Bell may be ringing soon for Gilroy Prep

Karen Humber

A meeting slated for Nov. 18 may give Sharon Waller the green
light from the Gilroy Unified School District to continue full
speed with plans of launching Gilroy Prep Charter School by August
A meeting slated for Nov. 18 may give Sharon Waller the green light from the Gilroy Unified School District to continue full speed with plans of launching Gilroy Prep Charter School by August 2011.

Waller, a speech therapist at Luigi Aprea Elementary School who’s joined by colleagues Karen Humber and Kristyn Corley, was anticipating a definitive vote subsequent to a meeting that took place Thursday. However the board asked for a 30-day extension to scrutinize recently updated budget minutiae.

“We plan to schedule the next board meeting in two weeks, though,” said Deborah Flores, Gilroy Unified School District superintendent on Friday. “Not 30 days.”

The founders hope to open Gilroy Prep in August 2011 with about 120 kindergarten through second grade students, and eventually expand their school through the eighth grade, adding one grade per year.

Trustees are considering particulars such as attendance conditions and enrollment figures. They also need to negotiate for facilities.

Details aside, the remaining obstacle is making sure the money is there, according to Flores, who mentions a taut budget that requires at least 180 students.

At issue for the trustees is Gilroy Prep’s dependence on a California start-up grant and a California Department of Education revolving loan fund.

Flores said reliance is typical of a new charter school and a smaller student body could make the school difficult to operate. She’s confident Gilroy Prep will successfully reach its targeted enrollment quota.

“We just need some more information about this, and a few other things on the budget that they shared with us (Thursday) night,” said Flores, pointing to an amicable relationship with Gilroy Prep founders. “But we’ve had a very cooperative working relationship … assuming it all comes together and works, I’m sure they’ll be approved at the next board meeting.”

Gilroy Unified Trustee Denise Apuzzo said she has no doubt the board will approve plans, allowing Waller, Humber and Corley to shift into high gear and not look back.

“I was ready to move forward (Thursday) night,” said trustee Denise Apuzzo, echoing Flores. “It’s a good group of people. They have a good, sound educational plan. We just wanted to make sure the budget would work.”

Since observing a charter school for the first time in 10 years ago in Seattle, Waller’s dogged determination to see one come to fruition in Gilroy has remained persistent.

“From that point, nothing ever quite satisfied when you knew that there were people doing it – and getting it right – and advocating for kids who, normally, the system was failing,” she said. “That’s what changed my view.”

Waller is understanding of the boards’ cautious and conservative manner, and agrees no stone can be left unturned.

“They’re exercising extreme due diligence in light of El Portal Leadership Academy’s failure,” she said. “We’re trying to be really respectful of that.”

Skies appear to be sunny, however. Waller said during a Nov. 4 dialogue, several members said they would vote in favor of proceeding had they been deciding that day.

Apuzzo said the former location of El Portal – the Gilroy ninth through 12th grade charter school that closed in spring 2009 when audits revealed financial mismanagement and failing academics – is a possible candidate for the future site of Gilroy Prep.

“We need to provide facilities, and that’s available. It makes the most sense,” said Apuzzo.

With inevitable apprehensions of a repeat scenario hanging in the air, Apuzzo outlines fundamental differences between the two institutions. She said Waller, Humber and Corley specifically have extensive backgrounds in the education field, and that starting an elementary charter school is easier than starting a charter high school.

Flores, additionally, points out Gilroy Prep’s infrastructure will model tried-and-tested academic formulas, including a practice adopted by Eliot Elementary School called Whole Brain Teaching. The teaching method combines kinesthetic, auditory and visual elements to engage all types of learners.

“They’re modeling it after a very successful school – Eliot,” said Flores. “All elementary schools in the district are rolling out Eliot models.”

She agrees El Portal wasn’t educationally or financially sound. “That is the reason why we’re taking this so carefully. So we don’t have a repeat of the last one.”

Humber likens opening a school to riding a roller coaster, but said she hasn’t encountered any negative comments or feelings. She said everyone has been supportive.

“It’s kind of like a dream,” she said, ogling at how an idea that starts in somebody’s kitchen can progress to a level of reality so quickly.

Currently Gilroy Prep has 110 pre-enrollment forms signed by parents. Waller said if the district approves plans Nov. 18, enrollment would commence immediately and remain open until March.

Humber said Gilroy Prep welcomes parents with different areas of expertise, be it fundraising or technology, and suggests anyone interested in getting involved visit

“We’re very excited,” said Waller. “We can hardly wait. It’s a lot of work that we have to do, but it’s work that will be so gratifying.”

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