Students at Frazier International Magnet School wait outside before the start of school on September 19, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Today was the first day back at school for about 350,000 Chicago public school children after more than 26,000 teachers and support staff walked off of their jobs on September 10 after the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with the city on compensation, benefits and job security. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
More than 350,000 Chicago Public School students returned to class Wednesday after seven days off during the city's first teacher strike in 25 years.
As kids were dropped off at schools where teachers picketed last week, spirits were high and parents called the strike's end "one big stress relief."
"I was getting bored," said Jared Smith, a student at Frazier International Magnet School, a Track E school that started the year weeks before the strike. "I'm glad to be back."
"Enough was enough," said science teacher Pannha Sann. "I'm so glad to be here today."
That feeling was held over from the night before when the Chicago Teachers Union's nearly 800-member House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to suspend the strike.
"We feel very positive about moving forward," CTU president Karen Lewis said Tuesday. "We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together we have amazing things happen."
Delegates voted on the tentative deal article-by-article, and one point received a standing ovation: the freedom for teachers to create their own lesson plans.
Other highlights of the contract include a 7 percent salary increase over three years and 30 percent of teacher evaluations based on test scores. While principals will retain hiring power, one-half of new hires must come from a pool of laid-off teachers.
Jesse Ruiz, vice president of Chicago's board of education, told NBC Chicago the agreement means more time for students and a revised evaluation system that hadn't been reviewed in 40 years.
"We need to continue these discussions," Ruiz said. "There are a lot of issues that came up that weren't specific to this contract that talk about the quality of our education system."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal "an honest compromise."
"In past negotiations taxpayers paid more but our kids got less," Emanuel said. "This time our taxpayers are paying less and our kids are getting more."
The deal still must be voted on by the teachers union, which could take a couple of weeks. It's expected to move through with no problem.