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Will Huntsberry's biweekly education report (Thursdays)
Tuesday, July 26, 2005 | For the first time in its 50-year history, Gompers is humming with activity during the summer. Staff, parents and children are on campus daily, helping to transform the old, drab, failing Gompers into the bright, new, successful Gompers Charter Middle School, set to open on Sept. 6.
Never before has there been such a buzz on campus over the summer, said Vince Riveroll, principal of GCMS. Hoping to offer an appealing visual environment as well as revamped curriculum and instruction, Riveroll is armed with a punch list a mile long, itemizing tasks to do in the next six weeks before school starts.
“I have many ideas I would like to see materialize before the first days of school, as students deserve to be welcomed to a new look for their new school,” he said.
Riveroll’s punch list includes: a new entrance walkway; fresh landscaping, gardening, trees, bushes and flowers for the front of the school; professional banners, flags and signs placed throughout the school that feature inspirational quotes, the school motto and mission statement; a fresh coat of paint; deep cleaning for each classroom; new fences; a marquee in front of the school; lunch tables and outdoor benches; P.E. equipment, striping for the blacktop and a grassy area for field play; college name banners on campus; couches, chairs, shelves and potted plants for library nooks; and improved lighting indoors and out.
Gompers welcomes all donations – from cash to supplies to actual physical labor. Because the school has 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, Riveroll said every monetary donation is tax-deductible and will be used to purchase supplies for the beautification project as well as instructional materials, including translation devices to assist the student population, which is 53 percent Hispanic.
Besides money and material, Riveroll and his staff look forward to community members coming to the school in person to help out. Every day, he said, parents and students are at Gompers cleaning and organizing, working together to improve the appearance of the school. Skills like carpentry, painting, window cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, deep cleaning, pulling weeds, general gardening and trash pickup are all valuable, he said.
Although Riveroll said “people can come any time to help,” Gompers has two special campus beautification days planned, when the community is invited to help parents and staff spruce up the facility – July 30 and August 20. For these days, he said the school needs volunteers as well as donations of cleaning equipment such as trash bags, trashcans, brooms, paper towels, window cleaner, vacuums, gardening gloves and plants.
“It would be great on those days if we could also have a radio station come and broadcast live and give us upbeat music,” he added.
In addition to individual contributions, companies and corporate sponsorships are also appreciated. “We would love to have that,” said Riveroll, who would welcome furniture from an IKEA, P.E. equipment from a fitness center, cans of paint or benches from a Home Depot, or signs and banners from a graphics firm.
Riveroll said banners – such as “REACH: Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship, Hard Work,” “Achieve with Honor,” “We believe in our students,” “Culture of Learning” and “Gompers Charter Middle School – A UCSD Partnership” – play a very important part in enhancing the learning environment.
Anyone interested in donating to the effort or participating in the July 30 and August 20 beautification days should contact GCMS parent coordinator Michelle Evans at
Hiring highly qualified teachers
To address the failure, Riveroll and his team embarked on a mission last year to transform Gompers into a charter school under California law, and developed a partnership arrangement with the University of California, San Diego to help them achieve their goals. The approval process became highly charged and controversial in ensuing months, and pitted parents and community members against unsupportive school board members who were not easily swayed.
In the end, the school board, under intense public pressure, voted unanimously on March 1 to grant charter status to Gompers. Although still a public school, Gompers Charter will now function more like an independent business, controlling all aspects of its operation – from janitorial services, purchasing and accounting, to hiring and firing its own teachers and staff.
Past problems at Gompers have revolved around an abundance of inexperienced, novice teachers and high faculty turnover, charter supporters told the school board in March. Charter schools address these personnel problems by assuming direct control over the hiring and firing of their own staff, free from union rules that many educators say tie administrators’ hands and make principals responsible for teachers they did not hire and cannot fire.
Recognizing that good teachers hold the key to improved learning, Riveroll, his governing board and his partners at UCSD have been busy recruiting, interviewing and hiring teachers that they believe meet rigorous qualifications. “We have engaged in lots of interviews,” Riveroll said. “We have candidates who are eager to apply. This is an opportunity for us to select the best of the best.”
Riveroll called this “wonderful progress, as this is one of the main reasons we went charter.” He said teachers have applied not just from within the San Diego Unified School District and other county districts such as Poway, Grossmont and Sweetwater, but also from as far away as San Francisco, Colorado, New York and Canada.
“We have hired 27 teachers and have 19 more positions to fill,” Riveroll said. “Our goal is to start the year with a full staff, which has never been done before.”
To support its staff, Gompers plans to include teachers in decision making at the site and will offer high-quality professional development, said Riveroll.
The school also hopes to increase parent and community involvement and has scheduled a number of upcoming events to support this goal, including:
– July 27: BBQ and parent meeting at 6 p.m.
Those attending parent meetings will be able to buy school uniforms, register students and receive information packets. In addition, Gompers will be open for student enrollment and registration from Aug. 17 to Sept. 2, from 8 a.m. to noon. During registration, the counseling and family services department will meet with students to set goals for the school year.
Working tirelessly this summer to provide a safe, attractive campus environment that inspires learning, raises academic expectations and communicates respect and trust for students, Riveroll said his goals and objectives all support the Gompers mission statement: “The mission of GCMS, in partnership with UCSD and our community, is to accelerate academic achievement for all students through a college preparatory culture and curriculum.”
“We want our students on the first day of school to enter a school with signs and beautiful school banners letting them know this is a new school that puts students first,” Riveroll said. “I know GCMS can, will and must be a shining beacon in our community.”
Please contact Marsha Sutton directly at