Your guide to the Chicago Public School system

Von Humboldt Elementary School

Von Humboldt Elementary school in Humboldt Park is one of hundreds of neighborhood elementary schools throughout the city

If you’re a parent, a big concern when moving is the school district you’ll be moving into. If you’re moving to Chicago for the first time, you will discover you have a wide variety of public, private and parochial schools to choose from. Today, let’s take a look at the public school system serving the city of Chicago: the Chicago Public Schools, or CPS.

The Chicago Public School District is the third-largest school district in the country and serves more than 400,000 students each year. It contains 474 elementary schools, 106 high schools and 87 charter schools. The average class size for elementary schools is 20 students per teacher; in high school it is 24 students per teacher. Chicago’s public schools represent a diverse and multi-cultural population of learners and offer preschool, after-school and summer activities through partnerships with the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Public Library.

Particularly at the elementary school level, public schools are extremely neighborhood-focused; most children in the city will live within walking distance of their local elementary school. Students are guaranteed a spot in the school that represents their attendance area. (For more information on individual schools or to find out which schools are located in your ZIP code, visit the Chicago Public Schools’ website.) Most schools will also accept applications from students living outside their attendance area, space permitting. Some parents may opt to apply to a school outside their attendance area for special programs like foreign-language immersion classrooms or Montessori instruction.

At the high school level, schools become more specialized. Some offer liberal arts curricula or International Baccalaureate programs while others are designated “career academies” in which students are instructed at college-preparatory levels while receiving instruction specific to a chosen career such as business, communication or hospitality. Several high school in Chicago are considered “selective enrollment;” all students attending those high schools must apply for admission and are accepted based on their academic performance, much like elite pre-colleges within the city.

Whatever your priorities, the key to a positive public school experience in Chicago is engagement; the happiest homeowner-parents are the ones who do some research and are proactive in evaluating how their child’s needs are best served by the large and diverse educational system.