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Parents, community vow to continue fight for Gresham Elementary School

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Updated: June 24, 2014 6:46AM



The locks were changed at Gresham Elementary Saturday, the day after parents — along with school Principal Diedrus Brown — held a sit-in to protest a plan to replace the school’s entire staff.

“It means they don’t trust us. And they don’t value us,” said Brown, who has helmed the school for more than a decade.

Friday’s protest ended after a pledge that CPS brass would meet with parents to hear their grievances.

But at a Tuesday night Local School Council meeting at Gresham, noticeable absences included CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, School Board President David Vitale and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. All were invited. And all sent letters explaining they were unable to attend. A later meeting date would be arranged, Byrd-Bennett said in her note.

Byrd-Bennett also issued the following statement:

“CPS is committed to continue working with and listening to the Gresham community to provide high-quality education options that will prepare our children for success in the classroom and in life. Board President David Vitale and other board members listened to their concerns prior to last month’s board vote, and I have reached out to Gresham parents to set up a private meeting. We do not take a decision to bring systemic change to a school lightly, but will not waiver when it is in the best interest of our children and are 100% committed to a smooth transition for our students.”

Several other CPS officials who attended the meeting listened to passionate speakers intent on saving the school’s staff.

“We own this school. This is our school,” said Pastor Clarence George, who has a grandson and a daughter who attend Gresham. “And regardless of whatever comes out of it, we are going to be like a thorn in your side. We are not going to go away. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to fight until you all give us our school back.”

The drastic measure move to replace the staff accompanies CPS’s designation of Gresham as a “turnaround school.”

Gresham was one of three schools — all on academic probation — approved for turnaround by the Board of Education on April 23.

Parents railed against the manner in which the news was communicated to staff, and how it interrupted the school day.

All students were brought to the auditorium, where they were left with security and police department officers while teachers were brought to a classroom where they learned about the impending turnaround. In that scenario, an entire school’s staff is dismissed. Gresham and the other schools approved for turnaround in April will be turned over to the non-profit Academy of Urban School Leadership.

“The children had no idea of what was going on,” said teacher Joanne Crist. “Was there not a more humane way to inform staff and students?”

Anthony Jackson, who heads up Gresham Parent, Students and Community United for Change, called the move “Gestapo tactics.”

Jackson called on CPS to maintain all Gresham employees from lunch staff to teachers.

“We know that our teachers are fully and more than capable of teaching our kids at a higher level,” Jackson said. “Give us two or three years to show steady academic achievement,” he said.

About 50 people attended the meeting, many of whom referred to the turnaround plan as a “hostile takeover.” Also there was Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who told the group he supports the parents in their fight.

Email: mdudek@suntimes.com

Twitter: @mitchdudek



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