School Flight Hurts Community

Our View: The message from many parents is simple: It’s the
product and it’s high time the school district cared to do
something about it
The shocking statistics about students leaving the Gilroy Unified School District for private schools, homeschooling and other public school districts provide a sobering look at how our schools are perceived.

Setting aside those families whose sole motivation is religious education, more than 1,000 Gilroy parents who can afford private schools choose to send their children elsewhere. Others choose to educate their children at home or to transfer to other public schools.

Anecdotally, it’s clear that in Gilroy, many parents have a big decision to make when their children reach high-school age: Do they want to send their kids to Gilroy High School or not? That’s unfortunate for many reasons.

When you listen to parents who’ve opted out of Gilroy schools, especially Gilroy High School, for nonreligious reasons, it’s clear that parents choose other education options for two main reasons: quality education and discipline.

While some think the problem is primarily one of poor public relations, that’s simply not the truth. The problem is one of product. Gilroy needs to offer a better product – better educations for students, better administrators and teachers who really value parental involvement, who maintain discipline in classrooms, who are measured according to quantifiable standards and held accountable.

When that happens, the leakage of Gilroy students to private schools and better public schools will be greatly reduced.

After all, it’s a financial burden to educate a student in private schools. It’s a logistical burden to educate students in any school far from home. If parents are willing to shoulder these burdens, on top of paying taxes for a school system they don’t use, it’s clear there are systemic problems.

At least one school trustee understands this.

“It’s time to be proactive. We must be responsive to parents’ concerns and find out what it will take to bring their children back to GUSD and then act upon it,” Rhoda Bress said at a recent board meeting.

One way to be proactive is to build Christopher High School. One of the advantages that private schools enjoy is smaller class sizes. Building a second high school is the linchpin of the $69 million bond issue Gilroy voters passed and it’s the most important step toward addressing the concern of many parents that their children will be overlooked on the overcrowded 2,400-student GHS campus.

It’s also time to understand that the damage that the public school leakage does goes far beyond the impact on the district’s average daily attendance funds. When involved parents take their students out of the district, it damages the fabric of our community.

Parents who would very likely give their time and money to GUSD schools if their students stayed in the community, instead give their time and money to other schools. Students who would be making connections to friends and institutions in Gilroy instead make connections in other communities.

Finally, the loss of students makes our classrooms poorer academically. Any athlete will tell you that competing against an excellent player forces your own game to improve. Likewise, when the best and brightest leave our local schools for other schools, the bar is lowered in our own classrooms.

Many GHS programs are excellent: music, sports programs like field hockey, drama and foreign language, for example, draw students to our high school. Let’s look at those programs, find out why their successful, and transfer those lessons to our less-than-successful and woefully inadequate programs. Those programs’ success factors include teamwork toward a goal of excellence, high standards, heavy parental involvement and rigor.

High rates of Gilroy students leaving our schools is not acceptable. It’s a sign that problems need to be fixed, and it behooves the district employees, the school board and the community to identify and resolve those problems.

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