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Gresham School Parents Still Hopeful Turnaround Could Be Halted

By Wendell Hutson | June 9, 2014 3:25pm | Updated on June 9, 2014 6:45pm
 Eighth grade grauation at Walter Gresham Elementary School was June 9, 2014 and could be the last graduation class under the leadership of Gresham Principal Diedrus Brown.
Walter Gresham Elementary School Graduation
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AUBURN GRESHAM — Walter Gresham Elementary School parents could find out Tuesday if the Chicago School Board plans to reconsider its decision to make the South Side school a "turnaround" this fall.

On Monday Anthony Jackson — a member of the Gresham Parents, Students and Community United for Change group — and other parents against a planned "turnaround" this fall at Gresham, 8524 S. Green St., continued their push to halt the process at the school's eighth-grade graduation ceremony. It followed a meeting last week between the parents and top CPS officials.

Jackson said said he spoke to Abigail Joseph, an assistant to Chicago School Board President David Vitale, who told him a letter was being sent to him to explain in detail the school board's intent regarding the turnaround.

"She did not go into detail but did say Mr. Vitale received a recommendation of some kind from Barbara Byrd-Bennett about Gresham," Jackson told DNAinfo Chicago. "I am hoping the board decides to reverse its decision about disrupting our children's lives."

Neither Vitale nor Byrd-Bennett were available for comment.

Joel Hood, a spokesman for CPS, on Monday said he was aware of no alteration to the plan to overhaul the school.

"The turnaround is still going on. Nothing has changed about that," Hood told DNAinfo Chicago. "Dr. Byrd-Bennett met with parents last week and she said it was a productive meeting."

When a turnaround occurs, all employees, including the principal, must reapply for their jobs, and the Academy of Urban School Leadership handles management of the school.

Hood added that if anything has changed since Byrd-Bennett met with Gresham parents, "I am not aware of it."

Baux declined comment.

The meeting last Tuesday at Gresham between parents, Gresham Principal Diedrus Brown, Byrd-Bennett and Vitale came at the request of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In a statement to the parents group, Emanuel said he instructed "top leadership at Chicago Public Schools to meet with you as soon as possible."

However, Brown said while she is sure Byrd-Bennett heard the concerns of the parents, "I am not sure if she was listening. You know there is a difference between listening and hearing."

And as far as Vitale, Brown said he seldom gave parents any eye contact during the June 3 meeting.

"He did not have anything to say but then again he has not been a man of many words since this whole turnaround process began," Brown said

Jonathan Jackson, a spokesman for the nonprofit Rainbow PUSH Coalition and a business professor at Chicago State University, was the commencement speaker for school's graduation. He said PUSH supports a possible lawsuit against CPS stemming from Gresham becoming a turnaround that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently announced.

Anthony, a former employee of the Chicago Urban League, sent a letter dated June 5 to Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the urban league, asking her to meet with the parents' group. Zopp voted for the turnaround as a Chicago School Board member.

Zopp said while she did receive the letter she was unable to meet with the parents' group the next day as they requested.

"[While] I am happy to meet with them I am getting ready to take a group of students to China and won't be able to meet with them over the next two weeks," she said. "The board voted April 23 to turn around Gresham and I had not heard from the group until now."

She added that she voted for the turnaround plan based on the information Byrd-Bennett presented to the school board.

But Brown said it's time for Zopp to make an independent decision about the school without influences from CPS.

"Andrea Zopp should step up to the plate and stand for what the urban league is all about and that's fairness and equality for all," Brown said.

With two years left on her contract and the school year ending Friday for students, Brown said she has not decided what she would do next if the turnaround plan goes forward.

"God orders my steps, not me," she said.

But one person who does know what she will be doing this fall is Demaria Dickerson, 13, who graduated Monday from Gresham.

"I will be going to Morgan Park High School. My two sisters graduated from Gresham and they are both in college doing well and I plan to follow in their footsteps," said Dickerson, whose father William Dickerson is the Local School Council president at Gresham. "I have been at Gresham since pre-kindergarten and I learned a lot from my teachers. It would be a shame to see them all gone next year."

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