GUSD’s Queen of Safety

Brown is the new green as Cheryl Galloway has lawn ripped out at Gilroy High and replaces it with environmentally friendly plants

Getting dumped as a teacher was the best thing ever for Cheryl Galloway’s education career.
The woman who now heads up the response to floods and active shooters for the Gilroy Unified School District earned a creative writing degree from the University of Arizona and spent years as a substitute before landing her dream job in 2008 teaching English fulltime at Brownell Middle School.
Two years later and a month from getting her teaching credential from California State University at Monterey Bay, a pink slip arrived in Galloway’s mail as Gilroy school officials axed 40 jobs to balance the budget.
Things appeared bleak for the divorced mother of three boys, then aged 10, 12 and 14.
But not for long.
She was just named one of Gilroy Unified School District’s best employees, and her collaborative, get-it-done work ethic has earned her accolades from peers and the title of Energy Queen.
The moniker reflects one of her roles, to cut GUSD’s use and cost of energy and water, a mission accomplished.
Galloway, 49, wears so many hats since rejoining the district shortly after losing her teaching job that no one has figured out a fitting title for the Blacksburg, VA native who calls Gilroy home.
Some might argue for Cheryl The Extraordinaire.
“She is an incredible asset,” said Mary Gutierrez, a Gilroy Fire Department Division Chief who works closely with Galloway on safety issues, such as installation of portable heart defibrillator machines in schools and teaching students CPR.
“We can call her 24/7, she has a heart of gold,” said Gilroy Police Department Capt. Kurt Svardal. He and Galloway collaborate on active shooter drills and flood scenarios, the latter not an easy task with flood-prone waterways and a student/parent population that speaks 38 languages—all of whom get notified when there is an emergency.
Maintenance Manager Dan McAuliffe nominated Galloway for the district’s new employee recognition award. It said, in part: “When the rain pours down and sites need to be evaluated for safety, Cheryl is there. At 4 a.m. when the superintendent needs to drive by the sites to make a call about whether or not school should be cancelled due to flooding, Cheryl is the one sitting in the car right next to her. She doesn’t say “no” to anything.”
That is the caliber of devotion that earned Galloway and three others the award.
Co-winners were Michelle Anderson, a first grade teacher at Glen View Elementary School; Analisa Alexandre, Assessment Paraeducator at Solorsano Middle School; and Marcial Gonzalez, a sprinkler technician for 29 years.
Fifty-three people were nominated.
Galloway’s journey to the award began when the 2010 layoff opened an unexpected career path.
“I got my pink slip in March, got my teaching credential in May and I was hired for the energy education position in June,” she recalled. “Sometimes you don’t know why things happen but it turned out to be a good thing,” said Galloway, the daughter of a poet/musician mom and a composer father who taught at Virginia Tech.
That good thing was she was tapped as GUSD’s first energy education specialist, charged with energy conservation, cost savings and teaching kids valuable life lessons.
It was a perfect fit for the unabashed people person.
“Nobody works for me, yet I have to get everybody to cooperate and get along; you are building relationships constantly and that I love,” she said.
Although she had no background in the subject matter, Galloway embraced the role. She learned all she could about energy and water use, waste and conservation and engaged kids.
She enlisted students in an army of “energy elves” and together, whether school was in session or not, they monitored power and water use, turned off lights and encouraged new behaviors in others.
Soon, the mother of three became the district’s first Energy Conservation Specialist, with oversight at all facilities.
In the future she will oversee installation of energy sensors and LED lighting in district facilities.
Her efforts since 2010 helped reduce anticipated energy costs by nearly 25 percent, about $5.3 million. That’s money that would have been spent had her program not been implemented, according to Galloway.
And then came other hats, all of which Galloway donned with the same drive, producing equally lauded outcomes.
When the Sandy Hook mass school shooting happened in 2012, it was a wakeup call nationwide, including in Gilroy.
Tapped as GUSD’s lead for campus safety and security, Galloway developed partnerships with Gilroy police and fire officials and the county’s first responders, which, in some cases, had stagnated.
She walked every inch of every school with police and noted needed safety changes, improved communications and paid special attention to how people from different cultures communicate to handle emergencies.
“I have seen a drastic increase in attention paid to emergency response communications, supplies, training and drills because of her efforts,” McAuliffe wrote.
Her other accomplishments include creation of an Incident Command System and an Emergency Operations Center, earthquake drills with paramedics and students playing injured victims, equipping schools with reliable emergency radios, training in the use of the Run, Hide and Defense system for dangerous situations and partnering with the SWAT teams in Active Shooter Drills.
Galloway also manages rentals of all district facilities, including gyms, pools, classrooms and sports fields.
And all the while she has pursued a Master’s degree in Public Administration at San Jose State University, which she hopes to complete in May.
The bonds Galloway has created with other city agencies pay off when things get tough, according to those who work with her.
The recent flooding is a good example—police, fire and school officials coordinated routes and alerted parents perhaps better than ever.
“I have been in the fire service for 29 years and I have not had this kind of relationship and partnership with the school district [before],” said Gutierrez, Gilroy Fire’s EMS director.
Galloway, “Helps to bridge the gap because of her professionalism and because she takes on responsibilities that are not necessarily in her wheelhouse,” she said.
At the GPD, Svardal underscored the importance of collaboration with a district responsible for the safety of more than 11,000 students.
“With Cheryl, we do so much collaboration it is a huge benefit and we have a very safe district.”
Calling her optimistic, can-do attitude “infectious … especially in the times of crisis,” McAuliffe said, “our district would be a much different place, and not for the better, if Cheryl was not here doing what she does.”
For her part, Galloway could not be any clearer about the most important part of her job.
“We have 11,200 students, that is a fifth of the population, all under 18, and in any kind of a disaster we have to take care of the most precious person in your life.”