New concerns rock Walter Payton College Prep as students stage walkout and pack school council meeting

A year and a half after allegations of racism rocked one of the nation’s most elite high schools, a new administration at the Walter Payton College Prep of Chicago Public Schools faces criticism for its management style, leading a leader institution to resign.

Nearly 200 students, parents and staff attended a sometimes touching local school council meeting on Thursday to share concerns about how the school is being run under new leadership, citing a lack of transparency and ownership taking into account the contribution of teachers and students in decision-making.

Payton’s latest controversy began with anonymous posts attributed to teachers last week on an Instagram page that relays the feelings of students and staff of color.

Many students wore red clothes – the color adopted by the Chicago Teachers Union – to school Thursday to support their instructors, and students staged in-person and virtually protests against the Payton administration. Groups gathered in the halls of the building and some came out to write “Protect our teachers” in chalk on the sidewalk.

Payton principal Melissa Resh admitted in a letter to the school community this week that she had heard “the outcry of pain from our teachers.”

“And what I hear is that I am a source of this pain,” she wrote. “I look forward to approaching this with humility, empathy, curiosity and a focus on healing.”

The manager said she would hold a listening session to allow staff to share their thoughts, including “examples of wrongs I have made and / or mistakes I have made this year”, and how they would like to see these issues resolved.

Resh’s email was followed by another Thursday from Kristin McKay, hired this school year for a new role as director of transformative justice, who said she would not be returning to school in the fall.

“Being new to a community during a time of global crisis, uncertainty and loss, my hope was only to serve as a support to this school community and its members,” McKay wrote. “I am grateful for the connections I have been able to make with many of you and I know that right now I am not the leader this community needs.”

School officials could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for the CPS said the district was aware of the situation and supported students voicing concerns. Officials are in contact with staff and management and aim to “resolve some of the issues that have been raised”.

Resh and McKay came to Payton the year after major racism allegations came to light as black student enrollments plummeted. For some, much of the job of the new administration was to help heal an injured school community.

But after months of observing their leadership style, teachers said this week that leaders had changed systems without input from staff or students, and in some cases teachers of color in particular felt drowned. One specific source of friction was next year’s budget, which threatened to cut the post of at least one beloved teacher to be replaced by another administrator.

At Thursday’s meeting, some parents called for Resh’s resignation while many students spoke out against cutting teaching positions.

“This year has been a long and tiring year for everyone,” said Brianna Warren, senior at Payton. “Our teachers have done so much for us [Black, Indigenous, people of color].

“I have grown so much and it is thanks to them. We should not cut any of our teaching positions. “

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