In the wake of a recently released list of potential school closings, parents and teachers celebrated a victory at a Gale Elementary town hall meeting last night.
Based on recommendations from the Commission on School Utilization, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett released a list, Wednesday, of 129 schools that may be on the chopping block for the next wave of school closures. Gale Elementary was not on the list.
“This is a happy day for our children,” said William Swain, a teacher at Gale for more than 10 years and a 25-year resident of Rogers Park.
“We’re training our kids to be somebody’s boss,” he said. “Our school has teacher commitment, we are always looking for ways to better ourselves and I am proud to say our community always jumps right in.”
Despite the good news this week, parents and teachers are still unsure of what lies on the road ahead for Gale, which could be consolidated and have its campus shared with a charter school. A representative from Chicago Public Schools and Ald. Joe Moore (49th) were on hand to answer any remaining questions.
“Gale came off the list because (the commission) looked at the information and decided it was best to keep the school open,” said Craig Benes, chief of schools for the Ravenswood-Ridge Elementary Network.
Benes said he couldn’t assure the community that any school in Rogers Park would be safe from school actions such as co-location, privatization or turnarounds. “That is the work of the commission and the decision will go to the Board of Education,” he said.
“There are charters that have expressed interest in this network and in this community,” he said. “There has been no commitment for a charter to start within this community, but in the future that dialogue could occur, and I’m not taking a stance of for a charter or against it, but I think the community should be involved in that process.”
Benes said there’s “no way” 129 schools are going to close across the district.
Four schools from the Ravenswood-Ridge network, Joseph Brennemann Elementary School, Graeme Stewart Elementary School, Joseph Stockton Elementary School and Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, are still on the chopping block.
Ald. Moore came under heat from some meeting attendees last night who strongly opposed the opening of a charter school in Rogers Park. The alderman was quick to say he signed a moratorium on new charter schools, and was less concerned with the type of school students attend and would rather parents have the “same choices as parents from my income level, to make sure they’re kids get the best education.”
“There are clearly issues (at Gale) that need to be addressed, that our principal is trying to address, but we need to continue the work so the school provides the kind of quality education that some of the other neighborhood schools in my ward provide,” said Moore.
“This school staying open is a good thing, but we can’t stop here,” he said.
Parents, teachers and community activists testified on behalf of Gale at a CPS community meeting in late January at Truman College. According to one report, the meeting was heated and CPS representatives were heckled and interrupted on several occassions.
“This school is a hub for our community,” said Cassandra Washington, principal of Gale. “Some of the violence in this community is pretty bad, but students feel safe here and that’s a very important part of their education.”
Washington said generations of Rogers Park residents have attended Gale. She expressed gratitude to the community for campaigning and supporting Gale saying, “hopefully we can keep this momentum going.”
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she said. Washington said Gale’s greenhouse and tutoring programs will receive extra attention now that Gale is staying open. “The most important thing is getting our parents involved, we have a dedicated staff, but we need more and more parents helping us; not only here, but at home too.”