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Students return to school in Evergreen Park SD 124

Kindergarten teacher Leah Herman (left) hugs Curtis Dennis Jr. as he arrives back for first day school Northeast Elementary School

Kindergarten teacher Leah Herman (left) hugs Curtis Dennis Jr. as he arrives back for the first day of school at Northeast Elementary School at 91st and California Avenue in Evergreen Park, IL on Monday October 15, 2012. The school is part of Evergreen Park School District 124, which had a strike that just ended. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 17, 2012 6:10AM



Teachers in Evergreen Park School District 124 on Monday voted 136 to 43 to approve a new contract.

Deneen Pajeau, field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, refused to provide details of the contract, not even its length, citing an agreement that neither side would do so until both approved it. The board had sought a four-year pact; teachers wanted three years.

The school board is expected to approve the contract at its meeting Wednesday night.

A two-week strike by teachers ended when negotiators reached a tentative agreement after an 11-hour session that concluded about 4:30 a.m. Friday. Students were back in school Monday after missing eight days.

Watching her 9-year-old son walk into Northeast Elementary School Monday morning, Susan Richmeier was feeling “very happy” — a feeling shared by parents, teachers and most of the 1,800 students in District 124.

“My son was starting to get a little stir-crazy. He didn’t have much to do, and he’s worried about falling behind” in his lessons, Richmeier said. “He actually likes school. He likes math and science.”

As she walked toward the building, fifth-grade teacher Kari Nee said she was “excited about getting back to work. It’s tough being away from the kids. All of us are here because we love this job, but you have to stand up for what you believe in.

“I’m really proud of this group of people that I work with. We are a small union, but we are a tough union, and we fought for what we believe in. We teach the kids to have a voice,” Nee said.

Peggy Hillhouse, a crossing guard for 14 years, said she “missed my kids.” Most parents she talked with supported the teachers, she said.

“Both of my kids grew up here and went through all 12 years (of school) here in Evergreen Park. That’s why we moved here,” Hillhouse said.

She helped Elba Martinez and her daughter, 6-year-old Angelina Rivera, cross 91st Street at Mozart Avenue. Angelina missed school so much that she actually wrote her own tests during her impromptu break, Martinez said.

“I did it all. I set it up,” Angelina, a first grader, said.

Another first grader, Ann Marie Gallagher, 6, said she missed her friends and teacher during the strike. Her father, Mike Gallagher, was fortunate. A stay-at-home dad, he didn’t have to take time off from work to watch his daughter during the strike.

Meegan Sheppard would have had to scramble for day care for third-grade daughter Jaidan Gilmore, 8, had the strike continued into this week.

“I wasn’t happy it went on so long. I think that, for the kids, they should’ve gotten it together quicker. They were out of school too long,” Sheppard said.

To keep Jaidan ready for school, the family did schoolwork at home.

“We did reading, spelling and math. She asked us to, so we kept up with it. But she enjoyed sleeping in, I’ll tell you that,” Sheppard said.

Francheska Feliciano was not as fortunate as some parents. She had to lean on friends and family to provide day care for daughter Angelina, 10, and son Amalio, 6.

“It was very hard being a working parent,” Feliciano said.

But not everyone was happy to be back in school.

Angelina, a fifth grader at Northeast, vigorously shook her head when asked if she was glad to be back.

“Of course not,” her mother said with a laugh. “It was like a mini-vacation.”



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