AUBURN GRESHAM — Now that the Chicago Board of Education has voted to make Walter Gresham Elementary a "turnaround" school this fall, a parents group has formed to try to stop it from happening.
The Gresham Parents United for Change will hold its first meeting Tuesday to discuss ways to reverse the school board's April 23 decision, said Tiffany Walker, a group member and Gresham parent.
"This group was formed two weeks ago by 15 parents to prevent our children from being displaced or having them feel 'thrown away.' That is not what we want," said Walker, a Gresham graduate. "Parents feel as though the school board does not care about our children."
When a school goes through a turnaround, the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership takes over daily management of the school and all the employees, including the principal, must reapply for their jobs.
Walker has three children who attend Gresham, 8524 S. Green St., including her sixth-grade daughter, who may not return to Gresham.
"My daughter is doing very well in reading and math, and I am thinking about transferring her to a middle school [at Kenwood Academy or Lindblom Math & Science Academy] to give her that edge needed for high school," said Walker, 31, a longtime Auburn Gresham resident.
Gresham Principal Diedrus Brown said she planned to form a group made up of principals "who are not afraid of losing their jobs," she said.
"I am not going to sit around and keep quiet while our children are used as 'pawns' to push what I believe is a hidden agenda," Brown said. "I said it before that changes CPS has planned for Gresham is not about the children but about money."
CPS' new construction budget includes plans to spend $2.6 million by September to make renovations at Gresham "to refresh the condition of the facility in order to further the sense of transition taking place amongst the leadership and to complement the new school identity. [And] minimal cosmetic repairs will be provided to improve surfaces such as floors, walls and ceilings."
The renovations come after CPS spent $7.2 last year in renovations in anticipation of the school sharing its building with a charter school, which never happened.
Walker said she found it ridiculous that CPS would spend nearly $10 million in renovations but not hire a music or art teacher or even a librarian for Gresham.
"I want to know what renovations were made with $7.2 million besides a couple of air conditioners, some new water fountains and fixing up the bathrooms," Walker said. "I think the money they spent was foolish."
"Not a dime of that money was spent on a student," Brown said.
CPS officials did not respond to a request for a comment on the renovations.
Two new elevators were installed at the school but Walker said only a handful of teachers with health issues use it.
In a statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Gresham and two other elementary schools are being turned around due to low, academic performance.
"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," Byrd-Bennett said.
Walker said if Gresham had more resources they would be used to help improve test scores.
"More funding means Gresham could hire more teachers and that would ease overcrowding in classrooms and allow teachers to give more individual time to each student," Walker said.
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