Gordon Junior High, a school that lost its neighborhood children and became instead a troubled centre of inner-city problems, closed yesterday after 50 years of operation at the northern edge of Georgetown.
During its final year, with a new principal and sharply reduced enrollment, the school had a time of relative peace and substantial academic achivement, its students and teachers said last week.
But imporvement came too late to save the school.
On Thursday night, without any public opposition, the D.C. School Board voted to close it. At Gordon's final graduation, speakers said their class motto was, "So be it."
"It's a pity, though, that they're closing it now," siad Tahmineh Parsons, a home economics teacher for 21 years at Gordon. "The school was finally small enough and the classes were small enough so we had a chance to do smoething with these kids. So now they close it down.
"I had a ninth grader who couldn't write the cursive alphabet," Parsons said. "And I was able to teach it to her. The class was small enough, and I was able to give her the induvidual attention she needed. For years we couldn't do that."
In the 1960s, Gordon was held up widely as a model of successful integration with an enrollment of about 800 that fluctuated between 60 per cent white and 60 percent black for almost 10 years.
Its courses, including advanced French and algebra, were considered innovative and though. Its student body included the children of government officials - among them former secretary of state Dean Rusk, several ambassadors, and blacks and whites from most parts of the city who came to Gordon under an "open enrollment" plan.
Its discipline was strict under principal J. Dallas Shirley, a well known basketball referee in his off-hours, whom longtime teachers remember fondly for "running a tight ship."
But this spring, however, there were only 13 white students left at the school of an enrollment of 261.
Its black enrollment also had dwindled. Last September when the new Reed School opened at 18th and V streets NW [to replace Morgan Elementary], students in the Columbia Road area were given the choice of going either to Reed or Gordon for seventh grade.
Assistant superintendent Dorothy L. Johnson said that out of approximately 125 students involved [almost all of them black], none chose to come to Gordon. No students form elsewhere in Gordon's large attendance zone wanted to come either, Johnson said, "so we decided not to have a seventh grade."
One parent, who had two children at Gordon in the late 1960s, said she decided to send her third child to another school.
"At Gordon the children were running aroung the halls and all sort of things were happening in the bathrooms." she said. "In the classrooms, a few of the teachers were very, very good. But a lot of them spent thiir class periods trying to keep order or discussing their own frustrations, and didn't spend time on the subject. Maybe they felt it was hopeless. I felt it was a waste of the children's time."
In 1974 the auditorium curtains were set afire. They still have not been replaced. The next year new furniture for the cafeteria was burned and a tear gas bomb forced evacuation of the school.
After several teachers were assulted, about two-thirds of the faculty staged a one-day sick-out in 1975 to call for fithter discipline. Although promises were made, no improvenents were made until last fall, said Sara Banks, head of the school's chapter of the teachers union.
Gordon's hard slide downhill, several teachers said, started in 1988 after U.S. Appeals Court Judge J. Skelly Wright's desegregation decree banning the track system of ability grouping and requiring changes in school attendance zones.
As a result of the decree - and the steps the school board took to implement it - the "open enrollment" policy was ended. The out-of-zone black students who went to Gordon because of its good reputation and handled its honors courses well were replaced by students assigned them from poor neighborhoods. Most of them had serious academic problems.
Not only was the honors track abolished, but almost all ability grouping stopped. Students reading at the third-grade level and the 12th-grade level were put in the same classes. Despite and infusion of federal money for remedial work teachers said they couldn't cope.
"There was an erosion of expectation, a general relaxation of standards." said Grace Dembitz, a French teacher who left in 1973. "Some of the students were earnest but they weren't prepared to do intensive work."
Even though Gordon's boundary was extended farther north to bring in more white students, their number continued to drop. In recent years several elementary schools west of Rock Creek Park added seventh and eighth grades, and most students chose them instead of Gordon.
Theodore Mondale, the son of Vice President Mondale, attended Gordon for 1 1/2 years in 1971 and 1972, until his parents send him to private school.
"I kind of liked it," he recalled yesterday. "There were fights all the time, but I could handle it. A lot of [white] people were afraid, though, the ones who were shy and not sure of themselves. They got eaten up."
Two years ago a parents' group suggested that Gordon become an academic high school after nearby Western High School was turned into the Ellington School for the Arts.
The idea was shelved, and there are no firm plans for the closed building.