Today, hundreds of thousands of CPS students returned to the classroom for the start of what will hopefully be an exciting and productive 2013-14 school year for the entire District.
The decision to begin school before Labor Day marked a significant change for CPS, as did the fact that all students began school on the same day. The universal start date was the result of the District’s shift from a two-track system to a single school calendar – a decision that should simplify planning for families.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett rang the opening bell at Fisk Elementary, which is one of the District’s 51 welcoming schools. All eyes have been on the approximately 12,700 students who were affected by the District’s school utilization crisis, as their smooth transition to these welcoming schools has been a major priority for CPS during the past several months.
Shirley Scott, principal of Ellington Elementary, worked diligently with her staff to make sure that students from Emmet and Key Elementary Schools, which closed at the conclusion of the 2012-13 school year, felt at home in their new surroundings.
“We had welcome signs and balloons everywhere this morning to make sure that our new students felt welcome,” she said. “We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible today and every day.”
This includes the parents, who have been invited to attend Back to School night at Ellington later this week so that they can get a better sense of the school.
“For the most part, parents who have come in to enroll their children have seemed very happy with Ellington,” said Principal Scott. “Later this week, they’ll have a chance to speak with teachers and tour the school so that they have a better idea of all we have to offer their children.”
Many of the students entering welcoming schools today arrived via Safe Passage routes – paths that have been designated by CPS and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) as the safest option for children as they travel to and from school. Safe Passage has significantly reduced the crime rate near participating CPS schools since 2009, and was expanded by $7.7 million to include all welcoming schools beginning this fall. The 600 Safe Passage workers who have been assigned to these schools will line their routes during both morning and afternoon hours, monitoring students and helping to ensure that they reach their destinations safely.
“Student safety is among our District’s top priorities on the first day of school and every day,” said Jadine Chou, CPS’ Chief Officer for Safety and Security. “The workers stationed along our Safe Passage routes have been specially trained and are ready to help keep our students safe as they travel to and from school.”
Once they arrive at school, new students will be able to take advantage of the many investments CPS has made in welcoming schools, including libraries, air conditioning, new or upgraded science and technology labs, and access to advanced digital supports such as iPads. They will also be provided with social and emotional supports to help them become fully integrated in their school communities.
“For months we’ve been working with students, parents and staff from sending and welcoming schools to help them get to know each other and become familiar with the planned changes to their school communities,” said Pat Walsh, who has led the District’s Principal Transition Coordinators in their efforts to successfully blend school cultures. “Through many conversations and cultural integration events, we’ve done our best to make sure that students feel comfortable in their new learning environments and are excited about the start of a new school year.”
Walsh, who spent today traveling among three welcoming schools in the District’s Rock Island Network, was pleased with what she saw on the first day.
“This is indeed a successful transition for all stakeholders,” she said. “The buildings look great, students are being instructed, and there are team-building exercises happening in the classrooms. We’re seeing a wonderful sense of community developing in these schools.”