RIVER NORTH — After what she admitted was a "contentious" school year, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett called on the city to move forward as a "new beginning" starts for its school system.
"Whatever has happened this past year, it's done," Byrd-Bennett said Tuesday at a City Club of Chicago luncheon.
"The collective bargaining agreements are settled. There's a moratorium on school closures for the next five years and it is the beginning of a new school year in a few short months," he said.
"There will be a beginning and a beginning and a beginning. It is a new beginning. We are putting our past behind us," she said.
Byrd-Bennett touted the district's highest five-year high school graduation rate since at least 1999 — 63 percent of seniors. (In its most recent tally, the federal government said in January the national average was 78 percent in 2010, though big cities tend to score lower.)
But even as she was releasing the graduation rates, Byrd-Bennett acknowledged that the school closure process took a toll on the city.
Byrd-Bennett's speech came six days after the city's Board of Education voted to shutter 50 schools and a school year that began with a seven-day teachers strike.
Byrd-Bennett was introduced to the crowd of community and business leaders at Maggiano's, 516 N. Clark St., by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who touted the graduation rates at the city's high schools and community colleges as well as plans to have all-day kindergarten citywide beginning next school year.
The mayor mentioned a visit he and Byrd-Bennett took the day after the closings vote to Brenneman Elementary School in Uptown, which will welcome students from Stewart Elementary School.
"How excited the kids were to see the CEO of our school system," Emanuel said. "The type of energy, the type of connection the type of intimacy between our students and our CEO speaks volumes of her leadership and volumes to her commitment to our children."
Byrd-Bennett highlighted the district's Safe Passage plan, which will enlist the help of several city departments and community organizations to protect children on their way to school. Promised Byrd-Bennett: "We will never deliberately put our children's safety at risk."
The next school year, Byrd-Bennett said, is "a time for us to recommit to collaboration and cooperation."
"We're all Chicagoans, and the education of our children is shared resposibility," Byrd-Bennett said.
After the event, Byrd-Bennett told reporters that the district is working with the families of the 27,000 students whose schools are closings to make sure they are all registered for school next year, either at their assigned welcoming school or at another option.