Lincoln Park, the Suburbs and High School

On Sunday, I went to dinner for the first time at John’s Place in Lincoln Park. I knew only that it was kid-friendly and had to have good food because Melissa has spoken about it. Our party of 9 adults and 3 kids was there for a little over 2 hours. The magician and balloon-blower who came to provide entertainment to The Boy, The Girl and The Tot (Who Isn’t) was able to get in some real humor with our audience. He had just blown up balloons for the two kids, two dads and a pregnant mom at an adjacent table. In our time at the restaurant, that table turned over twice while the rest or the restaurant stayed fairly empty. Both times, the table was populated by babies and toddlers and their REI-clad parents.
I remarked upon this with a bit of surprise to my closest urban tablemate, The Dad’s cousin’s fiancée. She was not surprised, telling me that the neighborhood comprises her peers (mid-30s) with their young children. In fact, she said, one of her friends with two kids used to live in the area until she’d outgrown her condo and moved to the suburbs. 

Ah, the suburbs. I’ve been a Chicago resident since 2002. This Thanksgiving is the 9th I’ve spent in this house. I joke to my husband that he’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming to the suburbs. And yet.
There it is. Always. Looming over me. Although it did surprise me to learn that the average demographic of Lincoln Park is now essentially a rolled back version of me, what follows doesn’t particularly surprise me: Grown-up Trixies and Chads get married, buy condos, have babies and flee to the suburbs. Where the grass is always green and the schools are always good. Or so I’m led to believe. 

Sociologically, I find this phenomenon interesting. I was raised in the suburbs by two former urbanites (NYC). The Dad was raised in the suburbs by one suburbanite and one rural Hoosier. My father (Grandpa Texas) spent my son’s first three years trying to convince me that I’d want to move the suburbs. That I should want to move to the suburbs. But, to quote my friend Sonia, I just don’t want to.
And I do wonder: what’s wrong with me that I don’t? After all, it is what people with means do. Among the women of my moms’ group, who are all like me: educated women with the means for mobility, whether upward or outward, there are more of us who have moved outside the city than who have retained residency. 

At the moment, I think my reluctance to leave the city has much to do with both luck and a deeply ingrained stubborn streak. In 2008, The Boy won the CPS lottery, gaining admission into what is turning out to be a great public elementary school. By luck again, CPS changed the policy for sibling admissions and The Girl also attends the same great school. Luckily for me, The Dad talked me into a single-family house in what is a really great neighborhood, so I have a garage, patch of grass and three floors upon which we can scatter our stuff. 

The big unknown, of course, is high school. We’re still five to six years away from the high school decision, but if time flows at the same rate as it has since 2003, it will be here before we know it. My biggest concern is academics: Will The Boy get into one of the six current selective-enrollment schools in the city? And whether he does or doesn’t, how can we hold our schools accountable to meet a high academic standard? What is the formula in the suburbs that makes suburban schools regarded as universally better than Chicago public schools? And can we replicate it? Is there a way to solve the fundamental barriers to success for some CPS students?

The Dad’s biggest concern in the high school picture is the social influence: how to keep The Boy out of trouble? Will we hurt our child’s overall chances for success if we keep him in an urban school environment? Can you make a “good” kid bad? And how far are we willing to take the social experiment of trying to even the playing field when it comes to our own children’s future success or failure, happiness or misery? 

The statistics about high school students’ success released by the Chicago Public Schools are grim. These statistics report that only 30 of 100 H.S. freshmen will go on to enter college; only 6 will go to highly selective schools. They consider the University of Illinois one such highly selective school. Yikes! Twenty percent of my suburban high school went to the University of Illinois — and most of us considered it “slumming it” because we weren’t headed for an Ivy. These stats were drawn in part from a 2006 University of Chicago study that suggests that, once again, luck will be on our side in the high school and college admissions process. This reassures me on an academic level, but does nothing to relieve The Dad’s concerns about the potential for bad influence.

And it doesn’t discount that staying in the city surely promises a lot of work in our future. I’m not sure I have it in me to dig into turning around the local high school.

What about you? Are you planning to stay in the city for the long haul? Do you plan to move to the suburbs? Have you already moved to the suburbs? Do you think there’s a way for CPS to turn it around? Are you involved in the CPS process at any level?

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2 thoughts on “Lincoln Park, the Suburbs and High School

  1. Caroline-this is very interesting to read. I would be hesitant to put my kids into the CPS but that's my opinion. Luck might be on your side but still scary to think that they would have to go to a school with such a disappointing graduation rate. Looking forward to reading more about this. 🙂

  2. Autumn says:

    I enjoy reading your entries on CPS and your experiences with the elementary schools. After my years teaching at both a CPS high school and now a suburban high school, I know that I cannot send my kids to CPS for high school. We are still unsure about what we'll do for elementary.

    I used to teach with Karen Lewis. It's much better that she's out of the classroom. She was not a quality teacher and I don't think she'll ever really have the students' best interests at heart. She might do a good job at helping the teachers with salary negotiation, but I doubt that she'll help lead (or even facilitate) any sort of meaningful change for our students.

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