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‘We need to finish this,’ Brizard says of teacher contract talks

Jean-Claude Brizard arrives RoberClemente Academy first day school Tuesday Sept. 4 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Jean-Claude Brizard arrives at Roberto Clemente Academy on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 5, 2012 6:10AM

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard Tuesday kicked off a long-awaited longer day systemwide by saying teacher contract talks were making progress but ``we need to finish this.``

Facing a Sep. 10 teacher strike date, Brizard said “We’re making steady progess but at the same time we need to finish this. The stress on families is tremendous–parents and children, Brizard said before ringing the school bell at Clemente High School.

In Mount Greenwood, Becky Malone has sharpened the required 50 No. 2 pencils for her second-grader and folded the new gym uniform for her fourth-grader — just a small part of her long list of back-to-school supplies and tasks.

Her two boys are excited about school; Malone is anxious.

“The threat of a strike looms over everyone,’’ Malone said last week. “That’s been all the talk among parents. . . . There’s so much up in the air. That’s what’s disconcerting.’’

At Chicago Public School headquarters, officials were still piecing together a contingency plan, cleared for a price tag of up to $25 million, that would offer students shelter, food and a half-day of activities at 145 schools in the event of the city’s first teachers strike in 25 years. It also opens the prospect that parents and kids would have to cross picket lines to access such schools.

If teachers strike on Sept. 10 as scheduled, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said, teachers would walk picket lines in front of the buildings where they once worked and try to leaflet parents about their cause “so they will know what we’re fighting for.’’

Talks that have festered since November continued over the Labor Day weekend.

If enough progress is made by the second day of school, the CTU’s House of Delegates, at its monthly meeting that day, could delay or retract the Sept. 10 strike date it set unanimously last week.

Hanging in the balance is the beginning of an ambitious school year.

Students will finally enjoy the longer day and year that became a cornerstone of Emanuel’s mayoral campaign. Recess — absent for decades in most CPS elementary schools — will be mandatory.

Teachers will begin teaching a tougher curriculum tied to a more rigorous “common core.’’ Some of them will face evaluations that will base part of their rating on growth in two student tests — a point of contention with teachers.

Five STEM high schools will open their doors to a new focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Their six-year curriculum, designed with help from some of the city’s technology firm giants, will carry associates degrees and a “first crack’’ at technology jobs for successful students. Emanuel got the idea for the schools from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Despite the tense start to the new school year, Matuso Marti says he feels “truly blessed’’ to be principal of the $81 million Sarah E. Goode STEM High School at 7651 S. Homan — the only STEM school to be newly constructed.

It’s modeled on a school created with help from IBM in New York. Goode partnered with IBM in Chicago to create a curriculum that ensures graduates will be ready for careers including jobs at IBM.

But if the two sides cannot resolve talks on a teachers contract that expired in June, the first four days of school could become “a thrown-away week,” said Barbara Radner, of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education.

If teachers are out more than a few days, learning could be interrupted to the point that returning teachers would have to go backward and re-teach in a year that was supposed to be distinguished by more time in school.

“To do a retreat means we have to start over, and we can’t afford to start over. We need to start and stay on the course,” Radner said.

“With all the new [initiatives] — the common core, teacher evaluations — to shut down this trajectory is like a failed mission to Mars.’’

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