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CPS School Closings: Pershing West Parents Rally to Save Principal

By Erica Demarest | June 24, 2013 12:05pm | Updated on June 24, 2013 12:19pm
 Parents at Pershing West Middle School and Mayo Elementary School react to school closings Monday.
CPS School Closings: Pershing West, Mayo
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BRONZEVILLE — Archery. Japanese. A literacy sleepover.

These were just a few of the programs parents from the closing Pershing West school touted as they made the case Monday for their principal to be hired to run their new school next year.

Pershing West, 3200 S. Calumet Ave., is slated to merge with Pershing East Elementary, 3313 S. Rhodes Ave., in the fall. Students from both schools will convene in the West building, which will be renamed Pershing East.

Toni Hill, the former Pershing East principal, has already accepted a job at Ray Elementary — freeing up the 2013-2014 principal position at the merged Pershing.

As students filed in for their last day of classes Monday, Pershing West parents waved handmade signs and voiced their support for Cheryl Watkins, the current West principal.

“We just really wanted to rally around Ms. Watkins and let people know that we want her to be here,” said Crystal Anthony, whose daughter recently graduated Pershing West as salutatorian. “This is her school.”

Renee Poston, a grandmother who volunteers at the school gushes over Watkins’ approach.

“You can’t help but love her. She believes in her kids,” Poston said. “If a kid has a suggestion, she doesn’t just throw it under the rug and say, ‘You’re too young to be talking to me.’ She makes them feel like they’re human beings.”

Darnella Carter said Watkins was especially helpful when her daughter, Bria, was diagnosed with cancer while attending West.

“It was a major blow to the family,” Carter said. But Watkins visited the hospital and helped raised funds. Bria, now 17, is “three years cancer free” and about to start her senior year of high school.

Anthony asked parents to call CPS and express support for Watkins. Because the Pershing West Local School Council has already been disbanded, she said, the Pershing East LSC will select the principal.

“They don’t know the kids here,” Anthony said. “We need to be a part of the process. If we’re really merging schools, then we’ve got to work together.”

Watkins has been principal of Pershing West since it opened in 2005. She is the winner of a Golden Apple Award in 1991 and was recognized by a Milken Educator Award in 2008, which described her as "constantly inspir[ing] excellence among students and teachers."

She holds degrees from Chicago State and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A couple of blocks south, at Mayo Elementary School — which will be merging with Wells Prep in the fall — students trickled in to collect report cards on the last day of school.

Gloria McDaniel brought her first grade son to Mayo, 249 E. 37th St., despite his high fever so the youngster could say goodbye to his favorite teachers.

“I think it’s kind of sad,” McDaniel said of the merger with Wells, 244 E. Pershing Road.

All students will meet in the Mayo building, but only staff from Wells has been asked to stay on next year.

“Some of these teachers [at Mayo] have been here for 18 or 19 years,” McDaniel said.