UPDATED: Back to school at Gilroy Unified

Iris Cano Salvatier keeps her daughter Karina Cano, 8, warm as they wait on the blacktop on the first day of school August 19 at Las Animas Elementary School.

Parents of students in Gilroy Unified School District may have noticed some changes when they brought their children back to school. The 2014-15 school year, which officially started Aug. 19, brought new faces and new classes to some schools, as well as a few new facilities, with the completion over the summer of several construction projects.
For parents like Lions mom Stephanie Gonzalez, back-to-school came with the inevitable parental fears of watching her first-grader walk through the gates on the first day.
“I hope she’s going to find her teacher and wonder how she’s going to react; we’ll see,” Gonzalez said.
Eliot Elementary School was one of the several school sites throughout the district to undergo changes this year, which include the addition of two transitional kindergarten (TK) classes, one additional kindergarten class and a preschool migrant program planned to start by September. The school’s enrollment also increased from 500 to 545 students, according to Eliot Principal Patricia Pelino.
“We’re growing. We’re excited about that.” Pelino said.
This year saw the addition of some tech improvements. At Las Animas Elementary School, Principal Silvia Reyes said the school now has three mobile Chrome Book Carts for fifth, fourth and third-graders.
In addition, traffic flow at the school was switched to a clockwise direction, as the adjacent Glen Loma Ranch development works on future traffic improvements.
“It’s a great school with excellent staff and teachers,” parent Akron Kildani said.
Parent Michael Gallegos commended the school for providing a well-balanced atmosphere which not only focuses on learning but also provides for students’ overall well-being with groups like its Home and School club.
“That’s the good thing about having a community that takes care of each other,” Gallegos said.
There were also some new faces like parent Amanda Williams, who said she came to town for a PG&E pipeline project. Williams said she’s moved around quite a bit but that so far the community has shown friendliness and cooperation.
“You don’t always get that,” Williams said.
At South Valley Middle School, principal Anisha Munshi said it’s been an exciting, busy summer with enrollment increasing from 800 to 900 students. Outside the school, parents gathered to drop off their middle-schoolers as cars lined up along I.O.O.F. Avenue.
“First day jitters,” said Kelly Ban, a mother who was on hand with husband, Scott, to see off their sixth-grader.
“Mom has some anxiety,” Scott joked.
Maria Galinda and Reina Savala, the proud parents of a sixth-grader, said they appreciate South Valley’s dual immersion program, which emphasizes proficiency in both English and Spanish.
“Most people here speak Spanish, and it’s still important for us to keep culture and give our students the most we can give,” Galinda said.
Eliot parent Maria Correa said that although she appreciated the district’s Power School Summer Camp, she welcomed the arrival of the school year.
“I was excited for the kids to get back to school,” Correa said.
For retired Eliot Elementary School teacher Judith Dunham, it was a day to visit with staff and help out where needed. Her husband, retired Bakersfield teacher Tom Dunham, was also volunteering. He joked that he was wiping the tears off the third-graders who thought they’d be in Mrs. Dunham’s room this year.
“This is a wonderful place,” Judith said.
School was already back in session at the campus within a campus at Dr. T.J. Owens Early College Academy (GECA) situated at the Gavilan College Gilroy campus. Principal Sonia Flores said the students themselves thanked Superintendent Deborah Flores during a campus tour.
Contractors are working to finish a multipurpose room and administrative office by next semester. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is preliminarily scheduled for January when all of the facilities are completed, according to Sonia.
“We’re very excited having our campus remodeled,” Sonia said. “We’re very grateful to Gavilan not only now, but since our beginning in 2007. I look forward to continuing that partnership even though we have our own space that’s designated for us, and we’re also grateful to the school district for providing the resources.”
After the afternoon bell rang, Las Animas Elementary School teacher Beti Carrillo shared in the excitement.
“They were awesome: students were respectful, followed directions and were attentive,” Carrillo said.
Las Animas parent Christine Wanish said she hopes to be involved with her children’s education and be a part of the school community. She chose the school for its dual immersion program, securing a spot through a lottery.
“We’re ready,” Wanish said.
Summer of construction
This summer, the district was busy working on more than $16 million in several construction projects funded through Measure P, according to District Superintendent Deborah Flores. Here’s a rundown of some construction projects and other changes in store for this year:
Correction and clarification: The Don Christopher Sports Complex isn’t complete, and there is more work to be done. While the field, scoreboard, goal posts and shot put and discus ring are all installed, work is still under way to lay down the track and put up the bleachers.
• Bleacher construction was set to begin this week and last only a few days with a grand opening Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. in time for the first home game, according to Flores.
• New concrete walkways and path of travel improvements at Gilroy High School are complete
• Gilroy T.J. Owens Early Education Academy’s (GECA) “campus within a campus” has been in session a week already. Constructed onsite at Gavilan College, portable classrooms enclose a mini-campus funded by Measure P.
• Two new transitional kindergarten classes were opened at Eliot. El Roble saw the addition of two last year and two at Antonio Del Buono several years ago.
• Personnel changes (not all included): Assistant principal of curriculum and instruction Paul Winslow replaced Christopher High School Principal Patricia Jolly; Sonia Flores is the new GECA as principal replacing Mary Ann Boylan. Christine Anderson, former vice-principal at Gilroy High School, is now principal at Pat Rucker Elementary School, replacing Jan Boehme.
—Stay tuned for more updates on back-to-school information