Year-round CPS schools start new year

August 12, 2010 4:46:31 AM PDT
Students who attend the nearly 200 Chicago public schools that operate on the district's year-round Track E calendar headed back to school Monday. Sixty-three more schools will operate on that new calendar this year. The rest of the city's public schools start September 7.

A famous Chicagoan helped some students get excited about the start of their year.

"Everybody here very excited?" yelled Dwyane Wade at a ceremony at one South Side grade school.

To celebrate, some of the school's roughly 650 students along with the parents and teachers were welcomed to the school year with a breakfast and time with the Miami Heat superstar.

"This is the first day of school. How you start your first day is how your year is going to go," Wade said.

The reasons why year-round class schedules are becoming popular are varied and numerous. While some parents and students like the consistency, others in the community say it's a way to keep kids safe while they continue to learn.

And although the year round calendar has its critics, that hasn't stopped almost 100,000 students from enrolling in year round schools, or deterred some neighborhood high schools from making the switch.

"For them to be able to come back to school a whole month early is really a help to them," said Barbara Peoples, the great grandparent of a student at John Altgeld student.

"Teachers were concerned about the summer learning loss we were having at the school," said Kenya Underwood, assistant principal at Altgeld.

According to school officials, kids at year-round schools get the same number of instructional days, just spread out throughout the year, along with the added benefit of not having to lose valuable time reviewing previous lessons.

"You forget things when you're on vacation and stuff," student Anthony Bonney said.

Some critics disagree saying more time in the classroom doesn't necessarily mean a better education. They also say it can:

  • keep teachers from participating in their continuing education

  • limit students "real life" experiences

  • potentially costs more

  • with no air conditioning of any kind in some school buildings, can possibly be a health risk.

    Supporters simply say the with gang and gun violence rampant, communities need schools to be safe havens for children.

    "The byproduct of a better education or more education is our children are not outside in these violent times," said Ald. Latasha Thomas of the city's 17th Ward.

    Chicago public school officials confirm they plan to empty the system's reserve fund to plug the remaining $370 million budget deficit.

    Reports out Monday say Chicago Public Schools is balancing its budget by drawing down the fund. Schools chief Ron Huberman said Monday that means teacher layoffs will still be likely, but that larger class sizes and massive cuts may be avoided.

    "The reserve funds are there by nature for a rainy day," Huberman said. "It's raining in Chicago. It's raining in the economy everywhere. Not only are we using those funds to ensure we keep as many teachers in the classroom, we can preserve as many programs for our students. We have a plan. Over the next year, we plan to restore those funds with a variety of things, including trying to get the state to pay the bills on time."

    Critics say CPS's use of these reserve funds violate school board policy, which requires them to have 5 percent of their budget in the reserve funds, or roughly at least $280 million. The Tribune and Sun-Times report that Huberman says drawing down reserve funds of $190 million is necessary to balance the budget.

    School officials say they are going to put that money back, but that promise is based on things that haven't happened yet, like the state paying its bills on time.


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