Charter school answers key concerns at meeting

From left, Gilroy Prep founders Karen Humber, Kristyn Corley and

When parents, future students and vested community members
filled the special events room Tuesday night at Lizarran Tapas
Restaurant for Gilroy Prep School’s information and planning
meeting, GPS leaders came geared with straightforward answers and a
big to-do list.
When parents, future students and vested community members filled the special events room Tuesday night at Lizarran Tapas Restaurant for Gilroy Prep School’s information and planning meeting, GPS leaders came geared with straightforward answers and a big to-do list.

A brand new charter school 10 years in the making, GPS is set to open August 2011 and was founded by veteran educators Sharon Waller, Karen Humber and Kristyn Corley with the help of Eliot Elementary School principal James Dent.

“We want to get every student on track for college from the very beginning,” said Dent, responding to one parent who asked what the mission of GPS was, specifically.

“I’ve see kids turned around in middle school, but we want to take them at the beginning and create opportunity for them,” he replied.

The four brought about 50 parents up to speed on key elements such as location, enrollment, the likelihood of a lottery, the crucial importance of getting a grant request from the state of California and the imminent need for volunteers possessing a wide range of vocations, knowledge and experience.

“We’ve done the initial groundwork out of passion and the belief every child deserves phenomenal education,” said Humber addressing the audience. “You can see how many people are in the room. It’s bigger than the four or five of us who have been doing it. This is the moment: If this is going to take off, we need all your support. We can’t do it on our own.”

She was interrupted seconds later by a supporting round of applause.

Excitement aside, the ominous reality of flat funding from the state for all GUSD schools in the 2011-12 fiscal year was clearly a forerunner on the concern list.

“What if the school doesn’t get the grant?” asked one attendee.

“Lots of tears and frustration,” said Dent. “But I would be very surprised if we didn’t get it.”

Dent said the only probable reason they would be denied the grant was if there was a technical error in their charter’s petition such as a “nitty gritty detail” the state would likely give GPS a chance to correct.

Entertaining the absolute worst-case scenario, Dent said it would possibly entail putting GPS on hold for a year, then restarting the process.

“But we haven’t talked about this, because we haven’t allowed it to enter our minds,” he said.

He pointed out the biggest risk is in the first year, and emphasized stability is dependent on upping enrollment over several years.

“Wanna write out a straight check? That would be fabulous,” said Humber candidly, who reminded when it’s free education, schools can’t charge for anything. “This will be a fabulous adventure for your children and community of Gilroy. But nothing magically appears.”

Other questions such as “where are teachers being drawn come from?” were addressed.

Dent said there are a lot of “gems” out there in the profession who don’t have jobs.

He mentioned great second or third-year teachers who may not necessarily have a ton of experience, but could be “molded” to the vision of the school and the way leaders want it to play out.

“Will there be room for creativity, or are we only catering to test scores?” asked one parent.

Dent said GPS wants its students to be the highest performing when it comes to standardized tests, but said there will also be freedom to expand around science, technology, drama, art and music.

Administrators said the prospective location for GPS will most likely be El Portal Leadership Academy on IOOF Avenue next to South Valley Junior High School in Gilroy.

However, with official registration beginning Feb. 1 and 166 students already pre-enrolled, it’s looking like not everyone will get in the first year; namely kindergartners.

So far 95 kindergartners have pre-enrolled according to Corley, who reminded the first year at GPS will only cater to 60 students in each of the kindergarten, third and second grades.

The plan is to tack on another grade with each passing year.

When registration closes March 31, Dent explained a lottery would dictate who gets in and who doesn’t, with precedence awarded to students living within the Gilroy Unified School District.

A student from Gilroy, for example would get four balls in the lottery, where as a Morgan Hill student would get one.

GPS founders told parents they’ve been observing models and methods of other charters; one standout practice being the implementation of healthy eating habits – meaning items such as Cheetos, soda and candy won’t likely be found on the GPS campus.

Waller said a food service called Revolution Foods, a company that focuses on organic ingredients and serving healthy lunches at schools, will be the meal provider at GPS.

“It’s a really cool thing we want to do,” she said.

Humber rallied parents with matter-of-fact gusto, asking them to take ownership.

Progress, she asserted, will rely heavily on their initiative and involvement.

“Little office elves – they don’t exist,” she said. “Things you think happen overnight don’t happen that way.”

She indicated to a stack of sign-up forms, which included developing a wellness policy and emergency plan, building a playground and lunch area, the need for people with medical connections, securing supplies, fundraising, obtaining physical education equipment, grant writing, ideas on art, drama, music, sports, gardening, cooking, nutrition, obtaining college banners and much more.

“It’s never too early for kids to start understanding where they may be going someday,” she said.