Although a deal was reportedly near, on Thursday the Chicago Teachers Union strike continued with teachers picketing in front of their schools for improved work conditions.
With numerous honks of support from passing traffic in the background, Progress Illinois spoke with striking teachers in front of Wells Community Academy High School, located on Ashland Avenue on Chicago’s Northwest Side, about why they are striking and what they hope the strike will accomplish.
Gregory Konieczko, high school biology teacher:
“We are really here for working conditions, tenure rights, proper evaluation and to be more involved in the reform process. This has been a very top-down process. The school board says we have been involved in the process, but in reality the management strategy has been ‘this is what you are going to do and you are going to do it.’ They have gone way above the state mandates for the evaluation processes.”
Patricia Mendoza, high school Spanish language and ESL teacher:
"We’re asking for a fair contract and within the contract there are a lot of points that are being discussed. Right now, we’re debating on our raise, of course, and we need better conditions in our buildings for our students. Right now, we are lacking air conditioning. There are only 10 classrooms that have air conditioning in the classrooms, so students are sweating during summer classes.
“We are also fighting against the evaluation system that they are trying to set up for us. While the evaluation system they are proposing is based on students’ knowledge, it is not realistic because all the kids come in with different levels of knowledge and everybody has a different pace of learning this is not considered in the evaluation. We cannot rely on that to be a tool to assess teachers.
“Another point we are talking about is the longer school day. It was decided that schools would provide extra time for the children, but they never took that into consideration for the raise. Instead they are proposing the raise that was offered last year but was never received.”
Gal Jung, high school CTE teacher:
“We’re hoping to make Chicago Public Schools understand that we need a fair contract and that it is not all about us. Knowing how hot it can get, when you’re asking students to be there in August weather when it’s 98°F or above, the children are boiling and you lose attention spans.”
Jean Sontag, high school history and special education teacher:
“Some of my main concerns are that the media is not exposing the facts correctly ... The issues, as a special education person that has worked with these children for 30 years, is that I’ve sat by and watched all our services dwindle, such as social work and nurses. We have a nurse only one day or one-and-a-half days a week and we have over 600 students. With social workers, it’s one per 1,000 students. With speech pathologists, it’s one per 1,000 students. These are all services that kids in the inner city need and we don’t have them.
“The fact that they can control the hours and then not pay us for an extended day, I don’t understand it. Most teachers are here 10 hours a day anyway, they all work longer hours. I average about 10 hours a day during the school year and that doesn’t include take-home work.”