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Parents at CPS Board Meeting Endorse Longer School Day

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Chicago Public Schools officials touted its plan to add 90 minutes to next year’s school day and applauded the 13 schools that already implemented a longer day at the Sept. 28 board of education meeting.

Many parents endorsed the longer school day, but some teacher advocates said they still had concerns at the meeting.

CPS Chief Instruction Officer Jennifer Cheatham said the longer school day pioneer program is an “integral part of school reform.”

The 90 additional minutes will provide students the ability to learn and increase resources for schools–$150,000 for those that implemented the longer school day in September and $75,000 for schools that extend the school day in January, she said.

There will also be more collaboration time for teachers to plan instructions with colleagues, as well as engagement with parents and community members on how to use the money incentives, Cheatham said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said CPS needs to look at how to divide those resources appropriately among the city’s more than 600 public schools.

“If we look at up to $150,000, what we are talking about, once again, is inequality. One school may have 10 faculty members, another school may have 100 faculty members,” Lewis said at the meeting.

“But we are still giving them the same amount of money. That is not equity.”

Tim Shanahan, director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the school’s curriculum and instruction department chair, said an increase in the school day will be beneficial for students, but only if instruction time also increases.

“If some teachers say, ‘oh these guys must be tired, I’ll give them a bathroom break, or let them play (heads up) seven up,’ that’s not going to work,” he said.

If one school uses the extra time for recess or games, those students may not have the same academic turnout compared to students who spend the entire time learning from a teacher, he said.

Shanahan said he understands some of the teacher opposition of the CPS pioneer program. For the longer school day to work effectively, teachers will need more support, emotionally and financial, and guidance throughout the transition process, he said.

“If teachers are angry, it’s possible for the students not to learn,” Shanahan said.

Caroline Bilicki, PTA president and parent of students at Disney II Elementary Magnet School at 3815 N. Kedvale Ave, said Disney Magnet has had a longer, high quality school day since the school’s inception in 2008. Bilicki said at the meeting she has seen benefits of a longer school day as a parent and PTA president.

Those benefits, she said, include a focus on core classes like math, reading and writing, and more time for students to explore and analyze informational text–especially in science and social studies, which helps the students become “functional members of society later in life.”

The longer school day also allows more opportunities for art, music, technology, socialization and exercise through gym, recess, and a longer lunch.

“Our kids have one hour blocks of time to really explore a subject,” she said.

“I believe that Disney II can provide a blueprint as CPS rolls out the longer school day to its 410,000 students.”

Leonard Rau, a parent of a second grader at Skinner North Classical School, an academically advanced elementary school at 604 W. Scott St.–which already approved a longer school day and was awarded the $150,000 incentive–said his daughter is enjoying the longer day. She is not tired, he said.

The morning after Skinner North’s first long school day, “she woke up at 6 A.M.,” he said.

“She spent 20 minutes reading and 20 minutes doing her homework, then took the bus to school. She is excited by learning.”

UIC’s Shanahan said the longer school day is good for kids who already enjoy being there, but especially important for students who live in struggling neighborhoods.

In low-income areas, parents are less likely to do academic activities with their children, such as reading, because the parent may be busy working two jobs, among other reasons, he said. This leads to an experience gap compared to kids in more affluent areas of the city.

“Those kids get less academic experience. So, what can schools do to even the score,” he said.

“It’s a reasonable thing to say, ‘let’s keep kids here more.’”

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