New CPS head kicks off back-to-school campaign

July 20, 2011 3:25:11 PM PDT
The first day of school is still more than a month and a half away for most students, but the new head of Chicago Public Schools is already getting a head start.

CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard joined other elected officials at Harris Park Wednesday morning to launch the 2011 back-to-school campaign. It's an effort to boost attendance on the first day of school.

The campaign is focused on getting community-based partners involved in getting the word out that CPS start dates for early start schools is on August 8 and regular start schools is on September 6.

"That first day is critical because we get into a routine, even where you sit, the textbook, the message it gives to a class. If you miss the first few days, I have watched kids struggle to catch up. You also feel like a fish out of water," said Brizard.

Chicago Public Schools back-to-school effort started earlier this year. The grass roots campaign will involve other city agencies, churches and festivals and social media to get the message out.

"We're leaving no stone unturned to make sure we use every available touch point to reach parents and educate them about back to school. Whether it is going on Facebook and Twitter and Facebook pages, robo-calls, phone banks, door to door, we're going to use everything available," said Becky Carroll, chief communications officer, CPS.

"We want every child to be in the classroom to start the year strong," said Jesse Ruiz, vice president, Chicago Board of Education.

Students attending Harris Park summer programs received back-to-school kits and a letter for their families reminding them of the 2011- 2012 school start dates. School officials will be handing out the kits at festivals in communities with high truancy rates.

"I like my kit and I will use it for school, and I will use it so my dad doesn't have to buy me anything else," said Cassandra Jeffries, CPS student.

"My mom doesn't have to buy me a lot of stuff now," said Taija Page, CPS student.

Altgeld Elementary School, in session for the summer, is handling the heat wave with fans throughout the school and classroom.

"This week has been a great test of the system. I think our teachers and principals are doing a yeoman's job in keeping schools as cool as possible. We have a large inventory of fans we have been giving to schools as well," said Brizard when asked how CPS will deal with the heat starting in August.

CPS plans to distribute 6,000 back-to-school kits. They are seeking donations to purchase more kits. Officials are also asking 40 different retail chains to hang back-to-school posters. Brizard says that CPS is recruiting 3,000 volunteers to staff phone banks to call parents and remind them about back to school dates.

Last year, the district had an 89 percent attendance rate on the first day of classes. This year they are aiming higher.

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