Rucker parents make plea

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GILROY
– A contingent of Rucker Elementary School parents pleaded with
district officials Monday to let the school’s future sixth-graders
stay in the district’s only full-time Gifted And Talented Education
program a little longer.
GILROY – A contingent of Rucker Elementary School parents pleaded with district officials Monday to let the school’s future sixth-graders stay in the district’s only full-time Gifted And Talented Education program a little longer.

When Ascencion Solorsano Middle School opens next school year, all sixth-graders in Gilroy Unified School District will be enrolled at one of three middle school campuses. The policy, approved four years ago, ends the eligibility of roughly 30 Rucker students to receive full-time GATE instruction next school year.

And that is not sitting well with Rucker parents who assumed their children would remain in the GATE program through the sixth-grade and be taught by one of the district’s most popular and experienced teachers, Sue Gamm.

“I think there was a confusion because there’s a desire to stay here,” Rucker Principal Steve Gilbert said. “People knew about the district’s plan for sixth-graders, but because GATE is a special program, and Rucker is the only self-contained GATE program perhaps some people weren’t clear the changes applied to them.”

Gamm would not comment for this story and her plans for next year are not known.

“She plans to keep working for the district, but her plans to teach elementary or middle school are still up in the air, as far as I know,” Gilbert said.

Superintendent Edwin Diaz called the special Monday meeting to resolve parent tensions resulting from the district’s plan to meet the needs of high-performing middle school students. At a session two weeks ago, administrators unveiled a plan promising instruction would be provided separately to advanced, intermediate and remedial students.

The district’s rationale is to expand the amount of specialized instruction GATE and other high-achieving students will receive. Still, parents are frowning at the prospect of not having trained and experienced GATE teachers educating their kids next year.

“You’re asking us to take a big leap of faith. We’re going from a known thing into something completely unknown,” said Kathleen Goldsmith, a parent of a Rucker fifth-grade GATE student.

“We’re talking about 30 to 90 kids just getting what they signed up for,” Rucker parent Denise Baer-Apuzzo said, holding a district letter sent out to GATE families before the start of this school year. “This letter talks about a program for grades three to six. I thought both my sixth-grade son and fourth-grade daughter would get GATE in the sixth grade.”

Parents whose GATE children are slated to attend Ascencion Solorsano are especially distraught. They argue that Solorsano is not officially a middle school until 2005-06, when it will house sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

“Solorsano will not be a ‘middle school’ (until 2005-06) and thus cannot, by definition, offer a middle school program,” Rucker parent Kevin Kang wrote in a letter to the district. “It is our objective to require (the school board) to be true to its vote and to the commitment it made to the district, the parents, the students and the community.”

In 1999, the school board voted to change from a seventh- and eighth-grade configuration for middle schools to a sixth- through eighth-grade format once Ascencion Solorsano opens in 2003. Brownell and South Valley middle schools already enroll sixth- through eighth-graders. Six of the eight elementary schools still house kindergarten through sixth-grade.

Next year, Solorsano will house incoming sixth-graders and Eliot Elementary School students, whose school will be razed and rebuilt.

Kang is spearheading the movement to lobby for allowing any Rucker student currently enrolled in GATE to continue through the sixth-grade. There are roughly 30 kids in each GATE class at Rucker. A dozen or so students are wait-listed for the program.

“I don’t want to mislead anybody, middle school alignment is a done deal,” Diaz said Monday.

However, Diaz did say he would meet again with parents to further spell out how the middle school program will meet the needs of high-achievers. Diaz said a future meeting may take place after the district hires a principal for Solorsano, likely by Feb. 13.

Rucker parent Robert Bickle asked Diaz to guarantee all GATE children access into the higher-level courses in middle school.

“It feels like whenever I want to get my daughter into a special program in this district we need to enter some lottery. I’m tired of playing bingo,” Bickle said.

Diaz and staff said all high-achievers would get into advanced middle school courses, from language arts and social studies to math and science.

“Frankly, I don’t see any reason not to make that guarantee,” Diaz said.

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