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CPS offers schools $100,000 bonuses for great longer-day ideas

Mayor Rahm Emanuel CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard answer reporter's questions after they toured BenjamE. Mays elementary school 838 W. Marquette

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard answer reporter's questions after they toured Benjamin E. Mays elementary school, 838 W. Marquette Rd., as it started the full school day, giving its students additional hours of instruction time. File Ph

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Updated: January 11, 2012 7:08PM

Up to 30 Chicago public schools with great ideas about how to use a longer school day this fall will receive an extra $100,000 per school under a new, privately-funded “innovation grant’’ competition announced Wednesday.

Grant winners will receive the private dollars in addition to yet unspecified stipends schools are expected to get next school year, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have vowed to stretch the school day to 7 1/2 hours systemwide.

Emanuel this week stuck by his call for a 7 1/2-hour day, even though leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union and the parent group Raise Your Hand have called 7 1/2 hours too long for some families and kids.

The number is based on what’s needed “to get kids career and college ready” and is “not arbitrary,” Emmanuel said Monday.

“Many parents have asked for longer,’’ the mayor said, adding that school board members will ultimately decide the issue.

Asked if innovation grants could only be based on 7 1/2-hour days, CPS communications chief Becky Carroll would only say Thursday that “we will announce the elementary school guidelines shortly.’’ Schools “will only be able to work within the confines of what our final guidelines will state about the length of the day,” she wrote in an email.

In a news release, Brizard said he hoped the grants “will inspire schools to think creatively about how we can best deliver instruction needed to prepare our children for college and career. We want to reward those schools that create the kind of ideas that can later serve as best practices and benefit all students in CPS.’’

Grants will be awarded to schools that present “creative, clear and credible’’ visions of a “redesigned school day” that, among other things, offers a “more rigorous curriculum;’’ expands knowledge in core content areas (reading, math, science and social studies); addresses student needs, and provides both extra help and acceleration, according to the release.

Applications are due Feb. 24. Winners will be notified by late March 2012.

Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education noted that the CPS description of grant rules did not emphasize using the longer day to provide the kind of enrichment — such as art, music, drama, daily physical education and technology courses — typical in top-scoring suburbs.

Instead, what was encouraged “looks incredibly boring’’ and could merely lead to more test prep, Woestehoff said. “It’s a $3 million propaganda ploy. It’s another effort to get schools to jump on the bandwagon of the longer school day.’’

This school year, 39 “Pioneer” pilot schools received as much as $100,000 each to try out a 7 1/2 hour day. Their teachers received lump sum stipends equivalent to a 2 percent pay boost. How much schools will receive this fall has yet to be revealed, but Carroll said Thursday by email that schools will receive something extra. How much teachers will get is subject to negotiation.

Those elementary schools that pioneered a 7 1/2 hour day in September have added 17 extra days of instruction just so far this year, CPS officials say.

Although even many critics like the idea of something longer than the current 5 3/4 hour elementary day, some question whether CPS is actively seeking the input of a cross-section of parents on exactly how long the new day should be.

“Our family has adjusted to 7 1/2 hours,’’ said Krista Sahakian, parent at Skinner North, which joined this year’s Pioneer Longer Day pilot. “Is it the ideal length? Absolutely not. I’d be happier with 6 1/2 or 7. ... The kids are so tired. They lose out on other things.’’

Rather than ask parents “What is your ideal length of the school day?” Sahakian said, “They [CPS officials] ask ‘How are you adjusting to the 7 1/2 hour day?’ The way they ask the question, they get the answer they want.”

CPS’s Carroll said CPS will be taking all the feedback it receives into consideration before finalizing its longer-day guidelines and “every voice and opinion matters.’’

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