A house divided is what stands on the corner of California Avenue and Addison Street, the location of the former Gordon Tech High School now called DePaul College Prep High School at the Fr. Gordon Campus starting this summer.
Gordon Tech’s Board of Directors made the announcement March 12 following a vote the previous night. The name change was a suggestion from the Rebranding Task Force, which was put in place in response to a 2013 survey that focused on the Gordon brand, according to Robert Karpinski director of DePaul Catholic School relations and Rebranding Task Force liaison.
According to a letter inviting alumni to a Jan. 29 meeting to discuss the possible name change and garner their opinions, the study found a few major problems with the brand: the name Gordon Tech did not imply that it was a catholic or college preparatory school, the facilities were outdated, and the academic reputation of the school had become tarnished.
Even with the finalization of the name change, the study on which it’s based remains disputed by many.
“The reasons are deeper than they’re saying,” Mark Scibor said, Gordon Tech alum from the class of 1973. “None of it makes any sense. They could have made the necessary changes without changing the name.”
Scibor said alumni protested the name change at the meeting and offered to help fix aspects of the school and raise funds but they were never given an answer.
“Alumni worked very hard to organize and reach out to the school to offer our support and help,” Scibor said. “We offered ongoing, substantial financial support and service support like volunteering to fix windows, the roof, paint, and fix things. We said ‘here we are; we’re here to help’ and received nothing.”
However, Rebranding Task Force chair and Gordon Tech Board of Directors vice chair Mary Dempsey recounts it differently.
“The alumni made no uniform effort to step in,” Dempsey said. “Many of these alumni have not been engaged in years.”
“It would be very nice if they wanted to offer help,” she said. “We have established the endowed [Fr. Francis Gordon Scholarship] fund to keep alumni involved. It would be terrific if they wanted to contribute to that. They can help us out in many ways.”
Exactly six weeks after the school’s only alumni meeting, the decision to change the name was approved.
In order to honor Fr. Francis Gordon, the school’s namesake and an important figure in the Congregation of the Resurrection (CR), the board added “the Father Gordon Campus” to the name, though there is only one campus for the school. The Congregation of the Resurrection is Gordon’s religious order and sponsor and will continue to sponsor the school and own the building while the lay Board of Directors continues their governance.
While Dempsey said the reaction from alumni has been “very positive” and that the process has been “transparent,” Scibor, who has been active in name preservation efforts feels otherwise.
“It’s really hurtful, it really stings,” Scibor said. “People think DePaul is buying the school or sending a ton of money but that’s not the case. It was questioned at all times and we never got any answers about it.”
Gordon Tech alum Sean Schultz spearheaded alumni efforts after the announcement of the possible name change and attributes the change’s approval to the dissent within the alumni.
“The failure of the alumni to organize was what led to the failure of the movement,” Schultz said.
Schultz said that he worked tirelessly to rally Gordon Tech’s nearly 16,000 alumni through Facebook boards, more rebranding meetings, financial pledges and various strategic plans but that “nothing could gain traction.” He said there was a fraction of the group that was uncooperative and another that repeatedly gave into a “mob rule mentality” that was not conducive to progress.
“As for the alumni, I have never been as ashamed to be a Ram as I [have]been the last few weeks,” Schultz said.
What appears to many as a sudden and unnecessary name change begs the question: why DePaul?
DePaul entered into an academic partnership with Gordon Tech in fall 2012, after enrollment began to rise. Through the partnership, Gordon Tech has received a new principal, IB candidacy, a technology plan and new learning initiatives. However, an academic partnership, prominently displayed on the school’s website, does not appear to be a good enough reason to rename the school after the university.
“As a board member, I never understood why there was such a strong movement that it had to be DePaul,” said Gordon Tech board and rebranding task force member Michael Traba. “That momentum stuck for whatever reason.”
Traba, also a Gordon Tech alum and class of 1973, said DePaul emerged as a possible name when members of the board considered raising enrollment by drawing students from the Lincoln Park area. They found there were many younger families in the area and wanted to appeal to those families and their connection to DePaul. Traba said many names were suggested included names of other saints, geographical names such as North Side Catholic College Prep or even after Pope Francis. However, the board pushed for a DePaul name.
At least five of Gordon Tech’s board members, including Dempsey and board chairperson Dia Weil, are on DePaul’s Board of Trustees or work with DePaul in some capacity. Traba said that he is one of only two Gordon Tech alumni on its board. CR also has two representatives on the board. Even with the board’s make-up, the suggestion was temperately received.
“There isn’t anyone who was crazy about this, that was all on board,” Traba said. “There wasn’t this overwhelming support for it.”
Traba voted against the name change. He found many potential issues with the school being named after DePaul including the fact that DePaul is of Vincentian order while Gordon Tech is under the Congregation of the Resurrection. Additionally, the change occurred during a time when parents are searching for schools to send their children too. He fears that this makes the school look unstable. The DePaul University academic partnership is one of the school’s selling points now, but what will happen if the partnership ends? DePaul now has its name on a product that, if it fails, will be more aligned with the university than anything else.
The cost of the process
Dona Williams, a former cheer coach, parent of a Gordon Tech student and member of the board of the directors suddenly resigned from the board April 3, less than a month after the decision was announced. In her resignation letter, obtained by The DePaulia through Scibor, Williams explains what lead to her decision.
“I was excited by the opportunity to join the Gordon Tech Board of Directors to impact our students in a positive way. However, over time, I became increasingly disillusioned with the manner in which the board activities were being directed,” Williams wrote in her letter. “The process was flawed to say the least, lacking transparency with a huge dose of disrespect to parents, students, alumni and this board of directors. This goes against the heart and spirit of Catholicism, which I find very disturbing…”
The resignation of an educator and board member is only one symbol of the schism to occur as Gordon Tech continues with its rebranding process.
“It’s going to wipe out the entire alumni base,” Scibor said. “Our school, Gordon Tech High School, no longer exists. It’s now DePaul College Prep. I’m not an alum of that school anymore.”
While Traba said that Dempsey was correct about large groups of alumni not being engaged with the school, he also said that they just wanted a second chance to save their one common denominator, their school.
“It’s like when a family has an emergency. Everyone comes back to the family,” Traba said.