When the school buses roll on Tuesday, his first day of high school, Fernando Gonzalez says he will feel more than the usual jitters.
His best friends will be going to South Gate High School, but Fernando will board a bus for another campus--David Starr Jordan High School in nearby Watts.
"I'm worried about how I will fit in," said Fernando, 14, who has lived with his family in South Gate for 10 years. "I don't have anything against Jordan. But my friends have been making fun of me. And I'm concerned about the area it's in. I'm probably the only guy on my block going there. So I'm not too happy about it."
Fernando will be separated from his friends because of a boundary change adopted by the Los Angeles school board in May. The boundary change will affect 97 ninth-graders and any new residents living on the west side of South Gate between Long Beach Boulevard and Alameda Street.
Those students have been permanently assigned to Jordan to relieve overcrowding at year-round South Gate High School. The shift in students will also help solve a problem at Jordan, which for years has had several hundred empty classroom seats.
Since the board decided to alter the boundary line, the district has been busy revitalizing the Watts campus. Jordan will acquire an entire ninth grade this fall, becoming a four-year high school for the first time in its 60-year existence. Besides gaining students from South Gate, it is taking on 400 ninth-graders from Markham Junior High School, also in Watts.
The reorganization means that Jordan, growing from last year's enrollment of 1,100 to this year's projected 1,600, will not have empty classrooms this year. (Its capacity is 1,746 on a traditional school calendar.)
In addition, more rigorous courses will be offered and $2.2 million worth of physical improvements are under way.
According to longtime supporters of Jordan, the district's efforts have brought a new spirit to a school that, they say, has been neglected for too long.
"Jordan was always the stepchild of the district," said parent volunteer Helen Teate, who is president of the Jordan Parent-Teacher-Student Assn. "This year, it's Cinderella. It's going to be a very exciting year."
But those changes have not eased the fears of South Gate parents, community leaders and officials. Their protests, which they have continued to voice in rallies and meetings during the summer, have centered on two issues: safety and academic quality. According to results of standardized state achievement tests, Jordan is one of the lowest-ranked high schools in the Los Angeles school district. And, because of its proximity to four housing projects, it suffers from an image of being crime-ridden.
Because the dispute involves the predominantly Latino South Gate community and the predominantly black Watts community, it has produced racial overtones, although South Gate parents have vigorously denied that racism is a factor in their protest.
Ada Montare, a conciliation specialist with the Department of Justice in San Francisco, which monitors situations with such racial implications, has been trying to find ways to ease the tension.
"There is conflict, hostility and injured feelings there," Montare said. "I have been trying to tell parents in South Gate to look at it as an educational issue . . . and how, by participating in Jordan, they can ensure that their children will benefit. There are innovative programs planned for Jordan in the fall that will benefit anyone who goes there."
Montare, however, is not sure that her efforts have been successful. Many South Gate parents say they have not changed their minds. "They'll really have to prove it to me" that Jordan is safe and academically sound, said parent Maria Morales, who is organizing a protest march in front of South Gate High School on Tuesday. "Jordan has low test scores and a dangerous environment. I'll be darned if I'll let my child go."
Said Amelia McBride, a member of the South Gate Anti-Boundary Change Committee: "The parents I know still say they're not going to" send their students to Jordan. "They feel as strongly as they did before."
Many angry parents have threatened to move out of South Gate, send their children to private school, teach them at home or board them with relatives in other communities where they could attend school. District authorities say they have no way of knowing how many have done so. But only a handful of South Gate parents attended Jordan orientation meetings held during the summer, school administrators said.
Originally, the school district identified 147 ninth-graders in the boundary-change area who would be sent to Jordan. But during the summer 50 of those students have been granted special sibling permits allowing them to enroll at South Gate because they have older brothers or sisters there. That leaves 97 students, plus any new residents, who may enroll at Jordan from South Gate.
Accustomed to Challenges