Gilroy parents, teachers join the push for Morgan Hill charter school

Gilroy Prep math teacher Heather Parsons leads her class through an exercise during a recent visit to the school. Gilroy Prep wants to open a charter school here in Hollister.

The second step towards bringing a new charter school to the Morgan Hill Unified School District was completed Tuesday as the Board of Education hosted a pubic hearing “to determine the level of support for the petition by teachers, employees of the district and parents/guardians.”

Board members listened as 18 residents – mostly from the neighboring city of Gilroy who were teachers, parents of students or on the governing board of Gilroy Prep School – took the podium to show their support for forming Morgan Hill Prep in the fall of 2014.

“I enjoyed hearing that,” said Board President Don Moody, of community members’ input. “I value the interest of the people (for a charter school). But many of the people who spoke were not Morgan Hill residents.”

Parents such as Flavio Barrios spoke about the positive impact Gilroy Prep has made on his child, who struggled in his first two years of public school before transferring to GPS.

“It was very frustrating for me, but that problem ended when he started at GPS…It’s really unbelievable,” said Barrios, who wants Morgan Hill students to have the same opportunities his son now has in Gilroy. “I know my English is not that good, but I just wanted to express what I feel about this program.”

GPS is founded and operated by Navigator Schools, a grassroots umbrella management organization aimed at successfully spreading learning models and narrowing the achievement gap by establishing additional charter schools in up to eight other cities, including Hollister Prep in 2013-14.

Four more parents, introducing themselves as parent leaders of PACT (Parents Acting Together in the Community), urged the Board members to accept the petition for a Navigator School in Morgan Hill.

PACT consists of a couple hundred parents, predominantly of Hispanic families, who in recent months have lashed out at Board members and administrators for what they call an education “crisis” within MHUSD.

“To me, Gilroy Prep defines what a successful school should look like,” said Martha Martinez, whose child is an English Language Learner currently attending San Martin Gwinn Elementary School.

Martinez, along with many PACT parents, toured GPS as well as other charter schools in the area, before requesting that founder James Dent and his staff consider forming a new school in Morgan Hill.

“Too many students are falling through the cracks,” stated Armando Benavides, also a member of PACT and regular speaker at MHUSD board meetings. “This charter will significantly close the achievement gap.”

The “achievement gap” is defined as the disparity in educational performance between students of varying socioeconomic statuses.

Gilroy Prep School opened in 2010 on I.O.O.F Avenue in Gilroy. In its first year of operation, the charter broke the 970 API barrier – the state’s benchmark for this yardstick that measures academic growth and success is 800 – and is also the highest-performing first-year charter out of 500 in the state of California since 2006. The previous high score was 957.

“I like Gilroy Prep because 84 percent of Latino children in second grade are proficient in English,” said Rosa Rojas, who has three children attending MHUSD schools and a third-grade son at GPS. “In the Morgan Hill Unified School District, only 20 percent of Latino students are proficient in English…my child not part of that 20 percent.”

Current GPS staff, such as teacher Heather Parsons, also praised the work being done at Navigator Schools. Parsons said she taught in public and private schools over the last 10 years before joining the GPS staff.

“I have learned more in the past two years of teaching at this charter school than those 10 years combined,” Parsons said. “Let’s raise the bar together. Let’s not just be satisfied with our jobs. Let’s be inspired.”

Other speakers, including GPS board member Paul Nadeau, a parent of an 8-year-old GPS, touted the benefits of having a Navigator School in a district, where teachers from other schools can use them as an “open resource” and collaborate to learn their teaching methodology.

“Educators we’ve got have the secret sauce,” Nadeau said.

Next up: The Board of Education trustees must vote on the Navigator Schools petition within the next 30 days. The next two scheduled school board meetings are May 28 and June 11.