EXTRA had the opportunity to talk to Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education about issues that have been in Chicago’s limelight recently. Via a phone conversation, Ruiz discussed longer school days, bridging the achievement gap for Latino students and a possible strike by the Chicago Teachers’ Union.
• Right now, the priority for Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers’ Union is to get a signed contract settled, said Ruiz. In the recent weeks, there have been talks about teachers striking as well as recent teacher demonstrations at particular schools. Among other things, Ruiz is worried about the children who eat at school; sometimes getting their three meals for the day. If the teachers should strike, Ruiz says the board is prepared with facilities and options for the students.
• The school day has been extended. Grammar schools will now be in session for seven hours a day while high schools will be in school for seven and a half hours a day. This means more room for learning, activities and raising the bar. In addition to an increase in math, reading and technology, Ruiz said that many schools are now adding recess to their curriculum, which they didn’t have before.
• Turn-around schools mean that entire staffs are pulled from a school and a completely new staff is implemented. Recently, there have been protests against those changes in particular schools. Ruiz says that CPS always looks at the best interest of the children in the community. Usually, turn-around schools are outcomes of the potential that the school has to perform better and changes are usually led by people in the community. “We don’t want to impose anything on folks,” said Ruiz, but at the same time, says that Chicago cannot afford the lack of success. “Students are not advancing. We’re falling behind,” he said.
• When it comes to the Latino community, research found that only 1 in 3 Latino students are enrolled in early childhood education, states the Latino Policy Forum’s website. This inhibits the achievement gap among Latinos. The Latino Policy Forum also found that “Latino youth are as likely to drop out of high school as they are to finish, a troubling statistic, given that 1 in 5 students in Illinois schools is Latino.” Consequently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a few weeks ago that the City of Chicago will be putting forth $10 million for more early childhood education slots. The task force designated to this issue is focusing on high-need areas to help and encourage students to succeed and graduate from high school. “Early childhood education is the great equalizer and will get them to school level,” said Ruiz.