Chicago Teachers' Union president Karen Lewis discusses teachers' side of education debate

September 1, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
The current contract between Chicago Public School teachers and the Board of Education expires at the end of this school year.

The president of the Chicago Teachers Union continued to criticize Mayor Emanuel's approach to implementing a longer school day at Chicago's public schools.

Speaking Thursday on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight, Lewis said an advisory committee formed to make recommendations about the specific shape of a longer school day is biased against public education and that the composition of the committee is "unpalatable".

“This committee is composed of people who believe in the destruction of general public - traditional public -  schools and I don’t want to be a party to that because that's something that doesn't interest me," Lewis told WBEZ's Alison Cuddy.

Members of the Longer School Day Advisory Committee include Phyllis Lockett of New Schools for Chicago, Brian Brady of Mikva Challenge, Dr. Byron Brazier of the Apolistic Church of God, Celine Coggins of Teach Plus, Sarah Cobb of Neighborhood Parents Network, Guillermo Gomez of The Healthy Schools Campaign, Timothy Knowles of the Urban Education Institute, Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s Church, Juan Soto of Pilsen Neighbors Community Council , Alderman Latasha Thomas, Robin Steans of Advance Illinois, and Illinois Senator Kimberly Lightford, among others.

Schools on the Line

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard will appear Thursday night on WBEZ at 7pm for a live monthly call-in program called Schools on the Line, where he'll take listener questions.  Listeners can participate live or can submit questions in advance via email at Schoolsontheline@wbez.org or voicemail at 312-948-4886.

The proposal to extend Chicago's public school day was one of the key items discussed during the interview on Eight Forty-Eight, which also touched on the prospect for a strike, negotiations over a vote to rescind a four percent pay raise, and Lewis' relationship with schools CEO Jean Claude Brizard.  Brizard will appear Thursday night on WBEZ at 7pm for a live monthly call-in program called Schools on the Line.

Here are some highlights from the interview with Lewis:

On the Longer School Day Advisory Committee:

“There are people I don’t wish to work with because they don’t have our best interests at heart. I'm not going to sit across the table and pretend that's ok.  It's not.  It's just not.  So, if you want to sit across the table and stab me into little pieces, OK. I understand that.  But I am not going to sit down and allow you to do it to me. So what I am saying is I will have my discussions with the CEO because I think that's important and they can have their discussions and I'm sure he'll bring to me some of the ideas they have.  I am not sitting at the table with those folks."

On a longer school day:

"We want to make sure that a longer school day is not simply elongating the day we already have, because adding minutes to the day without adding quality to the curriculum is absolutely not going to see any fundamental change."

"We want to make sure that our students have a very broad curriculum and that that curriculum is not only broad, but that there is time for depth in the curriculum. But what we don’t want is an elongated day that is spent on test prep because that's what we've been seeing. And this is obviously not working."

On her priorities for a better school day:

"What we want to make sure is that we have art, music, P.E., social studies and science involved in [the] school day on a regular basis.”

"We’re working on bringing lunch to the middle of the day and also adding recess to make sure that our children have the opportunity to get a chance to work out a lot of energy and not feel so cooped up and so stressed."

On prospects for a teachers strike this year:

“To strike or not to strike is, quite frankly, a decision of our membership. Our membership has been extremely upset about the rescinding of the raises. However, they have also said we would like to keep this contract until the end because they do not want a longer school day imposed without proper planning and an opportunity to say how that looks."

On her relationship with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard:

“We haven’t had as substantive conversations as I’d like.  We are very new in our relationship.  But I will tell you there is no hostility, there's no animosity and I’m looking forward to working him.”