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Emanuel urges parents to demand longer school day

First day school STEM Magnet Academy.  Each student released colorful balleach entered school walking special red carpet after Mayor

First day of school at STEM Magnet Academy. Each student released a colorful ballon, and each entered the school, walking on special red carpet after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Principal Maria J. McManus during welcome and bell ringing, Tuesday, September 6, 2011 | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 9, 2011 11:28AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel focused on parents Tuesday in his quest for a longer school day, saying they should demand the extra hours teachers already approved outside the Chicago Teachers Union contract at STEM Magnet Academy and two other schools.

“Three schools took this step forward. We hope other schools will do the same,” Emanuel said as he kicked off a new school year at STEM, a new magnet school in an old Chicago Public School building.

“Most important, the parents want this,” said Emanuel, whose campaign promises included a longer school day. “Parents need to ask their schools, ‘How can we get the same thing?’”

Meanwhile, CPS officials Tuesday invited all elementary schools to join the “Longer School Day Pioneers Program,” which adds 90 minutes of daily instructional time this school year in exchange for pro-rated teacher raises of 2 percent. Plus, schools that join in September will net an extra $150,000; those that start in January will get $75,000, a CPS news release explained.

To join the pilot, a simple majority of teachers must vote to waive the current Chicago Teachers Union contract. CTU President Karen Lewis has urged against such waivers, saying the union prefers to plan and negotiate how best to add time next school year rather than be publicly “bullied” into a slapdash plan this year.

Even so, STEM, Melody Elementary and Skinner North teachers approved waivers on Friday.

Last month, Emanuel revealed he had recruited 40 ministers to use the power of their pulpits to push for a longer school day this year — months before a new law gives CPS the power to unilaterally impose it. Tuesday, Emanuel called on parents to take up the cause.

However, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey questioned how school board members could fail to find the money to fund previously negotiated 4 percent teacher raises worth $80 million if Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard now contends he could find, if necessary, $15-$30 million for a longer school day pilot this year.

The union is exploring whether legal action is possible, based on a pay raise recision vote that lacked “good faith,” Sharkey said.

Board members can cancel a raise if they have a “reasonable expectation” CPS cannot afford it, but not “if you don’t feel like it or there’s something else you want to do with the money,” Sharkey said.

“The decision not to fund the raises is a political decision, and now we see proof that for something which the mayor has made a priority, CEO Brizard is willing to ‘find the money.’” Sharkey said.

Three hours after electing a union delegate Friday, STEM teachers voted 13 to 4 to join the longer-day pilot starting Sept. 26, said STEM Principal Maria McManus.

“Some of their colleagues are calling them ‘sellouts,’ ” McManus said. “We did it because we felt the kids here need it.”

One teacher said the idea developed “organically” among teachers as they realized the school’s extra engineering and technology classes, starting in kindergarten, left less time for other subjects.

Under its tailor-made plan, STEM is merely boosting the minutes per class originally planned. Reading and math each will expand from 70 minutes to 90 minutes, and five minutes will be added to other classes, including physical education, art, technology and engineering.

Many STEM parents Tuesday were excited about the idea.

“I’m so happy,” said parent Marci Hendricks, whose son started first grade at STEM Tuesday. “I just feel [my son] needs it. He’s very smart, and I feel the extra 90 minutes will add to his education and make him even smarter.

“I don’t see any negatives.”

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