State of the Schools 2017

Deborah Flores

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p dir=”ltr”>Math for kindergarten, focus on technology, solar power and new English materials are some of the highlights to students at the Gilroy Unified School District this year. Superintendent Deborah Flores spells out the latest on the three R’s and then some. (That’s Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic for you millennials.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: What is new this school year?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: During the recession years the budget was cut so significantly that the funds that were used to buy new textbooks and materials were cut. We are very excited that funding was restored to the budget last year, so we have adopted new math material for kindergarten through twelfth grade. We had outdated math material everywhere because of that funding issue.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>The new math material is very modern with a strong emphasis on technology. This year we have adopted new English language arts material. We had language materials that were up to 12 years old, so to have brand new material is very exciting.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>In addition to that, over the last couple of years teachers have been given a lot of training how to use these materials. It’s been great to go to classrooms with board members to see the evidence of these new adoptions. In an elementary school, we saw the new Go Math curriculum and our new Benchmark language arts curriculum, so we got to see the high level of student engagement in all our classrooms.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>In the next couple of years, we will be adopting new science and social studies materials. This generation loves materials that are online, so that’s another exciting thing that has developed at all our schools. We have Chromebooks Carts in all our classrooms now and it had been one of our goals to have one computer for every two students, but many schools now have a one to one ratio. Google Classroom has also been adopted and that’s exciting to see us go into a new era.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: With new math materials have you seen an appreciable difference in math scores?
 

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p dir=”ltr”>A: The state is holding up test scores from last spring, so they have not been released yet. There was a technical issue at the state level. We have individual student scores and principals have been looking at their own scores, but we can’t release anything yet because they’re held back by the state. We hope the tests will be released soon so we can present that information at a school board meeting.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: Do you have a feeling on how the scores turned out?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: I’ve been a superintendent for a long time and I’ve seen how these things turn out and usually it takes a year or two of a new adoption to see results. The first year the teachers are learning the materials. Pacing is a big deal in the first year because they’re going through the material for the first time. I’ve heard several teachers last year say that got about two-thirds through the textbook which is no surprise to me and is pretty normal. So, usually it takes a few years to see a big difference in test scores and that certainly was the case during our last adoption. This is not just Gilroy, but all over the state.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: Does GUSD have enough experienced teachers?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: Yes, definitely. We hired 80 new teachers this year and the previous year we hired about 70. We grow as a district, so we need new teachers every year. Because of all the new developments we’re adding new teachers and other professionals. We’re having a shortage-of-teachers crisis in California and all over the nation, so hiring teachers is a challenge across all districts. We have a huge crisis because we don’t have enough coming out of colleges. But, I’m pleased to say at the moment we have about 570 teachers and three full-time substitute teachers, who are great. We hope to have those positions filled with teachers as soon as possible, but fortunately, we have great full-time positions in those classes.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Our biggest challenge we have is hiring for math and special education. There are so few people going into those fields and fighting over the small pool of candidates that are out there is hard. I’m pleased to say that last year we started with nine substitutes and this year we’re doing really well in filling our math and special education positions. We might have filled one of those positions already.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Being in the southern part of the county we have not always been able to attract people away from the higher paying jobs in the richer districts. I’m pleased to say that many are coming here saying because of the more reasonable cost of living here and that because they heard great things about GUSD and that they want to work here. I think it’s a combination of quality of life of living in Gilroy and the opportunity to work in a school district that has done a lot of really great things.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: How will the GUSD protect Dreamer students?

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p dir=”ltr”>A:From the very beginning of talks of changing policy on the federal level we have made it really clear to our parents that we will continue to provide the best education possible to all our students. We don’t ask students for any kind of information that would identify them as citizens or not, that is not part of our process and it has never been. We treat all our students the same and we provide all our students with as much help as we can, particularly high school students who we hope will be going off to college.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: As Gilroy continues to add residents, what can the school district do to accommodate that growth?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: We have a plan to accommodate the growth. We are building a new elementary school that we hope have up and running within two to three years. We need it. We are also adding a new wing to Gilroy High. All the new growth is south of First Street so that the new students will be attending Las Animas Elementary, Solorsano Middle Schools and Gilroy High. Las Animas will be full within the next year according to the new developments which is why we are building the new elementary school near there becuase that’s the corridor where all the new housing is. We want to build before the students arrive because that’s where we know they’re going to be.”
 

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p dir=”ltr”>We feel good about where we are going to be because of the strength of Measure E and the support we have from the voters Gilroy we have the funds to build these new buildings. With additional classrooms, there will be additional teachers and we have a very aggressive recruiting plan which will begin in January.”
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: In a recent meeting about Alexander Station Apartments, you said that the school district expects around 70 new students to come out of the project. Do you still believe that is an accurate number?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: Because we had so many questions about that, we have asked our demographer to revisit that number. In light of the things we heard that day and what we learned about how many people are expected to live there, we expect there to be an upgrade of that projection.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Right now I don’t know exactly how many new students there will be and it is hard to pin down a number until people move into those apartments, but the management company will notify us anytime there are new students. They will tell us the names and ages of the students so we can prepare their enrollment at Las Animas, Solorsano and Gilroy High.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: Is there a plan to add more advanced placement classes to the curriculum?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: We have been working on this for ten years. When I arrived ten years ago we had very few AP courses at Gilroy High and GECA, our early college academy at Gavilan. Now we have two comprehensive high schools that both offer 20 AP classes. We have a wide variety of AP classes. Our GECA classes are very rigorous and students who graduate there get a associate’s degree from Gavilan.  
 

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p dir=”ltr”>There is an open enrollment in these classes. It is a self-selection of those students who feel they can handle these classes. We don’t screen students or require prerequisites because we want all students to be able to take AP classes. If they feel they are up to the work of taking college-level classes, they can enroll and we offer a lot of fo support from teachers and online for those students to succeed. Some of these students who go to GECA only need to go to college for two years since they already will already have had their AA. We are very proud of GECA; it’s usually one of the highest performing early college academies in the state.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: What do you think voters would like to see from Gilroy schools?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: We are very excited about the new elementary school and the work we have been doing at Gilroy High, which is starting to look like a new high school. We built our first solar projects in the Gilroy and Christopher High parking lots, which is going to generate a lot of power for the district. At Gilroy High, we were able to add lights and replace one of the worst parking lots in the district. The solar panels at Christopher are coming online within a few days and the ones at Gilroy High will be running in October. We are working on the new wing at Gilroy High as we speak and we hope to have it built by midyear. By the beginning of fall next year we hope to have a new two-story, twenty classroom wing at Gilroy High.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>We are also doing some new acoustics work at our student center at Gilroy High, which is the largest building in our district. We can fit over 1000 people in the building, but it’s a cafeteria, so the acoustics are terrible. We only have way done, but the acoustics are much better. The rest of the project will be finished in a couple of weeks. We’ll test it October 2, with our first choir performance there.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>We have had work done on the fire alarm system at Rod Kelly Elementary which was not working correctly but is now completely redone. There was a lot of wiring work done at Rod Kelly.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>We are focusing in on technology district-wide were we are working to make all of the facilities on our campuses wireless. We have already done the high schools and middle schools and we are about halfway done with the elementary schools. We are also increasing the speed of the internet. Along with buying more computers, we have done a lot of work on technology. Someday we want to have a one to one ratio of computers to students at all of our schools. We have spent $10 million of bond money into those projects.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>Q: Should we expect more bond measures soon?

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p dir=”ltr”>A: No. In my second year here we went up for Measure P and recently passed Measure E. We probably won’t go up for another bond issue in a while. We still have about $25 million in bond series from Measure P and we just sold the first series from Measure E and we would raise the tax rate too high if we were to sell a series too fast or got out for another one. It will be awhile before we go out for another one. We do everything in stages and we have a lot of things planned for the next five to six years.
 

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p dir=”ltr”>After we finish the new elementary school, we will sell more bonds from Measure E and renovate our two oldest middle schools, Brownell and South Valley. We have plans for the next ten years for these funds and we’re staging the work because we can’t just build everything at once.

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