CPS officials say they were doing everything they can to encourage as many students as possible to attend school for the first day, including bringing Chicago Bears players into the schools.
"We say that the start of the school year is so important to get everyone off on the right foot," said schools' CEO Ron Huberman, who was ringing in the first day of school at Wells Academy High School. "We are here because the Chicago Public Schools system, we have been focused on our career and technical academies, programs that give students certifications that in many ways help them be college ready and be ready for a job right after school. Here at Wells, students are going to be on different tracks, including law and public safety, and they will get industry-certified credentials right after high school."
As Chicago Mayor Richard Daley rang the bell at Wells, he joked that he should maybe be Twittering the start of school instead. The bell may be old school, but educational leaders say the programs at Wells Academy and 11 revamped career schools in the city are forward thinking and laser focused.
Some Wells students are enrolled in a technology program that teaches them about the hardware inside a computer and how to manage the software. They even created and keep up the Wells Academy website.
"The fourth year, you'll pretty much master everything and you pretty much will have your degree. You'll be a professional at computers, and you will be able to create games like on Xbox 360 on computers," said Ferredondo Arredond, Wells Academy sophomore.
Daley says it actually resembles programs from decades ago.
"In the '60s and '70s when I went to school at Tilden Tech and De LaSalle, they were both vocational schools, everybody graduated and got a job. Many went to college. Some went to college at night later on. We all went to work," Daley said.
There are also five new buildings included in the 475 schools that opened Tuesday. Almost 200 year-round schools opened last month.
Some students at Wells were nervous. Others were eager to start learning the first day.
"Oh, I am a freshman, and I am anticipating on taking the trade logistic class. So, yeah, it's going to be a great year, excited," said William Johnson, Wells Academy freshman.
School leaders are dealing with the budget crisis as well. They had to cut 200 buses, so now bus rides are about 10 minutes longer for students.
"We are able to get additional students on the buses, and we want to make sure we get every kid a ride. They will just have to be on the buses a little longer," Huberman said.
CPS buses are equipped with GPS, and Huberman said he anticipates no issues with the new routes.
Several students have been the victims of violence before the school year began. Huberman said new programs are in place to curb the violence around schools.
"At 38 high schools, we're starting the community watch program," he said. "It means you have over 500 trained adults who have cell phones, and in many cases two-way radios. They are around the schools to create a safety net for our kids coming to and from school. We think it's going to be a very successful program. It's new this year. We're also going to be mentoring more high-risk kids this year; 1,750 of our highest-risk kids will be assigned an adult to engage them, make sure they're coming to school, make sure whatever issues they have outside of the classroom, we can address, and they can succeed academically and most importantly, they can be safe."