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Gompers teachers: We will stay dedicated despite phaseout

Some of the teachers at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School held their breath when administrators called them into the school’s music room shortly after third-period this morning. Moments later, officials from the Department of Education and the teachers union announced that Gompers would be one of 19 schools the city tries to close this year.

Gompers’s progress report card grade dropped from a C to an F this year. But even last year city officials had flagged the school for its low performance, making it one of a handful of schools eligible to receive federal school improvement grants. When Gompers wasn’t selected for the funds, some predicted that closure would become a more likely intervention for the school.

The news still came as a surprise for three teachers I spoke to today, who asked not to be identified because they were instructed not to speak to reporters.

“It came as a complete surprise to us,” said one technology teacher. “Our school management team told us they had a strategy and as long as we followed it we’d be okay.”

The teacher, who has been at the technology-focused school for nearly a decade, said this year administrators told teachers to document all of their lessons diligently and collect more data on student improvement — policies that rankled some more experienced teachers.

“A number of years ago we were a B school,” he said. “It seemed like our numbers were getting a little bit better, but every year the requirements are higher. All of a sudden we’re a C school, and then the expectations got even higher.”

The teacher could be out of a job within four years if he doesn’t find another teaching position before the school would close in 2015. But he said he would “stay dedicated” to the school and defer the job hunt.

“I’m going to be here when they turn off the lights,” he said. “I’m going to act like they never told us this. My determination will not change.”

Another teacher echoed that sentiment and also said she was “very angry” about Gompers’s place on the closure list and intended to protest it. The Panel for Educational Policy, which has never rejected a city proposal, will vote early next year on whether each school on the list should be closed.

When school administrators gathered students in the auditorium to explain the news, ninth-grader Abraham Garcia said there were mixed reactions from the crowd, with some students cheering and others whispering concerns over how the decision would affect their paths to graduation.

Juan Carlos Sanchez, a sophomore, said he did not believe the school’s failing grade or potential closure were merited. “Gompers is a great technical school. The teachers do their best, but the students don’t all respect the teachers,” he said.

Junolia Perez, also in 10th grade, said the school, which was one of her first choices to attend, had not lived up to her expectations so far. “I wanted to take a certain program for architecture and design,” she said. “This year they got rid of it.”

Earlier this year students from Gompers marched through the Bronx to call on the DOE to give the school more support.

Students at the protest told GothamSchools they were worried the school would be closed if it did not receive federal school improvement funding, which the school could use to purchase more teaching materials:

The students say more engaging lessons and new computers and textbooks would motivate students and increase attendance. One student said his history class uses textbooks in which the most recent president is Ronald Reagan. Other students said that the principal, Joyce Mills Kittrell, could interact more with students.

“We definitely need new teachers and a new principal,” said Lopez, the Gompers junior.

At the time, DOE officials said Gompers was not chosen for the federal program, known as “restart,” because it lacked strong leadership:

The city chose schools for the restart plan that it felt showed signs of improvement and enough leadership capacity to work with outside organizations to make serious adjustments, said Department of Education spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

“The schools we didn’t choose for restart just did not have the type of leadership and staff in place that we felt could effectively team up with an educational partnership organization,” said Zarin-Rosenfeld.

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