Despite objections from a large number of community members present, the Gilbert Public Schools governing board on Jan. 23 approved proposed boundary changes on a 5-0 vote.
Board members underscored the need for the changes and reassured the objecting community members that open-enrollment requests for students affected would be honored.
“Please send your child to where you want them to go,” board President Reed Carr said. “Send one child to one school and the other to another school, if that matches their interests.”
The changes are relatively small within the overall district boundaries but have ripples at the high school, junior high and elementary school levels.
Val Vista Lakes objections
While some parents and students expressed support for the changes, particularly in support of Gilbert and Mesquite high schools as they fight declining enrollment, the largest objections came from the Val Vista Lakes community.
Val Vista Lakes community members urged the board members to vote no or to table the proposal. The boundary change called for high school students in the area who attend Highland High School to move to Gilbert high.
The community has been within Highland’s boundaries since that school opened in 1993 as the district’s second high school. In addition to the tradition of being at Highland, Val Vista Lakes community members also worried about changing to a school with a lesser ranking, differences in programming available and losing property value in their homes.
The community members also questioned the reasoning behind the changes and how quickly they have been pushed upon the community.
“We’ve [built the community]at Highland High School from the beginning, and now we’re reaping the benefits,” said Kim Sorensen, who identified herself as a Highland High School graduate from the class of 1996. “It takes time. It’s not fair to take that away from us.
“These other schools can have that. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take hard work.”
Board Clerk Charles Santa Cruz answered some who questioned the motives behind making the changes.
“There is nothing sketchy about this,” he said. “We have a population glut.”
A frequently expressed concern was that the parents doubted their open-enrollment requests to stay at Highland high would not be honored if too many requests came in. Some parents said that by district policy, they would rank only No. 6 on the priority list for open enrollment.
However, Jason Martin, GPS Elementary Education executive director, who presented the proposal to the board, said the district has been revising its policies to move the affected group higher on the priority list.
Superintendent Shane McCord said the affected group will be No. 2 on that priority list only behind district employees who want their children to attend a school where they work.
McCord further stated the district tries not to turn away any open-enrollment students unless there are specific issues with discipline, attendance or grades that cannot be worked out.
While admitting they cannot account for what future boards may do, board members also tried to reassure parents that they are committed to honoring the open-enrollment requests into the future.
“I am committed to open enrollment,” board member Lori Wood said. “I don’t want people to go a school that they don’t want to go. I don’t think that would be a good experience.”
Carr said there is plenty of room to keep the students where they are at under the state’s open-enrollment law.
Gilbert, Mesquite high schools bolster curriculum
McCord also said Gilbert high is exploring adding the International Baccalaureate program to its curriculum. IB is considered prestigious and rigorous, McCord said.
Additionally, McCord said Mesquite high will be offering the Arizona General Education Curriculum Program, which will help students earn credits that would count at the Maricopa County Community College District schools toward the students getting an associate degree.
“A couple schools recognize their enrollment is not high,” McCord said. “They also recognize they want the very best for their students.”
Carr said those kinds of program differences are important in today’s educational landscape. He also said that while boundaries must be drawn for reasons like transportation and special education needs, the state has created an environment in which it wants schools to compete for students.
“The simple truth of it is, we have to compete,” he said. “We accept that challenge. We are going to compete.
“Because we have to compete, each school is going to offer some unique features. We want you to choose where you want to go.”