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New CPS chief: Increasing recess “something we have to work on’’

Updated: May 6, 2011 4:10PM

Bringing recess to more Chicago public schools is “something we have to work on’’ and an activity that could be folded into a longer school day, newly-tapped Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said Thursday night.

During his three years as superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., Brizard pushed a new policy that would help bring recess to every elementary school as part of a Healthi Kids campaign, Brizard told the Chicago Sun-Times following an event at the Field Museum.

With many Chicago elementary schools saddled with 20-minute lunches, no regular recess and as little as one physical education class a week, recess is “something we have to work on’’ in Chicago, Brizard said.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s call for a 60- to 90-minute-longer school day could make that happen, he said following NBC-TV’s Job One: Preparing America to Compete in the 21st Century.

“A longer school day will allow … more literacy, more math and more recess,’’ said Brizard, who is expected to take office before the end of the month. “But we need a longer school day – a much longer school day.’’

Earlier, Brizard was among a select group of spectators at a special NBC-TV Education Nation program asked to take questions submitted by other members of the audience on index cards. Asked about recess, Brizard endorsed it as not only part of “being a kid” but of “being healthy.’’

Brizard sat in the front row of spectators, between Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary for communications at the U.S. Department of Education and former CPS communications boss, and Beth Swanson, who will serve as Emanuel’s mayoral deputy chief of staff for education and as his City Hall liaison to Chicago Public Schools.

Kicking off the program, was Emanuel, who ran briskly up to the stage of the Field Museum auditorium and said Brizard will not be taking on CPS alone. Emanuel said he appointed “a whole new leadership suite’’ of 17 people, including a new seven-member school board, because the system “needed an education surge’’ to “change our schools.’’

Later, during a panel discussion, participant Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, said that 90 percent of incoming City Colleges freshmen are “not college ready’’ and need at least one remedial class. Half of that 90 percent need remediation in math, reading and writing, she said.

“That’s a huge issue,’’ Hyman said. “That’s why 54 percent of our population leave us and don’t complete one semester credit hour in three years.’’

Incoming Chicago School Board member Penny Pritzker, of the billionaire Chicago Pritzker family, told the panel she was “optimistic’’ about the future due to a growing awareness of the U.S. need to boost its education system to make it more competitive in a global economy.

“People are talking frankly about numbers and results,’’ Pritzker said.

Pritzker said she was impressed with a pilot program started under former Schools CEO Ron Huberman that added 90 minutes in 15 schools using online work in math and reading and help from mostly non-teaching staff.

Young children were engrossed by the computerized program, sitting “absolutely silently, doing English and math,’’ Pritzker said. Two fourth-grade boys who competed against each other all year to finish the fourth-grade online math program were ready to advance to fifth by December, she said.

“There’s opportunity here,’’ Pritzker said. “We just have to take our ingenuity and do it.’’

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