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What does the future hold for Greenville High School?

Alicia Knadler
Indian Valley Editor
2/10/2010

    In Greenville, where high school classes and programs have been cut time and again, and where rumors of imminent school closure abound, a growing number of locals are ready to tell Plumas Unified School District management and trustees where to go.
    District trustee Jonathan Kusel has heard about their concerns—legitimate concerns—many times.
    Talk of the immediate closure of Greenville High School may not be exactly true he said.
    As far as Kusel knows, there is no move to close the high school this year or next, though he was unsure if something might change that—like trustees might suddenly change their minds, he said.
    “Regardless of how things play out, we’ve got some very committed and knowledgeable people here,” Kusel said. “And what I hear is that no matter what, the people of Greenville and Indian Valley can pull it together—it’s that spirit that gives me hope.”
    The committed group of people he talked about includes community leaders:
    Mike Chelotti is a former teacher, coach, administrator and superintendent for the school district, as well as a former trustee.
    Centella Tucker, also a former trustee, is a local businesswoman and has raised her children in Greenville schools. She has also worked for FEMA as a disaster relief specialist and has written training material with her background in instructional development.
    Bill and Judy Gimple are the parents of four grown children and 10 grandchildren. Judy is a retired elementary school teacher and program development specialist, who also worked for 13 years as a senior legal assistant for a group of Stanford-educated lawyers in San Jose.
    Bill is a retired executive from several high-tech companies in the Bay area including Hewlett Packard and Pyramid Technology.
    In the last two years he has worked with Sue Weber and Travis Rubke to promote a first-class science fair at GHS.
    The Gimples currently serve on the Greenville Streetscape Committee and in the past have worked to keep healthcare available in Indian Valley.
    Sue Weber, a former nun, has been a mover and a shaker for many years in bringing needed services and programs to the children and youths of Indian Valley.
    She founded a successful community center for youths in Taylorsville, Providence School in Greenville, and she was instrumental in bringing the highly successful APOLLO After School Program to Greenville and Portola, and along with other residents, was involved in the initial stages of creating a soon-to-open community center for the enrichment of the lives in Indian Valley.
    Everyone but Weber was able to make a round-table meeting Thursday, Feb. 4, to talk about efforts to ensure quality educational options are available to Indian Valley students.
    Just the night before, Chelotti and Tucker presented their work to their fellows in the Greenville Rotary Club.
    “We all have our own reasons for being part of this,” Chelotti said. “We’re fed up and we have a plan to save education in Indian Valley, especially in keeping GHS open.”
    The others nodded in agreement.
    He compared what seemed like a never-ending struggle between the district and the school to a classic Peanuts cartoon.
    “We’re like Charlie Brown,” he said. “We go to kick the ball, and they pull it away.”
    To Chelotti it is obvious district management has been letting the school die. Since he retired last year, he’s seen more than 20 students walk away to get the classes they either need or want.
    “There’s no excuse,” he said. “When I left they had the biggest reserve ever at 20 percent.”
    In the five years he served as superintendent and the four as curriculum director, he kept hearing the same questions asked at the district level:
    When will Taylorsville Elementary be closed?
    When will Greenville High School be closed?
    “I had to fight to keep them open the whole time,” Chelotti said.
    He knew the momentum to close the schools would build again as soon as he stepped down due to his late mother’s increasing illness.
    Tucker became a trustee after the last serious round of closure talks in the 1990s, when efforts to secede from the unified district were made in Greenville, Portola and Chester; one of her promises at the time was to never vote for a school closure.
    When Chelotti and Tucker served on the district board, students were coming to Greenville from out of the area for the renowned agricultural classes and remedial programs.
    But that’s all gone now.
    “Other than trying to give us sewer ponds, what else has the county done for us?” Chelotti asked. “Yet they use us to get any kind of grant they can get—even in the 1970s, when Greenville had the larger population, we were still getting it in the neck.”
    He recently asked the board to come to Greenville without Superintendent Glenn Harris and listen to the people.
    “They told me that wasn’t their role anymore,” he said with a shake of his head.
    “The problem is that the board doesn’t know what to do and Superintendent Glenn Harris just wants to push distance learning,” Chelotti said after a meeting with Harris and Kusel. “If you don’t like what’s at Greenville then pack up and go somewhere else—that’s what his message was like.”
    To that meeting, Kusel brought a report about interviews with 25 GHS students whose problems at school were based on management issues, rather than brick and mortar ones Chelotti said.
    “PUSD is completely devoid of any positive management,” Chelotti said.
    “The problem is nationwide,” Tucker added. “We’re all dissatisfied.”
    “It’s benign neglect,” Chelotti said of all the cut classes that lead to fewer students, then more cuts later.
    “What about the No Child Left Behind Act?” John Holland, a GHS teacher for 41 years asked separately. “We are leaving Greenville†students behind, when compared to other students in the PUSD system, and I think that violates federal law.”
    Chelotti reflected about when he and Dennis Williams were district superintendents.
    “When we saw what a school needed, we got it,” he said. “When Portola had used all their money and needed a counselor, we got them one.”
    Now there are students who have trouble finding enough classes with credits to graduate.
    Chelotti and Holland have seen such students forced to sit in the library and use a program designed for student who may have flunked a class and need to earn extra credits.
    Gimple flat out accuses the board and its superintendent of dereliction of duty.
    “If we want a comprehensive school in Indian Valley, this is our last chance,” Chelotti said. “If we depend on PUSD we will not have schools here anymore.”
    He described the migration of students to charter schools as a parade.
    “It’s huge in Portola,” he said.
    Chelotti and the others have prepared themselves to open a charter school if need be, and they were planning to comment at the district board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9.
    As for what they envision for Indian Valley, Gimple began with consistency in classes with the goal of mastery instead of social promotion.
    “There will be help for kids who need it, an atmosphere of respect and responsibility and a dress code, if not uniforms.”
    There is a district dress code Chelotti said, though there aren’t enough administrators to enforce it.
    Remedial education would be available again, compared to the current slashed program, and students who needed extra help would get it Chelotti said.
    “Students of different education levels and needs can be taught in the same classroom by the same teacher,” Tucker said of a perceived need to separate students with special needs. “It’s not easy, but it’s been done before.
    “The district has shown neglect of GHS for many years,” Tucker said.
    She was involved in a similar group back in 1994, when an effort to close GHS was initiated at the district level.
    The Indian Valley Academy, an independent charter school, would be a non-union school, with teachers who really want to be here, not ones who are just doing their time before moving on, and they would be placed on a performance-based salary.
    School officials would not have to accept funding that came with restrictions, and they could contract locally for services, such as buses and buildings.
    As a group, Chelotti and the others declare the following commitment to the Indian Valley Community:
    “We will maintain schools consistent with the values and ideals of the community, run by the community, meeting the needs of the community for the long-term maintenance and growth of the community.”
    They will host an informational townhall meeting tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. in the Greenville Town Hall.
    “We’ll talk to residents about what’s happening, and we can gather together and start a charter school,” Chelotti said. “There will be a comprehensive school in Indian Valley.”
    “The bottom line for me is that I will not just stand around and watch schools bleed to death and close,” Weber said in a telephone interview.
    The board has not been telling us what its plans are she said. “It’s not good enough to tell us they won’t close the school this year or next,” she added. “What happens after that? Just come out and tell us and we’ll work within that.”
    Her biggest hope is that whatever options become available during the transitional period are done in the least fragmented way.
    She wants as many people as possible to come to the townhall meeting to hear about what is going on, and to know that there will be options available.

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