Six Chicago schools – including Austin’s Nash Elementary – added 90 minutes to their days last week.
Each became the first among the Chicago Public Schools to voluntarily break from their union contracts, agreeing to an extended school day that has become a centerpiece of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.
CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard visited Nash Elementary School, 4837 W. Erie St. on Sept. 26, to describe a tranquil scene of children enjoying a lengthened recess period.
“At Nash and (the Near North Side’s Skinner North Classical School), I couldn’t help but peer out the window and see the kids playing outside,” Brizard told the Chicago Tribune. “I think a lot of us have forgotten that play is a part of learning. I don’t care how old you are, play is important, and to watch children out on the playground in the middle of the school day is terrific.”
But a different scene was painted later that evening in the basement of Austin’s Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller, last Monday, where dozens of CPS teachers, employees and parents spoke vehemently against the extended day.
The public forum was hosted by Dwayne Truss, a member of the South Austin Coalition Community Council, and Carol Johnson, a West Side community organizer. AustinTalks co-sponsored the event, with John W. Fountain III, an Austin resident and columnist for AustinTalks, moderating.
While the event was designed as an open forum to gage public opinion on the topic, the attitude of the room was clear from early on.
“How long is a (church) sermon – 25 minutes?” Truss asked the audience of 50 people in his opening remarks, eliciting some nods of agreement. “A preacher decides to go two hours, they make their point. But they turn around, and they’re going to find an empty church.”
“Don’t think this extended school day is a magic bullet,” Truss added. “What we have to do is find the right balance.”
With Chicago’s school days shorter than nine other major cities in the nation, Emanuel has stated plans to lengthen the day at hundreds of CPS buildings by up to 90 minutes for the 2012-13 school year, once expiring union contracts make the extension possible.
But the mayor’s team has been trying to get school days extended sooner. They’ve done so by pushing teachers to voluntarily relinquish their contracts early. Union officials, though, insists such a move undercuts their attempts to get teachers paid for their longer hours. Union officials add that the mayor is trying to divide union members before they go to the bargaining table.
“This is about more than 90 minutes-it’s about crushing a union,” said Michael Brunson, recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, earning applause from the crowd.”
Schools that voluntarily sign on for an extended day will receive $75,000 or $150,000 in discretionary funds for the school, and teachers will get a one-time 2 percent bonus. Thirteen schools have signed on so far, including Howe School of Excellence, 720 N. Lorel Ave., and Genevieve Melody Elementary, 412 S. Keeler Ave.
“Teachers are not babysitters; teachers are educators,” said Tara Stamps, a middle school teacher at Jenner Academy of the Arts. “The only way to fight a bully (like CPS) is to stand up and fight.”
Only two people at the forum spoke in favor of an extended school day, both eliciting shouts of disapproval from the audience.
Michael Stinson, a pastor, community organizer and former candidate for alderman in the 28th Ward, spoke about his experience with his 6th-grade daughter. She was performing two grade levels below average before she met a teacher who, “breathed life into her.”
“I just want her to have more of that,” he said. “More school cannot be a bad thing.”