November 11, 2005

Sweetwater District Names GEAR UP Project Director Mayra Gutierrez to lead federal grant to close achievement gap

The Sweetwater District has chosen its Director of Categorical Programs to head its $19 million federal grant to improve the college preparation of 4,000 seventh grade students in seven high-need middle schools.

Mayra Gutierrez brings great expertise to this reform effort. She has shown solid leadership overseeing $7 million in Title I funds-federal grant funding earmarked for schools to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. She has worked closely with principals and parents to ready students for four-year unversities, according to Board President Jim Cartmill.

“She has shown that she can work with a spectrum of personalities, always bringing out the best in people. She moves the district forward in her work and shares that vision with others,” Cartmill said.

Sweetwater was awarded $19 million over the next six years for its innovative program and partnership with local universities, colleges and community organizations. The multi-faceted program will guide students in their academic journey from the 7th grade all the way to high school graduation.

GEAR UP-which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs-grants are designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. The program provides six-year grants to partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools.

The goal of Sweetwater’s GEAR UP program is to build capacity for the improvement of teaching and learning so that educators can bridge the achievement gap for students who reside in mostly disadvantaged communities on the district’s west side. The seven middle schools are Castle Park, Chula Vista, Mar Vista, Montgomery, National City, Southwest and Granger Junior.

Key activities that were tailored by partners to meet the needs of Sweetwater students include:

• Creating math specialists to support teachers to develop students’ skills in such subjects as algebra;

• Offering summer and intersession science institutes in biology, chemistry and physics where students work side-by-side with scientists at places like The Scripps Research and Salk Institute;

• Providing summer bridge programs in mathematics, science and literacy at district campuses to build skills and give students a preview of fall work;

• Transporting students to Point Loma Nazarene University and other colleges to take college-level work in subjects such as biology with writing support;

• Extending the school day with test prep and algebra support classes as well as a Saturday Scholars program that builds goal setting and critical thinking skills;

• Providing in-class live tutoring linking college undergraduates to middle school students;

• Holding “boot camps” in reading and math for special education students that need assistance; and

• Sending university students “ambassadors” to high schools to advise seniors of college requirements.

Gutierrez’s background includes serving as an interim area superintendent, director of summer school and special sessions, assistant principal and teacher. She has a master’s degree in multi-cultural education and has worked arduously to better the education of all students by improving programs such as Title 1, English Language Development, Gifted and Talented Education and Special Education.

“This is an opportunity to turn our community into a true college-going culture,” Gutierrez said. She is excited to take on this new challenge and be part of the history that GEAR UP will provide for the next generation of Sweetwater students.

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