Karen Udall Speaks to the Gilbert School Board 10/2/2012

As a preface to Ms. Udall’s speech, with the exception of Staci Burk, the School Board disregarded Ms. Udall’s advice and voted to close Gilbert Jr High School to make way for Gilbert Classical Academy.

Karen Udall to the Gilbert School Board

I’ve been asked to speak on behalf of several Gilbert Jr. High parents and GPS community members.  As a former school board member, I am one of very few here tonight who had the experience of sitting where you sit. 

It is clear that GCA needs a new home, but they need the right home. Needing a place to live does not mean buying the first house that you see. Finding the right place for your family to grow, flourish, and develop is important.  When you buy that new home, do you do so without knowing how much it will cost?  And how much your home improvements will be?  That is what the Administration is doing by asking you to move forward immediately.  

Neither the Board or GPS Administration Know the Cost of the Project

You should be asking: What is the capacity at build out for GCA? Is the GCA community looking to better retain their high school population by increasing their ability to provide the extra-curricular opportunities like the comprehensive high schools provide? For example, athletics, appropriate-sized fields and gym, and auditorium?   Shouldn’t you have the full cost for the project prior to voting? The Administration has made a recommendation to the School Board without community involvement, and without knowledge of the full costs.  The Administration has specifically stated that they only have an estimated cost for the first year, and they will research what is needed after the move. That is fiscally irresponsible, with taxpayer’s dollars.

The Strategic Plan is spoken of often when discussing this issue.  Unfortunately a major part of the strategic plan is being ignored:  community involvement. 

Strategic Focus 1.B: Increased parental engagement across all education levels within the district

Action Plan 1.B.4:  Cultivate community relationships to foster unity and aid growth. 

This action plan was completely ignored given the 6 days notice parents received on 9/19 to attend an informational meeting on 9/25; and the 7 days notice from that meeting for the Board Meeting agenda item.

The District and School Board spent more time discussing the naming of Campo Verde High School with the community than they have on closing a junior high.

Moving forward tonight, without the input of all interested parties, is in direct opposition to that Plan and a personal affront to the community you serve.  Waiting 6 months, gathering all of the information and community involvement may restore some faith in the administration and the school board members.  You may feel that we, as a District, are late to repurposing schools, however, that is not a reason to push through without full fiscal knowledge and community involvement.

A parent who served on the committee for Hamilton Prep shared how they moved forward with repurposing.

Hamilton Prep was leasing their space from a church and the lease was going to be ending, so the district decided to look at elementary schools that had declining enrollment. The main schools they chose to look at were older schools that were built out- a list was compiled and parents and staff were chosen from each school to be a part of the committee. The committee looked at each schools enrollment & possible enrollment- and narrowed the choices down to 3 possible schools. Then they looked at where and how each school could accommodate Hamilton Prep- space for building a gym, parking for students who could drive, and what the cost would be to accomplish that. It was then narrowed down to 2 schools, and then one. They had several meetings with the parents throughout the whole process- no one was in the "dark" about what was going on. It was tough to decide and hard to tell the parents. The boundaries were adjusted and the students bused to their respective schools. This was a 2 year process- incoming kindergarteners began at their "new" assigned school and refurbishing and building of the gym and locker rooms were done while the students attended their last year.

That is exactly how we did it as we grew in Gilbert years ago.  We used that community input model and we were a leader in growth and handling it well. Shouldn’t we be a leader now when the demographics on the entire west side of our District are declining?

In all the explanations given by the Administration to the Gilbert Jr. families, not once was meeting the needs of the majority of students listed as a priority.

In my personal opinion, as a former board member, it is imperative to address the following items before voting on an issue as important as this one is:

  • Evaluate and align boundaries for all of the junior high schools; and realistically, looking, as strategic plan item 3C states, at boundaries district wide
  • Involving the community, not just the GCA and Gilbert Jr. community, but recognizing that this impacts the student body and families at Greenfield and Mesquite…so their input is important
  • Traffic through the Gilbert Jr./Houston Elementary neighborhood; and the impact of student drivers on those streets
  • Parking at Gilbert Jr. to accommodate the needs of GCA, and what the cost will be to improve the parking
  • Full fiscal knowledge including immediate and future upgrades, painting, renovations, signage, moving costs, computers and more
  • A transition plan: the current 7th grade students will be impacted greatly by going to a different school for 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, and their parents did not choose that; the district is choosing for them. Had the district been transparent with this plan, some of the 7th grade students may have chosen a different junior high school to minimize that personal impact.

There are rumors that some board members are willing to wait one month, until November. That is NOT a display of "listening to the community"…one month is simply getting those who are running past the election. We encourage the School Board to do the right thing and tell Administration that they handled this badly, address all of the points (boundaries, traffic, parking, fields, total cost to project, sciences labs, transition plan for students and staff)…one month is simply not enough time to do the due diligence necessary to make a responsible decision. 

If you have to make difficult decisions, you have to find the right way to do so, and this was not the way. 

The lack of leadership on this decision has not pulled the community together, but torn it apart.

You have the opportunity to fix the way this was done. We strongly encourage you to table this for six months to look at all of the options and the fiscal responsibility with community input since the Administration has chosen not to do so.

GPS’s vision of World-Class Teachers, World-Class Education and World-Class Graduates requires World-Class Administration.