6 CPS schools prepare for longer school day

September 23, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The new school hours begin on Monday at Nash Elementary School. It is one of six schools that will extend their school day next week after a vote by teachers.

About a half-dozen schools used Friday to finish preparing for the start of a longer school day. And while some teachers and administrators looked into the details of how the extra time, these teachers are gearing up for a longer school day.

"I think this is going to be good, because it will actually give us more time to focus," said 4th grade teacher Jennifer Beltran.

Six Chicago Public Schools including the Austin neighborhood's Nash Elementary are starting a longer teaching schedule on Monday.

"I will be adding extra minutes to all classes, so, science, social studies, math and reading, so that will be helpful," said 6th grade teacher Catherine Staudohar.

Friday, several teachers, administrators and parents got together to talk about the new plan, because the principal of the West Side grade school where the initiative was narrowly approved wanted to make sure her staff remains united and ready to teach an extra 90-minutes each day.

"Whether one or six votes or 12, it make no difference, we do what's best for the collective here," said Nash Elementary School Principal Tresa Dunbar.

So far, educators at 13 schools have gone against the Chicago Teachers Union over the issue. The teachers' contract expires June 30.

A new law will allow CPS to impose a longer school year in 2012, but this year, schools choosing it voluntarily get $150,000 in discretionary funds and $1,250 in bonuses for each teacher.

"A lot of parents really wanted it. A lot of kids really need it," said parent Tammy Patrick.

Despite support by some parents, the controversy over the longer school day pioneer pilot program continues as union officials accuse the district of creating disharmony by circumventing them and going straight to teachers about the plan.

"I'm not ready for it," said 2nd grade teacher Courtney Evoniuk. "I think that if they need a longer day, I think more planning needs to take place."

That's a reason why Chicago Board of Education board member Rodrigo Sierra is working with individual schools to encourage smooth transitions.

"We want them to be energized about it, excited about it and behind it, because otherwise it doesn't work," Sierra said.

The district has also launched a website asking for the public's input.

So far, school officials expect to spend $1.8 million on the 13 schools.

Teachers at Coleman and Burnham elementary schools voted to reject starting the longer school day.

More than 480 elementary schools are eligible to vote on whether to extend classes this year.

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