Gilbert Public Schools ready to roll out new college and career guidance site

Gilbert Public Schools, Gilbert Public Schools governing board, Fran Grossenbacher, Project SEARCH, Banner Health
Gilbert Public Schools governing board members listen to Special Education Director Fran Grossenbacher (second from left) talk about the Project SEARCH program that would put the district into partnership with Banner Health for a special education transition program at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert. (Tom Blodgettt/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools governing board members listen to Special Education Director Fran Grossenbacher (second from left) talk about the Project SEARCH program that would put the district into partnership with Banner Health for a special education transition program at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert. (Tom Blodgettt/Community Impact Newspaper)

A Gilbert Public Schools employee team has worked to bring scattered college and career guidance information together on the district website, officials told the district governing board Dec. 3.

The team that assembled it all in a unified platform is calling it Thrive, and students and families could soon be spending a lot of screen time on it at the district’s website,

GPS Marketing and Communications Director Dawn Antestenis, who headed the effort to redesign the district website in the past year, also brought together the team do build this portion of the website. Chris Hoerber, Gilbert High School college and career liaison, and district webmaster Terri Bradford were integral to the effort and presented to the board with Antestenis.

The site is a quarter-by-quarter guide through a student’s Education and Career Education Plan and acts as a resource to plan for not only high school but what lies beyond.

Among the things that can be found there are opportunities for students to explore colleges, do goal planning, explore interests, careers and military pathways, follow timelines to advance their efforts, gather Free Application for Federal Student Aid and testing information for college, and find scholarship resources.

From it, a student can order a transcript, find volunteer opportunities or look up a calendar of colleges visiting campus.

Governing board members at the work-study session enthusiastically expressed thanks for the team’s work.

“My mind is blown,” board member Lori Wood said. “This is the best thing I’ve seen. I can’t even tell you the effect to have this information actually at my fingertips. ... Seriously, this is useful. I will be on this. My kids will be on this, and I think it will change our whole district.”

In response to a question from board member Jill Humpherys, Antestenis said the key to sustaining the platform and keeping the information up to date will be working with all the high schools.

“I will say that the response that we've had already has been quite phenomenal, particularly from our college- and career-readiness liaisons and also our head counselors, where even though this hasn't been officially launched at some of the high schools, it had been used for junior nights,” Antestenis said. “There's even been suggestions of having a specific 50-minute block where students spend time navigating through this because they see the value of it.”

Antestenis said a soft rollout of the platform will be coming soon.

Special education transition program

In another item presented during work-study, Special Education Director Fran Grossenbacher told the board about Project SEARCH, a proposed partnership with Banner Health to provide special education students with transition services as the students move on from GPS.

The district has a full-day Job Opportunities in Business Settings, or JOBS, program run out of Highland High School. The Project SEARCH program would be considered an expansion of the JOBS program.

The Project SEARCH program is a total workplace immersion, allowing for evidence-based instruction, career exploration and hands-on training in doing three different health care-related job internships. Most of the students’ school days would be spent in the internships.

The JOBS program, Grossenbacher said, is more exploratory with students visiting different businesses each day of the week.

Grossenbacher said Banner wants to be able hire students from the program and is using it as a recruiting tool. She noted that the company has pledged classroom space at Banner Gateway Medical Center, where the program will be conducted, and has agreed to pay the $16,000 licensing fee, which covers curriculum materials and training.

The governing board would have to agree to adopt the program and enter into an agreement with Banner Health for it, Grossenbacher said. If the board agrees, it could be implemented in August.

Board members said they would like to get input from district staff running the JOBS program as part of their consideration.

“I’m excited about the possibility,” board member Charles Santa Cruz said. “I would like to get some input from the faculty who have dedicated themselves to the JOBS program.”

Grossenbacher said there still would be a need for the JOBS program.

Federal, state grant funding

The district’s Office of Federal Programs manages more than $4 million in federal and state grant funding that supplements the district budget, according to coordinator Angela Marier Conner, who also presented to the board during work-study.

The majority of that comes from Title I funds. The district receives $3.13 million from Title I, which is used at the district’s 10 Title I schools, Marier Conner said. A Title I school is one where 35 percent or more the student body qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program.

In the district, the supplemental money is used to fund six district positions, plus at the school level, 13 reading specialists, 13 math specialists, 10 social workers and 19 instructional paraprofessionals.

It also funds programming that includes homeless support, professional development, materials and technology, community connections, family engagement and some summer school programming.

However, officials said students at Title I schools often struggle with basic supplies or educational materials at home. Students often come from single-parent homes with an adult working multiple jobs. Homework and attendance can suffer. As a result, teachers, in addition to their regular duties, must sometimes address basic need issues and sometimes disciplinary issues.

Bill Roth, in his third year as principal at Title I school Harris Elementary School, told the board about how Harris—which received an A grade from the Arizona Department of Education—has faced those issues. Among the school’s efforts have been feeding all students at the beginning of school and not assigning homework, an acknowledgement that many students are busy taking care of their siblings while parents work.

“Whatever it takes is our motto,” said Roth, who said he has had to learn how to address the different issues at Harris from his previous principalship at Ashland Ranch.

The district receives $565,006 in Title II funds for professional development for teachers and administrators, $220,723 in Title IV for student support and academic enrichment, $68,485 for 12 identified schools from the State Department of Education for a Targeted Support and Improvement grant, and $25,572 for a Gifted Education Grant.
By Tom Blodgett

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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