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December 6, 2023

Parents focused on honors

– Parents waiting to enroll thier children in the district’s
popular Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program at Rucker
School won’t have an advantage if their child is already attending
Gilroy’s northernmost elementary school.
GILROY – Parents waiting to enroll thier children in the district’s popular Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program at Rucker School won’t have an advantage if their child is already attending Gilroy’s northernmost elementary school.

That’s the most recent recommendation to the school board from a rejuvinated and refocused group of parents concerned that the district’s brightest students are not getting the best education possible.

At a GATE Advisory meeting Tuesday night, parents directed district staff to abandon its current wait-list system that gives preferential treatment to Rucker Elementary School students. Rucker Elementary School is the district’s only “self-contained” GATE program, allowing gifted and talented students to stay at one site all day.

Other GATE students are part of a so-called “pull-out” program, where students leave their regular class once a week for special enrichment courses elsewhere in the district.

“A wait list that doesn’t favor one school’s kids is inherently more fair,” said Joe Guzicki, the district’s director of special needs programs.

Many parents prefer the self-contained GATE format because it keeps their child at one campus and allows for a curriculum that builds on subjects and concepts learned in prior semesters. Other parents favor a program that provides broad enrichment over focused study.

The topic was one of several parents hope to resolve over the next several months regarding what some have called the county’s most watered-down GATE program.

“Last spring we were focused on the high school honors program. This year we can focus on K through eight students,” said GATE parent Susan Bassi. “If we don’t get focused and rejuvinated, everyone is going to say, ‘same old story.’ ”

Allowing Rucker students first dibs on the self-contained GATE program was long viewed by the district as the “least disruptive” process, since Rucker children in the pull-out program have to leave the district’s only GATE school to attend a GATE program elsewhere, explained Guzicki.

Guzicki’s idea is to randomize the existing wait list, which is roughly nine students deep. When Rucker has an opening, a lottery would be held to select which of the existing wait listed students will enter the program first.

After Oct. 26, any student new to the wait list will also be randomly ordered. However, newly and currently wait listed students will belong to separate lottery pools, with the current wait listed students getting priority.

Both Internet and hard copy correspondence will be used to inform parents of their student’s status, but keeping the wait list information straight is another challenge the district is facing. Guzicki said the district is in the midst of revising its database of GATE students and that not all of the old information made it onto the new database.

Guzicki and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Jacqueline Horejs will now formalize a recommendation to the Gilroy School Board. They are likely to bring the recommendation back to the next GATE Advisory meeting Nov. 19 before asking for board approval.

Guzicki and Horejs were also asked to conduct a survey to detmerine what most GATE parents expect out of the program, broad enrichment or accelerated core curriculum. Guzicki and Horejs will also try to determine if there is a need for more self-contained GATE programs districtwide.

Roughly 400 to 500 Gilroy students, including Rucker pupils, are in the district’s GATE program, which serves third- through eighth-graders. In high school, GATE gives way to honors courses, which are in a trial period this year after efforts to reinstate them were successful.

Between 40 and 50 students will be offered the GATE pull-out program this semester, which will focus on astronomy. The district believes it will be able to accomodate all of the pull-out students with separate sessions held on Wednesday at Luigi Aprea Elementary School and Thursday at Las Animas.

Many of the roughly three dozen parents Tuesday asked for a GATE pull-out curriculum that builds on what students learned the year before. Some parents of pull-out children are concerned that their student loses out when they are taught, for instance, Spanish one semester and then Earth science the next.

“We’ve sort of ‘potpourried’ the programs,” GATE parent Bassi said. “My child was just starting to learn some Spanish and then the program wasn’t offered again.”

Other parents pushed for a more objective and streamlined process for identifying children as GATE qualified. Currently, the district takes referrals from parents and teachers and then gives students a sort of IQ test. Some parents feel referrals should be triggered when students show academic achievement, such as high standardized test scores or grade point averages.

“I think what we’re hearing is the need for consistency,” Guzicki said later in the meeting. “I have no particular stake in this. I want to make sure we’re giving you our best effort. Whatever that looks like, I’m open.”

“We are trying very very hard to meet the needs of all of our kids, special needs kids, gifted and talented kids, everyone,” Horejs said.

In other business at Tuesday night’s advisory meeting, parents elected longtime GATE parent Ronda Rhuby to represent their interests at monthly Superintendent’s Advisory Council meetings. The council sessions are used by Superintendent Edwin Diaz to hear firsthand the needs of various GUSD stakeholders, from students and parents to faculty and administrators.

“The superintendent uses the council meetings to keep his finger on the pulse of the district,” said Horejs.

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