View Full Version : Applying to Charter High Schools

Family Friend
10-20-2012, 12:01 PM
Later today or early tomorrow, I will start to post about particular charter high schools, starting with Noble Street Schools -- watch this space!

Family Friend
10-21-2012, 12:22 AM
Applying to Charter High Schools – Noble Street Schools

The application process for each charter high school is different, and Noble Street’s is the most trying. But it’s worth the effort for the chance for your child to have a genuinely excellent education.

Noble Street schools are known for their strict discipline, but they also have rigorous academics. The median scores may not blow the socks off the city’s white middle class, but since admission is strictly by lottery, their students come in with a wide range of readiness for a college prep curriculum. An impressive number of graduates go to highly selective colleges and universities. Your own child’s potential will be maximized, but only if he or she is willing to work.

Students are given placement tests after they are admitted. Higher scoring students are placed in honors classes, which are generally challenging. But the test does not determine a student’s “permanent” placement. Students who don’t do well on the test but show they are capable of honors work will be moved, as will students who start in honors class but prove unwilling to do the work.

Noble Street has 13 campuses, located on the near north, northwest, west, and south sides. When I was looking at schools for my family friend, who lives in Rogers Park, we eliminated most of them as too far/too long a commute. But we went to open houses at and applied to five, and she was accepted to two that were in the geographically desirable zone. (You have to pick one if you are accepted to more than one.) She was also accepted at three that were not on her original list – new schools and schools without more applications than spots.

The highest performing Noble Street Schools are UIC, Pritzker, and Rauner, but only six of the 13 schools have been around long enough to have ACT scores. If you look at Plan scores (10 schools), Golder, Muchin, and the original campus on Noble Street are also doing very well.

Muchin is located in the Loop. Pritzker is Northwest (Armitage and Pulaski), and not near any el lines, but I absolutely LOVE the principal, Pablo Sierra. UIC is at Roosevelt and Damen, almost on the UIC medical campus, and has an arrangement with UIC that brings the university into the school. It’s the highest-performing Noble Street school. Rauner, Golder, and Noble Street are all near northwest, and near one another. They are generally accessible via the red line plus a short bus ride or long walk, and some are also near a blue line stop. I felt comfortable with the neighborhood.

The application process is a pain in the butt. To apply to any campus, you and your child must both attend an information session at that campus. At the end of the information session, you can pick up an application for that campus only. Applications may not be photocopies – the school names are embossed, in color, on the applications. So to apply for five schools, we had to go to five info sessions.

Noble does this to make sure that parents and kids know what they are getting into. I think one info session should get you applications to any campus you want, because the sessions are pretty much the same, but that’s not how they do it. And I have to admit, seeing the principal at each school and soaking up the atmosphere is very helpful, if time-consuming.

The applications themselves are identical, except for the name of the campus. Filling them out does not take long, except that the student must hand-write a short essay on “Why I Want to Attend (Campus Name).” The essay can be identical for each application – just be sure your kid changes the name of the school when copying the essay. Note that the quality of these essays does not count toward admission. If the application has an essay, it goes into the lottery.

In addition to excellent academics and strict discipline (Pablo Sierra says, “Our kids are a united community. They all hate the discipline system.”), Noble Street schools offer sports and an amazing band program. Bands from all of the campuses get together for impressive performances. There is only one foreign language taught at each campus, but it is not necessarily Spanish – several campuses have excellent Russian language departments. Extracurriculars vary from campus to campus.

I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of Noble Street Schools when they were in session. Teachers are good, students are serious. Everyone is polite. A couple of times I didn't want to leave the class I was observing because I wanted to hear the rest of the lecture or discussion. AP U.S. History was so interesting I followed up with research.

I believe in exploring all your options to maximize the chances that your child will get a great free, public education. Selective admissions schools are great; IB and magnet programs can be fabulous. But you can stay in the city and still send your kid to a terrific college if you don’t make it into any of those programs, by being open to schools like Noble Street.

More information, including dates for the information sessions at Noble Street campuses, are at the website - http://www.noblenetwork.org/. There are two info sessions at each campus. The earliest one is on Nov. 3 and the latest is on Dec. 15.

Family Friend
10-21-2012, 11:05 AM
P.S. When reviewing scores yesterday, I missed Noble Street Chicago Bulls -- CPS does not list it in the same place, alphabetically, as the other Noble Street schools. But in its first year with ACT scores, Chicago Bulls posted a median composite score of 20.8, and 58.6% had composite scores over 20. So add that to your list -- it's about half a mile west of Whitney Young, close to the Chicago Medical Campus and the new west side, just off the Blue Line.

wide net mom
10-21-2012, 11:29 AM
I couldn't agree more. Excellent summary! Our "wide net" last year included some Noble schools -- very impressive. My daughter did not get in to any that made geographic sense for us, but the ones that did were high on our list of possibities for her. They offer phenomenal opportunities for their students and college admissions recruiters definitely have the Nobles on their radar.

I also agree with exploring options (the origin of my user name) for your child. As long as we had the privilege (or headache?) of choice of high schools, our approach last year was to try to maximize the number of real choices from which to choose. My daughter was accepted at 12 programs or schools (plus a neighborhood option, of course) last year, which included schools from all categories Family Friend has listed. Once we knew her "real" options, the list narrowed quickly for her. It was not stress-free and it was a lot of work, but there was no heartbreak or angst about any one school. Keep an open mind and judge the schools for yourself as much as possible. Not everyone agrees on what a "good" school is, and you are the best judge of the best school for your child.

Family Friend
10-22-2012, 11:15 AM
Applying to Charter High Schools – CICS

Chicago International Charter School is one of the oldest and largest charter networks in Chicago. Unlike what I will call “unitary” networks, like Noble Street School and UNO, CICS employs different models in its schools, and contracts with different charter management organizations to run them. Five of CICS’ schools include high schools, but only two are self-contained 9-12 schools. Two (Larry Hawkins and Quest) are middle-high schools and one (Longwood) is a 3-12 school. Practically, I think parents who post here would likely be interested in only two of the schools, Northtown Academy (Peterson & Pulaski) and ChicagoQuest (North & Clybourn).

I have not visited Northtown so I don’t have a personal impression. Test scores are not as good as Noble Street’s but they are close. They have a high percentage (94%) of students meeting/exceeding NCLP standards and a high percentage (93%) accepted to college. Because CICS has a multi-campus charter but is legally considered a single school, there are few spots available in the Northtown lottery. That means most of the places go to students attending a CICS elementary school. I do recommend applying to Northtown, however, because CICS, like the the other schools I am including in this thread, focuses on maximizing individual potential. Go to the open house, ask tough questions, and form your own opinion. If anyone attends the open house, I would appreciate seeing your reactions here. Northtown’s open house is scheduled for Nov. 3 from 10 am to noon.

ChicagoQuest is a new school (now in year three), modeled on Quest to Learn School in New York. The school will eventually have grades 6-12; this year it’s 6-8. Because it’s new they have had plenty of available spaces, but I think that once they have more of a track record, it will be increasingly hard to get in.

There is a lot of information on line if you Google Quest to Learn New York. The following description of ChicagoQuest was in the MacArthur Foundation newsletter:

“The school will use game design to teach students how to become systems thinkers. Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. Students at Chicago Quest become both game designers and game players in their quest to learn.

“Katie Salen, who founded the Quest to Learn in New York City and now serves as the school’s executive director of design, says the curriculum is designed to mimic the learning that takes place during game play – it is collaborative, inquiry based, and supports experimentation.”

I have visited Quest and it’s very interesting. We are not talking about (just) computer games. In one room students were working together to create a board game based on facts about U.S. Presidents. In another they were doing something math-y that I did not understand very well. (I took math so long ago, and teaching methods have changed so much, that I no longer expect to understand what middle schoolers are doing in math. But I can still solve the problems.) Quest deals with students entering at different proficiency levels by having extra periods of language arts and math for those who need it, while other students are taking more advanced courses, like app design.

I think Quest is a very interesting choice especially for students who are bright but unmotivated. This really turns learning on its ear. And it prepares kids for employment in the 21st century by teaching the skills needed in the new workplace. They don’t have any open houses formally scheduled, but they are usually held on Wednesday evenings from 6-8. Call ChicagoQuest at 773-565-2100 and tell them you are interested in attending an open house.

The CICS application can be downloaded beginning November 5 from the website at http://www.chicagointl.org/students-families/applications.html. You can’t apply online, however – download the application, fill it out, and mail or email it in so that it’s received at least a week before the lottery, which is held in April. You will need to include proof of residence and the student’s birth certificate. Call a week after sending to confirm receipt.

Note that, unlike many charters, CICS does accept new students in every grade if there are spaces available. So, even though ChicagoQuest starts with 6th grade, it will accept students for next year in 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grades.