NORTH CENTER — Gordon Tech alumni, many of them decked out in their bright orange Rams gear, packed the school's gym Wednesday night to protest a "rebranding" effort that may include a name change for the North Side Catholic institution.
"The moment you change the name, Gordon Tech will be gone," said Mark Scibor, class of 1992. "Thousands of alumni aren't going to be willing to give back to a school that isn't theirs."
Scibor's comments were echoed unanimously by his fellow alumni — from the classes of 1969 to 2013 — who pleaded their case in front of Gordon Tech's rebranding task force, comprised of members of the school's board of directors.
"What's in a name? Everything,'" said Sam Willis, class of 1995. "Why rip out the heart of the school?"
Dia Weil, the board's chairwoman, insisted, "No decision has been made."
The purpose of the meeting, she said, was "to hear your thoughts on rebranding efforts."
A number of options are on the table, said Kelly Jones, president of Gordon Tech, including retaining the school's existing name, tweaking it slightly or somehow incorporating DePaul, to signal the high school's partnership with DePaul University.
"This is about respecting the past but not living in it," said Mary Dempsey, vice-chairwoman of the board and former commissioner of the Chicago Public Library.
The school is named after the Rev. Francis Gordon, a Resurrectionist priest who was very active in Chicago's Polish community. He died in 1928. The school opened in 1952.
Since the 1980s, when enrollment reached 2,000, Gordon Tech has seen a marked decrease in the number of students entering its doors, plummeting to a low of 395 in 2010 despite admitting girls beginning in 2002. Current enrollment is 540 students.
At the same time, enrollment at surrounding elementary feeder schools has risen 220 percent in the past 10 years, according to Dempsey.
"Not enough of those students are choosing Gordon," she said.
Studies conducted in 2011 and 2013 indicate that parents of prospective students place Gordon Tech in the "bottom tier" of high school options, well below Chicago's selective enrollment high schools and private options such as Loyola Academy, said Verna Donovan, a board member.
Though the findings demonstrated a "demand for a high-quality Catholic high school on the North Side," Gordon isn't perceived as the answer to that need, said Donovan, who is also an associate vice president at DePaul.
Responses showed that Gordon has a poor academic reputation and its facilities are considered run down, she said.
On the positive side, the school's partnership with DePaul, announced in 2012, brings new credibility to Gordon Tech, Donovan said.
The university "has no interest in buying or governing the school," said Dempsey. "But they are committed to working with us for the long haul."
To date, DePaul has helped Gordon Tech develop a facilities plan — "There are years of deferred maintenance," said Dempsey — assisted with music and theater curriculum and paved the way for Gordon Tech to add an International Baccaulaureate program, including picking up the tab for the $9,000 application fee, according to Dempsey.
The rebranding task force is charged with making sure the school's image reflects those positive changes, Weil said.
Alumni overwhelmingly stated their support for enhancing the school's academics and moving the school forward — as Gordon Tech.
"The vision's great," said Scibor. "It's the name change that isn't."