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CPS teachers making home visits? New CEO Jean-Claude Brizard floats idea

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits Officer Donald J. Marquez Charter School participates town hall discussiwith students teachers parents. Schools CEO Jean-Claude

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits Officer Donald J. Marquez Charter School and participates in a town hall discussion with students, teachers and parents. Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard,Elizabeth Swanson, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor for Education, Emanuel and UNO CEO Juan Rangel observed teacher Heather Aspen's 1st grade class. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:32AM

Chicago Public Schools could lengthen the school year — without paying teachers more money — by turning professional development days when schools are closed to students into teaching days, under charter school-style changes floated Thursday by new schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

If Brizard gets his way, teachers could also lose their automatic pay raises for experience and credentials and be asked to pay two “home visits” each year to build a “better connection” to students’ parents or guardians.

The network of nine charter schools operated by the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) announced Thursday that it is adding fifteen instructional days — without increasing the number of teacher work days — by having teaching take place on days when schools had in the past closed for teachers’ professional development.

“We’ve made them instructional days,’’ said UNO CEO Juan Rangel. “And we’ve restructured the organization to allow our principals and master teachers to spend all of their time in the classroom so we can have individualized professional development” by providing constant feedback to teachers, said Rangel, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top Hispanic campaign operative.

“Our teachers are actually getting more professional development than what they used to have. But our children are also getting more instructional time.”

If the Chicago Teachers Union contract will allow it, Brizard said he “absolutely” wants to replicate the UNO model and implement a longer school day and school year championed by Emanuel and authorized by state lawmakers.

“We’re trying to implement this as quickly as possible,” Brizard said, after a roundtable discussion Thursday with parents, students and teachers at an UNO charter school in Brighton Park.

“We have 193 days of schools open, but only 170 days that kids can attend schools. I’m not sure what happens in those 23 days the kids are not there, but we’ve got to change that.”

Emanuel added, “They looked at it and realized there was a better way to get more instructional time. It was an innovative approach. … I’m gonna be asking the same thing throughout city government.”

That’s not the only revolutionary change Brizard wants to make for teachers who have already seen a scheduled 4 percent pay raise cancelled for lack of funding.

When asked how a system grappling with a $712 million deficit could afford to compensate teachers for more time in the classroom, Brizard talked about also eliminating the pay raises of between 1 and 5 percent teachers get for adding experience or boosting their credentials.

“I don’t look at teaching as an hourly rate. They’re not doing the kinds of work you see by grocery store clerks. These are professionals. We talk about paying people for a year’s salary,” he said.

“I’m one [who has] talked about really changing the structure of teacher pay — moving away from steps, moving away from lanes — [to implement] a differentiated pay system that rewards excellence and really elevates the profession.”

Brizard said he’s also dead serious about following UNO’s lead by making two visits each year to the homes of every student to build “a much better connection between the home and the school.

“Four-hundred thousand kids in CPS, 25,000 teachers. If you count principals, assistant principals, office staff — if we each took 10 kids and promised to visit one a month, can you imagine? We could do it, too. … I know it’s possible,” he said.

Brizard bristled when asked whether he considered it safe to send teachers into crime-ridden Chicago neighborhoods.

“Our kids go there every single day, so why not?” he said. “As a teacher, I visited schools. I visited homes. I worked in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was not a cupcake neighborhood. If our kids go there every single day, why shouldn’t our adults be there, too?”

The Chicago Teachers Union dismissed the changes floated Thursday as “half-baked.”

“The day after the Chicago Board of Education voted to hike the pay of its executives and a week after breaking its promise to teachers who work 50- and 60-hour weeks … Brizard and Emanuel are now proposing half-baked ideas in the press rather than sitting down with the people who spend their time in the classroom to come up with reasonable solutions,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. Instead of “negotiating in the press,” Sharkey advised CPS to “help ensure that the $250 million in TIF’s tax-increment-financing districts] and $35 million in toxic interest rate swaps [hedging against fluctuations in borrowing rates] are returned in full to the children of Chicago.”

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