Monday, June 13, 2011

Progress Reports

Today marks the last Monday of attendance* in the Chicago Public Schools' 2010-2011 academic year. The Boy and The Girl will receive their final progress report during their one-hour of attendance on Friday. The Tot Who Isn't will receive his on Wednesday. And, apparently, individual Chicago Public Schools will receive a progress report before September as well.

At least that's what Jean-Claude Brizard, Chicago Public Schools' newest chief, said this afternoon when a group of parents and I met with him.

Haven't we done this before? Will Mr. Brizard reveal new data that wasn't previously available on the CPS website? Sure, navigating the CPS website is/was difficult, as Mr. Brizard pointed out in his remarks to us today. But while reporting the data is important, it's significantly less important (at least to our audience) than improving the number of high-quality educational seats available across the board. After all, nearly everyone in the room could share a story--whether personal, familial or anecdotal--of parental frustration in navigating the application process or gaining admission to a school of their choice.

I feel fortunate (OK, I feel like I won the lottery) that The Girl, The Boy and The Tot Who Isn't attend a school that is a school of choice for much of the northwest side. The Boy is going into 3rd grade, so now I'm looking at high schools. I'm pleased to see the Northside High School Initiative and the increased interest in and support of Lakeview High, but that doesn't do much for kids out here in the boondocks of the northwest side. They deserve a great high school option as well, I told Mr. Brizard. Another parent echoed this sentiment, sharing that the handful of well-known great high schools (Northside Prep, Jones, Whitney Young, Walter Payton) don't provide enough seats to enroll all of the kids like ours, who will likely come out of their current school well-prepared and excited for a vigorous, challenging high school education. Mr. Brizard pointed out that there are other great high schools outside of this list, but they are less known because of the lack of data on them.

Such things are possible. But as a research-oriented parent, I am a bit skeptical.

Mr. Brizard pointed out that within CPS, there are essentially two school systems. Some people, he noted, have choices. Some do not. Call me what you will, but it's important enough to me to burn time with the CEO of the CPS to advocate for increased high school opportunities (or choices) for our elementary school's current population. While I'd argue that our group, as parents of children in a highly sought-after magnet school, was not really in the "non-choice" group, I can get behind an initiative that brings more information (and more transparency, and more accountability, per Mr. Brizard) to a wider swath of the city's population. Provided that the information itself has real meaning. (What does it mean that School A's academic performance was above/below the citywide average for last year? Is the number of teachers who choose to stay at a school more important than the number of teachers who are retained?).

It's not surprising that Mr. Brizard didn't yet have concrete plans for how he'd accomplish an increase in educational choices. I mean, he's only been in the job for less than a month. While he did tout his 25 years of experience as a school administrator and high school teacher, he does have a monster of a job in front of him: improving educational opportunities for all, on a shoestring budget, and in the face of parental non-involvement, poverty and other obstacles to success. I'm curious to see how he'll implement plans to introduce "new school operators," to CPS and how those operators, such as Expeditionary Learning, will improve educational outcomes.

Only time will tell. I'll be watching.

* For regular schedule track schools

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Vintage Schmintage

A few weeks ago, The Girl and I attended The Vintage Bazaar's pop-up in a Pilsen warehouse space. I had been following BackGarage with interest since it was posted a few years ago on Reddit Chicago. I really wanted to like the pop-up, but I found it "meh." My most interesting purchase was 6 vintage buttons from a 70s deadstock vendor. (My only other purchase was a vegan s'mores brownie from Bleeding Heart Bakery.)  Otherwise, the pop-up was a nice stroll through the visual reminders of my early years, but really, the early 1970s were pretty horrible design-wise: I'll leave the avocado green, mustard yellow and basic brown dishware sets to someone far removed from the era -- like the hipsterish couples who were waiting for the bus to take them back to Uki Village.

I think that for me, part of the thrill of vintage is the thrill of the hunt. And while some vendors at the pop-up had some gorgeous mid-century modern pieces, a lot of them just had a lot of junk. Old chairs covered in layers of peeling paint, Samsonite leatherette suitcases, an old Mason jar full of marbles, stained linen pillowcases and other pieces of crap. It was not unlike digging through the bins at the Salvation Army or an estate sale at an Indiana farmhouse. The difference being that the S.A. is cheaper and the Indiana farmhouse offers the opportunity to use my imagination about what that
 family might have hung on their handmade hat tree (which now, for a mere $5, graces my entryway).

There were a handful of tastefully and sparsely displayed booths featuring mid-century modern furnishings.  It's a look that is appealing to me--living in a 1400 SF Chicago foursquare has deepened the appeal of mid-century modern with its box-on-legs look and hide-the-electronics functionality. But, for all the appeal of artfully displayed 1960s glassware, I prefer my decorating touches to come in the form of Wii remotes and contemporary Matchbox cars. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tortured Artists

Enjoy the cooler weather with art, music, food and beer in one of Chicago’s most beautiful neighborhoods at the Arts Alive! Festival this Saturday, June 11th from 3-10 p.m. Located on the grounds and surrounding streets of Disney II Magnet school in Old Irving Park, Arts Alive is a celebration of art in all its forms. 

Children can learn dance, song, digital movie production, puppeteering and floral design, or have their faces painted during the festival’s 3-hour children’s tent from 3-6 p.m. The festival also features culinary demonstrations from top Chicago chefs for children and their parents, and delectable Texas BBQ from local favorite Smoque BBQ Plus live music all afternoon and evening with Super Stolie, Funkadesi, d’Go-Beat and American English.

Admission is $10/adult before 6pm; $15/adult after 6pm; Kids under 12 are free.