Gompers High School faces possible closure

Photo by Claudia Bracholdt Gompers High School in Melrose is on the city's school closure list

The Melrose high school is on the city’s hit list

The Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School could start phasing-out next school year, one of 25 schools the city’s Department of Education is intending to close or shake up due to poor performance.

The school’s administration and the students were notified in early December. If a phase-out is ordered, it would mark a harsh end to a rough period for the school, which received an F on its latest progress report and failed to get a school improvement grant last May. Other less extreme sanctions include a changing of the school’s administration, including removal of the Principal.

The Melrose school has lost 600 students since 2008, as Principal Joyce Mills Kittrell announced at a meeting at the end of September. Only 693 students are enrolled for the 2011-2012 school year, down from 1,302 students in 2008.

On Friday, the Gompers administration assembled all the students in the school’s auditorium and told them the news. Senior student Franklin Obanda, 18, was one of them. Obanda said he and other students are disappointed with the principal. He said in his three years at Gompers he neither saw the principal once, nor did he know what her name was.

“I think she did a horrible job,” he said.

Obanda said students have the feeling that the school faculty doesn’t care about them. Principal Kittrell, like all principals, is facing budget cuts.According to the school’s budget summary, she has a $7,770,000 budget for 2012. In 2011, she had $9,285,000. Gompers also has had to struggle with its reputation as a low-performing school.

The relationship between schools and community is an important element in the Department of Education’s decision process, said spokesman Frank Thomas in an interview in November, before the city announced which schools would be recommended for closure.

“We try to determine if the community is still interested to send the students to a school,” he said. He said a massive decrease in student enrollment could be an alarming sign and that Gompers clearly has been struggling.

The final decision on the school closures is up to the department’s Panel for Educational Policy, which will vote on the city’s recommendations at its February meeting. The influential panel is comprised of eight mayoral appointees and one representative from each of the five boroughs.

“I’m devastated, it’s terrible,” said Mary Conway-Spiegel, founder of Partnership for Student Advocacy. The organization worked together with Gompers as a partner this fall.

Although the school has struggled, Conway-Spiegel said she had hoped the city would only shrink the school’s student body, a less severe option the city considers for some failing schools. “The phase-out was not on my radar,” she said.

Conway-Spiegel said the care student leaders at Gompers showed about their school impressed her. One of the active students is Sony Cubral, 16, a junior at Gompers. He said he started a mentoring program for students who were falling behind. Cubral said the program has been successful, but that there already has been a lot of talk about the school closing down.

“I’ve been organizing to turn the school around but not much change has happened,” he said in an email.

During an Occupy the Bronx protest in November, Cubral questioned the Department of Education’s priorities, saying half of the computers in the Gompers library were gone this year due to budget cuts, whereas the city assigned more safety guards to the school.

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