Lately, the officials at Gilbert Public Schools District Office have been following a pattern: They put an item on the Governing Board’s agenda, tell the board they MUST DECIDE that night—it’s URGENT!–so the board, ignoring their role as the Employer and the District as Their Employees, bend over backwards to accommodate the District’s pre-ordained decision.
It’s happening again on October 2, Tuesday, at 7 pm. This will be a very important Gilbert Public Schools Board Meeting. The location has been changed to the Mesquite High School cafeteria, 500 S. McQueen.
GPS District Officials have decided that 645 Gilbert Junior High School students, many of whom are considered “at risk,” must be transported to other junior high schools, to make way for the growing population of students in Gilbert Classical Academy.
Most likely, Superintendent Dave Allison & Company made the decision they wanted, they knew they “had the votes,” so why bother taking into account the human beings within the Gilbert community who are affected?
Mr. Allison & Co. ran into a problem. Those 645 students and their parents. This isn’t a game of chess. These students and parents aren’t expendable pawns.
The first that GJHS parents knew about this was when they received a letter from Superintendent Dave Allison on September 18. The parents and community of Gilbert Jr. High School are outraged due to the District’s arrogance in seeking their involvement, and lack of transparency of the district.
On the other side of the coin is Gilbert Classical Academy’s need for a larger, more appropriate facility.
It’s a difficult situation. But it has been handled miserably by GPS Officials.
PLEASE ATTEND this meeting, even if you don’t speak out. It’s important that every person in the room clap loudly whenever anyone suggests “Let’s postpone this decision for at least six months so that members of the Gilbert community who are affected by this issue can come together and work through these issues and make some recommendations to the Board.”
To put this into perspecive, GPS spent about 6 months obtaining community recommendations to name Campo Verde High School! The Gilbert Town Council gave Gilbert citizens about 6 months to get used to going from the print version of Your Town to the online version!
Here’s the Story.
There is no doubt that Gilbert Classical Academy has outgrown its current facility. There is a waiting list of more than100 students. They can’t wait forever, so parents within the GPS district are opting for schools outside the district, taking the state money with them.
Not everyone wants to attend a school like GCA. It’s a parent-driven choice. However, GCA is a phenomenal school, and because the school so successfully turns out exemplary graduates, more parents would like to send their children to GCA. For the type of education these students are getting at GCA, it is a bargain to the tax payer. GCA students have exceptional AIMS scores, and graduation, college acceptance, and scholarship award rates. It has already gained a reputation among several excellent universities. If GCA expands, it will pull from Chandler, Mesa, Higley and even Queen Creek.
Here are some statistics provided by Jodie Dean, the principal of GCA.
First graduation class: 29
Scholarship dollars earned as a group : $2.4 million
Graduation rate: 100%
Students currently attending college: 100%
Second graduation class: 22
Scholarship dollars earned as a group : $2.9 million
Graduation rate: 100%
Students currently attending college: 100%
Universities that have provided full ride scholarships to GCA students include Notre Dame, Duke, Baylor, University of Louisiana, Cal-Poly, De Paul University, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, and Tulane.
To accommodate growth, portables have been added to GCA. However, it was originally an elementary school, so there is no gym, auditorium, or music room, or opportunity for electives or extracurricular activities. There is very little parking for seniors. GCA children have parents who are very involved and supporting, however, they have to drive their children all over for music and athletics. There is no more land. GCA must move.
On the Other Hand….
That letter from Dave Allison informing Gilbert Junior High parents only went to incoming sixth-grade and current 7th grade families, without regard for the remaining community members. The letter was received 6 days before the informational meeting where parents were told that the vote by the School Board would be in 7 days. If they can make a decision with 13 days notice and no community input for this school, they can do it to any school.
Adhering to the strategic plan (approved in June) is quoted as the reason for this change. However the strategic plan also notes, in three major categories, the need for community involvement, community input to foster unity, and engaging maturing communities. The administration has not included the community.
Mesquite Jr. is a much better fit for the needs of GCA since it was once a high school and GCA is a jr/high school combined.
This proposed change affects boundaries for 5 of Gilbert’s 6 junior high schools. None of the other affected parties were notified.
The strategic plan calls for aligning boundaries with K-12 vision. The west side of the district does, in fact, have declining enrollment in several schools, but the district needs to address the boundaries as a whole before arbitrarily starting with one junior high school.
GCA does need a facility to increase their growth, but they need the appropriate facility for the best possible "world class education" (district vision) for their students, not just any campus.
The District expressed that they only know an approximate cost for renovating GJHS to GCA for the first year. They have explicitly stated that they will do an evaluation during that first year to determine the full costs. It is fiscally irresponsible for the District or the Board to move ahead on a major project without knowing the financial costs of the project.
An influx of 200-300 students will be at Greenfield Junior and Mesquite Junior next fall. While those campuses can handle the influx, based on building size, it doesn’t mean it’s the best choice, especially without the affected community being made aware of this change.
There are many other issues specific to GJHS and their community (i.e. traffic, parking, lights on the fields, impact on current students-50% of which are from lower socio-economic areas, etc) but the bottom line is that the District is encouraging this move without community input or involvement, without notice, without full fiscal knowledge, and without addressing the larger issue of declining enrollment on the entire west side of the district.
Several of the parents and community members are encouraging the District and School Board to postpone this decision for 6 months to evaluate the BEST steps for our district, and to include the community in the decisions and planning. It’s possible that after evaluating and community involvement, another option will serve the District better. This move is progressing so fast that other options and the community are not being considered. Other surrounding districts have made choices to repurpose and close schools, and we see the need to do so. However, when Gilbert was growing by 1000 people per month, we were a leader in how to handle growth in the District. We should be a leader in how to handle the demographic decline as well.
With community involvement, there could be a recommendation that wouldn’t require repurposing any of the current schools. We need community involvement for at least a 6 month period.
How many GCA students are somehow related to GPS employees? The first 2-3 years GCA was open, it was filled with about 80% GPS employee children and leftover spots were given as lottery to boundary GPS students. More recently, out of a class of 80-85 7th graders, only about 35 were available for lottery. The rest were taken by siblings which includes GPS employees! This policy of favoring GPS employees needs to be reconsidered to allow for more of the community’s children to be given the opportunity.
Some Facebook commenters have mentioned that renovations will be required to accommodate the new GCA campus. CORE Construction, the district’s favored vendor that has received so many contracts in the past, donated generously to the Pro-Override campaign sponsored by the Gilbert Education Foundation. Many people have connected the dots to CORE receiving new contracts after the previous override passed, but with this urgent campus reconfiguration requiring an IMMEDIATE vote, the district’s preferred vendor is looking at an equally immediate sweetener for its profit margin.
GilbertWatch obtained the preceding information from various sources and we thank them: Julie Smith, candidate for Gilbert Governing Board; Karen Udall, former Gilbert Schools Governing Board member; Western Connections; and points made in an email from the Gilbert Classical Academy PTO.
For More Information
To see the agenda for the board meeting:
Send an Email to Dave Allison and the Board Members:
The District’s strategic plan can be found on its website: www.gilbertschools.net.
Gilbert Superintendent, Parents Discuss Closing Junior High
(This article includes the letter that Superintendent Dave Allison sent to parents.)