CPS releases details of longer day

Union admits it cannot bargain over length of school day, year. Schools prepare.

January 14, 2012

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Chicago Public Schools has released details about next year’s 7.5-hour school day. The day will be an hour and 45 minutes longer than it is right now for most elementary school students.

And, CPS now says, the school year will include 10 extra days.

New guidelines issued by the district won’t mandate a minimum number of minutes to be spent on each subject, but the district is making “recommendations.” For instance, it’s suggesting kids in first through fifth grades spend two hours daily on literacy instruction.

Mary Beth Cunat, principal at Wildwood Elementary on the far northwest side, said Wildwood has already begun drawing up potential schedules for next year, and was directed to do so “from the perspective of students.” She’s thinking about how to reach accelerated, average and struggling learners with the extra time.

The district is offering $100,000 grants to 30 schools that come up with particularly creative ways to fill what CPS is now calling a “full school day” rather than a “longer day.”

“The sky is the limit—I have more ideas than I can possibly put on paper,” said Cunat, who hopes to go for one of the grants. “If we could get some extra money to do some great things here—fine arts or something that’s been long, long out of the time of school.  I know my families would appreciate more of that.”

Cunat said money could become an issue. “That $100,000 isn’t going to go very far once you start doing some of the programming that’s really rich, like doing some really good media and technology programming, doing some animation, doing some engineering type things that kids can do now.”

Cunat said that while parents are excited, Wildwood staff want to make sure there’s enough time for professional development and planning too.

Under a new state law, the Chicago Teachers Union does not have the authority to bargain over the length of the day or the length of the school year. The union is encouraging teachers to “use their ‘teacher voice’ to advocate for resources, facilities upgrades, personnel support and the other things their students need to develop academically."

In a written statement, union president Karen Lewis said the demands for upcoming contract negotiations would include “fighting for the neighborhood schools our students deserve, working to preserve our members’ wages and benefits, and maintaining job security and meaningful professional development.”