From Chicago Tribune by Tara Malone:
Claire Wapole grew up riding city buses to school and studying in city classrooms, where she took creative writing and even dissected a shark.

But multimillion-dollar deficits and the academic inequities in Chicago Public Schools had her agonizing over the choice she and her husband had made to raise their own children in the city.

When her son turned 5, she toured private schools but cringed at the expense. She tried to enroll him in one of Chicago's top public magnet schools, but "he wasn't reading 'War and Peace' so he didn't get in," she said with a laugh. So the couple selected a neighborhood school on a hunch that a new principal and committed parents would spur improvement.

The decision put the Wapoles among the vanguard of an enrollment boom unfolding in public and private schools alike on the northern stretch of the city. Whether lured by burgeoning efforts to improve urban education or locked into a home they cannot sell, the tide of middle-class city residents moving to the suburbs as their children reach kindergarten may be slowing, enrollment records and demographic data suggest.

Schools on the North and Northwest sides enrolled more students even as enrollment slipped across the city's school system to 404,589 last year, down 1.5 percent from five years ago, state records show.

Student attendance in the northern stretch of the city climbed 2.4 percent during the last two years from 121,897 to 124,836 students in 2010-11, according to district enrollment records. The growth, while slight, came as attendance slipped in every other city zone the West, Southwest, South and Far South sides.

And citywide, residents who had children were more likely to stay more years in their city residence in 2009 than they were in 1990, according to a preliminary analysis of census data by Jim Lewis, a demographer and senior program officer at the Chicago Community Trust.

Come Labor Day, Amy Smolensky will enroll her children for another year at Burley Elementary School. On Monday, with an eye to the upcoming year, she and her husband, Dan, coaxed their second- and third-grade sons to write in their summer journals for a few minutes.

Still, the to-stay-or-to-leave-Chicago question remains a perennial conversation topic among her friends, one fueled by every budget cut, unpopular district policy or competitive turn in the admissions required for the city's top schools. Many parents now eye high school and the long odds of acceptance to a selective enrollment school as the new pressure point that could drive them from Chicago.

"I feel like we are here to stay yet it's a roller-coaster ride," Smolensky said. "It's a constant struggle."

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