The DJUSD election was difficult to predict – it was clear that Bob Poppenga was running a strong campaign, it was not clear that both he and Alan Fernandes would unseat Susan Lovenburg. But there seem to be key two key moments early and late, that may have swung this against Ms. Lovenburg.
While the AIM community is perhaps small, over the years it probably goes deeper than one might think and, if people vote as a block, in a relatively close election, they can create disproportionate influence on the race.
The first moment came early. It was the decision by the board, on a 3-2 vote, to only have two strands, after parents were promised to have three. Alan Fernandes and Madhavi Sunder put forward a compromise motion but could not gain a third vote. Instead, the board majority, which included Susan Lovenburg (joined by Tom Adams and Barbara Archer, neither of whom were facing reelection), pushed through an AIM two-strand vote.
While at that time there were concerns about the size of the program and the demographic composition, this was the first time a real change was pushed through on a split vote. I think that vote really started a push against Ms. Lovenburg – again, by a small group.
On October 25, basically two weeks before the election, Shun Yao wrote a letter to the Vanguard, concerned that the district had administered the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) and the test was invalidated, and therefore, on October 4, the district sent a letter to the parents that all of their kids would have to be retested with the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test), basically requiring them to take a 170-question, 3-hour long, computer-based test instead of the 65 questions, 40-minute long test.
The district’s response to this was almost tone-deaf to the concerns of parents. Maria Clayton basically said that the situation which “resulted in OLSAT-8 testing irregularities was unfortunate but the resolution, led by the AIM office in concert with principals and teachers districtwide, was immediate, comprehensive and well-communicated to employees and parents.”
To parents concerned with their third grade kids having to take a three-hour test, that’s not the response they wanted to hear. And this impacted 300 kids – a much broader swath than just the core AIM parents.
As one parent put it, “I want to add my voice to those who are frustrated with how the AIM program is being administered. The testing this fall, in addition to the debacle that occurred last spring with parents being uninformed/misinformed about the location of the various AIM strands suggests to me that there is a systemic problem.”
Another commenter put it that “the AIM program has been under much scrutiny, you would think that DJUSD would take a little extra time to ensure that the testing goes smoothly.”
Causal or not, the tone of the campaign seemed to change after that. A few days later, Katherine Unger wrote a letter in the Enterprise and Vanguard that reminded voters not only about Ms. Lovenburg’s views on AIM, but also her ill-fated letter regarding the Nancy Peterson situation from March 19, 2014 with Sheila Allen.
Many people believed that that letter ultimately doomed Sheila Allen in the 2014 City Council race.
On November 3, Ann Block authored the “AIM – The Elephant in the Room” article pushing back, writing, “While Bob Poppenga is clearly an accomplished professor of veterinary medicine, and probably a very nice guy – most people seem to have forgotten that he was one of the leaders against GATE/AIM reform in Davis, perhaps because he has a child in the program, as does Ms. Sunder, the only vote on the current board that was against GATE/AIM reform. “
The entire dynamics of the race seemed to change in the last two weeks.
Where does the election leave the AIM program now? First a few thoughts on what went right and what went wrong with the AIM reform. Clearly there was a problem with the private testing – and, while I believe the district needs a protocol to allow students entering the district after testing to get identified for AIM, the private testing system seemed rife for abuse and ending it was a good idea.
Creating a more rigorous and systematic approach to AIM testing always made sense.
Where I was concerned was here:
First, laying off Deanne Quinn seemed less about policy and more about politics. That was a 3-2 vote against the staff recommendation. If there was a third factor in this race, it started there.
Second, I always understood the need to clean up the identification process – I never understood the driving need to go from 96 to 98. There was no educational reason for that, which the previous administration could come up with.
Third, my concern for the size of the program has always been about the concern that fewer students would mean less diversity – that played out a lot more starkly than even I believed.
In the end, I felt like a lot of these changes were rushed – that the district was pushing an agenda, not reforming an educational program.
My guess is that, with the new board, you will see a revisiting of a few issues. I would suggest to the board to take the time to get this right. That means, pause the change from 96 to 98. That means, get the AIM testing protocol right – I think there are some real questions about the suitability of the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test to diverse populations.
This election result, I think, gives the board the mandate to re-examine the program and to try to smooth out the rough edges of the reform.
—David M. Greenwald reporting