For Gompers, it’s game over

Melrose is going to lose what used to be its largest high school. Four weeks after the Department of Education’s Panel for Educational Policy finally decided to let Samuel Gompers Technical High School phase out, the school’s teachers are frustrated with a decision a lot of them already had expected.

Samuel Gompers High School students Joseph Duarte (gesturing) and Sony Cabral (in hat) pleaded with city officials not to close the Melrose high school at a public hearing in Brooklyn in February. Photo by Claudia Bracholdt.

DOE will replace troubled high school with charter school

Melrose is going to lose what used to be its largest high school. Four weeks after the Department of Education’s Panel for Educational Policy finally decided to let Samuel Gompers Technical High School phase out, the school’s teachers are frustrated with a decision a lot of them already had expected.

The teachers are demoralized,” said substitute teacher Peter Mayer.

Mayer had been an English teacher at Gompers for 30 years. Now he is retired, but he frequently works as one of the school’s substitute teachers. He said he felt that the DOE planned the school’s closure since the school began struggling years ago.

Last December, the city suggested the school phase out because of its low performance and drastic loss of students. Gompers received a failing grade from the city for 2010-2011 and lost about 600 students since 2008, according to the city’s Accountability Report. Last year, the graduation rate was 41 percent.

In early February, the DOE held a hearing at Gompers, one week before its Panel for Educational Policy’s was scheduled to decide the high school’s fate.

About 300 students, alumni, parents, staff and teachers gathered in the school’s auditorium to convince the Department of Education to give Gompers another chance, to no avail.

Mayer said he feels that the school is being closed because the city seeks to privatize public education.

Businesses want to get their hands on education, there is a lot of money there,” he said, adding that the hearing at the school was only for appearances.

Some students said they feel disadvantaged because their school is underfunded and lacks resources.

How are we supposed to meet the city’s expectations, when our history books end after the cold war?” asked Joseph Duarte, a sophomore at Gompers.

He said he could answer a Regents question about 9/11 only because he lived in New York when and after the attacks happened.

A week after the meeting at Gompers, students and staff rented a bus to attend the Panel for Educational Policy’s hearing at Brooklyn Technical High School. The auditorium was full of chanting students, teachers and public education advocates.

The audience chanted over the microphone throughout the hearing, drowning out the panel members. One group continually repeated what speakers said, until the chanted message filled the auditorium.

In the end, all the chanting didn’t help.

The DOE says it plans to replace Gompers with a smaller “transfer school” for students who have struggled in other schools, and a charter school. The two would likely open in the Gompers building in the fall for a new class of ninth grade students.

The charter school would be administered by New Visions, a non-profit organization that has run 80 public and charter schools throughout the city since the 1990s, including two it currently runs in the Bronx.

Tim Farrell, New Visions’  Director of Communications for Public Schools, said the organization would make sure to serve the community’s students – all of them.

We care about the individual needs of special education students and English learners,” said Farrell.

He said that the charter school that will probably be located in the Gompers will focus on the humanities. He added there won’t be any academic pre-selection of students. Students will be selected by lottery. Area residents will receive preference.

Replacing Gompers with a charter school is nothing new, says one education expert. Closing down low-performing public schools and putting charter schools in their place seems to be a “mission” of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former DOE Chancellor Joel Klein, says Jeffrey Henig, a Political Science and Education professor at Columbia University.

New York City’s DOE has been unusual in how aggressively it has worked to try to cooperate with charter school communities and to even provide these schools with school buildings,” he said.

For whatever reason, the mayor and especially Chancellor Klein decided that to bring the rapid change they wanted to see, it would sometimes be easier to work with a new set of actors,” he added.

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