From East to West
District 11 moves quickly on replacement at middle school after former principal resigns
Clay Gómez is the new principal at West Middle School.
The opening occurred late last month when former principal Joe Torrez accepted an offer to become principal at Canon Elementary in School District 12.
Gómez was available because District 11 has closed East Middle School, where he had been principal the past two years, because it failed to meet academic standards.
Overall, he has 21 years of educational experience - 8 as a teacher, 6 as an assistant principal and 7 as a principal. Just the last two years have been with D 11.
He said he looks forward to West, mentioning the school's SAIL program for gifted students, teacher Ranganath Weiner's space program (which will be moved to a bigger and more prominent room this year) and, in general, “the fabulous things we offer the community.”
In an interview with the Westside Pio-neer, District 11 Superintendent Terry Bishop responded to questions about why Gómez was chosen for West and why there had not been a more publicized hiring process. Overall, he expressed confidence in Gómez, saying “I think Clay knows what needs to be done in a school to make it successful.” He added that the selection is not temporary, and that Gómez will be welcome to stay in the position as long as it seems to be working out.
Regarding East, Bishop said Gómez had been there a relatively short time and that the main problem at the school was a “staff [that] resisted making changes.” East had already failed to meet annual yearly progress (AYP) goals three straight years when he got there, and continued in that pattern while he was there.
In a separate interview, Gómez agreed that the school “had been in trouble a long time.” However, he added “it's been my responsibility for two years” and was disappointed that his efforts to change it were unsuccessful. At the same time, he defended his former school against the stereotype, of “gangs running down the hallways or hitting up kids for lunch money. I never saw any of that.”
(District 11 has no formal plans to reopen East in the future, but Bishop said he is recommending that it be reopened with new staff and new direction in 2008-09.)
Hiring Gómez without “a normal hiring process” was necessary because of how late Torrez' resignation came in, according to Bishop. “It didn't give us time to do a thorough search,” he said. “There were teachers to be hired and decisions to be made.”
No outreach on the choice was made to the public in general. However, West's staff “leadership team” was consulted; “they seemed to support hiring Clay and moving on,” Bishop said.
Asked what positive lessons he might carry over from his East experience, Gómez cited the importance of strong relationships between teachers and students and “the impact that can have on the overall achievment of a school.”
While West has not scored high on the annual Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) testing, it has achieved its AYP goals over the past two years. Still, Gómez said he will look for ways to improve that. “I don't think the community is satisfied with this being an average school,” he said.
One of the problems he found at East is also true at West: Some families in the attendance area use the district's choice option to put their students in outlying middle schools (such as North, Holmes or even Manitou). What he tried at East, and might try here, is to contact such families, find out their reasons and and try to attract them back.
A Colorado native (from Boulder), Gómez spent much of his teaching career in Texas. His father, Rudolph Gómez , was president of Western New Mexico University in the mid-1980s.
Torrez had been West's principal for four years. He said he was sorry to leave, but he had decided to look for an elementary school principal position because he wanted to spend more time with his family and the time demands at Canon will be somewhat less.
Westside Pioneer article