Students from Gilbert Junior High School said the campus was abuzz with excitement Wednesday after the district board voted 4-1 Tuesday to rescind a prior decision to close the campus.
There was a “huge, happier mood” on campus, seventh-grader Louis John said.
“Our math teacher told us. That made me happy,” he said. “Our teacher was so sad when the school was closed.”
Tuesday’s vote after a five-hour meeting reversed an Oct. 2 decision by the Gilbert Unified School District governing board to close Gilbert Junior High School and move Gilbert Classical Academy to the campus.
Seventh-grader Bria Fletcher said her older siblings and mom attended Gilbert Junior High.
“I just didn’t want to leave it. Some of my friends were going to different schools. I didn’t want to split from them,” she said. Bria said that at school Wednesday, “There were kids who were excited because we get to stay for our last year.”
Her mom, Kari, said many in the neighborhood didn’t support the original decision to close the campus.
“I’m not against GCA (Gilbert Classical Academy). GCA needs a new home. I just don’t think Gilbert Junior is for them. When I first heard it was closing, it was disbelief. They never gave us any heads up,” she said.
Many agreed with Kari Fletcher.
In the fall, when the community learned about the then-pending vote to close Gilbert Junior High, many questioned the process the district took to notify families.
And many of those questions circled around whether or not the district followed Arizona’s legal process for closing a school.
Karen Udall, a former board member with two graduates of Gilbert Junior High, was against the decision and raised concerns about the district’s actions.
“Our parents have said from the beginning that they did it wrong. I believed this board would do the right thing and rescind. Legally, they were in the wrong,” Udall said Wednesday. “We were grateful a majority of this board showed a huge level of fiscal and morale responsibility to the community by doing what was right.”
Current board president Staci Burk said Wednesday that doing the process right and getting community involvement led to Tuesday’s decision.
“The biggest reason is we need to do this right and engage the community on the front end,” Burk said.
The original vote closed Gilbert Junior High School following the 2013-14 school year, but left open the possibility to close it after the current school year in May, pending a recommendation by a board-created committee.
But with a new board in place in January, the direction of the board seemed to change.
The three new board members and Burk all voted Tuesday to rescind October’s decision, leaving Gilbert Junior High School open to seventh and eighth graders for the foreseeable future.
Burk was the only board member in October who voted against the closure.
Tuesday night, veteran board member Lily Tram voted against the motion to rescind the decision. Tram said Wednesday it wasn’t necessary to rescind the October vote because there was “sufficient information” from Superintendent Dave Allison, the district and the community to move Gilbert Classical Academy to the Gilbert Junior site.
“There is enough to show that strategically, logically and financially, this is really the right move to close Gilbert Junior. This is really the right move for the district and its students. I feel there was sufficient information to make that decision,” she said.
A committee will now look at all ideas to expand the popular Gilbert Classical Academy, Burk said. Gilbert Classical Academy, which offers a rigorous, classical education to students, is housed in part of a former elementary school site on Greenfield and Elliot roads.
Parents there say the school deserves a proper junior high campus and a place it can grow and enroll more interested students.
Timing also played a role in the decision, Burk said. If the board had decided to move forward with a closure, and follow the state requirements, there wouldn’t have been a vote on the matter until Feb. 26 at the earliest. But Allison told the board Tuesday night that that would hold up junior high registration for the entire district, causing problems planning next school year.
The governing board at its next meeting will discuss when the soon-to-be-established committee should come up with recommendations to expand Gilbert Classical Academy, Burk said.
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