First day of school: Hugs, snakes and traffic

Gabriela Gonzalez tries to comfort her granddaughter Isabella,

From teenagers experiencing the early stages of

senioritis

to chain reactions of teary-eyed parents who lose it when their
4-year-olds start to cry on the first day of kindergarten, the
Gilroy Unified School District was back in full swing Monday.
From teenagers experiencing the early stages of “senioritis” to chain reactions of teary-eyed parents who lose it when their 4-year-olds start to cry on the first day of kindergarten, the Gilroy Unified School District was back in full swing Monday.

The new year sees around 11,000 students flooding the halls and classrooms all over the Garlic Capital, with 49 new staffers spread between 15 kindergarten through 12th-grade sites and GUSD administrative offices.

Kicking off the day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed was the first class of Christopher High School seniors, who arrived with lawn chairs and blankets to the CHS basketball court at 6 a.m. for “Senior Sunrise.” The new tradition in which the junior class hosts a pancake breakfast for seniors is the first of many to come, according to Perla Birgen-Silba, a junior who helped facilitate the inaugural gathering. She arrived voluntarily at 5:30 a.m. with nine other juniors who helped host the morning meal. While the overcast weather was less than cooperative, CHS senior Paulina Vo-Griffin, 17, shrugged it off.

“I think this qualifies as the sun rising … if it just got a little bit brighter.”

ASB President Chris Baeza later addressed the modest group that included a turnout of 50 seniors, encouraging his peers to work hard and savor their waning high school career.

For a group of students who first experienced a brand new CHS as sophomores together, Baeza’s pep talk encapsulated the spirit of CHS’s 2011-12 theme: “From good, to great.”

“I’m glad it’s my senior year,” he said. “But I thought I’d never get here.”

From new programs, to new buildings, to new schools, here’s a modest collage of education highlights ushering in the 2011-12 school year.

NEW AND IMPROVED

Thanks to the $150 million Measure P general obligation bond passed by taxpayers in 2008, GUSD is whittling down a lengthy punch-list of facilities upgrades. In addition to getting a new parking lot this fall and bus lay-by this fall (an area where students get dropped off) Rod Kelley under went a major technology upgrade. GUSD’s transportation department has returned to its newly renovated former facility at 8067 Swanston Lane, saving the district $120,000 in future lease expenses. A 1970s-era home economics classroom was made-over into a career technical education facility at GHS. Five-year-old computers in labs and teacher workstations were also replaced.

PROJECT LEAD THE WAY

A brand-new, cutting edge biomedical science academy called Project Lead the Way kicks off this year at Gilroy High School. GHS is one of just a few schools in the Bay Area to offer the federally recognized curriculum, which aims to grow the nation’s technology workforce. PLTW engages students in activities, projects and problem-based learning that provides hands-on classroom experiences such as creating, designing, building, collaborating and solving problems while applying what they learn in math and science. GHS will add a newly trained teacher and course each year for the next three years.

GILROY CHARTER SETS SAIL

A charter school 10 years in the making officially came to life Monday when students showed up for class at IOOF Avenue. Gilroy Prep School is located next to South Valley Junior High School in Gilroy, the former location of El Portal Leadership Academy. Its founders include James Dent, former principal of Eliot Elementary School, along with Luigi Aprea Elementary School teachers Sharon Waller, Karen Humber and Kristyn Corley. During its first year, GPS will cater to 60 students in each of the kindergarten, first- and second-grades, with an additional grade tacked on each year up to the eighth-grade.

CLASSY COUGARS

Ten years and more than $111 million later, a near-complete Christopher High School stands colossal at 350 Day Road. Phase II construction, which began July 10, 2010 and includes an $11,950,000 humanities building where English, foreign languages and digital media will be taught, is almost finished. The $3,787,000 aquatics center features a city-run activities pool, shared administrative office and a 13-foot deep competition pool, which is set to open Oct. 1.

BUSING: THE GOOD, THE BAD

On one hand, GUSD has cut six of its 12 bus routes, $225,000 from its transportation budget and will cater to 540 of the 1,100 students it served last year. It also dissolved five driver positions, a dispatcher and an instructor.

While the district down-sized its transportation department the last two years without impacting passengers, GUSD Transportation Supervisor Annie Sharp underlines the newest round of reductions “is the one that hurts.”

On the other hand, “GUSD is one of the few districts in the county to still have home-to-school transportation even available,” she adds. “Many districts already eliminated home-to-school transportation altogether.”

SMILE-WORTHY SCORES

GUSD recently calculated projected Academic Performing Index scores for all of its schools based on the 2011 Standardized Testing and Reporting program. Projections reveal across-the-board growth in the projected Academic Performing Index for 13 out of 15 Gilroy schools, continued overall increases on mathematics and English language arts scores, coupled with fewer students performing at the “far below basic” and “below basic levels.” Overall, the district’s API has improved from 777 to 793. The California Department of Education sets a statewide goal of 800.

SCARY NUMBERS

According to GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores, “the bad news is there is a very real chance of significant mid-year budget cuts, which could result in another $3 million in cuts.”

Flores says the “good news” is that GUSD will receive flat funding. But “unfortunately, the good news is tempered by a very real possibility that the state may impose mid-year reductions,” she wrote in a district-wide letter posted on GUSD’s website. The Catch 22 is that GUSD won’t know until December if these ominous mid-year triggers will happen, leaving a potential $3 million loss hanging overhead.

Should the triggers occur, GUSD may be facing “the reduction of seven more school days to mitigate the effects of the mid-year loss in revenue,” according to Flores.

BY THE NUMBERS

API, graduation and dropout rates

Projected API scores

Elementary

Antonio Del Buono: 801; improved by 62 points

El Roble: 780; improved by 5 points

Eliot: 831; decreased by 5 points

Glen View: 796; increased by 22 points

Las Animas: 864; increased by 38 points

Luigi Aprea: 896; increased by 44 points

Rod Kelley: 826; increased by 57 points

Rucker: 810; increased by 23 points

Junior high

Ascencion Solorsano: 825; increased by 11 points

Brownell: 812; increased by 29 points

South Valley: 763; increased by 5 points

High school

Dr. T.J. Owens Early College Academy (GECA): 926; increased by 34 points

Mt. Madonna: 575; decreased by 5 points

Gilroy: 736; increased by 7 points

Christopher: 793; increased by 10 points

***

Dropout/graduation rates

2009-12 Cohort graduation report

GUSD: 79.4 percent

Santa Clara County: 78.3 percent

2009-12 Cohort dropout report

GUSD: 15.2 percent

Santa Clara County: 16.8 percent

2009-12 Graduation rates by high school

Dr. T.J. Owens Early College Academy (GECA): 100 percent

Gilroy High School: 86.9 percent; a .2 percent improvement

Mt. Madonna High: 77.6 percent; a 7.6 percent improvement

District total: 83.2 percent; a 1.8 percent improvement

County total: 84.7 percent; a 3.2 percent improvement

State total: 80.4 percent; a 1.8 percent improvement

* The four-year “cohort” information collected about individual students is available for the first time for the 2009-10 graduating class. The previously calculated completion rate (known as CALPADS) did not account for students who transferred into or out of schools over four years, causing the graduation rate to be over-estimated.

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