“If we were gonna uproot everything for a high school, we thought we would look for one of the best,” says Barbara Iverson, a Chicagoan her entire adult life until her first child neared 8th grade.
To get one of the best—New Trier Township High School—the Iverson family (Barbara, husband Norman, daughter Liz and son Herb) moved from a house on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago into what she calls “the smallest house in Wilmette.” It’s not much smaller than the old one, but it’s not an improvement, either, she says.
“It’s lived up to our expectations,” Barbara says of New Trier. She’s impressed with the school’s academic rigor but also appreciates amenities like its wide range of extracurricular offerings. Herb takes advantage of fencing; Liz, diving and gymnastics. Barbara also likes the freedom she can give her kids in the suburbs, without concern for their safety.
What the Iversons left behind was a city they loved—they’re already planning their return once both children are in college—and a school system they didn’t trust to turn itself around anytime soon.
“I saw a lot of hope for school reform, but it was just getting going when we moved,” says Barbara, who was a community member on the local school council at Palmer, the neighborhood school. With her daughter just a few years away from high school, she wasn’t ready to wait years for the results.
Liz was enrolled in a program for gifted students at Pritzker Elementary in Wicker Park; Herb attended first Palmer, then Pritzker.
For the Iversons, the clincher was Chicago’s history of frequent teacher strikes. Shortly before the family moved, Barbara was wrapping up several years of graduate work and about to resume teaching in the Chicago public schools. That was 1992, the year the School Board and Chicago Teachers Union tangled over the layoff off all truant officers and dozens of clerks and library aides. Barbara says she wondered who would care for the kids in the event of a long strike.
Liz misses “being able to say I’m from Chicago,” but she doesn’t miss the long bus ride to Pritzker. She appreciates New Trier’s academic challenge but finds it overwhelming at times. “I guess I’m glad about it, but junior year is so hard ,” she says.
Barbara says she’s glad that her kids got the chance to go to school in the city, in a setting where whites are not the majority. The relocation took some getting used to. “It was different,” says Liz. On the first day of school in Wilmette, she came home and reported: “Mom, it’s not very diverse. There’s only two black girls in my class, and they’re sisters.”
Liz says she’s happily adjusted, with friends she loves, but she notes that her current neighbors “keep to themselves more” than her old ones did.
“Our current plan is that the second our son is accepted in college, we’re going to sell our house and move back to the city,” says Barbara, who also had been president of the local neighborhood group, the North Mayfair Association. “We’ve even been talking about buying a loft and using it as a rental space until then.”
Both Barbara and Norman work in the city. She teaches in the School of Education at Columbia College, and he works for a software development firm on the Near North Side.
Barbara says that with local school councils well established and with labor peace, she’s not sure she would make the same choice if she were choosing today. “I go by that school now [Palmer], and they’ve got a big addition,” she says. “And I hear that the school is being run more like I would have wanted it to be.” But she adds that finding a Chicago high school to compete with New Trier would be tough.