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350,000 students return to class in Chicago

The Chicago Teachers Union finally reached a deal Tuesday, compromising on a pay increase and school reform. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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.

"We feel very positive about moving forward," Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said Tuesday after the union's nearly 800-member House of Delegates voted to end the strike. "We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together we have amazing things happen."

Teachers said they're excited to get back to work after voting on the tentative deal article-by-article. One point even received a standing ovation: the freedom for teachers to create their own lesson plans.

For more on the strike, visit NBCChicago.com

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.

M. Spencer Green / AP

Students gather outside Benjamin E. Mays Academy for the first day of school after Chicago teachers voted to suspend their first strike in 25 years.

Jesse Ruiz, vice president of Chicago's board of education, told NBC Chicago the agreement means more time for students in school 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."

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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  union rank-and-file, which could take a couple of weeks. It's expected to move through with no problem.

An overwhelming majority -- 98 percent – voted to suspend the walkout and go back to nation's third largest school district. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

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