Gompers Magnet School Found Still Segregated 6 Years After Opening

The acclaimed Gompers Secondary School remains segregated more than six years after it opened as one of the school district's first magnet integration programs, according to an evaluation conducted by the school district.

The study found that students from the Southeast San Diego community around Gompers--virtually all of whom are minorities--are clustered in standard classes and vastly under represented in the accelerated and upper-level courses that have given Gompers its prestigious reputation in math, science and computer education.

"In spite of its outstanding success, Gompers has in the past suffered problems of resegregation within the school, separation of the resident--primarily minority--students from the magnet--primarily majority--students," the evaluation stated.

"Certain higher level classes are highly segregated and something has to be done about that," said Dorothy Smith, who represents Southeast San Diego on the city's Board of Education. "I'm not satisfied with just explaining it away and saying certain students don't have the skill level (needed for advanced courses)."

Evaluators suspect that the same situation exists at the school district's other magnet programs but there is no research to support that conclusion. The Gompers study was the first evaluation here of a magnet school.

The overall ethnic balance has improved from Gompers' early years as a magnet program, when there were virtually no minority students in the program and a fence separated the magnet classes from the regular junior high school classes, Smith said.

But the study found, for example, that Gompers' advanced placement biology, chemistry and physics courses contain fewer than 10% resident students.

In math, resident students comprise 90% of the enrollment in standard courses, less than 40% in the tougher magnet courses, and none of the enrollment in accelerated classes, according to the study, which is still being completed. Upper-level computer courses contain 25% or fewer resident students, the study showed.

In 1983-84, 31% of Gompers classes were ethnically unbalanced "without a justified reason," compared to just 7.6% of classes districtwide, the study found. In 1984-85, 17% of Gompers classes were ethnically unbalanced.

Part of the reason for the separation is that Gompers is really two schools: a standard seventh and eighth grade junior high school for neighborhood children, and a magnet school for students in grades 7 to 12. Some resident children attend the magnet with white and minority children from around the city who are drawn to Gompers' math, science and computer curriculum.

In test scores reported last month, Gompers 11th graders posted the city's highest marks in three of the four major categories.

But the report also questions the use of placement exams given to decide which class level a child may attend. The practice is not sanctioned by the school district, Smith said.

Stephen Isaac, director of the school system's evaluation department, said resident students are paying the price of poorer preparation in math, science and reading during their elementary school years. Smith agreed that teaching in the elementary school years must be improved so that minority children can succeed at Gompers.

The study also concluded that "staff are uninformed about research on tracking (of students into ability groups) and express a lack of interest in learning about it."

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