Written by Michael Huling
On Tuesday, students, parents, and teachers from Gompers Preparatory Academy (GPA) gathered to protest against the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) teachers’ union. The protest served as the manifestation of extreme frustration among parents and teachers who feel betrayed by the SDEA and believe that students are being dragged into a political dispute that is eroding all of the things that made GPA such a profoundly successful institution.
“We’ve reached out to SDEA and told them to stop their members from involving our students. They’ve told us it’s not their issue and that we should take it up with our organization and our teachers at the school—that they have the power to do it. But when decisions are made, they’re made by SDEA, and we all know that,” said Gompers teacher Jessica Chapman in an interview with San Diego News Desk.
Gompers Preparatory Academy was founded in 1955 and was a union-run school for its first 50 years. While the school enjoyed much success early on, union control began stifling teachers and students alike, while allowing education standards to diminish and gang violence to flourish. The institution had lost the reputation it once had and was on the verge of collapse in the early 2000s. Led by Director Vincent Riveroll, Gompers transitioned into a charter school free of union subservience, and the changes were felt immediately. “This was started by the community and the parents because it was a failing school in a union-based system,” said GPA chemistry teacher Kristie Chiscano.
“The first goal when Gompers became a charter in 2005 was securing safety for every child who walked through those gates. We created uniforms to eliminate gang colors, supervised transitions including walking in lines, and instituted a college prep culture called REACH (respect, enthusiasm, achievement, citizenship, and hard work). This created the foundation of success and hope for students who were often confronted with the opposite outside our Gates of Wisdom,” explained Chapman.
The success story of Gompers over the last 15 years is astonishing. Test scores improved, as did advance placement, college acceptance, and college scholarships. GPA successfully established a partnership with UC San Diego, having had over 220 graduates earn full-ride college scholarships. The school soon achieved a 100% graduation rate, which is incredibly impressive on its own, but the fact that GPA primarily serves minority and underprivileged students makes this achievement even more monumental.
The relationships developed between Gompers and the community have played an integral role in changing the lives of countless students and families, helping to bring an end to the cycle of poverty that has plagued many communities for generations. A mother at the protest explained that her son just graduated from GPA and will be the first person in the family to attend college, showing just how instrumental Gompers has been in giving students a future. Furthermore, Director Riveroll was honored by the San Diego NAACP for his innovative strategies and successful work in inner-city education.
The inspiring success of Gompers Preparatory Academy leads one to wonder why anyone would want to intervene and direct the school away from its prosperity. Parents and teachers have been left wondering the same thing, with the San Diego Education Association failing to offer any meaningful explanation.
Jessica Chapman believes that the answer lies in the political ambitions of unions and the fact that charter schools inhibit them. “Innovative charter schools get in the way of unions, the special interests that benefit most from traditional public schools. Loss of students and teachers in traditional public schools equals loss of revenue for the unions’ political agenda,” said Chapman. “The union’s opposition to charter schools is well documented, evidenced by their backing of legislation that would limit, if not eliminate, current and future charters nationwide.”
It’s difficult not to see the validity of Chapman’s claim given the historic and ongoing commitment of teachers’ unions in suppressing students and teachers while forwarding their agenda through intense political lobbying. Over the last year alone, the top two teachers’ unions—American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association—spent a combined $15 million on lobbying, with the funds going almost exclusively to left-wing politicians and organizations. When alternative schools, such as charter and private schools, form and become successful, they attract parents and teachers who seek to give their students the best possible chance for success. While this unquestionably helps students, teachers’ unions lose financial and political leverage. Gompers Preparatory Academy is a clear example of a successful charter that gives students an alternative to underwhelming public schools, making it a target for self-interested unions like the San Diego Education Association.
SDEA seized on GPA, recruiting teachers, preparing frivolous lawsuits about labor practices, and targeting students through social media. When these tactics failed to deliver the desired result, SDEA unilaterally forced Gompers into unionization. The vast majority of teachers were not informed, nor were they able to discuss or vote on such a change. Instead, they were left out of the process entirely and SDEA has refused to even entertain a dialogue. In recent months, SDEA has invoked fear in many of the students—who were also left in the dark throughout the unionization process.
“We want SDEA to know that they have the power to stop people from involving our students in union business and to stop members who are badmouthing our school to the media in front of our kids, and it is causing a lot of trauma in our children because they don’t know what is happening with their schooling,” Chapman explained. “I’ve had students who have been seeing things on social media posted by the union that has really confused them and worried them. I’ve had students email me and say ‘Are you still going to be my teacher? Are you still at GPA? What about all these other teachers? What if I can’t get the classes I’m supposed to have?’ Students shouldn’t ever have to ask. These are 16-year-olds worried if their school is going to have enough for them. That should never be their worry. That’s mainly why they’re here today. I told my students that we’ll always have their best interests at heart, that we always put in 110%.
“They are using students through social media to try and push their agenda, and these kids already have enough trauma in their lives. They don’t need the stress of not knowing what they should be fighting for,” Chiscano added.
It’s unclear what the outcome will be regarding the forced unionization of Gompers Preparatory Academy. The San Diego Education Association appears committed to maintaining control, while parents and teachers are willing to do whatever it takes to return the school to its tradition of putting the success of students above all else.