Friday, September 23, 2011

Teachers and Students

All over Chicago, bloggers, message boarders, reporters and post-school playgrounds are abuzz with news of waiver votes happening at schools scattered throughout the city. For my family, the extended school day is nothing new.

What is new is that CPS paying for it. Or, more accurately, the teachers at our school voted to give up their stipend and take the flat 2 percent payout + $150,000 in discretionary funds of the Pioneer Program in exchange for teaching school for an additional 45 minutes (to our already extended day) each day. Starting Monday, The Boy and The Girl will attend school from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., giving them an extra 5 minutes for lunch and 40 total minutes added to the music, art, technology and physical education that they already receive, giving them a full 60 minutes to explore these subjects. They'll retain the daily 90-minute literacy and math blocks that make up the core of their instructional day. 

There is much debate over the extended day and public education in general these days in public forums and private living rooms and everywhere in between. Unfortunately, in education policy--as in parenting--we may only see the effects of our immediate actions 10 or 20 years down the line. But, I am fairly confident that a 7.5-hour day, structured in the above manner, will afford my children the kind of education I think that they--and their peers--need to become productive members of society in 16+ years. I believe that this new longer day will look nothing like the CPS-as-babysitter model feared by many.

And more importantly, the teachers at my children's school believe that this longer day is beneficial to the children. So much so that 83 percent of them voted to take a significant pay cut. In light of this, I am disappointed to learn that the 2011 Blue Ribbon Commission recommended that teachers pursue children-of-teacher admission to their schools as a benefit through CPS' Human Capital division (page 4). Won't someone please think about the teachers?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fathers and School

Last May, Grandma Texas came to visit during a school week. She came with me on a Thursday afternoon to pick up The Boy, The Girl and The Tot (Who Isn't) from school and her observation about life at the kids' urban elementary school struck me as odd: she was surprised to see so many fathers at school. She thought that this was perhaps a Chicago thing, but more recent news makes me think it's yet another sign of school success.

Perhaps it's because The Dad has worked from home since we moved to Chicago 9 years ago, or the acquaintance of a fair number of police officers and fire fighters (both male and female) and nurses, but a sizable population of involved fathers has never struck me as odd. And fathers at our school are involved. And more to the point, their involvement is visible and tangible, regardless of individual race, educational level, marital status, address, generation, age or socioeconomic status, fathers are very involved at our school. They drop off their kids, pick up their kids, attend parent-education events, lead fundraising, chaperone field trips, direct traffic, volunteer in class, read books, coach extracurricular sports and bring special activities (like the Pilot Light Chefs) to our school.

I've always taken this for granted, but it's actually anomalous in Chicago today. Per new CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard, such involvement is so rare in some neighborhoods as to be bizarre. In some areas of the city, in fact, according to Brizard, census data show that there are some neighborhoods where there are no males between the ages of 18 and 35 living there. They are all either incarcerated or dead, he said.

Although my father was not intimately involved in my early elementary years in the early 80s, I feel fortunate that I cannot really imagine a world bereft of dads.  And I thank goodness that my kids--and their classmates--do not have to either.