Chicago Principals Concerned About Possibility of Long Strike

With classes canceled for a ninth school day Tuesday, the Chicago teachers strike appears to have no end in sight.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey on Monday said the mayor seems to be “digging in for a long strike.”

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On Sunday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the union “cannot take yes for an answer.”

With the very real possibility of a prolonged work stoppage, we asked two Chicago Public Schools principals about the strike and what it will take to pick up the pieces when it eventually ends – whenever that may be.

David Belanger, principal of Hanson Park Elementary School, said both students and teachers need an end to the strike.

“Students need structure in their day. They need routine,” said Belanger, noting that when the strike does end teachers will essentially have to restart the school year. “So teachers (when the strike ends) are going to have to basically go back to the first day of school and reestablish classroom rules, expectations, routines – because students, especially elementary students, need day-to-day structured activities. It will be like restarting the school year basically.”

Belanger says it seems to him that teachers are less supportive of this strike than the work stoppage in 2012, which lasted seven days.

“I know that for the most part teachers are ready to be over with the strike and want to be back in front of their students,” said Belanger. “Most teachers are not independently wealthy. Unlike Jesse Sharkey they need to work for a living and missing a week’s pay is really going to put a financial bind on a lot of families.”

Two pregnant teachers at Hansen are concerned over losing their health insurance if the strike does not end soon, he added.

Overall, Belanger says that although he’s not privy to the inner workings of the negotiations, he doesn’t think the strike is in the best interests of students.

“Do I think this is what is best for our students at this point? Not from my standpoint because kids are missing educational instruction,” he said.

Anna Pavichevich, principal at Amundsen High School in Lincoln Square, said that while teachers have the right to strike, she’s concerned by tone of the negotiations.

“I am very concerned about the vitriolic dialogue and the rhetoric and the scare tactics,” Pavichevich said.

She said that when she wrote something supportive of CPS leadership, people wrote to commend her for her bravery.

“That tells me people are afraid to be honest and that principals are afraid that they will somehow lose the support of their staff or their community if they express confidence in CPS leadership and that is something that I don’t understand,” she said. “Currently we have the best leadership team in place, to my memory, in my 23 years in Chicago Public Schools.”

Wednesday is a key day not just because it is the deadline for school sports teams to participate in postseason playoffs – although that too is important – but because it is also the nationally scheduled PSAT test for national merit scholarships, according to Pavichevich.

“If students do not take that test on Wednesday they will be exempted from scholarship opportunities that will be offered to their peers around the country. … The deadline is the deadline. This is a nationally normed test. This is completely outside the control of CPS,” she said.

Pavichevich says the teachers she has spoken with are anxious to get back to work.

“They all just keep expressing that they miss the kids, they miss instruction and they are worried about how long this will last because they would like to come back,” said Pavichevich.

“We have to remember that the people who are out there marching believe in what they are doing and that it will benefit students. They are foregoing salaries. At least 10% of my staff come from two teacher income households so I can imagine the fear they feel about the future,” said Pavichevich. “People are afraid and sometimes they lash out in a way that does not reflect a problem solving attitude.”

Related stories:

Chicago Teachers Strike Extends to 8th Day

Special Needs Families Hope Chicago Strike Will Bring Change

No Breakthroughs Friday as Chicago Teachers Strike Heads Into Weekend

How CPS Strike is Impacting High School Seniors Applying for College

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