CPS staff, parents talk longer hours on 1st day

September 5, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
Hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students and more than 20,000 teachers returned to class Tuesday.

The new school year begins amid controversy over longer school days and years as well as canceled teacher raises.

Teachers at three elementary schools voted last week to add 90 minutes to their school days and more schools may follow.

Skinner North is one of those schools where teachers voted to waive parts of their union contract and extend the school day. The other schools are Genevieve Melody on the West Side and the STEM Magnet Academy in Little Italy.

"It is hard to argue with additional instruction, especially in a globally competitive world," said George Thiruvathukal, parent.

"I'm going to make a lot of friends, and I'm in second grade," said Jessica Ramirez, student.

On Tuesday morning, students at STEM were greeted by a red carpet, a release of balloons, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"I hope as we continue to move that other parents begin to ask their schools how can we get the same things that the children at these three schools are getting," said Mayor Emanuel.

"We expect a few more schools, perhaps this week, to actually jump on board to make this happen. Some will actually start in January. But, as you know, we're looking to make this system-wide next fall," said Jean-Claude Brizard, Chicago Public Schools CEO.

The issue has strained relations between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, which says there hasn't been enough focus on how the extra time will be spent.

"The longer school day is coming. We want to make sure that this year is the year we use to plan for a better school day. So we have quality in addition to quantity," said Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president.

In a grievance, the union has accused CPS of coercion, saying teachers were forced to vote on the issue. But CPS officials say it was the three schools - STEM, Skinner, and Melody - that approached them about longer days, not the other way around.

Still, CPS says all elementary schools will now be offered what the three schools were -- up to $150,000 for their curriculum and a stipend for teachers equaling about two percent of pay.

"I congratulate STEM, Melody, and Skinner North for taking the lead, and they're going to teach us how to make this happen across the entire system," said Brizard.

CPS has received interest from other schools looking to follow suit, but it would not name names, saying nothing has been finalized.

CPS is looking to pay for the additional funding through budget cuts in central administration.

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