Brizard and Lewis Spar Over School Days

Chicago Teacher's Union President Karen Lewis, Friday, responded quickly to a letter sent to local news media by Chicago Public School's CEO Jean Claude Brizard that asked for her help in negotiating longer school days.

She says Brizard -- and by proxy, Rahm Emanuel -- is trying to play her in the media and force an implementation of a sweeping new program.

“To date, CTU President Karen GJ Lewis has not received a letter, voice mail or text message from CEO Jean Claude Brizard requesting the Union’s help in getting more educators to break their current labor contracts and agree to a longer school day this year," Lewsi said in a release.  "We learned of this letter through media inquiries. The open letter insinuates that CPS is willing to stop its illegal practice of going “school-by-school, case-by-case, and, vote-by-vote” if only the Union will help them find another 25 schools to switch to a longer schedule in January."

The letter Lewis referred to arrived in media inboxes not more than one hour prior to Lewis'. It's from Brizard and says:

Dear Karen:

As I outlined in my voicemail earlier today, thirteen schools have so far elected to join the Longer School Day Pioneer Program, while the list of schools interested in exploring the longer day continues to grow. We are excited about the momentum and support from parents, teachers and students for more class time and enhanced learning. Therefore, I believe the time is right to turn the Pioneer Project into a collaboration between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union leadership, and begin a meaningful conversation about how best to use the additional time.

Rather than continue implementation of the longer school day school-by-school, case-by-case, and vote-by-vote, we would like to work with you and your members to choose the next 25 schools that will start a longer day in January. Together we can help design guidelines on structuring the longer day for schools that would start in January 2012 and be the model for preparing all schools for the longer day in the 2012-2013 academic year. In short, work with your members at schools that are interested in moving to the longer day to help select the next 25 pioneer schools and help create the guidelines that will structure how those additional 90 minutes of instructional time are used.

This core group of a total of 38 schools will receive a lump sum payment equal to a 2% increase of the average teacher salary for the teachers in these schools, as well as $75,000 in financial support (for those starting in January 2012) for each school to help transition to a longer day to cover extra teaching assistant positions, curriculum and intervention materials, and other needs.

The thirteen schools that have already voted for a longer school day are making critical decisions about how to use this extra time. At Disney II Magnet School, for example, the additional 90 minutes is being used to increase time spent on literacy, core curriculum, science and technology. These are important areas of learning, essential to closing the achievement gap, which will benefit the early adopters of the longer school day. We want to work with you, the teachers, to make sure that we are extracting all the value we can out of each additional minute of time in each additional school for the benefit of every CPS student.

Together we can begin answering the crucial question of how to best use the longer school day so that it will make a difference for the future of Chicago’s children.

Emanuel and Brizard have been pushing hard to implement a longer school day for the Chicago Public School system for months now.

Emanuel mentions the plan often, and the city has been applying pressure to individual schools to come around to their thinking, that longer school days -- and the 2-percent pay raise that comes with them are a good idea -- for this year.  So far, six schools have agreed.

The teacher's union plans to implement the plan to add 90 minutes to the entire school system next year, but say they need time to work out the kinks and to implement the strategy in a smart way.

Earlier Friday, Emanuel discussed the longer school day plan.

"We've moved past weather, it's not a discussion of how," Emanuel said in lauding the City Council for approving the plan.

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