I interviewed many Chicago moms in preparation for a new website that helps parents locate good schools in affordable areas, and one thing I learned is this:  if a Chicago family has a child in a Chicago public school, they probably heard about the school through friends or family.

When my wife and I were searching for schools for our daughter, we heard about all of the ‘usual suspects’: Lincoln, Burley, Bell, Audubon, Coonley, and a few others.   These were the schools that our friends were aware of, and although we did investigate a few additional schools on our own, we ended up moving near one of the ‘usual suspects.’ As of last September, our daughter is a very happy preschooler.

But, as it turns out, there were many other great options here in Chicago that my family didn’t even know about.  I’ve done some digging and have found a few strong CPS schools that are located in more affordable areas of Chicago.

Here’s an example: if I search for a home in north Chicago with at least 3 bedrooms under $250,000, and I rank schools by ISAT test scores, which are the top five schools that have homes for sale right now in this price range?  See Table 1 for the answer:

Table 1: The Diamonds in the Rough.

School Average Listing Price of Homes for Sale with at least 3 Bedrooms Least Expensive 3 Bedroom Home for Sale (click to see listing)
1. Sauganash $483,000 $185,000 minimum.
2. Oriole Park $333,000 $200,000
3. Canty $248,000 $115,000
4. Soloman $444,000 $200,000
5. Norwoood Park $567,000 $250,000

Admittedly, I do not know much about these schools other than students perform very well on standardized tests.  But looking back, I wish we had investigated them before making a decision on the neighborhood school our daughter now attends.  We love our current school and might have made the same choice, but certainly the five schools listed above deserved an initial look, especially given the financial implications of the drastically reduced housing costs.  A year ago, I didn’t even know these options existed.

So, how do the ‘usual suspects’ compare with these diamonds in the rough?

Table 2: The Usual Suspects.

School Average Current Listing Price of Homes with at least 3 Bedrooms Least Expensive 3 Bedroom Home for Sale (click link to see listing)
Lincoln $1,991,000 $300,000
Burley $992,000 $389,000
Bell $993,000 $325,000
Coonley $755,000 $185,000
Audubon $813,000 $375,000

Within these school boundaries, you’re paying for more than the school, you are also paying for the lifestyle and the brand name.

So as you’re searching for a new community for you and your growing family, keep in mind that there are many possibilities out there for parents who want a wonderful home and a stellar education for their kids.