitment to healthy food, and wonderful teachers and administrators all within walking distance of our apartment. Our backup is a school where they don't need to wear bullet proof vests under their new school clothes.

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