The school board voted 4-1 to pass a motion, at nearly midnight Thursday, that one school board member says “effectively eliminates our GATE program as we know it.” Board Vice President Madhavi Sunder complained on Thursday night that “there was no notice to the public that today you are going to dismantle self-contained GATE as we know in the DJUSD.”
The Vanguard is contemplating filing a complaint of a Brown Act violation, as the Board agenda reads, “Approve staff recommendation to update (sic) the AIM Master Plan retesting policies in order to provide fair and appropriate opportunities for student AIM identification, one or more retesting options to be used in circumstances for which the universal testing may have hindered performance.”
The motion made by Board Member Susan Lovenburg said, “To provide more equitable access to the AIM program, move to eliminate the use of private testing to qualify students, beginning with students who would first be admitted to the program in the 2016-17 school year.”
It continues, “Further, direct the Superintendent to have staff review and recommend assessment protocols to be implemented in screening students beginning in the 2015-16 school year. The focus of assessment will be to identify students whose needs cannot be met in classrooms which fully implement best practices of differentiated instruction.”
“Assessment will take into consideration multiple measures… Recommended changes will be reflected in the AIM Master Plan to be approved by the Board,” it continued. “Further direct the Superintendent to develop a plan for the district which fully implements differentiated instructional practices in all classrooms.”
Ms. Sunder told her colleagues. “This is a done deal.” “This is a radical change that is being implemented,” she said. “We’re not asking will you discuss this and have a committee to look at in the fall… We’re implementing this without any public notice about this type of a major change in the DJUSD. I’m very disappointed about the process by which this type of major change is being offered here.”
However, there is some dispute over whether this constitutes a Brown Act violation. Board President Alan Fernandes told the Vanguard that the item was clearly noticed as an item for presentation, discussion and action.
During the discussion, Mr. Fernandes told his colleagues, “I don’t read this motion at all to be a dismantling of the AIM program as we know it. I do read it more in the vein of much how we handled other issues, we directed staff to report back to the board with recommendations that are subsequently approved by the board.”
The question with the Brown Act is whether the public could be reasonably informed that a possible action taken by the governmental body, in this case the DJUSD School Board, was forthcoming.
Board member Barbara Archer told the Vanguard that the item was noticed as a discussion on testing, and the motion put forth by Board Member Susan Lovenburg was on testing.
At the outset of the discussion, Board President Alan Fernandes suggested that the issue should come back as a specific meeting just on this issue. Toward the end of the discussion he would reiterate the point.
Indeed, he seemed to recognize there were potential problems with the noticing to the public when he stated, “For purposes of noticing to the public there is going to be another hearing on this prior to implementing for the 15-16 school year. I think that is important particularly in light of the fact that the recommendations that were presented tonight really were about as clear as mud.”
The Vanguard suggested that they simply walk back from the 4-1 vote taken on Thursday. Rescind that. And then notice a new meeting, at that point they could vote however they wished to proceed, but the public would have the opportunity to understand what the board was contemplating and speak to the issue prior to the vote.
Both Alan Fernandes and Barbara Archer seemed to feel this step was unnecessary. However, Mr. Fernandes added, “The bottom line is that this issue is coming back and I already said last night that when the issue comes back it should be a specific meeting just on this issue and I will be sure to make sure there is even more extra notice given.”
Madhavi Sunder said it wasn’t clear from the motion how the district will conduct AIM testing and admit students into self-contained AIM classrooms. She asked how many classrooms this would result in and the answer was not clear.
“I am not defining assessments… I am defining the outcome,” said Ms. Lovenburg. She indicated her belief that “we are over-identifying” AIM students.
Ms. Lovenburg would later explain, “It is a significant change to the current program, and I think it is called for,” adding, “We are giving direction to staff” to develop a new plan for test and that plan will “be brought back to the board for approval.”
The next day Ms. Sunder, who repeatedly raised the issue of proper notice during the meeting only to have her concerns dismissed, told the Vanguard, “To base a midnight decision on dismantling the AIM program on a study that purports to show that AIM neither advances nor harms STAR results in the district is unwise. The entire state has rejected the STAR test as an inadequate measure of student progress. The last thing I would want to see in the DJUSD is the assessment — and subsequent dismantling — of programs if they fail to advance STAR test scores.”
The Vanguard and its attorney will review the noticing for the meeting and compare it against the motion that was passed by the school district. The easiest way to rectify the situation and to make sure the district is fully transparent is simply to rescind the 4-1 vote, re-agendize it, as Mr. Fernandes suggested, as its own meeting and take public comment and then act accordingly.
The process change will likely not affect the final outcome of the vote, as there were four board members in support, but at least the public can come out and know what the issue is about.
—David M. Greenwald reporting