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First there was Gompers Charter Middle School, widely praised as safer and more scholarly since it became a charter school. Then there was Gompers Preparatory Academy, a high school for Gompers.

Now Gompers wants to consolidate the two schools into one and shut down the middle school, making a single school for grades 6 to 12.

Confused? Principal Vince Riveroll says the move is meant to simplify bookkeeping and keep the high school name intact. But doing so would also dodge a negative label under No Child Left Behind, raising questions about academic accountability for the charter school.

Gompers has fallen short of testing targets for several years. The school has been widely recognized for bettering the school climate and its scores have improved over time, but not enough to meet the state goals, which skyrocket dramatically higher every year.

If it continues to fall short, it could be forced to restructure. That’s the same process under No Child Left Behind that led Gompers to become a charter school in the first place.

The end result of closing the middle school and expanding the new one would be a single school that would not bear the same label, turning back the clock on the testing targets. A similar switch happened years ago when Mann Middle split into three schools, two of which got a blank slate under the federal law. But Riveroll said the merger wasn’t designed avoid No Child Left Behind’s penalties.

“It was designed for what parents wanted — a continuation of success,” he said. “That’s what this school was created for. We’re going to keep doing what this charter set out to do — to change and save the lives of our students.”

Starting the new high school instead of expanding the middle school had other advantages: New charters can get state funding, while expanding a school doesn’t get the same support. And Riveroll said parents wanted a new school with a new name to signify that it was going beyond what the kids had learned in middle school. Board members raised the idea of merging the schools after Gompers Preparatory Academy was already approved last spring, Riveroll said.

The San Diego Unified board would have to approve the expansion of Gompers Preparatory Academy to include middle school grades. Riveroll said that if the school board or the state deemed it appropriate, the merged school could keep the same code and the same record under No Child Left Behind.

EMILY ALPERT

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