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Town Hall Meeting Called for 'Underutilized' Gale Elementary School

By Benjamin Woodard | February 13, 2013 10:06am | Updated on February 13, 2013 10:19am

ROGERS PARK — Gale Elementary School parents and teachers prepared for bad news Wednesday as Chicago Public Schools officials are set to release a shrunk-down list of possible school closures.

In what is either damage control or a foreboding coincidence, the school district plans to convene a "town hall meeting" Thursday to deal with a vocal and rowdy group of parents that had been disruptive at a public hearing about school closures on the north side.

"I don’t see how [Gale is] not going to be on that list," said Kyle Hillman, a community member of Gale's Local School Council.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) sent an email blast to constituents Monday saying he "vehemently" opposes the closing of Gale, Hillman said.

In the email — the alderman's first public statement about Gale — Moore said he would not be able to attend the Thursday town hall meeting due to previous travel arrangements but would send his chief of staff, Betsy Vandercook, and staff assistant, Wayne Frazier.

The alderman noted that Craig Benes, who oversees schools in the North Side's Ravenswood-Ridge region, would "attend to provide a report and answer your questions." Gale's principal, Cassandra Washington, would also attend.

At the earlier meeting, where at least 200 people attended, Benes had been heckled and ignored by attendees, many of them from Gale.

Hillman was unsure whether the meeting had purposely been set up to coincide with the release of a short list of closures or that it had only been a coincidence.

"At the first hearing, the Gale parents were so vocal," said Tim Furman, a Rogers Park resident and public education activist. "Craig seemed to have set it up with the parents to calm them down a bit."

Furman said Gale, a school on probation with 496 students, had been mislabeled as "underutilized" by the district.

The district says Gale has 43.5 rooms, he said, but "anybody who has ever walked through Gale comes up with 36 rooms."

With that count, he said, Gale has a 60 percent utilization rate, higher than the 52 percent rate pinned to the school now.

On Tuesday, a collection of parent and community groups called for the state attorney general and CPS' own inspector general to investigate charges of conflicts of interest, misleading the public, civil rights violations and employee misconduct in regard to the entire school closing process.

"The people in the neighborhood, the teachers and the parents, have very little power," Furman said.