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Fight to Halt Walter Gresham School Turnaround Gets Boost from Rainbow PUSH

By Wendell Hutson | April 15, 2014 5:53pm
 Jonathan Jackson is the latest supporter Walter Gresham Elementary School Principal Diedrus Brown has attracted.
More Support For Walter Gresham Elementary School
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AUBURN GRESHAM — Jonathan Jackson and his father's group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, are the latest allies in the fight to stop a planned overhaul of Walter Gresham Elementary School.

Jackson, a Chicago State University professor of marketing and a spokesman for the coalition headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, marched in the neighborhood Tuesday with students, parents and staff urging the community to support their efforts to halt the CPS plan to "turn around" the school.

The effort would involve turning over leadership of the school to the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership and requiring all current school staff — including principal Diedrus Brown — to reapply for their jobs.

"The school going into the hands of AUSL will be demoting the children and taking student achievements and scores down. Dr. Brown has been asking for resources that the Chicago Board of Education has starved her from," Jonathan Jackson told the 50 people, including 20 students, who braved the cold Tuesday for a rally and march. "Disrupting our children's relationship with teachers is not good, and we want that to stop."

He added that Rainbow PUSH is for "solid-ground funding of schools and for putting an end to turnarounds."

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), whose ward includes the school, both have said that they would do whatever it takes to prevent Gresham from becoming a turnaround school.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the turnaround of Gresham, 8524 S. Green St., at its April 23 meeting. Control of Ronald McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton St., and Dvorak Technology Academy, 3615 W. 16th St. could also be handed over to AUSL, which oversees 29 schools, at the meeting.

In a statement, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said Gresham is in need of a change because "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."

Sixth-grader Mariah Crawford, 12, was among the Gresham students at the rally.

"I don't want my school to be a turnaround because it means I will lose all the wonderful teachers I have that care about us," Crawford said. "When we don't come to school our teachers come to our homes to check on us and make sure we are OK. Our principal has washed uniforms for students who did not have hot water at home to wash up with."

Fourth-grader Tyrone Walker, 10, agreed that Gresham teachers help make the school better.

"The kids at our school love their teachers because they do everything to make sure we get a good education. So why would CPS change teachers that they already know we are comfortable with?" Walker asked.

One Gresham teacher, Tina Bumpers-Walker, who is also a Gresham alumnus, said she has 38 students in her second grade class because the school does not have enough money to hire another teacher. She said CPS built a new library in the school but Gresham does not have a librarian, music or art teachers.

"This is what happens when a school is not given proper resources," Bumpers-Walker said.

Gresham alumnus and parent Tiffany Walker has three children at the school.

"If you take this school away from the community, what's left? Give the school the money it needs to make improvements," Tiffany Walker said. "You [CPS] are not trying to do anything for these children. It's about skin color, politics and money."

Joel Hood, a spokesman for CPS, disagreed.

"Schools have equal funding based on student enrollment. It has nothing to do with where a school is located or what the student demographic is," Hood said.

For her part, Brown said she would continue to speak out against turnaround proposals especially "when CPS is not being honest about why it is recommending a school for a turnaround in the first place," she said. "Shame on them."

Brown contends that CPS wants to make Gresham a turnaround not because of "steady academic decline," but because CPS spent millions of dollars last summer renovating the building in anticipation of a charter school sharing space with Gresham.

"And when that did not happen, the Gresham building became a hot commodity," Brown said. "We had two elevators installed even though we do not have any students in wheelchairs. Every classroom now has air-conditioning, but before the charter school was planning to move in, we suffered for years without air."