Gallistel school still ignored when Board of Education sets school facilities priorities

Not all of the activities at the February 25, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education were protests against Renaissance 2010 and the destruction of another 16 neighborhood schools on behalf of the Daley administration's union busting, gentrification, and privatization agenda.

Above: The 'main' Gallistel building at 104th and Ewing. The Board of Education's directory also lists one of the other three buildings where Gallistel's children attend school as the "Gallistel satellite". Official Board documents leave out one of the other locations where Gallistel students are in school every day, and ignored the deteriorating modular buildings located to the east of the main building (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Some problems were simply very good examples of other ways in which the Chicago Board of Education's priorities ignore the needs of working class and poor families in the vast areas of Chicago where real estate developers are not lusting after land and making obscene profits flipping land that has been recently privatized at taxpayer expense.

Ignoring the working class and middle class of the East Side

One such part of town is the South Chicago - East Side - Hegewisch area, which borders Indiana. Parents are not allowed to bring "signage" into the Chicago Board of Education meetings, but Gallistel parents brought their message "One Gallistel not three" on a banner they held outside the meeting room, as well as on their increasingly popular purple tee shirts. Above, some of the dozens of parents and children who attended the February 25, 2009 Chicago Board of Education meeting show their message to the world. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While the more privileged schools in the more affluent parts of the city get special programs, renovated facilities, and corporate media attention, Gallistel Elementary School, located (in part) at 10347 S. Ewing Ave., is allowed to continue with a dangerous situation spreading its children over a three-block area because the Board has ignored the community's pleas for a solution to the massive overcrowding.

The overcrowded school stretches its more than 1,000 students in four buildings over a three-block stretch along South Ewing Ave. south of the Chicago Skyway. The area used to be Chicago's "Steel City" before the steel mills were closed and the area neglected by much of "globalization."

Above, 10th Ward Alderman John Pope (in suit, at microphone) was surrounded by parents from Gallistel Elementary School at 104th and Ewing on Chicago's far southeast side. The group was asking that the Chicago Board of Education end the overcrowding of Gallistel and consolidate the school into one building. The purple tee shirts which are worn by hundreds of parents, teachers and children in the community read: "One Gallistel, not three" using symbols and have become a local hit. For more than three years, the Gallistel parents have returned to the Board of Education only to be told that there is "no money" to solve their problem -- while the Board is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate public school buildings (from Calumet and Austin high schools to Morse and Howland elementary schools) that are later "flipped" into the hands of charter school operators. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Once again, on February 25, 2009, the parents, teachers, and others from Gallistel joined Alderman John Pope of the 10th Ward in politely asking that the Board of Education consolidate their school into one building. The current situation which sees "Gallistel" stretching for three blocks from its main building (at 104th and Ewing) all the way north to the De Sales (Catholic) high school building. There, some Gallistel students attend classes. February 2009 was not the first time Gallistel appeared before the Board to request relief from its problems. Gallistel parents and staff were at the Board two years earlier, when the school was a little less overcrowded.

Three years of Gallistel protests

More than 700 Gallistel parents, students, teachers, administrators and community supporters came to Morgan Park High School on May 22, 2008, to ask that the Board of Education help them to reach their desire for "One Gallistel, not three..." Above, Gallistel students hold a poster showing the school's buildings and asking "One Gallistel not three" at the Board's annual "capital budget" hearings. Most of the people filling the Morgan Park High School auditorium behind the sign were brought in on 13 buses from Gallistel, which is also on Chicago's forgotten far South Side. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Gallistel has been organized and persistent. On May 22, 2008, Gallistel brought 700 people -- on 13 buses -- to the Board of Education's "facilities" hearing at Morgan Park High School (previously reported in Substance). Each time, Chicago Board of Education officials tell Gallistel that they would love to solve Gallistel's problems, but that there is (supposedly) "no money" to do it.

From one technical point of view, the Chicago Board of Education does not have the facilities dollars to provide for all the needs of schools that face problems. But technicalities ignore a complex reality. When expressing public sympathy with Gallistel, Board members leave out the fact that all over town, tens of millions of dollars are being spent on capital projects favored by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Unlike Gallistel, however, the places that are getting expensive renovations are those favored by the Daley administration: military schools and charter schools. The public schools are simply being left out when the dollars are allocated.

Renovation money for military high schools, charter schools

For example, the Board is presently in the middle of a $20 million renovation project at the old Grant Elementary School (located at 145 S. Campbell Ave.). Grant, which served for more than 80 years as an elementary school, is currently being converted into a high school "campus" to house the two high schools that are located there: The Phoenix Military Academy (U.S. Army) and the Marine Military Academy (U.S. Marine Corps).

One year before the Morgan Park High School capital budget hearing and nearly two years before the February 25, 2009, Board meeting, Gallistel parents and administrators respectfully asked the Board of Education (on April 25, 2007) to solve their problems. They were politely ignored. The April 2007 testimony was before Gallistel began producing their now famous purple tee shirts. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. During the years since Gallistel first brought its problems to the attention of the Chicago Board of Education, the Board has spent more than $200 million on "capital" projects, often favoring charter schools (like the renovated Morse Elementary School on the West Side, which now houses the Polaris Charter School, or the renovated Calumet High School on the South Side, which now houses a couple of "Perspectives" charter schools).

Gallistel's children are told there is no money.

Above, the expensive renovations currently being done on the Grant Elementary School building at 145 S. Campbell, three miles due west of where the Chicago Board of Education was meeting on February 25, 2009. Grant served as an elementary school for eight decades before it was closed by the Chicago Board of Education in June 2005, following a process similar to that used to close the 16 schools now facing termination after the Board's February 2009 vote. During the summer of 2007, the Board of Education quietly reopened the Grant building -- as a high school. While the Board prepared to destroy the "small schools" experiment at Orr High School, it removed one of the four "small schools" at Orr and put it inside the hastily prepared Grant building (above, in February 2009). By September 2007, Grant was serving as a high school building, housing the Phoenix Military Academy (Army). In September 2008, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that the Grant "campus" would also house the "Marine Military Academy" and participated in a groundbreaking for the expensive renovations that will eventually turn one elementary school building (above, in background) into a military high school "campus" housing two military high schools. The renovations at Grant are one of more than 20 that Substance has been tracking during the time Chicago Board of Education members have told Gallistel that there is "no money" to solve their problem. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The Marine Military Academy, dedicated in October 2007, is one of dozens of "New Schools" projects across Chicago that are receiving enormous amounts of capital improvement dollars, while the average public school is left in deteriorating or even dangerous shape. At Senn High School on Chicago's far northeast side, the regular high school in the Senn building is still neglected, while millions of dollars of renovations have created a separate military school (the "Rickover Naval Academy") within the same building.

Hypocrisy in the Austin community and at Austin High School

Teenagers in Chicago's sprawling Austin community no longer have a general high school to attend in their community, and the deprivation of that has resulted in an increased dropout rate among high school age males that is evident to anyone driving through Austin during a school day. Three Chicago Board of Education members (left to right, Clara Muñana, Michael Scott, and Tariq Butt) share a smile with Alderman John Pope during the Gallistel presentation on February 25, 2009. For several years, Scott has tried to use his charm to assure protesting parents like the contingent from Gallistel that the Board is doing everything it can to answer their requests, but that the problem is "underfunding" because of a stingy State of Illinois. Scott and other Board members carefully ignore the fact that "new schools" following secret plans promulgated from the mayor's office get hundreds of millions of dollars in capital development money once they are no longer traditional public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. But the Austin High School building, which served for 100 years as a public school, has since been converted into three boutique schools, each of which is allowed to turn away students it doesn't want.

The small schools within Austin include a charter school (the "business and entrepreneurship high school") sponsored by former Illinois Education Secretary Michael Bakalis, and a "Polytechnic High School" contract school, sponsored by a group that includes the founder of one of the small schools that is collapsing on Chicago's South Side.

Once the general high school was eliminated from Austin, the Board of Education spent $19 million on exterior renovations to the building, which is now restricted and does not allow the general high school population of the community to attend.

Above, the north side of the Austin High School building being stripped of its exterior brick during a $19 million capital project (affecting only the building's outside) in September 2007. By the time the project above was underway, Austin has been closed for three Septembers to the high school children of the Austin community, the largest African American community in the USA. Instead of a general public high school, the Austin building was hosting one small charter school with fewer than 200 students in a building that could accommodate more than 3,000. During the years prior to the destruction of Austin High School as a community general high school, Michael Scott had told members of the west side community numerous times that there was just no money to fix up the century old Austin building. Once Austin had been semi-privatized (by 2007 it had a thing called the "Austin Business and Entrepreneurship High School, a charter school, inside), the money for renovation was found. The exterior work depicted above was just part of a much larger renovation project which was put into the Austin building once the majority of students from the neighborhood had been excluded. Substance photo September 2007 by George N. Schmidt.For several years prior to the beginning of "Renaissance 2010" in 2004, parents, teachers, students and community leaders from the Austin community had been protesting the condition of the building and the neglect from the Board of Education. Despite numerous protests, the Board always maintained that there was "no money" to improve Austin, much the same as the Board currently maintains that it would love to create the Gallistel being requested -- but the money "isn't there."

One look at the actual history of privatization, militarization, and the undermining of the city's remaining public schools tells a different story. The money "becomes there" when a privatization or militarization project under "Renaissance 2010" forces out the general public and creates another of Chicago's increasing number of boutique schools.

Across the city, a long list of similar situations could be narrated. What's really going on, as more and more Chicagoans are realizing, is that the people of Gallistel — and those who are committed to public schools for all Chicago children — are not important to the members of the Chicago Board of Education — and certainly not to the mayor who appointed the seven business people who constitute the Chicago Board of Education. 

This article was posted at between January 4 and January 6, 2009. Final edited version of the article was "locked in" on January 6, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. Entire articles contents including photographs copyright 2009, Substance, Inc. and SubstanceNews. All rights reserved. Commercial republication of this article or any of its parts must be done with permission of the publisher. For further information contact SubstanceNews via e-mail at Unions, community organizations and teachers utilizing this material for classroom purposes are granted prior publication permission, but must inform SubstanceNews of the use within 30 days.


March 7, 2009 at 1:42 PM

By: Jim Vail

Gallistel article

Very interesting article - it sums up the priorities of the Daley regime to privatize as much as he can until it comes crashing down. This was no different in Russia under Herr Yeltsin who privatized like crazy after communism was discredited, throwing thousands, if not millions out of work, enriching a circle of oligarchs who destroyed the country by selling off strategic resources for kopecks on the rouble. That is why Putin was popular, who essentially continued the capitalist onslaught on people in the search of profit, but strategically targeted high-profile oligarch gangsters such as Berezovsky and Gusinsky (read Godfather of the Kremlin by Paul Khlebnikov a Forbes journalist murdered in 2004) - who the US govern. tried to defend in the name of "investor" rights. Privatization became "privakizhatsiya" a dirty word in Russian for grab what you can. The state came back with full force and Yeltsin is totally discredited as anything but a blood sucking CIA agent masquerading as the phony people's hero.

Daley seems to be near the end - trying to rob as much for his gangster friends. When more people come into the streets like at the previous Board protests, he can be exposed.

July 28, 2010 at 3:40 PM

By: John Whitfield

What was discredited?

Was it really communism Jim that was discredited, or was it "state capitalism" parading as communism? that is, just as some societies calim to be socialistic, etc., but parade on May Day for example, with tanks in the streets. While Chicago's Haymarket martyrs,as you know, murdered by the state, were non-militaristic, etc.

Aren't too many those militaristic societies, claiming to be socialists, also state capitalists?

July 28, 2010 at 5:54 PM

By: Jim Vail

you're absolutely right on John

John, as my heading says, you're absolutely right on. It was state capitalism. All I hear visiting in Poland is from right wing nationalists how the "communistas" destroyed Poland, when it was obvious it was anything but. But then again, things are now even worse by the day, and look out neoliberalism - in the form of the European Union.

July 29, 2010 at 4:43 PM

By: Chris

Jim Vail

I strongly believe that your understanding regarding European issues is very limited.

I agree with you regarding the article but it is very hard not to laugh reading rest of your comment.

Take care,tovarisc(comrade)


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