By Melody Birkett
Parents, students and the community were hustling on a recent Saturday morning at Gilbert Classical Academy’s new home at 1016 N. Burk St.
They were trying to get everything ready for the first day of school, August 2.
“Today, we are moving into our new campus,” said Dan Hood, principal of GCA. “We moved over from our old campus which was kind of a makeshift one. We had been there for 10 years.” That campus was at 55 N. Greenfield Road.
“There, it was kind of a hassle with an elementary school, a lot of portables, no fields, no gym, no anything,” Hood added. “To be part of a new school now is kind of neat.”
GCA, which is moving into the campus of the now closed Gilbert Jr. High, will have at least three times as much space, according to Hood. The GPS Governing Board voted 5-0 to close the school in May. Gilbert Jr. High students are to attend Mesquite Jr. High.
“I think this is the best utilization of space,” Hood said. “There’s a lot of tradition here that we’re pulling off and saving.”
Hood expects GCA’s enrollment in the fall to be 580 and for it to grow to 750-800 students in the next couple of years.
In the meantime, the big job at hand is getting prepared. Hood said about 150 volunteers signed up to help with the move, but more showed up. “It’s an exciting day. Anytime you have a big community involvement, it always helps your school,” he said.
Mary and Dan Mirabito were among the volunteers. Their oldest son graduated a year ago from GCA and is now a sophomore in college. They also have twin boys who are seniors at GCA.
“The school is being reorganized so it fits Gilbert Classical’s program.” Mary Mirabito said.
The library was the focus that morning.
“Just taking down the library — the cybrary — removing all of the books, every single piece of furniture from the shelves,” Dan Mirabito said. “We’re basically making room for the carpeting to get replaced, to get the walls painted. We want everything looking good when it comes back in.”
Dan Mirabito described it as “a sense of community.
“It’s a family. Everybody knows each other, for the most part. It’s an awesome place for a child to go to school and be educated,” he said.
Emily MacArthur, 17, is a senior and has attended GCA since seventh grade. She was also helping out in the library. “We’re pulling all the books off the shelves so the shelves can be moved out for new carpeting,” she said.
MacArthur said every attention to detail was important since the librarian was on vacation. “We’re trying to keep it organized for her, so it’s not a total mess when she gets back,” she said.
Many parents shared MacArthur’s doubts about whether everything will be finished by the first day of school, especially the library. Getting the carpeting replaced and painting the walls were at the top of the priority list and promised to be the biggest challenge.
“I think we’ll definitely get all the shelves back in. I’m not sure about organizing the books,” she said. The librarian has a lot to do with adding GCA’s books to the existing books, she also said.
Despite books being online nowadays, MacArthur said a library is still very important to students. “GCA students like to read a lot, so we’re always in the library,” she said.
Freshman Vivien Liu, 14, is in her third year at GCA. “Today, we’re helping our campus,” Liu said. “We’re going to remodel it.”
In the end, she said, it’ll be worth all of the hard work. “This campus is a lot bigger and it’s going to be very exciting because we have our own track and our own field now,” she said.
Daylia Zarland, 13, a freshman at GCA is also thrilled and said the new campus is great.
“Our other campus was so small we never had room for anything. The library here is so much bigger, so there’ll be a lot more room for a lot more stuff,” she said.
Felicia Rehm’s son just graduated from GCA. Her daughter, Angela, is a sophomore.
“There has been a lot of volunteers all summer but right now we’re moving out the entire library because we have to carpet. At some point before school starts, this will all have to be moved back in,” she said. She also doubts everything will be done by the first day of school.
Obviously, a lot of controversy has surrounded the move, but parents said it was worth it in the end.
“Hats off to Dr. Hood,” said Blembi Kokona whose son Alex, 14, is a freshman at GCA. “He stayed calm and collected through this whole ordeal and continues to. He’s an outstanding man. What he has done is fabulous.”
Kokona added, “These are our children, our community’s children, and the future of our community, so it doesn’t matter where you live, what location, or grade or any of that.”
“It was hard for everybody, even for us, because we didn’t want to take over anybody’s home,” Mary Mirabito said.” We ultimately wanted our own school where we didn’t move anybody out.”
“For the students moving to Mesquite, they have more opportunities with more electives now that they’re at a new school,” MacArthur added. “So I think it’s going to work out better in the long run for everyone in the district.”
In the end, Kokona said it’s about students getting a good education. “We owe it to this new generation to provide them the best, not only education with the right curriculum, but also in the right atmosphere that’s clean, safe, you name it.”
“If you came down here and saw what was going on here, you’d get excited about it,” Dan Mirabito said.