KENWOOD — As Chicago Public Schools officials moved to overhaul three schools — a proposal that drew the ire of the teachers union and even a principal at one of the schools — students on Tuesday asked a question: What about us?
"This is wrong what they are doing to us," said Jovani Brown, a student at Ronald McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton St., said at a rally to protest the decision to conduct a "turnaround" at his school and at two other schools. "No one asked our opinion about what we think, and we are the students."
Added Asean Johnson, whose passionate pleas drew national attention and helped save his school, Marcus Garvey Elementary School, from closing last year: "It makes no sense to turnaround a school when you never seen it. It's stupid how CPS thinks they can make all the decisions about schools without any input from students."
The rally took place outside the Kenwood home of Chicago School Board President David Vitale. Protesters, which included about 100 people who marched down the 4900 block of South Woodlawn Avenue where Vitale lives along with the Nation of Islam's Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Vitale was unavailable for comment.
But CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she is moving forward with her recommendation to turnaround all three schools due to poor academic performance.
“We do not take a decision to bring systemic change to a school lightly, but when change is in the best interest of our students, we will not waver," Byrd-Bennett said. "We are committed to ensuring all of our students have access to a high-quality education and right now that is not what the students at Gresham are receiving."
The Chicago School Board is expected to vote at its April 23 meeting whether to approve a recommendation by CPS to make McNair; Gresham, 8524 S. Green St; and Dvorak Technology Academy, 3615 W. 16th St. "turnaround schools" in which the entire staff is forced to reapply for their jobs and the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership would take over management.
At the Tuesday night protest Gresham Principal Diedrus Brown — who had earlier held a morning news conference with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis where she ridiculed her bosses for proposing the turnaround — said she was fighting for her students and teachers.
"I said it this morning and I will keep saying it, this is not about me but about the children at Walter Gresham, McNair and Dvorak," Brown shouted over a bullhorn. "I hope Mr. Vitale can hear us because we are not giving up until you leave our schools alone."
Brown, whose contract expires in 2016, said Gresham has 350 students and 25 teachers. She said the district has consistently encouraged her to hire younger teachers as a way to save money, she is concerned many veteran teachers may have hard time finding another teaching position.
"I am not sure what is next for me but I want to make sure my teachers are not left jobless. I have hired a lot of veteran teachers because younger teachers do not always have the experience needed to manage a classroom," she added. "My fear is that if Gresham is turned around my veteran teachers would have a hard time finding another teaching position."
And she reiterated that schools like Gresham could improve academically if the school district would allocate more resources, such as funding for teachers.
"If we had more money we could hire a librarian, art and music teacher," Brown said. "But don't base our schools on test scores alone. My children are more than test scores, which fluctuates at every school. Give us what we need and then judge us."
The Dvorak Local School Council President Angela Gordon said her school has become a safe haven for students in North Lawndale.
"Dvorak has a lot of homeless students but we have not received any additional monies to meet their needs. Still, we take them in and give them what they need," Gordon said. "And we will not allow CPS to take away our school from our kids."
Ollie Clements, who has a a grandson that attends Gresham, said the community does not need help from CPS to improve its school.
"We are capable of turning our school around ourselves," she said. "If you are not going to give us the additional resources we need to make improvements, then leave us alone."