Moving forward after Dist. 23 strike won't be easy, other districts say
Relations between the Prospect Heights District 23 school board and its union got very frosty as a teachers strike dragged on for days with no apparent progress at the negotiating table.
While the announcement at 6:30 a.m. Saturday of a tentative agreement could lead to resumption of classes Monday, the hard feelings that have been building since negotiations began in February and which came to a head in a seven-day walkout likely will take longer to resolve.
Bringing parents, children, teachers and administrators back to a common purpose after a strike can be a challenge, school officials who have gone through teacher walkouts in recent years say.
In October 2014, Waukegan Unit District 60 experienced one of the longest strikes in suburban history with students out of the classroom for nearly a month.
"It was and continues to be important that the events which led to the strike not be forgotten," said Kathy Schwarz, Waukegan union president. "However, in order to move forward, both administrators and teachers agreed that our immediate goal was to put the strike behind us and focus on instructing our students." But, just because a deal was eventually signed didn't mean all sides happily came back together.
"It was very difficult to move forward, but we have to be the leaders," said Superintendent Don Batiste. "There are always hard feelings on everybody's part. But, we have to not take personally what happened during the strike."
Batiste said he tried to embrace everyone as they came off the strike line, but said he knew that not everyone was feeling similarly congenial at the time.
"The sooner the strike ends and you are able to get back into the classroom the better because that's where the real work is," he said. "When we came back from being out for almost 30 days, we had significant work to be done on the academic side, but also just to mend the fences that had been tattered and torn during the strike."
He said there's no magic formula to getting past a strike, but time and professionalism play key roles.
"It is hard to mend the fences, but we were fortunate to have professional behavior on both sides," agreed Grayslake Elementary District 46 Superintendent Ellen Correll, referring to District 46's three-day strike in January 2013.
"The teachers also shielded the students from their concerns or feelings," she said.
Prospect Heights District 23 Superintendent Deb Wilson said last week she has never personally been through a strike before. She saw both sides grow more tense and emotional with each day.
"It will be a process," she said of the need to bring both sides back together. "But, getting people back in the buildings is the first step."
Even that can be a challenge. In the Waukegan strike, a deal was reached late Wednesday, but because of the need to get food services and busing back up and running, students weren't back in class until the following Monday
"It's a lot of logistical things when you are out of school for an extended period of time," said Nick Alajakis, spokesman for District 60. "It's almost like you're returning from summer break or winter break except you don't know the start date."
Wilson said that since District 23 is smaller, resuming classes Monday if teachers approve the deal Sunday won't be a problem. She said food and bus services are on standby and "ready and waiting" to go back as soon as the strike ends.
"We just need the students," she said.