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Chicago Teachers Hopeful For Future After Strike Ends And Classes Resume


Chicago Public Schools students were back in their classrooms today for the first time in two weeks. Union and district leaders reached a deal Wednesday. Teachers have been striking over problems the district has faced for years, including the need for more social workers, nurses and school counselors. WBEZ's Adriana Cardona-Maguigad was at Lara Academy, a South Side school, on the first day back.



ADRIANA CARDONA-MAGUIGAD, BYLINE: This morning at Lara Academy was joyful. Students and teachers had big smiles as they arrived. Assistant Principal Rocio Badillo is outside greeting students.

ROCIO BADILLO: We're happy to be back to normal and get going again, yeah.

CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: The building was open during the 11 days teachers were on strike to give students a place to go, but they didn't show up.

BADILLO: It was sad and devastating every day seeing our teachers go through that, and our kids, too. So we're so happy. Are we happy to be back, guys?


BADILLO: Yes, we are.

CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Students didn't have much to do at home aside from watching TV, running errands and doing chores. Many parents took their kids to work and quickly ran out of ideas on how to keep their kids entertained. They weren't the only ones getting restless.


PAUL SCHISSLER: Welcome back. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible).

CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Principal Paul Schissler kept a close eye on the news each day.

SCHISSLER: Well, all I was doing was watching Twitter and waiting to hear and trying to get a sense of what was happening around. You know, and we would greet the - we would go out and visit the teachers, you know, try to keep a positive attitude with them - spent lots of money on donuts and coffee during the week for them. And - hey, Irma, welcome back.

CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Teachers fought hard to get a nurse and a social worker in every school. And at Lara Academy, that's a big win. The majority of students there are low-income. Some deal with violence in their neighborhood.

SCHISSLER: Well, I think having a social worker here on a regular basis is going to help. I'm glad that now we're putting some dollars to it so we can make sure that the kids that need support are getting support.

CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: He's also happy about adding more special education case managers.

SCHISSLER: Like, we have a wonderful counselor who does the case managing, or had been doing the case managing. Now my assistant principal took it over. But it is a full-time job.

CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Aside from more support staff, the union negotiated for $35 million to reduce overcrowded classrooms. They also got a 16% raise over five years. But there were other demands the teachers didn't get. The mayor argued the city's budget couldn't support everything the union wanted, like an additional 30 minutes of prep time. Back in the classroom, fourth grade teacher Fransisco Nunez says he's worried about students now lagging behind academically.

FRANSISCO NUNEZ: This was a really rough two weeks. And then you lose a lot of instruction time that the kids, especially some of the kids that really enjoy, and this might be their only safe zone.

SCHISSLER: He welcomes students as if they were back from vacation. Some kids joke.


NUNEZ: Anybody go anywhere over the strike?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I went to my house.


CARDONA-MAGUIGAD: Teachers still need to ratify the agreement. For now, Nunez and other teachers will be busy making up for the days missed.

For NPR News, I'm Adriana Cardona-Maguigad in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers Chicago schools, the classrooms and youth culture.