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Gresham Elementary Parents Take Wait-And-See Approach to 'Turnaround'

By Wendell Hutson | March 25, 2014 8:56am
 Chicago Public Schools announced March 21, 2014, its intent to recommend to the Chicago School Board that Walter Gresham Elementary School become a 'turnaround' school this fall.
Walter Gresham Elementary School
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AUBURN GRESHAM — Walter Gresham Elementary School parents said Monday they're optimistic about the school's future, despite the Chicago Public Schools plan to make it a "turnaround" school.

CPS officials Friday announced the plan for Gresham, which has been on academic probation for six years.

In a turnaround, the entire staff at a school — everyone from teachers to the principal on down to security guards — has to re-apply for their jobs.

Natalie Blakley, 30, said Gresham, 8524 S. Green St., is more than the neighborhood school where her son is a second-grader. She said Gresham is a family tradition.

"I graduated from Gresham and so did my father, brother, two sisters, two nieces and a ton of cousins. Some of my old teachers are still here and now my son goes here too," Blakley said.

But "something has got to give" at the school after years of academic probation, she said.

"Maybe with this turnaround Gresham will be a better school."

Gresham is one of three schools CPS plans to recommend to the Chicago School Board as a turnaround school this fall. The other two are Ronald McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton St., and Dvorak Technology Academy, 3615 W. 16th St. If approved by the school board the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership, which currently oversees 29 schools, would manage the schools.

Julio Barrio and Sharon Barrett said they are unemployed and moved to Auburn Gresham from Rogers Park with their two sons earlier this month because "the rent on the South Side is cheaper," Barrett said.

"I think they should make this school a turnaround," Barrett said. "A turnaround would be a fresh start for my kids."

Principal Diedrus Uvonne Brown was unavailable for comment.

But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the latest rounds of changes by CPS does more harm than good. She said "only after CPS has given up on a school" does the school system attempt a turnaround, finally devoting resources to the school "in order to shore up academic performance.

"And where there have been one- to two-year gains, it should be noted that [Academy of Urban School Leadership] campuses have an extremely high suspension rate. They get to cherry pick among students who either perform or are kicked out and returned to another neighborhood school or charter operation," Lewis said.

But Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of the school system, said its turnaround method is an effective way to improve low performing schools.

"For more than a decade, [Academy of Urban School Leadership] has improved schools from the ground up, showing increased attendance rate and academic growth, giving students a chance to receive the rich academic experience and engaging school environment they deserve," Byrd-Bennett said in a statement.

CPS officials said Gresham was chosen as a turnaround school because of its low academic performance.

"Gresham is over 20 percentage points below the district average in meets or exceeds on ISAT," CPS spokeswoman Jamila Johnson said.

Tashika Hall said she has a special-needs son in first grade at Gresham and is concerned her son may not adapt well to a new teacher.

"I did not know about it being a turnaround school next year. It would have been nice if CPS would have told us," said Hall. "Kids with special needs do not adapt well to changes and it was hard enough getting my son to warm up to his teachers. I am not sure if I will send him back here next year."

Other parents, though, were optimistic about the pending changes.

Demond Harris has a son in fifth grade and a daughter in kindergarten at Gresham and said he would wait to see what happens, but plans to keep his children at the school.

"I will give it little time before deciding what to do," Harris said. "I just hate that all the teachers [could] lose their jobs. There are some good teachers here."