A look at Gilroy’s year in education

Teacher strike threat defines a rocky 2018

Gilroy Teachers demonstrate outside of a factfinding meeting on Sept. 14

Battle lines were drawn in 2018 between members of the Gilroy Teachers Association and officials in the Gilroy Unified School District as contract negotiations dragged on for most of the year.

Gilroy teachers—among the lowest paid in the entire county—had been working without a contract since June 2017 and were at their wits’ end.

District leaders claimed to be tapped out of additional funds to cover significant salary increases for their largest employees union.

Both sides provided valid points and counterpoints for much of 2018, as private negotiations began to spill over into public forums and social media.

Picketing prior to board meetings and impassioned speeches inside district headquarters were commonplace.

After negotiations reached an impasse, an independent mediator was brought in and a report was compiled on the state of negotiations.

However, with a first-ever teacher strike in Gilroy becoming more of a possibility, district and teachers union negotiators reached an agreement in September that came with a 6 percent pay raise over 18 months.

Budget cuts loom

That new deal came with a caveat, one that will force GUSD to make nearly $5 million in budget cuts over the next two years, with the very real possibility of a school closure. A perfect storm of declining enrollment and an unavoidable increase to the district’s employee retirement benefits contribution led to the budget reductions list.

The school board, which swore in three first-year trustees (Anisha Munshi, Enrique Diaz and Tuyen Fiack) and one incumbent (Linda Piceno) in December, will have some very difficult decisions to make in 2019 in shaping Gilroy’s education future. December was also the final meeting for outgoing trustees Heather Bass, Patricia Midtgaard and Jaime Rosso.

But plenty was done in 2018.

One key development also due to declining enrollment came early in the year, when the school board followed district staff recommendation to shift $160 million Measure E dollars from building a new elementary school to upgrading its two aging middle schools, South Valley and Brownell Academy. The district hasn’t killed its plan to build the new school on a 12.74-acre site at the corner of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Club Drive near Solorsano Middle School, but put it on hold until the need is there.

Along with improvements to the two middle schools, which remain in the planning phase heading into 2019, GUSD leaders finalized upgrades to Gilroy High School with a new two-story math building as well as a new aquatics center on the GHS campus coming in 2019.

Gilroy’s Christopher High School made the pages of National Geographic in a May 2018 article titled “Muslims in America: A New Generation,” after a student spoke of her experiences with bullying due to her Muslim religion. However, while this story brought to light to intolerance issues at the school, the student touted positive outcomes throughout her 2018 school year.

In another national article, which proved positive for Gilroy, Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy was among the top 25 high schools in California. This according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best High School Rankings. The elementary school was awarded a gold medal for its accomplishment as the 23rd best in the state out of a pool of 2,100. It was also ranked 172nd among 20,500 public high schools evaluated across the country by U.S. News & World Report.

State Distinguished School

More accolades came when Rod Kelley Elementary School garnered a pair of honors during the 2017-18 school year as it was recognized as a California Distinguished School by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and as a top Bay Area public school for underserved students by Innovate Public Schools.

A heartwarming story in 2018 came at the South Valley Junior High promotion ceremony. As student Angelina Zuno was making her way through congratulations from school and district staff on stage, there was one last person waiting for her. It was her stepfather Jared Rustman, an active duty staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force who had returned from his deployment in the Middle East to surprise her. They embraced in a touching moment.

In March 2018, local student activists joined the national movement to make schools safer and push for stiffer gun control in the aftermath of another senseless school shooting in Parkland, Fla. District and school site leaders worked collaboratively with the student body to allow them to express themselves but also not disrupt an entire school day.

A major development in 2018 came at the community college level. Gavilan College’s Board of Trustees approved a $248 million bond measure for the Nov. 6 election, which passed and will have a major impact on the community college that serves South County and San Benito County.

Earlier in 2018, nearly $7 million in upgrades were made to the outdoor athletic facilities at Gavilan College. The multi-faceted project provides a complete overhaul of two existing sports facilities and adds a new sport venue to the school’s athletic cache in 2019.