There appears to be a light at the end of Chicago's teacher strike tunnel, but parents probably shouldn't bank on returning their kids to school until next week.
Ahead of 9:30 a.m. negotiations Thursday, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said it's "highly unlikely" students will return to school Friday, even after a successful round of Wednesday night negotiations.
Lewis said she hopes an agreement can be reached by the end of the day, the fourth day of the strike, but said the deal would still need approval from the House of Delegates. "I think we still have too much on the table," Lewis said. "The House of Delegates would not vote on one part of this."
As for a Monday return, Lewis told reporters she's hoping hard.
"Oh, I'm praying, praying, praying. I'm on my knees for that, please," Lewis said. "Yes, I'm hoping for Monday. That would be good for us."
CPS chief education advisor Barbara Byrd-Bennett remained more hopeful and said she was still aiming for students back in class by Friday.
Wednesday talks saw both sides of a bitter contract impasse get closer to an agreement in the city's first teacher strike in 25 years. Both Chicago School Board president David Vitale and Lewis left talks with smiles on their faces and, that night, hinted at a Friday return to class.
"I'm smiling," Lewis said. "I'm very happy. It's a lot better than it was."
When asked what parents should plan for, Lewis advised staying the course another day. "For sure plan for something for your children [Thursday]," Lewis said, "and let's hope for Friday."
Negotiations wrapped up around 11:30 p.m., and both CPS and the CTU said significant progress was made. Most of the time was spent working on two major issues: layoff recalls and a new teacher evaluation system the union believes could result in thousands of teachers losing their jobs.
"We had a very productive evening," Vitale said, "really good discussions and proposals on the most difficult issues that we face."
"We made significant progress on the teacher evaluation side of the equation," Byrd-Bennett told NBC Chicago. "Clearly we're remaining consistent with not wanting to lower the standards for our children. ... I think there were really good discussions."
But Lewis said Thursday, there's still much work to be done.
"We haven't even talked about the professional development side," she said. "We want to make sure this is done right. Doing something fast is not the way to go. Haste makes waste."
The movement toward a deal came after a day of rallies and ongoing frustration among parents, striking teachers and negotiators.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on teachers to return to class during contract talks, and CPS expressed concern over a "silly" comment Lewis made the day before. Even Rev. Jesse Jackson paid the parties a visit in hopes of promoting cooperation but said he left disappointed.
Thousands of teachers walked off the job Monday after months of negotiations failed to result in a new contract. It's the city's first teacher strike since October 1987.
As teachers plan for another day on the picket lines, CPS extended the hours at its 147 strike-designated "Children First" sites beginning Thursday.