From a Cortland alum parent, here are some tips / advice / resources—keep in mind that CPS changes this annually, so you need to be proactive and look at the new website, read their info, tour schools, etc. to best prepare. See supplemental articles on Preparing Your Young Child… and What To Look For In A Classroom.
CPS’s school choice program is administered by the Office of Access and Enrollment (http://www.cpsoae.org/index.jsp). To start the school application process, in September or October, you request a PIN, which CPS will mail you. Starting in October and running through mid-December, you submit an online application. You can choose up to 20 neighborhood and magnet schools, and up to six classical and gifted schools. Lottery and selective enrollment placement results come out in March or April, and wait lists continue to move through September.
Both magnet and gifted/classical schools assign spots in part by tier — CPS uses census data to divide the city into four socio-economic quadrants. You can find your tier here: http://cpstiers.opencityapps.org/
CPS has three kinds of schools:
Neighborhood schools/ Magnet cluster schools:
You can enroll in your neighborhood school any time. Some neighborhood schools are called magnet cluster schools — that means that CPS funds an extra position in a focus area (language, arts, etc.), but they’re otherwise regular neighborhood schools. It’s a good idea to check out your neighborhood school, many have active parent organizations that support the school and fundraise.
Magnet schools are open to the whole city for enrollment. Siblings of currently enrolled students are given first priority. The rest of the spots are assigned by lottery; 30 percent of the remaining spots go to students within a 1.5 mile radius, and the other seventy percent are divided between the four tiers. Many of the magnet schools only have one or two classes per grade, so only have a few non-sibling spots per tier. Some magnet schools provide busing.
Gifted and classical schools are also open to the whole city. If you apply for any gifted/classical schools, your child will be tested for both at IIT. The tests for kindergarten are administered one on one by grad students. The classical test focuses on reading and math, and the gifted test looks at things like critical reasoning. In practice, both kinds of schools offer an accelerated curriculum. In gifted and classical schools, the first 30 percent of spots are given to the highest scorers, and the remaining spots are evenly split between the four tiers. Most of these schools only accept one class per year, so cutoff scores tend to be high. Most of these programs start in K, but Bell and Beaubien’s gifted programs begin in first grade. Some programs are stand-alone, while others are housed within neighborhood schools. Gifted and classical schools provide busing within a radius that varies for each school.
Take screen shots and confirm that your application went through. This year, a few parents had a glitch where CPS never received their application.
If your neighborhood school isn’t an option for you, be sure to apply to some solid neighborhood schools that have traditionally accepted a significant number of students from outside the neighborhood (some of these include Burr, Agassiz, Prescott, Hamilton, and Goethe)
If you don’t get a spot you’re happy with right away, don’t panic — wait lists do move, and most people eventually find a spot that they’re happy with. You can also reapply for the next year if you’re not thrilled with where you’ve landed.
There’s more school chatter at cpsobsessed.com and NPN (http://www.npnparents.org/forums).