Here is a sampling of stories written during the two years I spent as the education reporter for the Gilroy Dispatch, prior to becoming city editor:

college debtIs college debt keeping students away?

With the average college graduate buried beneath $25,000 in student loans in an economy darkened by rampant unemployment, pricey tuition rates elicit cynical farce from humor writers like Jarod Kintz, who scoffed, “I wouldn’t advise making a four-year commitment to eventually land an $8 an hour job.” This sentiment – one felt nationally in a climate where the collective student loan burden is $1 trillion – is none the weaker in Gilroy. “They have loads of debt and they’re working at Starbucks,” said Gilroy High School Principal Marco Sanchez. “You’ve got an over-qualified person who’s asking you what kind of latte you want. It’s a flooded job market with limited opportunities, and students see that. They’re asking, why should I saddle myself with a mortgage issue for the rest of my life and I can’t even pay it?”

first dayFirst day of school- Hugs, snakes and traffic

From teenagers experiencing the early stages of “senioritis” to chain reactions of teary- eyed parents who lose it when their 4-year-olds start to cry on the first day of kindergarten, the Gilroy Unified School District was back in full swing Monday. The new year sees around 11,000 students flooding the halls and classrooms all over the Garlic Capital, with 49 new staffers spread between 15 kindergarten through 12th- grade sites and GUSD administrative offices. Kicking off the day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed was the first class of Christopher High School seniors, who arrived with lawn chairs and blankets to the CHS basketball court at 6 a.m. for “Senior Sunrise.”

JackCoaches rally around dismissed athletic director

People want Gilroy High School’s dismissed athletic director to be reinstated – and they came out in droves Thursday night to see their message heard loud and clear. Parents, teachers, students and community members occupied every chair, lined every wall, filled every inch of available space and spilled out the double doors during a Gilroy Unified School Board District meeting at 7810 Arroyo Circle. They came to show their support for Jack Daley, whose ouster this week at the conclusion of a GUSD investigation stemming from an injury DUI accident involving former Gilroy High track and field coach Alvin Harrison hit a huge nerve. “We found the problem. But firing jack? Because he’s what, the most expendable? Where is your backbone?” said GUSD parent Tracy Hill, addressing the school board. “I bet Jack voted for half of you guys based on your integrity. I don’t know how you can sleep at night.”

Gilroy PrepOver the moon – 960+ API for Gilroy Prep

Teachers at Gilroy’s 1-year-old charter school are “thrilled,” “proud” and “validated” after learning their second-grade students received the highest projected Academic Performance Index score for an elementary school in the history of the Gilroy Unified School District. Now in the third grade, the group of second-grade GPS students who took the California Standardized Test last school year is expected to receive an API score somewhere between a 960 and 970. The highest possible score is 1,000. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so fired up to work anywhere in my life,” said Heather Parsons, who teaches second- and third-grade math at Gilroy Prep Charter School, which opened in fall 2011 and is located at 277 IOOF Avenue. California’s benchmark for the Academic Performance Index is 800.

ChristopherHighGUSD cracks whip on transfers

Parents who attempt to skirt the Gilroy Unified School District’s residency requirements – which dictate what high school a student must attend – should keep in mind: Administrators are cracking down against dishonesty. Efforts to sidestep GUSD’s residency rules have been on the district’s radar since the multimillion-dollar Christopher High School opened in 2009, according to GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores. It’s a common issue in any district with more than one high school, she explained. “We’ve been aware of it since the first year, and each year we’ve tightened up our process,” said Flores. “So many parents have complained to me directly and Alma Quintana (the district’s enrollment administrator) about this issue.” Several parents have also called, emailed and left anonymous comments on the Gilroy Dispatch’s website over the past couple of years, alleging various “unfounded” cross- town transfers from Gilroy High School to CHS. Others have voiced frustration over the “little oversight to the rampant abuse of the residency boundaries to ensure children attend Christopher High over Gilroy High.”

GUSDboardEducation budget- ‘state gobbledygook’

In dealing with a new wildcard that could shorten the coming school year by seven days, the Gilroy Unified School District is still weathering the state’s ambiguous forecast of “possible budget scenarios” for the 2011-12 school year. It’s all contingent on a possible mid-year trigger in January, which will occur if projected state revenues fall short. That would impact kindergarten through 12th grades, delivering a $3 million dollar budget blow to GUSD that would necessitate cutting bus services in half. “It’s so convoluted,” said trustee Jaime Rosso. “The state has given us license to say ‘If all else fails, just end school a week earlier.’ That’s the solution. That’s basically what they’re saying. Talk about a weirdo monkey wrench.” Rosso’s referring to complications generated by the passage of Assembly Bill 114 as part of the state’s budget package, which temporarily prohibits districts from conducting teacher layoffs in August. It does allow schools to cut an additional week out of the instructional calendar, although this is subject to negotiation with teacher bargaining units.

County edGUSD fiscal fallout

Cash flow issues, problems with fiscal oversight and an usually high personnel turnover in the business office – resulting in missed deadlines, administrative mistakes and even the accidental cancellation of employee health benefits – prompted the Santa Clara County Office of Education to step in and force Gilroy Unified School District to get its financial house in order. Since notifying GUSD in January of its “serious concerns surrounding the district’s fiscal solvency” and “state of turmoil in both managerial and staff-level positions,” the SCCOE on Feb. 1 sent Fiscal Advisor Nimrat Johal down to Gilroy to straighten things out. A month later, Superintendent Debbie Flores says teaming up with the county ultimately proved to be beneficial.

chalkboardZero ‘F’ policy may make the grade

F is for football and fun – which is exactly what high school students may have to forego should they receive a failing mark in any class come fall 2011. The Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education is studying possible changes to eligibility standards, with one change standing above the rest: Get an F, and you’re out of activities until the next quarter.

“We want our kids to go pro in just about everything,” said John Perales, Christopher High School principal. “But rarely do they go pro in athletics.”

This possible scenario exempting students from sports, prom, band, choir or the associated student body could be a reality starting next year if GUSD trustees cement talks of tightening what is already the most “comprehensive and rigorous requirements” for high school extracurricular and cocurricular eligibility in the San Benito, Monterey, Santa Cruz and South Santa Clara counties according to CHS Athletic Director Darren Yafai.

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