Lockport students show support for popular peer mediator

Connor Hoffman/staffIn this file photo from a Jan. 22 meeting, a group of students encourage members of the Lockport school board to allow North Park Junior High School peer mediator Ronald Cheatham to stay on the job. At the microphone here is Cheatham's daughter, Kiki Cheatham.

Students and community members on Friday continued to show their displeasure over the Lockport School District's recent denial of a request for a change in job status from a popular peer mediator. 

 

Around 150 students gathered in the foyer of North Park Junior High School Friday morning, according to Principal Bernadette Smith.  

The demonstration of support for peer mediator Ronald Cheatham lasted for about 20 minutes during the first class period of the day before students were directed to return to their classes. 

Smith noted the students were "respectful" the entire time. 

Taj Young, 13, and an eight grader at North Park, said he and a couple of his friends organized the protest on Friday because they felt it would be a good way for them to get their message of support across. 

"It's unfortunate. I don't think it should happen to that good of a man," Young said. 

He feels the protest was effective in demonstrating how much students care about Cheatham. 

Teria Young, Taj's mother, said she was pleased to see her son standing up for something he believes in. 

"I am very proud of Taj," Teria Young said. 

Cheatham, a General Motors retiree who has been employed by Lockport City School District for 14 years, had asked district administrators to approve a change in his status from full-time to part-time, in consideration of his age, 62, and the fact that he can't earn more than a certain amount of income without being penalized by Social Security Administration. 

During a meeting on Monday with school board President John Linderman, district Superintendent Michelle Bradley and Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Lisa Schrader he was told the district would not grant his request. 

Bradley said district educators took time to use the students' show of support for Cheatham as a teachable moment.  

"As we do in education, we use these opportunities, as teachable moments to help students learn and demonstrate and express feelings and emotions and their voices in appropriate ways in a school setting," Bradley said.  

When asked if she was surprised by the protest, Bradley said: "Everybody loves Mr. Cheatham and admires the skills that he has."

"Right now, with the circumstances as they are, it's quite apparent and even expected that people are showing their support the way they are," Bradley said.  

Bradley declined to say when Cheatham's last day with the district would be. 

The district's decision might have an impact on the next school board election, as it appears several residents are exploring running for four available board seats this May. 

Teria Young said she is thinking about running and expects to know by the end of next week if she will. 

"I was always taught as to kid to be the change you want to see," she said. 

Renee Cheatham, Ronald Cheatham's wife, took issue with a statement Bradley issued to the US&J earlier this week, in which Bradley suggested "inaccurate information" had been circulated regarding the employment matter.

Renee Cheatham said Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Lisa Schrader, when made aware of Ronald Cheatham's situation, said last summer that the district would do whatever it could to make his employment situation work. 

"She told him don't worry," she added. 

She said Schrader later informed her husband that the board of education was going in a different direction and that they wanted a full-time peer mediator. 

"They randomly told him they were going a different way," she said. "She came over on one Friday and just dropped the bomb on him." 

Renee Cheatham said the student's show of support on Friday was "beautiful." 

"I was always taught to stand up for things you see are right ... All I ask is for those kids to be respectful and peaceful," she said. 

Renee Cheatham said she is disappointed it has come this far, and added she is looking at running for an open seat on the board. 

When asked to reply to Cheatham's comments, Bradley said she could not comment any further.  

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