Local parents, kids, teachers deal with strike

As teachers strike, a delicate dance and hope for solutions

09/10/2012 11:35 PM

By Ben Meyerson

4 Comments - Add Your Comment

Ryan Poelker, a University of Illinois at Chicago student, stands with a group of protestors outside Smyth Elementary on the edge of University Village Monday morning. Poelker said he's standing with the teachers because his dad was a shop teacher.
Photos by BEN MEYERSON/Staff

Chicago Teachers Union members march in front of South Loop Elementary Monday morning as kids inside are guided through stopgap programming by Chicago Public Schools administrators.

It was a beautiful, crisp fall day Monday morning, just the kind of day that kids, parents and teachers think of fondly when they picture the first week of school. But on Plymouth Court, there weren’t many kids coming to South Loop Elementary.

Instead, a cluster of a few dozen teachers and union supporters decked out in red hoodies and T-shirts gathered around the school’s main entrance, holding banners and signs spelling out their displeasure with Chicago Public Schools officials.

It was the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike, which is putting public education at a standstill in the city until union and school district chiefs finish hammering out a new contract.

The majority of public schools around the city are closed at least through Tuesday (with the exception of charters), but South Loop Elementary is one of the few buildings that’s being kept open as part of CPS’ Children First plan.

Officials had initially been bracing for a mass of children to show up at buildings as desperate parents sought for somewhere to keep their kids. But as of 9 a.m. Monday, South Loop only had 48 kids show up, according to principal Tara Shelton. Most were already South Loop students, with a few from the National Teachers Academy, Jackson, Skinner and Greeley, she said.

“We have the computer lab open, we have the theater room open, we have the gym open for sports and physical activities, we have arts and crafts, we have the game room open and we have the preschool room open. We’ll also have recess after the strikers leave,” Shelton said.

“We’re just hoping everything ends quickly,” she added. “So far, it’s been a smooth transition — there haven’t been any problems at all. We were ready; It seems like the strikers were ready also, and everyone’s doing what they think is best.”

But for South Loop parent El Chen, the strike is a major inconvenience. Though she’s happy she can still take her second- and fifth-grade daughters to their normal school for some kind of activity, she has to go to work late and leave early to make sure her kids are taken care of.

“It’s just really chaotic,” Chen said. “[My husband and I] both work, so it’s really hard to for us, especially with the economy like it is. Without knowing how it is, I can’t just keep taking days off.”

“I don’t hear clearly that the differences are so bad that they have to strike. I hold both sides accountable,” she said. “I just don’t understand why they can’t keep on negotiating while the kids go to school. I know there’s differences, but grown-ups need to do it in a better way.”

Further west, at Smyth Elementary on the edge of University Village, a group of a few dozen protestors gathered outside the building at 14th Street and Blue Island Avenue. As fire department vehicles drove back and forth past the strikers, time and time again they got honks from their mighty horns.

Inside the building was another group of students participating in Children First. But Vanessa Reese-Clark, a fifth grade teacher at Smyth and the school’s union representative, said that only about 45 students had shown up that day, by her estimate.

When asked how their relationship was with the school’s principal, Ron Whitmore, another teacher in the crowd said there were no hard feelings. Though Whitmore was still at work inside the school, the teacher said he had brought them Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee that morning — both of which many in the group were still happily eating and drinking.

Whitmore declined to comment to Chicago Journal Monday morning.

Reese-Clark said she and the school’s teachers would be out in front of the school until there was a new contract. She hadn’t given her kids too much extra work, but they had a homework packet, she said.

South Loop principal Shelton was confident that as soon as a contract was signed, her staff and kids would pick up again quickly.

“I’m fortunate enough to work with a great group of staff, so I know when this ends, we’ll be right back on track,” Shelton said. “They know our purpose is to support students, so they’ll be back.”

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By Anonymous
Posted: 09/15/2012 6:49 PM

My heart goes out to the parents and students affected by the Chicago Teachers Strike. As a former teacher and now a Mom of eight, I wanted to do something to aid Moms right now while this infernal strike is going on. Chicago Teacher’s Strike: A Mom’s Guide to Education Choice: Free Stuff is what I’ve made available if you are a Mom affected by the strike. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI7M7n6ZJZQ

By Jason from Rochester NY
Posted: 09/14/2012 12:17 PM

I do so appologise for Brizzard... He brings to the table only Hatian style Dictatorship. He truly cause more problems and never provided a solution here in Rochester NY. He left us to go to your neck of the woods. He would if he could make every school a charter school and run the union out of town! He isn't for the children or teachers... he is only about profit for those governing the education! He would sell schools to Disney so he could move on to another district and do it again!

By Mike from Printers Row
Posted: 09/12/2012 10:00 AM

My children are grown, but I pay taxes to cover other children. I feel the CTU is asking way too much from the city at a time when the city can least afford any tax increases. From what I have seen concerning school performances, Chicago's schoolchildren might be better off with a new batch of teachers, preferably non-union.