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updated: 1/9/2012 5:13 PM

Controversial educator hired as Prairie Crossing interim principal

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Gail Worrell -- once embroiled in a controversy at Elgin Area School District U-46 -- started Monday as interim principal at Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake.

Prairie Crossing Executive Director Nigel Whittington confirmed U-46 previously employed Worrell. An administrative team and teachers selected her for the rest of the 2011-12 academic year after conducting candidate interviews.

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"Dr. Worrell is well-qualified for the needs of our K-8 school. She holds a Type 75 certificate, has a doctorate in education and has been involved in various aspects of public school education for a number of years," Whittington said in a letter to parents Friday. "Dr. Worrell's experience as a principal, teacher, as well as her experience in curriculum development, will serve us well. I am excited for the possibilities ahead."

Worrell replaces Brian Greene, who began the 2011-12 academic year as principal at the small, public choice school. The school board fired Greene in December for reasons not made public.

No mention was made in Whittington's letter of the controversy involving Worrell at Elgin's U-46 that erupted in 2003. That's when she and her former husband, Calvin Gooch, made what ended as an unsuccessful effort to start a charter school at U-46.

At that time, U-46 officials expressed concern after learning Gooch masterminded an overtime kickback scheme during the early 1990s while working for AT&T in Milwaukee. He served nearly three years in federal prisons for the crime.

Citing the nature of Gooch's crime, U-46 attorney Michael Hernandez in 2003 questioned the economic soundness of the charter proposal and said Worrell and Gooch should immediately drop the plan.

Worrell, a former U-46 employee, said Gooch's felony had nothing to do with education or children when she objected to Hernandez's recommendation. Gooch was a U-46 principal and resigned about the time his prison stint became known.

As she pressed for the charter school and said she wanted to lend financial credibility to the effort in 2004, Worrell hired an accountant who at the time faced a lawsuit accusing him of fraud, breach of contract, professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty for his role at the Neighborhood Housing Services of Elgin.

U-46 and the State Board of Education rejected the charter proposal. U-46 officials brought Gooch's criminal past to the attention of the state education board.

Whittington said he showed to Worrell a Daily Herald email that inquired about her previous work in Elgin. Worrell, who couldn't be reached for comment, informed Whittington that she hasn't been married to Gooch for seven years, Whittington said.

Prairie Crossing is an environmentally focused school with a 392-student capacity that's mostly funded by state taxpayers.

Children at Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50 and Fremont Elementary District 79 in the Mundelein area may be sent at no extra cost to Prairie Crossing, which determines enrollment by lottery.

Whittington wrote that Worrell was expected to help support previously established goals set for Prairie Crossing for the next six months.

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