Gompers Charter Middle School is seeking an expansion to add a ninth grade to its popular program. By doing so, the school hopes to cater to students who can’t get spots in the newly-constructed Lincoln High School, which is too small to accommodate all interested teenagers in southeastern San Diego, and to parents who prefer the Gompers educational model to that offered by other schools.

School staffers say the move, which will likely attract students from other public schools, is expected to spur opposition from San Diego Unified, which has fought to boost its own enrollment by adding new programs and assimilating nonpublic schools that close. School funding is tied to enrollment.

Adding ninth grade could also be a first step toward forming a Gompers high school program, an idea that Gompers parents have floated. The school’s focus on rapid rewards for achievement, orderly classrooms and college readiness has won it acclaim. But challenges lie ahead for the school, which is struggling to meet rising No Child Left Behind standards. Eighty-five percent of its students come from low-income families.

“We’ve really given our children a hope they haven’t had before,” said Alison Kenda, the school’s chief of staff. “… Five years ago, they didn’t have a vision of getting out of high school. … The only way we can assure that is if we walk them into college. Right now we have to send them off to seven or more different high schools, potentially, and never know their progress unless we hear success stories back.”

Gompers, which converted into a charter school in 2005, has included ninth grade in the past, but dropped the grade when Lincoln opened this year. But Lincoln has proven too small for the demand. Twice as many eligible students live in the neighborhoods surrounding Lincoln than the school has room for. Consequently, the school resorted to a lottery system. Students who don’t get spots in Lincoln are bused to other public schools in the district. Lincoln currently has no plans to expand, principal Mel Collins said.

That has spurred frustration from parents in southeast, who expected Lincoln to end the pattern of busing local kids to distant schools.

“Why didn’t they build the school big enough to hold all the kids?” asked Michelle Evans, a parent who has sent three children to Gompers. “Our neighborhood kids can’t get in. Where are they going to go? … Let’s give parents another option.”

Gompers has asked San Diego Unified to amend its charter to add ninth grade, said Allison Kenda, the school’s chief of staff. The school board will likely review that revision later this spring.


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