On Oct. 2nd, 2012, a crowd of 300 parents, teachers and students gathered at Mesquite High School to attend a special school board meeting. Typically, at most meetings, the board members and administrators outnumber the citizens who attend. This was different! The crowd was there to express their 1st amendment rights regarding an unexpected decision by the administration. After 32 years of service, Gilbert Jr. High is being closed and their campus turned over to the district’s prestigeous Gilbert Classical Academy. All 647 kids from GJHS will be “dispersed” to several other schools in the area. All 395 students of the “Academy” would then move in, “need room to expand”.
Gilbert Jr. High has good kids and good teachers that just happen to be situated in a neighborhood with fewer 7th and 8th graders then were there a few years ago. I taught there myself for seven years before moving on with the 9th graders to GHS. All the students and faculty are proud of Gilbert Jr. High. They deserve to be! It’s a fine school.
The Gilbert Classical Academy is also a fine school, with good teachers and good students. A magnet school for grades 9 thru 12, it was created 6 years ago by GPS administrators to compete with charter schools that are drawing increasing numbers of students away from Gilbert Schools. These charter schools offer higher academic standards for parents who believe that their children are not being challenged academically or intellectualy in Gilbert district schools. Students who attend the “Academy” must be highly motivated toward academic success. They must dedicate themselves to long hours of study and be able to handle the most difficult assignments given them by their instructors. The strong support of their parents is also a requirement of admission.
Students who wish to enroll in The “Academy” have their names placed on a list, since space at their present campus is limited. When the GCA was opened, enrollment was about 100 students and there was room for all. Now there are 395 students, hence the waiting list. Enrollment at the “Academy” is voluntary, not assigned according to boundary lines like the rest of our schools. GCA however, has been famously successful academically, far beyond all expectations. They have attracted “national recognition” and acclaim for their school AND the GPS administration. If they can find a place to expand, as they grow, so grows the fame of the”Academy” AND the renown of the district, with its “far sighted and visionary administrators and school board who created this wonderful opportunity”. Get the picture so far?
Now the Gilbert school board and administration have decided to remove all the kids and teachers from Gilbert Jr. High and scatter them over other schools in the district because of declining enrollment numbers. They then intend to bring in an EVEN smaller number of students from the “Academy” to take over the now available campus. This is based on the administrators projections that the Gilbert Classical Academy will then grow by about 130 new students. Even then, the number of students will still be about 125 less than the students there now. But can they know how long it will be before the numbers justify situating the “Academy” on a campus that can accommodate 1200 students? What are they thinking? How does the administration justify closing down a school citing declining numbers as the reason only to replace it with FAR fewer students, and future plans to not appear to include number in excess of those attending now?
More to the question, what are the students at Gilbert Jr.High thinking? Wouldn’t they wonder why a smaller group of students is being given their school? Are they thinking, “Is it because they’re smarter than us?”, “Are we dumber than they are?”, “Do they work harder than we do?”,”Are we considered lazy students?, or are they just better than us?”, “Are we somehow just not as good as they are?” If YOU were a kid at Gilbert Jr. High, would you wonder the same ? To reassure the kids at Gilbert Jr. High that they are “just as good as the kids at the “Academy”, the administrators have put together a so-called “transitions team”. They, in turn, will offer consoling words of understanding to the students and praise them in order to “rebuld their self-esteem”.
If the administrator’s “transitions team” were honest they would tell the kids that, “Of course you’re just as good as the kids from the ‘Academy’. BUT, the ‘Academy’ has built such a wonderful reputation for academic excellence and achievement. They’re gaining national recognition for our school district, for our town. Aren’t you proud of them? Don’t you want to help them make Gilbert proud? Of course you do, we knew you’d understand.”
At the school board meeting many parents, teachers, and students spoke about how proud they were of EACH of their schools. I did notice that a couple of GCA parents and one teacher from the “Academy”, in speaking of the “transition” said, “KIDS ARE RESILIENT, THEY’LL ADJUST, THEY’RE FLEXIBLE, THEY’LL GET OVER IT.” Which kids were they talking about? Certainly not the kids from the “Academy”. They’ll be moving with all their teachers and classmates to a much bigger school with even more room to excel. They’ll continue to win more honors for themselves, more laurels for their school and more great publicity for the administration. No, it’s the Gilbert Jr. High kids that will have be resilient and do the adjusting. The students from the “Academy” will have everything they need.
“ALL STUDENTS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME STUDENTS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”
Submitted by: Glen Frakes, Teacher for 29 years (retired 2009)