It was well after 5 p.m. on the Friday before the Labor Day holiday weekend, but Ethan Netterstrom showed no let-up behind his desk.
Netterstrom, the principal at Skinner North Classical School, in a few weeks will be joined by the teachers at his school in working an extended day and getting compensated for the extra time.
By a 9-6 vote on Friday, teachers at Skinner approved a 90 minute extended school day. It officially takes effect Sept. 26, and Netterstrom couldn't be more proud.
"In my mind it's groundbreaking. It's historic for us as a school," he said. "It's amazing. I'm just really proud of my teachers and my staff for their commitment and dedication."
Under the agreement, which a CPS official said was offered this week, Skinner and Genevieve Melody Elementary School will each get $150,000 to pay for the programming and activities that come with a longer school day. A third school, STEM Magnet Academy, will extend its school day in January.
Netterstrom said he pitched the idea Friday morning and then left the room while teachers held a 90 minute, closed-door meeting prior to the secret ballot. He said he'd previously discussed the extended day with his staff, but never with the Chicago Public Schools' incentives.
He admitted he recognized the politics involved with having his teachers break ranks with the rest of the Chicago's Teachers Union, but said that all took a backseat to the needs of his students.
"I know there's a lot. I know the union will have a point of view and CPS will [have theirs]. And I know it's controversial, and that's fine. But when we were looking at the decision and the teachers were on their own to decide, it's what's best for kids," he said.
The CTU said the offer amounted to bribery. Netterstrom disagreed.
"I wouldn't say it was a bribe from CPS. It was an incentive to adopt this early. We said, 'You can put an iPad in the hands of every kid. You can buy laptops. You can buy a computer lab. You could buy an art teacher. Whatever. The teachers are going to decide to do with the money to serve kids,'" he said. "It's not like they can buy stuff and take it home. Whatever they buy, it's for the school and for their use."
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll went further, saying in a telephone conversation that the schools needed little convincing.
"They wanted to do this," she said, adding that it's inevitable other schools will soon follow.
Many schools, she said, have expressed interest in longer day.
"There seems to be a good appetite out there for this," she said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made longer school days one of his signature issues. He'd helped push through the Illinois General Assembly a bill earlier this year allowing the change, but it can't be implemented for the 2011-2012 school year without union consent.
CPS and the Emanuel Administration had offered elementary school teachers a two percent pay increase, but the union rejected it. They're steamed about the four-percent, across-the-board pay raises that were cancelled in June.
The school board says the system is about $712 million in the hole.