Gresham Elementary supporters await word on school’s fate

Written By BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Education Reporter Posted: 07/11/2014, 06:18am
Array Students and parents gather for the 8th grade graduation at Walter Q Gresham Elementary School on Monday, June 9, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

As Gresham Elementary School’s class of 2014, in blue caps and gowns, received diplomas on Monday, supporters were awaiting word from the Chicago Public Schools chief about whether she’ll keep it intact or proceed with a planned turnaround.

Gresham supporters meanwhile are seeking the help of Andrea Zopp, the head of the Chicago Urban League and a school board member who voted against rebooting two other schools on the West Side. Gresham, at 8524 S. Green, already has found allies in the local chapter of the NAACP and inRainbow/PUSH, which sent Jonathan Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to address the graduating class.

Chicago’s Board of Education voted in April to turn around Gresham because of poor academic performance. The turnaround would include firing the entire staff and replacing it. The Academy of Urban School Leadership, which already operates nearly 30 schools in the district, would take over management of the school.

The Local School Council, the principal and a group called Gresham Parents, Students and Community United for Change met with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and board President David Vitale on June 3, presenting their case for reversing the board’s decision. They were told an answer was coming last Friday.

Group leader Anthony A. Jackson characterized that meeting as “productive,” saying Byrd-Bennett’s assistant told him Monday morning he could expect an update in the afternoon. He was told that Byrd-Bennett asked Vitale to reach out to board members about Gresham. He was not given specifics.

Jackson said his group also sent a letter directly to Zopp, asking her to visit the school because she had voted to change it without meeting the people affected.

“We simply seek fairness,” the letter said. “Our school simply needs more money and resources. . . . How can we stand by and allow teachers and staff to be cut, and watch the same administration invest millions in resources to a private entity that does not know our children or community?”

Zopp said she couldn’t fit a meeting in last week on short notice, but she wondered why Gresham’s supporters waited so long to contact her. She has held office hours before and since the April vote.

“My position or interest was not something they cared about for seven weeks,” she said. “It’s a serious issue and I understand that they were upset about it.

“They are making it a big crisis, but they never tried to talk to me,” she said. ??I’m happy to talk to them. I just happen to be buried right now.”

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said early Monday evening that nothing had changed.

Principal Diedrus Brown has been particularly outspoken in trying to save her school, and with it, her own job. After parents had a sit-in at the end of May to persuade Byrd-Bennett to meet with them, the school’s locks were changed and the new keys were not given to Brown.

She chalked up the school’s academic dips in standardized test scores to proposals during the last few years to close Gresham, to share its building with another school, to welcome children from a closed school and now facing a turnaround.

“How do you think that affects the social, emotional well-being of the students?” she said. “Yet they are expected to excel just like a school with no actions imposed on them?”

“I do not consider this the last graduation from Gresham school,” Brown said as the 20 graduates filed out of the school. “I expect to do more graduations at Gresham school.”


Twitter: @bylaurenfitz

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