Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 17, 2006

What’s GUSD’s most important decision this year?

Sometimes we all exaggerate for effect. “I thought I was going to die,” is how I’ve describe a harrowing taxi ride I endured on a business trip in Boston several years ago. “I hate broccoli,” often escapes my lips when a restaurant menu vaguely lists steamed vegetables and those dreaded green florets appear on my plate. “I’m terrified of the dentist,” I tell people, remembering how I tremble while I’m in the dentist’s chair from the potent combination of fear, adrenaline and stress. OK, so I’m not exaggerating on that last one.

But bearing that in mind, my jaw still dropped (and that’s no embellishment, either) when I came across a quote in a recent story about a Gilroy Unified School District school board meeting during which trustees discussed whether to allow seniors who fail the California High School Exit Exam to participate in commencement ceremonies.

The quote that made my chin take a plunge belonged to Trustee David McRae: “This may be the biggest decision we make this year.”

Just in case that quote is an accurate reflection of McRae’s priority list, here are a few issues that leap to mind that the district will face in 2006 that are bigger than the CAHSEE debate:

• Soon-to-be-released accountability task force recommendations. This is an opportunity to dramatically improve the culture at GUSD, but only if the task force endorses a fair, understandable (read: free of education-ese) and commonsense approach and only if students, parents, faculty, staff, and the community at large sign on to the program.

The accountability task force’s efforts could positively affect generations of Gilroy public school students, but they also have the very real chance of becoming an abandoned initiative gathering dust in binders on district office shelves.

• Day of Silence. According to the group’s web site, the next Day of Silence is scheduled for April 26. It’s not far away and, after last year’s to-do, administrators really have no excuse not to be ready ahead of time. Will district officials and teachers understand and communicate that people (like me) can support the goal of the Day of Silence – to end discrimination and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students – and still be opposed to teachers refusing to speak during working hours?

Last year’s Day of Silence protest led to a lot of acrimony. Having a plan in place to avoid the uproar that last year’s Day of Silence protest evoked is a big deal. Let’s hope one is in the works.

• Teacher contract negotiations. Because last year’s Day of Silence protest highlighted a highly unusual (for high school teachers) “academic freedom” clause in GHS teachers’ contracts, district officials claimed on the advice of their lawyers, that they could not, on taxpayers’ behalf, insist that teachers use all of their faculties while on the job.

Claiming it was too late to add the issue to last year’s negotiation process, the district promised to add it to this year’s list of topics. Removing a clause that – in some district lawyers’ opinions, anyway – means that the district cannot enforce the common-sense requirement that teachers teach is a really big deal.

• Facilities budget shortfall. The district made lots of promises about facilities it would build and upgrade with its Measure I bond money. It now appears that it is millions of dollars short of being able to keep all of its Measure I promises. Deciding which commitments to keep and which promises to break will affect many students. In addition, how the district handles this delicate situation might affect its ability to pass future bonds.

• Achievement gap. This is a chronic problem that has been extremely divisive, as the recent flap over choosing a replacement for Trustee T.J. Owens demonstrated. There has to be a way to achieve academic excellence for all of Gilroy’s public school students, a way to help those who are struggling while still engaging those who are gifted without overlooking the often-forgetten students in the middle. Is there a bigger deal for any school district?

Certainly any one of these items is a more important priority for the district in 2006 than the upcoming decision on whether seniors who accumulate enough credits to graduate but fail CAHSEE are allowed to don caps and gowns in June. I hope that McRae – and all of the GUSD trustees – realize that.

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