Parents want their say in debate over longer school day

October 26, 2011

"How do we as parents get to the table?" That’s what parent and community organizer Carol Johnson wanted to know Tuesday night at a West Side forum that drew both supporters and skeptics of a longer day.

Caroline Bilicki, president of the PTA at Disney II Magnet Elementary, said her school should be a model for Chicago's system-wide effort to move to a longer day.

"They don't teach to the test ...They get music two times a week for an hour. They get art two times a week for an hour. They get technology...."

Disney II's longer day - and added staff to teach all the extras - is paid for by parent fundraising. But there were concerns the North Side magnet school isn't typical of schools in the system.

"My children deserve what her children are getting," said former West Side school teacher Bonita Robinson, who said she gave up teaching last year after concluding the job had become little more than test prep.

CPS official Arnie Rivera admitted many schools do not have funding for a "rigorous curriculum" of art, gym, music and languages. But he said the district understands it must invest in additional teachers for its extended school day. "We know we can't continue to cut and cut and cut - especially at the school level - and expect better results," said Rivera.

The meeting was sparsely attended, with fewer than two dozen parents in attendance, many from outside the neighborhood. One parent expressed concerns about safety. Some North Side parents suggested a six-and-a-half-hour day would be better than the proposed seven-and-a-half-hour day. One mother said she wishes CPS would pay attention to issues besides the longer day.

One audience member said she was from Stand for Children, a group that poured money into Illinois elections last cycle and then pushed through sweeping education legislation that changes how teachers are hired and fired and allows Chicago Public Schools to unilaterally lengthen the school day.

Parents are expected to voice their thoughts on the longer day at today's school board meeting. CPS is also soliciting parent ideas and comments at longerday@cps.k12.il.us.

The district's campaign to get more schools to sign on to the longer day this year continues; the board on Wednesday is expected to consider giving financial incentives to charter schools that lengthen their school day.