2018: The year in education

MHUSD full of headlines

Ann Sobrato High School students in March participate in the national movement to make schools safer and push for stiffer gun control in the aftermath of another school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

With many Morgan Hill families headed by highly involved parents active in their children’s schooling, education remains a hot topic among households and social circles.

There was a lot to talk about in 2018.

Before looking back, however, let’s look ahead, starting at the top of the public schools’ hierarchy with five new trustees joining the always precarious Morgan Hill Unified School District’s Board of Education.

Gone are two feuding factions—with retired educators Ron Woolf and Donna Ruebusch not seeking re-election, like their board adversaries Gino Borgioli and David Gerard. The fifth, former board president Tom Arnett, a peacemaker of sorts, departed with two years remaining on his term after deciding to move out of his trustee area.

New to the governing body for 2019 are all first-time board members who won election in November 2018 and were sworn in Dec. 11. Those are Vanessa Sutter, Wendy Sullivan, Carol Gittens, Heather Orosco and John Horner—the only male voice on the seven-member dais that also includes board president Mary Patterson and vice president Teresa Murillo.

Adding an immediate twist to the new year, Murillo announced her resignation from the board in December, and thus a sixth new member will be appointed early in 2019.

Will public hostility and disagreements on policy played out in public session among board members, district administration and parents be less common in 2019? If the new board’s first meeting was any indication—votes were unanimous on board president and vice president as well as appointment over election among others—then a more cordial democratic process might be underway.

But that wasn’t always the case in 2018, although the former school board did accomplish much to be merry about as they worked with district staff to improve MHUSD the best way they saw fit.

Perhaps, the top agenda for 2018 was the $50 million Britton Middle School Transformation Project—which got off to a delayed start but is in full swing with anticipation that at least phase I will be completed by the start of the 2019-20 school term. Anyone driving on Monterey Road just north of the downtown has seen the future of MHUSD being constructed, and every parent with a graduating fifth-grader has their fingers crossed that Britton will be ready to go in 2019.

Back to 2018

In January 2018, a debate over the district’s facility use fees sent shockwaves through several segments of the population, specifically those families involved in youth sports leagues like Pony Baseball, Spirit Softball and Orchard Valley Soccer. The district hired Facilitron (not a character in Transformers), which proposed changing school field rental prices from a daily to an hourly rate. That didn’t sit well with the league representatives, but district staff lightened the blow through negotiations, and a more amenable new pay structure has been in place ever since.

At the end of January and extending several months thereafter was the district’s push for a parcel tax measure, which included two public polling surveys to gauge support and, of course, several twists and turns. The school board was supportive of the district’s plan at first. However, at the 11th hour, the board wanted to add local charter schools into the mix. It ultimately resulted in the board failing to place a parcel tax measure on any 2018 election ballot.

Before February ended, a scary moment impacted the local board as one of its own, Trustee Gino Borgioli, was struck by a car while walking his dogs. Borgioli suffered scrapes and bruises and was out of commission for a short while, but the strong-willed board member returned to the dais without skipping a beat.

In March, local student activists joined the national movement to make schools safer and push for stiffer gun control in the aftermath of another school shooting in Parkland, Fla. District and school site leaders worked collaboratively with the student body to allow them to express themselves but also not disrupt an entire school day. The students would participate in a second peaceful demonstration the following month.

In June 2018, the infamous parcel tax debacle reared its ugly head as board members reversed course on supporting the measure for the November election. At first the board pushed forward with the charter inclusion, but then backed off under the district’s urging and the parcel tax never made the ballot.

The following month, Gavilan College’s Board of Trustees approved a $248 million bond measure for the Nov. 6 election, which passed and will have a major impact on the community college that serves South County and San Benito County.

Election season—which eventually produced five new school board trustees in Morgan Hill—came with some interesting storylines, but none more than the case of Vanessa Sutter. The rookie politician was given false information from the Santa Clara County Registrar’s Office that led to her missing the candidacy filing deadline. Sutter won her appeal, got her name on the ballot and ended up victorious in her trustee area. She won a four-year term.

Bandits struck in October 2018 as someone drove their truck onto the Ann Sobrato High School football field and spun doughnuts. With deep ruts throughout, the Bulldogs were forced to play one home game at nearby Live Oak High School. Saving the season, or at least homecoming, were the employees in the MHUSD grounds and maintenance departments who spent the better part of two days replacing the grass on the field so homecoming could be held at Sobrato.

Smoke from the widespread Camp Fire up north impacted local sports as the air quality in Santa Clara County reached unsafe levels, causing the postponements and cancellations of all MHUSD athletic events. It delayed and delayed again Live Oak High School football team’s playoff game that they eventually lost weeks after the original date. School district leaders elected to keep schools open despite the dangerous air quality.

The smoke eventually cleared and gave way to some holiday season hospitality, starting with the Live Oak students in the Future Business Leaders of America who prepared and delivered turkey care packages to 125 needy families.

Before students hit the winter break, the tradition of student ingenuity continued at Britton Middle School, where all eighth-graders participated in the annual science fair. The event drew hundreds of families supporting their students’ education, with blue ribbon winners given the chance to compete in 2019 against other schools in the South Valley Science and Engineering Fair in mid-January.

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