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Let’s celebrate putting kids first

David Vitale president Chicago Board Educatitalks reporters last month after board decided reject fact-finder's report Chicago Public Schools contract negotiations.

David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, talks to reporters last month after the board decided to reject the fact-finder's report on the Chicago Public Schools contract negotiations. | Chandler West~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:14AM

While there is still much work to be done, the recent agreement between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union is cause for celebration. It guarantees that our students will have a full school day on Day One of this year. They will get more time in the classroom with their teachers, which is a gateway to boosting student achievement.

For too many years, our children have been at a competitive disadvantage with their peers across the country because CPS has one of the shortest school days and years. But it’s not just our students — principals and teachers also need more time to deliver the kind of quality instruction students need.

In the 2003 contract negotiations with the CTU, while I was CPS’ chief administrative officer, we tried to change this trend. We were not successful. This agreement not only reverses the trend, but puts our children on par with their peers in other major urban districts with respect to the time they spend with their teachers in a classroom. It also provides greater opportunity and tools for school leaders and teachers to provide every child the quality education they deserve. Lengthening and transforming the school day is an accomplishment we can all be proud of.

It was not easy to get here. Over a year ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel set the goal of providing Chicago’s children a full, quality school day that would provide them the same educational opportunity other kids around the country enjoy. CPS management reached out to parents, teachers, school leaders, national and education experts, and students for their input. These constituencies were engaged through task forces, community meetings, webinars, numerous Chicago Board of Education meetings, and at the collective bargaining table. The public process was often noisy and messy.

We all learned about the complexity and challenges of such an undertaking. There was substantial give and take. But in the end we achieved an outcome that not only met the mayor’s objective, but one that the vast majority of our constituencies could agree with. We collectively proved that we could put the interests of Chicago’s children ahead of the self-interest of adults.

To ensure that the additional time leads to boosting academic achievement, strategic investments have been made to build a high quality school day that is well-rounded, with more time for reading, math, science, world languages and enrichment like arts, music and PE. And all elementary students will now have a full lunch and recess, giving them the time they need to be kids — run around, play and return to the classroom refreshed and ready to learn. Coupled with the additional time, implementation of the Common Core State Standards will bring more rigor to our curriculum to better prepare children for academic success, and the new instructional framework will fundamentally change and improve the quality of instruction.

In many ways, our work has just begun. We must conclude contract negotiations with the CTU. We must proceed with the challenging work of implementing the Full School Day, introducing the common core standards and a new teacher evaluation system. We must fulfill the promise of improving our high schools with an infusion of new, high-quality options for families, such as International Baccalaureate and STEM programs. And we must deal with significant fiscal challenges.

But we can take on these challenges knowing that we collectively, as the agreement shows, put the interest of our children first. That’s a cause for a brief moment of celebration.

David Vitale is president of the board of the Chicago Public Schools.

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