Best public grade school your kid doesn't have to test into or get lucky in a lottery

Chopin Elementary

2450 W. Rice

The gentrification of West Town has transformed Chopin Elementary, explains principal Antuanette Marie Mester. It's not that middle-class families swept into the neighborhood and shaped up the neighborhood school—the way they did at, say, Blaine Elementary in Lakeview. The middle-class kids in West Town go somewhere else, and Chopin's student body today is about 85 percent Latino and 96 percent low-income. However, so many families whose children went to Chopin were driven out of the area that the student body, which numbered about 1,100 when Mester arrived at Chopin in 1976, is now under 300. A lot of teachers had to go, and Mester says, "I've sorted out the ineffective teachers, luckily." The result: Chopin is a school that works—some 90 percent of the students meet or exceed state standards in reading and math. Chopin offers few frills but lots of spirit—"everyone here does everything except wash windows," says Mester. The board of education rented out the roof to Sprint and T-Mobile, and thanks to the "antennae money," Chopin can afford a full-time kindergarten teacher and a full-time music teacher. —Michael Miner