The Gilbert Public Schools governing board approved on Dec. 7 the sale of the district’s former Neely Traditional Academy property to the town of Gilbert for $6.85 million.

The town plans to use the property to support the development of the Vaughn Avenue Ventilator project for the Heritage District. That project is to give vehicle access to the west to and from the Heritage District by the design and construction of Vaughn Avenue west from its existing dead end at Pacific Railroad to connect to Neely Street.

The sale is subject to a public hearing at the Gilbert Town Council meeting Dec. 14.

The district, with board approval March 30, moved the Neely Traditional Academy from the campus at 321 W. Juniper Ave., Gilbert, to the Houston Elementary School campus at 500 E. Houston Ave., Gilbert, starting with the 2021-22 school year.

Houston closed at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year and expanded the Burk Elementary School boundaries to include the former Houston boundaries. Houston had been experiencing declining enrollment for several years.

Board Member Jill Humpherys said the sale represents the end of an era but a great opportunity to put money back into the district’s coffers.

“For me it’s a little hard to watch us sell a piece of property that has been in our district so many years,” she said. “I’m sure it hard for others. But we have to be fiscally responsible.”

Board Member Bill Parker concurred, noting that his two children went to Neely when it was at the old site, but he called the sale a win-win for the town and district.

The sale price is equal to the highest of two appraisals the district received on the property, Superintendent Shane McCord said.

Town spokesperson Jennifer Harrison said the property acquisition would create improved circulation and access for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development on Vaughn Avenue, and address storm water retention needs in the Heritage District.

Elementary acceleration program

During the board’s work-study session, Jason Martin, the district’s elementary education executive director, and Patrick Miller, Val Vista Lakes Elementary’s principal, presented to the board the district’s plan for an elementary acceleration pilot program to start next school year.

The program, which is separate from gifted education, will allow elementary school students on five campuses the opportunity to learn at a higher grade level than their grade level or with enhanced curriculum at their grade level, Martin said.

The five campuses are Highland Park, Meridian, Playa del Rey, Quartz Hill and Val Vista Lakes elementary schools. Each feeds into a different junior high, and they were chosen for strategic reasons near district boundaries in hopes of attracting students from outside GPS, Martin said.

Placement will be based on parent and student request and teacher recommendation and open to any student, not just those who qualify for gifted services.

Students may be in conventional classrooms for some subjects and accelerated for others, such as the student who is gifted in writing but struggles in math, Martin said.

Participation in accelerated program provides students entry into honors courses at the junior and high school levels, and Martin said the district hopes it will result in more secondary students taking honors and Advanced Placement classes.

Information will be presented at each school hosting the acceleration model, and it will be marketed to GPS and non-GPS families. Curriculum is under development, and teacher training will take place in the spring, Martin said.