And here we go again…

It’s nearly October 1, the date on which CPS school applications come out. The Girl is set to enter Kindergarten in Fall 2010, which means I’m about to climb back on the apply-test-and-wait roller coaster that is the CPS application process. Of course, I will apply and hope-like-hell that The Girl gets into Disney II via the sibling lottery, but I’d be a fool to put my daughter’s education eggs all in one basket.

Someone recently asked me about my experience with Disney II, now that we’re in Year Two. Here is what I wrote:

My neighbor and I joke that we feel like we really won the lottery because our kids got into Disney II. Seriously, it’s a fantastic school with a great principal, a committed parent body, an even more committed teaching staff, and good resources. Since my 1st grader (The Boy) is my oldest child, I haven’t had any first-hand experience with other CPS schools, but I am very happy with Disney II. I recently attended a parent meeting where the principal said that her goal is to make Disney II one of the top 10 elementary schools in CPS; I have no doubt that she’ll do it.

The school mandate is to integrate technology and the arts. There seems to be a greater emphasis on the arts part of it, but whether this is actually true or a misperception on my part, I am actually fine with the inequality. We have more computers than children, so I have no doubt that my kids will get supplementary tech education at home. They have art, technology and gym twice/week and music once/week. Currently, the school’s gym and music teachers are part-time, but if they can swing the budget, they’d like to hire them full time.

The curriculum also has a huge emphasis on literacy, which really appeals to me as a reader and writer myself. I do not know how it is at other schools, but at Disney II, the literacy component seems to be very well thought-out and developed. They are the only school in CPS (and I think within Illinois) to use the U. Chicago-developed STEP system. There is an emphasis not only on learning TO read, but on learning HOW to read.

In Kindergarten, The Boy had a harder time of it — as did my friends’ children who were in 1st and 2nd grade last year, but now that he’s been trained in the Disney II way to learn, he’s doing really well. Watching your kid learn how to read is one of the most daunting and amazing things I’ve seen as a parent. Last year, I had no idea how they were going to teach my kid how to read, but they’ve done it and I think he’s doing well for his age/inclination. The school had a full-time literacy coordinator last year, but her title has shifted a bit and she is now the curriculum coordinator. She knows The Boy and The Girl and they know her. They also have a few special education coordinators, although The Boy and The Girl don’t interact with them much.

Over the summer, the school developed an assessment and benchmarking system to use for their math curriculum. They do use everyday math, which I still don’t quite understand. There’s no formal math curriculum in K, and I’m only just getting into 1st grade, so I cannot really comment on the math component. There is a science part of the curriculum as well.

Finally, they use a looping/circular system to instruction, which I like because that is how The Boy learns. The school day is 1 hour longer than any other CPS school day. This allows them to make up instructional time missed for staff institute days, etc. and have a daily recess.

The overall vibe about the school is positive. This is a school whose parent population is overwhelmingly present, involved, and interested in their children’s schooling. Students put on quarterly shows that integrate all the elements of a learning unit; the first one was last year in December and was SRO – they split them into 2 shows and they are still SRO events.

Our PTA was formed in November; we raised well over $16K last year for a gym sound system, gym mats, percussive instruments, and other things. Disney II is in its last year of funding from the Renaissance Foundation/Renaissance 2010 initiative. A corporate fundraiser for the Renaissance Foundation came to speak at an IAC meeting and said, “You can tell when you walk in the door whether a school works. Disney II works.”

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