Parents upset with the Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) decision to turnaround Walter Q. Gresham Elementary reportedly had a meeting Tuesday evening with district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and school board President David Vitale. The meeting took place on the same day that DNAinfo Chicago published a report stating that the South Side chapter of the NAACP is considering the idea of filing a civil rights lawsuit against the school district over the turnaround at Gresham.
The meeting with CPS officials was held at the school, according to Gresham parents, who said they discussed their concerns about having the school's entire staff fired and replaced.
“We expressed to them that we felt out vote was not counted and that we were not included in the decision making process,” Gresham parent Anthony Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I guess I’m feeling 50-50 about our chances ... but these people are pros, they are skilled at the art of keeping a straight face. But I feel they heard us, and it felt good they came out, but I don’t want to get too cocky.”
Gresham supporters also asked for funds to bring on unfilled staff positions at the school, including science and gym instructors. They were reportedly told by Byrd-Bennett that she would follow up with parents by Friday about the issues raised at the meeting.
The Chicago Board of Education voted in April to turnaround Gresham, located on the South Side's Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, and two other academically struggling schools. The schools will be handed over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). All staff members at the three schools are slated to be fired, and AUSL will hire on new principals, faculty and staff. Read more about the three turnarounds here.
Community members, parents and others have been vocalizing their opposition to the school turnarounds since they were proposed in late March. Last month, parents and Gresham's current, and long-time, principal, Diedrus Brown, staged a sit-in at the school in protest of the pending turnaround. The group ended the sit-in once they were granted a meeting with CPS leaders to discuss their concerns. The locks were reportedly replaced at Gresham following the sit-in.
Brown took part in Tuesday's meeting. She said it appeared as though just one of the school officials was "truly listening" to the parents.
"My personal takeaway from the meeting is that I think, and others felt this way too, that one of them finally heard what the parents were saying and was truly listening, and the other was like 'OK, I'm here because I have to be here, or because I was directed to be by the mayor.' But I won't say which was which," she said.
Meanwhile, the NAACP is investigating Gresham's turnaround to see "if CPS followed the law when it decided to make Gresham a turnaround. And (the investigation) will show how did CPS come to this decision," NAACP's South Side branch President Rose Joshua said Tuesday.
If the NAACP finds that CPS did not follow the law regarding Grasham's turnaround, "we will ask the school board to reverse its decision, and if they decline then we would recommend to our national headquarters to file a civil rights lawsuit against CPS," Joshua added.