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Emanuel, Brizard Tout Longer School Day As Year Begins For Some Schools

UPDATED 08/13/12 11:11 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A teacher strike is still a possibility next month, but on Monday morning, classes began as scheduled at about one third of the schools in the Chicago Public Schools system.

As WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports, 243 schools on the Track E, or year-round schedule, are now in session with their new school year beginning.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports


CBS 2's Susanna Song reports Mayor Rahm Emanuel was out ringing the bell welcoming children to school at Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut St. He was excited that a longer day means more reading and writing for students.

"Because of our longer school day and longer school year, for the first time, we're going to have 45 minutes of specialized reading time at the end of the day for every student, which we did not have before," the mayor said.

Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard also rang the opening bell at one of the schools that opened Monday – Linblom Math & Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave. Speaking on the CBS 2 Morning News, he also emphasized the importance of the longer school day.

"It's going to be a great year, especially given the fact that kids here at Lindblom are going to have a longer school day. They're going to have a lot more in terms of enrichment and support across the school year," he said.

Brizard said the longer school day will be 'very, very valuable to our teachers and to our students," particularly as the schools look to implement a new common core curriculum with a new level of academic rigor.

At Lindblom, not all students are singing its praises. The excitement of the first day of class was combined with the anxiety over a longer day.

"It seems like at 3:04 when we used to get out last year, we were mentally exhausted. So these extra 44 minutes are just going to make it a lot harder," student Salem Abughnaim tells CBS 2's Roseanne Tellez.

Meanwhile,  the question remains whether classes will continue, and whether students who start in September will start on time.

Over the summer, teachers represented by the Chicago Teachers Union voted to authorize a strike if negotiators do not come to terms on a new contract.

The union has reached a deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration on how to craft a longer school day. But other issues remain unresolved, and the union is keeping open the option of a strike before the rest of the schools open on Sept. 4. Pay and performance evaluations are among the issues that remain unsettled.

Last week, the union sent out a news release. Under the headline, "Update on contract negotiations," the release reads, "Contract is not settled," and, "Members continue to prepare for a work stoppage."

But Brizard remains optimistic.

"The agreement on the full school day should be a good point for our parents to see how we are making progress," he said. "We've been working through about 400-plus issues since last November. We have a few big ones left. I'm still optimistic and hopeful to get this done before Labor Day."

Under the law, the union must give the district a 10-day notice of its intent to strike.

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