Chicago Life and Style.

Your Home. Your Life. Your Style

Month: November, 2010

Chicago Ice Rinks opening soon!

Its that time of year again! Most rinks open for the season on Friday, November 26, 2010. The Rink at Wrigley opens December 1. For details and directions, check out the website.

Real Estate Tax Time Is Here Again

Second installment tax bills were mailed for Cook County, you should have received it already or in the next few days.  Did you know that you can pay your bill online? Even if you are making installments, you can’t beat the convenience of doing it online. You can make partial payments, check status etc.  Payments are DUE before December 13th to avoid penalties.

Need to check your exemption status or other info? Check out the assessor’s website.  Make sure you have applied for and received your homeowner’s exemption for your primary residence. It a very simple form to complete and it will save you a few bucks on your tax bill.

Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help!

OMG, the holidays are already here! Start scheduling stuff to do….

Save the dateMichigan Avenue Lights Festival is Saturday, November 20th, 11-7pm

Fountain Decorating Social
On Sunday, November 21 from 10am-4pm, come and help decorate the Wicker Park fountain (1425 N Damen) with elements from the garden. Feel free to bring some food and non-alcoholic drinks to share. This event is FREE and for ALL ages to attend, but the garden club requests that you RSVP to wpgarden@aol.com.

December on Damen 2010
Don’t miss this year’s installment of December on Damen Saturday, December 4 from Noon-6pm.  Stroll Damen from North Avenue to Webster and enjoy some of the best that Wicker Park and Bucktown have to offer. You’ll experience business specials and other tantalizing treats that shows “We got it in WPB!”

First Ward School Fair this weekend

See my last post about the perils of trying to figure out which school to send your children to.  I love to see our alderman working to make the process a little less onerous!

School Fair Flyer

Navigating school options.

I remember when it was time to start looking at colleges.   Our high school library had rows of books about how to do it the “right” way.  There were lists of things you should look for and questions you should ask. There were books that helped you (and your parents) decide what your priorities were in a college.  And then of course, there were the school materials themselves, high gloss brochures recruiting the best and brightest.  I knew that when my daughter was ready to start college, I would be plunged back into the daunting world of college selection and admissions. However, my daughter is three years old.  I thought I had a few years before I had to deal with all that.

Well.  I came to find out that the dog eat dog world of pre-school isn’t that different than college.  The difference being that no one recruits you, you have to go around like a beggar hoping to win the lottery (sometimes literally) and get accepted somewhere. AND, you have to start the process when your kids are only two years old!!  Chicago Public Schools are set up with different types of schools within the system: the neighborhood schools, the magnet schools and the gifted schools.  Each has a slightly different criteria for who gets in.

The neighborhood schools -which might ALSO be a magnet school–has admissions primarily based on serving families within a half mile radius.  They do accept students outside that radius if they have room which means that you can apply at any neighborhood school in the city, regardless of where you live. I have a friend that just applied to over twenty schools throughout the city. 20! The magnet schools are based on a lottery system of admissions but most don’t run a pre-school program. In the case of LaSalle II which is a magnet school at the end of my block, they do not run a pre-school program BUT they allow CPS to run one within the school building. Confused? Yeah. Me too.  I spent hours on the phone trying to figure it out.  You see, a different group is responsible for the magnet schools and they won’t answer any questions about a non-magnet program, even if it happens to be in the same building.

At the end of the day, we applied to LaSalle II, our neighborhood program located in a magnet school.  Unfortunately, even though we are required to apply a year ahead, you don’t learn your fate until a few months before school starts.  I also called and inquired with a couple Montessori programs, another neighborhood school and a Catholic school just to round it out.   Without exception, the Montessori and CPS schools were decidedly unfriendly.  Far from being recruited, I was treated like a crazy person for asking to have a tour, I was told my daughter was NOT welcome to join me on tours or for open houses.  On top of that, because pre-k is not required by the state, the only program CPS offers without charge is only a couple hours a day.  If you want longer, your only option is 8-5 every single day. And that costs a whopping $10,000! (approximately) Although I didn’t want my daughter to be in school 40 hrs a week, I also can’t accomplish anything if she is only there for a couple hours a day. The drop off and pick up routine itself eats into productivity hours.

My daughter is now enrolled in a Catholic school. They were totally flexible and welcoming from the minute I called.  My daughter was invited to come with me and welcomed into the classroom to do an activity with the children.  We went back several times before school actually started just to get acclimated. I was also able to choose my own schedule and she attends three full days a week, which is perfect for us. Its not cheap, but its cheaper than the full day CPS program by far.  We are not practicing Catholics but the atmosphere of welcome is worth a whole lot to me.

My daughter had been enrolled for months when Lasalle II called and told me that I was selected off the waiting list and could have a spot.  What if I had waited to hear and DIDN’T get in?  It’s maddening to feel so out of control of your child’s education and where they are going to spend so much of their time away from you!  I always envisioned my daughter in public school, always.  So, now I have to decide if I have the chutzpah to try again when she is ready for Kindergarten.  And of course, I have to start thinking about that in the next couple of months so that I can get on the proper lists for 2013.

I don’t have any answers. It just doesn’t seem like it should be this hard.