Thursday, June 02, 2005 | As hard as the fight was to win approval in March from San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education to transform Gompers and Keiller middle schools into charter schools, that was a cakewalk for parents, teachers and administrators, compared to the work now being undertaken to have the schools ready for business by September.

On July 1, both Southeast San Diego schools will officially become charters – with the independence and autonomy advocates sought. To prepare, the schools have formed governing boards, are recruiting and hiring teachers and staff, and are firming up details of their partnerships with local universities – Gompers with the University of California, San Diego and Keiller with the University of San Diego – that are considered key to the schools’ success.

At its May 28 meeting, Gompers Charter Middle School’s governing board appointed former principal Vince Riveroll as the school’s first principal. Riveroll was inexplicably removed from the school in February by SDUSD’s Board of Education and promoted to work as a mentor principal for the district office. He will return to Gompers on July 1 to resume his position full-time, after going “on loan” from the district.

Gompers’ 15-member school board consists of three parents, three Gompers teachers, three community members, three UCSD educators (including Cecil Lytle, UCSD professor and Thurgood Marshall College provost), a public safety officer, a business leader and Riveroll.

The three community members are former state Sen. Dede Alpert, San Diego Urban League president and chief executive officer Cecil Steppe and David Valladolid. Valladolid is president and CEO of the Parent Institute for Quality Education, a statewide organization founded in San Diego in 1987 that brings families, schools, community and business together as partners in education.

Steppe was appointed chair of the school’s board of directors, and parent Clarissa Lopez was elected vice president.

According to last year’s test scores, only 13.6 percent of Gompers students were found to be proficient in English/language arts and only 16 percent in math. The school – which will serve students in sixth through ninth grades this fall – is currently 53 percent Latino, 35 percent black, 10 percent Asian and 2 percent white.

Riveroll said the board has interviewed dozens of highly qualified teachers in the past few weeks, and he called the interview process inspirational. “With our returning staff and the new staff we will hire, I know the students at Gompers will benefit from a first-class education,” he said.

Keiller Charter also gearing up

Ladd and the board, through their alliance with USD, envision Keiller as a college preparatory middle school. The school’s Web site, where the phrases “A USD Partnership School” and “Achieve with Honor” are featured prominently, encourages teachers to apply at KLA if they “believe that closing the achievement gap is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Students at Keiller, which has failed for the past four years to meet achievement targets set by state and federal standards, are often entering the school two to four years behind in core academic areas, according to school officials. Qualified teachers, Ladd said, must be committed to accelerating learning and will receive competitive salaries, their own laptop computers, professional development, college students who will tutor students in classrooms, modern instructional materials and a supportive environment.

Over the summer, Ladd said the school will undergo a thorough cleaning to provide students with “spotless classrooms, sparkling windows, beautiful landscaping and attractive offices.” And at the request of KLA parents, the school’s students will sport uniforms this fall, to go with their pristine new school.

Ladd has scheduled an informational meeting for students, parents and community members, on June 9 at 6 p.m. at the school at 7270 Lisbon St. A fashion show of school uniforms is on the agenda, along with information on student registration, electives, daily schedules, student expectations, after-school programs and opportunities for parent involvement. The school serves about 550 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Run like a business

Although unlike traditional schools in many fundamental ways, charter schools are technically public and receive funding from the state on a per-pupil basis just like most other California public schools do.They must be nonsectarian, have open admission policies and nondiscriminatory employment practices, and may not offer religious instruction or charge tuition. And they are held to the same state standards as all public schools and must participate in statewide standardized testing.

The schools are called charters because they operate under a set of guidelines specifying objectives, operating procedures, terms and conditions, all outlined in an agreement called a charter, which is a contract between the sponsoring board (in this case, the San Diego Unified School District) and the charter organizers.

Both schools’ leaders hope to use the freedom the charter structure provides to hold teachers, students and even their parents to high standards for achievement, and they say that failure is not an option. As Samuel Gompers, the labor union leader of the early 1900s for whom Gompers Charter Middle School was named, said, “There is not a right too long denied to which we do not aspire … and there is not a wrong too long endured that we are not determined to abolish.”

More information on Gompers Charter Middle School’s enrollment, recruitment, and educational philosophy can be found on the school’s Web site or by calling (858) 822-2271. For similar information on Keiller Leadership Academy, visit

Please contact Marsha Sutton directly at

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