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Washington High Students Stage Sit-in To Fight Ouster of Beloved Principal

By  Joe Ward and Alex Nitkin | December 18, 2015 1:20pm | Updated on December 18, 2015 7:01pm

 Students walked out of class Friday to support their principal, whose contract might not be extended by the Local School Council.
Students walked out of class Friday to support their principal, whose contract might not be extended by the Local School Council.
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EAST SIDE — Angry over their principal being ousted, George Washington High School students on Friday staged a sit-in to protest his contract non-renewal at the hands of the Local School Council.

Students left class at around 10:30 a.m. Friday at Washington, 3535 E. 114th St., and sat in the hallways, refusing to go back to class, students and parents said.

More than 300 of the school's 1,500 students walked out of class Friday, said Jessica Vargas, a junior who organized the protest with a handful of friends.

The students were reacting to a recent meeting of the Local School Council, where members were poised to end the school's contract with Principal Kevin Gallick. The LSC abstained from the vote after more than two hours of passionate public comment, where parents said Gallick had been instrumental in turning the school around.

Vargas said the sit-in was in direct response to the Local School Council's action.

"Once we started seeing what was going on, we knew we had to do something," Vargas said. "We see how much Mr. Gallick is involved in our lives."

 Students leave George Washington High School in East Side after staging a sit-in Friday in support of their principal.
Students leave George Washington High School in East Side after staging a sit-in Friday in support of their principal.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

Students and parents alike said Gallick has been instrumental in helping to turn the school around.

The school's college enrollment rate has jumped from 35 percent in 2011 to 59 percent in 2014, and the amount of money students received for college scholarships more than quadrupled between 2012 and 2015, according to Chicago Public Schools data. The school also posted year-to-year gains in attendance, ACT scores and college readiness since 2012.

But more than that, students said Gallick takes an active interest in their lives, something not all educators do.

Alicia Garcia, senior at Washington, said she didn't even know the names of her previous principals. When she got to Washington, she said she was confused why Gallick was always in classrooms and hallways.

"I had to ask, 'who is that? Is everything OK?'" she said.

Despite the success, new LSC representatives began to take a hostile view of Gallick in 2014, supporters said. By the end of the school year, the body started rating him poorly on evaluations.

On Dec. 2, Gallick wrote a letter to the school's staff saying that he wouldn't pursue a renewal of his contract, which expires June 30.

"I do feel that it’s fair to say that I have not been treated as a professional, and, in my opinion I feel that the principal evaluation process has been used as a political tool," Gallick wrote. "Moreover, I think it’s important to realize that when trusted public officials do not act in the best interests of the students ... then the public trust can be broken, opening the doors for abuse of power, and a decision-making process which is driven by personal desires rather than professional responsibilities."

In an effort to retain Gallick students have begun social media campaigns, have spoken at school council meetings and staged the sit-in, where students walked out of class and sat in the hallway for much of the day.

Student leaders originally thought to stage a walk-out, where students would leave the building entirely. But they didn't want their actions to give the Local School Council any more reason to chastise Gallick, said Andres Hernandez, a junior.

"We didn't want the council to say, 'Oh look, Mr. Gallick can't control his kids," he said. "Plus this was a lot safer."

Some Washington parents went up to the school after hearing of the sit-in, he said. When security turned them away from the door, Eckes said Gallick and the assistant principal came outside to talk to the parents.

Gallick told the parents that students were civil and many were sitting in the hallway doing homework, Eckes said. He said that since they were being civil, the school was going to allow them to stay in the hallway for as long as students wanted, or until school let out around 3 p.m., Eckes said.

"The principal has been doing an amazing job," said one mom who asked not to be named. "I've seen very good principals, and he is one of them. It's too bad that some in the community don't recognize what they have."

The students planned to sit in the hallway until school let out, according to sources at the school. No students were disciplined for participating, said a school source, but some students were asked to leave the building after they wouldn't stop moving around the hallways.

The LSC has until February to make a final decision about Gallick's contract.

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