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Finding the Best School for Your Family

Find a great school that meets your family's needs. 

School Quality Check-list.pdf

School Quality

Kids First Chicago believes that high-quality schools are environments where students feel safe and where they receive the academic, social, and emotional building blocks for success in college and careers. What should you look for in a school to ensure that it is high-quality?

  • Academic Rigor and Structure

    What and how your child learns is important. Every child learns differently and at different rates. Be sure to think about the way that material is being presented as well as the pace of the curriculum.

    What should I ask?

    • Ask to see a curriculum plan to ensure that topics you want to be covered are included.
    • What grade level is my student working at?  Make sure that the school work is challenging enough to keep your child engaged, but not so difficult that it frustrates them.
    • How much and what kind of homework do I want my child to have?
    • Does my child learn best by seeing, listening, or while moving? Ask the school to help you understand if their structure will be a good match for your child’s learning style. 
    • How will the school keep my child motivated and on track in class?
    • Does my child have any learning challenges? If so, what resources does the school have to help them reach their full potential?
  • A Safe and Nurturing Environment

    In order for a student to learn, they must feel safe and supported at their school. There are few resources that evaluate safety, but CPS’s 5Essentials survey provides some insight into a school’s safety through a student’s point of view. 

    What should I ask?

    • Is the school environment safe?
    • Is the school community committed to ensuring they achieve their mission and vision for student success?
    • Do students feel supported?
    • Ask other parents if the school is responsive to questions and concerns.
    • Are there ways to contact the teachers? Is it difficult?
  • Recognition of Social and Emotional Issues

    As they progress through life, students need to have the skills to overcome challenges. The way that students are coached to respond to challenges inside and outside the classroom is important to their long-term personal and academic success.

    What should I ask?

    • What if my student is experiencing a social or emotional issue outside of the school? Is the school equipped to assist them with counseling services, or other guidance?
    • How are parents made aware of social and emotional support resources?
    • How does the school support students in managing conflict between peers?
    • If my child has difficulty making friends, how will the school respond?
    • What is the school’s discipline policy?
    • What is the school’s suspension rate?
    • How tolerant is the school?
    • If my child has an IEP, does the school have the resources to support their needs?
  • Extracurricular and Academic Support Programming

    Schools that can provide students new and different opportunities offer broader and more robust learning experiences.

    What should I ask?

    • What extracurricular activities are available?
    • What are some of the subjects offered?
    • What other programs will my student have access to?
    • What programs do you have to prepare my student to choose and attend a college?
    • What programs do you have to help my student choose and pursue a career?
    • Do you have support services like tutoring or mentoring that will help my student make academic progress outside of the classroom?
  • Test Scores and School Rating

    A school’s test scores are not the be-all end-all in determining if an institution is high-quality. There may be other reasons for you to choose a school that best meets your family and child's needs. However, test scores can help you understand what’s going on at the school.

    In Chicago, each school, regardless of school type, receives a School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) score which, among other things, measures a school’s attainment and growth. SQRP scores range on a 5 point scale from Level 1+ to Level 3. Level 1+ rated schools are the highest achieving schools while Level 3 are the lowest performing schools requiring the most intervention. 

    An important note: Attainment measures student achievement on a standardized test at a particular moment in time, while growth measures how much students are improving between two points in time. With that in mind, a school could maintain high attainment levels, but growth may look low. An initially lower performing school may be growing by leaps and bounds year over year, but their attainment level may be low. 

    What should I ask?

    • Ask the school what their SQRP rating was for the past several years.
    • Ask the school to talk through any changes in their rating, or plans for improvement. 

Family Fit Check-list.pdf

Family Fit

There are many types of schools and any one of them could be a great option for you and your student. When choosing a school, it’s important to think about which will fit your family’s needs the best, regardless of type. 

  • Location & Transportation

    There are many practical considerations that parents must balance when choosing a school that is a good fit for your child and family.  Among other things, the ability to get your child to and from school is a paramount concern for many parents. 

    What should I ask?

    • Does location matter?
    • Do I need my child's school to be near my home or work?
    • How will I get my child to school?
    • Will I be able to drive them?
    • Do I want my child to be able to walk to school?
    • Do I need school-provided transportation? Or will my child use public transportation?
    • Is the route to and from school safe? 
  • School Structure & Policy

    Not all schools operate in the same way or have the same student and family policies. You or your student may require a specific start and end time, before or after care, or want assurance that siblings can attend the same school.

    What should I ask?

    • Am I willing to consider a non-standard school schedule?
      • Not all schools within CPS have the same start and end dates or times. Think about which schedule works best for your family.
    • Do I need before- and/or after-care?
      • Where are these programs available, how much do they cost, and what do kids do during those times?
    • Do I want or need to keep my children together?
  • Social Considerations

    While what a child learns is the main focus of finding a school, your child and family’s social needs may also be considered.

    What should I ask?

    • Does my child have a desire to go to school with their current friends or neighbors?
    • What do you want the school community to look like?
    • What are the expectations around parent engagement?
    • Does my work schedule allow me to participate
    • Is diversity important to me?
  • Language

    Whether a language other than English is spoken in your home, or you would prefer for your child to learn another language there are options for you. You can find additional information about language instruction options here.

    What should I ask if my child is an English Language Learner?

    • Does my family or child speak a language other than English?
    • Which subjects are taught in my child's native language?
    • Which subjects are taught in English?
    • Which subjects are taught in both my child's native language and in English?
    • What additional supports does the school offer to assist my child?
    • What support is available to me as an English Language Learner, so that I can be engaged in my child's learning at home?

    What should I ask if I am interested in my child developing bilingual skills?

    • Does your school offer an optional Dual Language Education (DLE) program?   
    • If yes, which subjects are taught in both English and Spanish?
    • Does your school offer other optional language courses outside of a DLE program?
    • If yes, which languages?
    • What additional supports does the school offer to assist my child in developing bilingual skills?
  • Special Education and Diverse Learning Needs

    The Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services aims to ensure that students with disabilities have the supports they need to attend school with their non-disabled peers, in some cases a family and school may determine that a more specialized environment is a better fit for their student.

    In those cases, specialized school options, offer individualized programs and services meant to meet the needs of the child and the family. Some schools have attendance boundaries and enrollment is based on students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

    What should I ask?

    • How does your school support students with an IEP or other diverse learning need?
    • How will core instruction be delivered to my student?
    • What programs and activities will my child have access to outside of the classroom?
    • How does the school communicate with me to support my child's learning outside of the classroom?
    • If I have questions about my child's education needs, who can I talk to?

See the School

Online research can you help you get started on your school search, but nothing can take the place of an in-person visit. During the school search process be sure to take the time to visit the school, meet the administrators, talk to other parents, and ask students how they like their school. Come armed with specific questions about the school’s teaching methods, enrichment programs, and disciplinary code. When speaking with other parents, be sure to include those who have recent experience with the school, and try to speak to as many as possible.

Find a School

Looking for a school close to home, by type, or by school quality rating? Use this tool to narrow your search.