ROGERS PARK — Parents at a town hall meeting at Gale Elementary celebrated a victory in keeping the school open, but confronted the alderman about threats of other changes to the school by Chicago Public Schools.
"It's a Trojan horse," Diana Berek, a grandmother of three students at Gale, said at the Thursday night meeting.
Berek and others worry that while Gale is safe from closure, the school could be consolidated into one building and shared with a charter school, an option CPS officials said they could exercise. Gale students are now split between buildings at 1631 W. Jonquil Terrace and 7610 N. Marshfield Ave.
Berek, a member of Occupy Rogers Park, passed out buttons with an image of an orange and the word "No," referring to an arts-based charter, called Orange School, which is eyeing the neighborhood for a home.
Parents and teachers, many from the Occupy group, confronted Ald. Joe Moore (49th) after the meeting, chastising him for supporting other charter schools in the neighborhood, such as the Chicago Math and Science Academy and UNO, which opened suddenly this school year at the former site of St. Scholastica Academy.
Moore said "there are no options" for some parents looking for quality education for their children in Rogers Park.
"From the standpoint of an alderman ... I'm not going to turn anybody away that can provide those options," he said, referring to charters.
Opponents, though, said charters exist at the expense of neighborhood schools.
"I think having healthy competition would improve the quality of all schools," Moore responded. "I want [parents] to have the same options" as people with higher incomes.
Ari Frede, founder of Orange School, said he was still considering several neighborhoods, including Uptown, Albany Park, Bronzeville, Austin and Englewood, to be the first home of the recently approved charter.
"We have great faith in the alliances and partnerships [we've made] in Rogers Park over the past two years," Frede said. "We also look forward to reaching out more to the people of Rogers Park who obviously have a lot of questions and concerns, and rightly so — they’re being protective of their community."
Thursday night's meeting had been scheduled before CPS released a slimmer list of schools possibly slated for closure — and after a strong group of Gale parents and teachers made a raucous protest at the school system's first community meeting on school closures last month at Truman College.
One of the most vocal at the January meeting was Spencer Bey, whose daughter attends Gale. He was confronted by a police officer when he approached CPS officials to express his discontent at the hearing.
Thursday night, his demeanor had changed.
"In the name of God, the most graceful and most merciful, it’s a happy day," the 63-year-old said. "If I have offended anyone at any time, please forgive me. But when it comes to my child, I'm ready to lay it down."
Josh Hartwell, another parent at Gale, said he was happy the school was off the closure list.
"I hope we can keep the momentum with Gale going," he said. Going forward, parents need to think about "not only how do we keep Gale open, but how do we make Gale better."
Moore thanked CPS official Craig Benes, who oversees schools in the North Side Ravenswood-Ridge region. Moore said Benes had recommended to the school district's Commission on School Utilization that Gale stay open.
"I appreciate the way you advocated" for Gale, Benes told community members. "That was heard loudly by the commission. It certainly was relevant to the decision."
He also said that closing Gale would not have been feasible.
"It’s simply not an option to take 500 children and put them in Jordan [Elementary], which is already at capacity" — or to take them to Field Elementary more than a mile away.
Neighborhood groups including the nonprofit Family Matters rallied to keep Gale open when the threat of closure loomed.
"We thought about the last 25 years working with Gale and what that looks like," said Ashaki McClain, the teen program director at Family Matters. "Knowing that that is not going away is a joyful experience. We are so, so, so grateful."