Denver to Chicago Suburbs with 2 young kids (Naperville, Evanston: rentals, house)
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Us: Just found out two weeks ago that we will be moving from Denver to the Chicago area (husband will be working downtown at La Salle and Jackson). We have 2 kids - a 5-year-old who will be entering kindergarten in the fall and an 18 month old. One old golden retriever will be joining us. We are liberal, friendly, and a bit overwhelmed by the rapidity of our move. Our oldest is a quirky kid. She has some sensory integration issues, is super intense, causes her teachers (and parents) many headaches, and is super bright (99.9+% IQ). She is coming from a private school in Denver with an extremely small class size and teachers who have given her a great deal of love and attention.
What we are looking for (otherwise known as Shangri la): A rental (we likely can't sell our house in Denver in time to make the logistics work to buy right away) 3 bd under about 2000 a month, in a friendly, safe community, walkable to the train with a relatively short (under 45 min) commute, with, most importantly, public schools that will be accepting and nurturing of our kiddo. Test scores aren't the be-all end-all for us, but a differentiated learning approach, and a flexible, let's-make-it-work attitude is imperative. I would love a great community for stay-at-home moms (hopefully many of whom had former careers and "get" the tension of staying home for the kids and putting your aspirations on hold).
Oh, and, we're broke My husband is taking a serious paycut to become a civil servant. So a great parks district with low-cost family activities would be wonderful. Oh, and I would like free lattes, too (Just Kidding)
We are doing most of our research online. We took one quick trip out to visit schools, and we may have time for one more 1-day-whirlwind trip - but it seems that rentals get snapped up very quickly, so we might need to rent sight-unseen. We need to move the first week in July. We love Oak Park, but we are having a hard time finding something in our budget and we are a bit apprehensive of renting sight-unseen (for safety reasons). Naperville has some rentals in the Ellsworth Elementary area that are walkable to the train, but I'm a bit worried that our quirky kid will be regarded as "that weird kid" at school. And what's up with the 2.5 hour kindergarten? Must make for some VERY quick transitions. Evanston has a ton of rentals, but I'm getting a strange vibe from the schools - any thoughts? Also, it's hard to figure out which areas are the heavily Northwestern areas and which areas are family-oriented. Thoughts on Riverside and Brookfield? Congress Park Elementary? Any other areas we should include on our list?
Thank you, in advance, for any and all insights.
-insert standard Chicago greeting that I still need to learn here-
Welcome to Chicago! A few quick observations... you state you are a liberal but are you looking to move to a politically active town or just a town that leans left? Most of the Chicagland area leans left, but not all towns are 'politically active'. The ones that are that come to mind are Oak Park and Evanston. I would be leery about renting in either place sight unseen as some areas of both towns are not as desirable as other areas, although if you find one you can give us the approximate location to get opinions. I'm pretty sure all of the towns you listed (maybe not Naperville though) are left leaning.
Most kindergartens in the entire area are half day, meaning 2.5 hours. Most parents fill the remainder of the day with other classes i.e., recreation center classes (art, gymnastics, music, sports, etc.). Is your daughter 'IEP' quirky and in need of special services, or just in need of an understanding and patient kindergarten teacher? If you think she may qualify (or need) special services such as OT, you may want to check into schools that fall within the LADSE district (http://www.ladse.org/AboutLadse/member_districts1.html - broken link). They have excellent programs and services for kids that are at no additional cost to the parent and work with the school districts. Riverside and Brookfield are both in the LADSE district. Congress Park is part of the LaGrange school district and follows the same curriculum as the other LaGrange schools. It tends to be a bit more diverse than the LaGrange schools however, but is still a quality school with good educators. LaGrange has a nice recreation facility/classes, and offers reciprocity to people residing in neighboring towns. Brookfield also has a recreation department that offers classes at low cost to residents. The Brookfield Zoo is also a great (and cheap) activity to do if you opt for the annual family membership (around $90/year give or take). That way you don't feel badly just strolling around for an hour or two without hitting every exhibit. Riverside is very pretty with its winding streets. I swear, whoever designed the layout wanted to trap people in that town! They also don't have streetlights (or didn't... things may have changed over the past 10 yrs or so), so if you park on the street you must keep your running lamps on when it's dark out. I believe the schools are pretty decent in Riverside as well.
Oak Park is a great option. If you post the 'hood where you would be looking, people here could give some insight. Naperville is far from Chicago. Yes, the express train is good, but if your goal is to be close to Chi, Naperville is not the best option. La Grange should also work well.
I don't think LaGrange is necessarily less affluent than Naperville, it's just 1/10th the size. The median incomes are pretty similar ($95K vs. $101K), but the median house value in LaGrange is quite a bit higher ($470K vs. $397K)... probably because of its proximity to the city.
I think LaGrange tends to lean left, whereas Naperville tends to be more right-leaning.
I would think you would be able to find a nice rental in LaGrange in your price range.
La Grange is actually a conservative area. That whole area around Riverside, Brookfield, La Grange, and Western Springs is conservative. That area is where Tony Peraica and Jim Durkin come from, as well as the Lipinskis.
I'd recommend Evanston. The schools will be fine for the most part. You can't go wrong with the elementary districts in the Southeast, Downtown, Northeast, Northwest, and Ridge/Asbury areas. These areas are the more expensive and more affluent parts of town.
Have you heard of/considered Evanston? It's like large Boulder (the city) sans mountains. Evanston has a very walkable, bike friendly downtown and runs along Lake Michigan bordering Chicago. It is more culturally and racially diverse than many other suburbs. The public schools vary in quality, but culturally it sounds like a really good fit. Great public transit, lots of rec activities for young families. Because the schools vary, the taxes are high, and housing prices are higher than some other suburbs, it might not be the best long term fit, but would be a great place to rent while you sort yourselves out.
Mt Prospect is another nice burb with a central downtown, good schools and some diversity. The housing stock is less expensive, but the town is somewhat boring compared to Evanston, imo.
Both burbs offer rush hour express trains to the Loop within 30 minutes.
Definitely consider the Brookfield Zoo membership!
Most kindergartens in the entire area are half day, meaning 2.5 hours.
My daughter will be starting kindergarten in fall and is going to district 204 (Naperville). At orientation, I was told both full and half day are offered, but sometimes they eliminate the half day due to lack of interest.
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