Many parents were unhappy Tuesday night as they learned more about their school district’s proposal to close Gilbert Junior High as a neighborhood school and move Gilbert Classical Academy into its space.
The Gilbert Unified School District announced the plan in a letter to parents last week. The community was invited to a meeting Tuesday with Superintendent Dave Allison.
One parent angry about the plan is Kent Rogers, father to six children. His youngest is a seventh-grader at the school today.
“We’re going to displace 650 kids so 500 can go here?” Rogers said. He asked why the district couldn’t just move more students into Gilbert Junior High.
Allison said that would be a “massive” change to move the boundaries for all the junior high schools.
One child asked, “Is there any way we can save Gilbert Junior?”
“In my recommendation, unfortunately no,” Allison said.
Allison said the proposal is a plan that will go before the governing board for a vote next week.
Steve Turner told the Tribune that his wife attended Gilbert Junior High and the family moved from Tucson three years ago so their children could attend the school.
“Do you think we would have done that knowing this plan?” Turner said.
Allison gave a presentation to the audience of about 250 parents and children. He included information about the enrollment at Gilbert Junior High and the other junior highs as well the proposed boundary changes.
Enrollment at Gilbert Junior High has dropped from 1,003 students in 2003 to 647 today, he said. Much of that is because the area is “aging,” where families that moved in with young families years ago have stayed. Those children have grown up now, but the parents have not moved.
Gilbert Classical Academy, which is in its sixth year, has gone from 211 students to 395, with about 125 on a waiting list. The academy is a rigorous seventh through 12th grade campus that offers a Socratic method of teaching – where students lead discussions on topics. It’s an open enrollment school, with an application process.
Students who now live in the Gilbert Junior High boundaries would attend Mesquite or Greenfield junior highs. A handful would attend Highland Junior High School.
The boundary proposal would mean most students in Gilbert schools would move together from their elementary school to their junior high school to their high school.
Karen Udall, a former Gilbert governing board member, told the Tribune she is angry about the proposal.
“They’re going to close a school for just 1 percent of the district students?” she said, noting that about 1 percent of the district’s students attend Gilbert Classical Academy.
A number of parents were upset with the fact that there will now be more competition for spots on sports teams at the junior highs with more students on the campuses. They were also upset about the fact that their children, who can now walk home after sports and extracurricular activities, would have to be bused.
Scott Tolbert, who has worked at Gilbert Junior High for 14 years, said there is tradition at this school and it seems unfair that the first junior high in the district would be the one that is “sacrificed” for the others.
“Wouldn’t it be appropriate for all the junior highs – that Gilbert gave birth to – to be redistricted back?” he asked.
Tolbert, who also coaches baseball and softball, asked how the coaches at Gilbert Junior will find similar positions in their new schools.
Allison told the audience that he guaranteed every employee – from the teachers to the custodians – that they will have jobs next year. As far as the leadership and coaching positions, he said, “We will make sure to do our best to put coaches here in coaching positions.”
Bernadine Bielenberg lives in the community, but she said she wouldn’t have sent her child to Gilbert Junior High School. She came to learn about the Gilbert Classical Academy and the boundary plans.
Lisa Flader, whose children have attended the academy, said she is happy with the plan because it will open the academy to more students.
“I think there will be a lot more kids,” she said.
East Valley school districts have made several changes in the past few years to address changes in enrollment. Mesa Unified School District closed Mesa Junior High at the end of the last year and turned Brimhall Junior High from a neighborhood school into a back-to-basics campus.
Chandler Unified School District is turning Knox Elementary School into a gifted academy. Erie Elementary School was closed a few years ago and Arizona College Prep-Erie campus opened in its place this year.
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