Gompers Preparatory Academy is a true success story.
Not only has the school seen a huge jump in tests scores, it is also closing the achievement gap -- one of the most pressing problems facing education today.
“This wasn’t a ship that needed to be turned around,” said Allison Kenda, the school’s Deputy Director. “This was a ship on the bottom of the ocean and there was no pulling it up, no sailing it again.”
That was then, this is now.
Suspension rates have been reduced by 75 percent, attendance has improved to almost 96 percent, and parent engagement has exploded with more than 3,000 hours logged.
Students look you in the eye and shake your hand. They "honor" you when you come to their classroom. They wear uniforms, raise their hands and say yes ma'am, no sir. Except for some ASB activity, the hallways are quiet.
It’s a change in culture says Kenda, who was at the school when it was Gompers Secondary, a failing school where fights broke out and SWAT was called and where there were chain link fences that could be closed so as to confine the violence.
The failing school turned public charter in 2005 at the community's insistence.
“One of the first things we did as a school when we came in was take all the gates down and release the security staff because this was going to be a place where learning took place and not chaos,” Kenda said.
Learning has taken place, with steady gains in tests scores at a school where 75 percent of students are Hispanic, 20 percent African American and 90 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.
In Gompers Preparatory Academy, students don’t claim a gang but rather a college.
“It was not ever something that was really talked about in my household,” said college-bound senior Necessity Bays. “I saw it on the movies but I never thought like someone like me or someone who grew up like me would ever get there or even know about it.
“People wanted to change the statistics, people wanted to see a difference,” said Orozco. “They didn't want to have a problem with gangs.”
“It still goes on, but they notice that students are now being more -- I'm not going to say more interested in school but actually feel more comfortable being in school.”
Isaac Ramos' father graduated from 6th grade, his mother graduated from the 8th grade. He once worried about his sister being the victim of gang violence.
He says the change in culture at the school has changed the culture of the neighborhood.
“They don't look at us as somebody to recruit they look at us as somebody that can make a difference,” Ramos said.
He said he believes even the gang members are proud of the changes at the school.
“I've talked to a lot of people who are former gang members they're like that's pretty cool, I wish I could have done that,” Ramos said. “It's pretty amazing.”
Building a safe school started with committed and dedicated teachers Kenda said.
“I think any school anywhere in the country can do the same work if they hold a strong belief for kids and hire the people who want to do the work,” Kenda said.
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