My View: Board Majority Dances on the Brink of Trouble with AIM Decisions

Board President Alan Fernandes believes there was full compliance with section 54954.2, and that the notice provided far exceeded the minimum requirements of law.
Board President Alan Fernandes argued that the June 4 vote was not a major change.

Last fall, every candidate for the school board vowed, in the aftermath of the volleyball scandal and the resignation of Nancy Peterson, to restore the community’s trust in the integrity of the decisions made by the current school board. For the first several months of this new board, it seemed things were headed in the right direction – that is, until a series of questionable process decision began on June 4.

Whatever you think of the policy direction of the board on AIM – the process involved here is troublesome. The Vanguard has filed a Brown Act violation complaint over the motion made on that date which, among other things, sought to eliminate private testing and asked the Superintendent to develop a plan for the district which fully implements differentiated instructional practices in all classrooms.

There was no mention of differentiated instruction on the agenda, and the board voted on this item at nearly midnight with little to no notice to the public.

As Board Vice President Madhavi Sunder put it: “This is a radical change that is being implemented.”

However, Board President Alan Fernandes argued otherwise, that this was simply giving direction to the Superintendent and that all of this would come back for full discussion at a later point in time – now it looks like that will be the first few weeks in September.

Mr. Fernandes’ point had merit, but the actions that occurred on Thursday night suggest there is a considerable difference between where Mr. Fernandes sits and the board majority sits on this issue.

In a move that was eerily reminiscent of Volleyball-gate, a VSA (variable services agreement) for longtime GATE Coordinator Deanne Quinn, who retired but is continuing to administer the program at great savings to the district, was pulled off consent.

Three members of the school board – Barbara Archer, Susan Lovenburg, and Tom Adams – voted against a motion made by Board President Alan Fernandes to renew the VSA. They did so with minimal comment during the meeting.

On Friday, the Vanguard reached out to all three, asking for a comment on why the VSA was not renewed if no decision has been made on the AIM program yet.

The exchange with Susan Lovenburg is indicative of the response the Vanguard received. She said in a text: “I will not be commenting on this personnel issue.” The Vanguard received identical responses from Barbara Archer and Tom Adams. Ms. Lovenburg did not say that she has voted no on this particular VSA each time it has come to the board.

When the Vanguard pressed the issue: So you are telling me that the decision was based on personnel issues rather than policy?

Ms. Lovenburg responded, “I am telling you only that I will not comment on this personnel issue.”

This is an unfortunate response. There could be a personnel issue here – but more likely this is a policy issue that the board members can certainly comment on. The argument could be made, with proposed changes to the GATE program, that it does not make any sense to bring on a retired administrator on a VSA. That would not have violated personnel confidentiality provisions.

Belying this point is the comment by Board Member Madhavi Sunder, who stated, “With Ms. Quinn’s consent, I have reviewed Ms. Quinn’s 20-year personnel file carefully, as I believe the Superintendent who recommended we rehire her has also done. That file demonstrates that Ms. Quinn is a valuable employee to the district. All of us can be better. But there is no cause here to deny us the benefit of her expert guidance in meeting the needs of a certain group of children.”

So if this is a personnel issue – why are the board members not evaluating her file? And if this is not a personnel issue, why are the board members refusing to comment?

Even if they plan to make sweeping changes to AIM, those changes are not scheduled to take place until 2016-17 – so why would you not want to bring the current coordinator back who has been doing this for over two decades?

The board majority has been trying to argue that the June 4 vote was not a major change, but two weeks later, they are undermining that claim by making a major change, against the recommendations of staff.

As Alan Fernandes put it, his understanding of the June 4 motion is that they “have not yet made any changes with regard to our AIM program,” so why deny the VSA at this point? If they come back and make changes in September, then it would be a legitimate time to reconsider whether or not the person who’s performing the duties under this contract matches the future needs of the district.”

The comments of public commenter Katherine Unger are insightful here. She noted that she has “seen conflicting information in the paper about how significant of a change (was made to the AIM program on June 4),” and she added “I’ve even heard conflicting information from board members.”

She wanted to wait and see what would happen, “And now I see there’s a move to remove the coordinator who’s probably the most experienced in Gifted Education in our district…

“You’re going to be sending a pretty clear message to families in Davis about the AIM program and how you value it, and you how you value the students and families attached to it,” Ms. Unger stated. “I keep hearing references to segregation – are we going to apply that to Spanish Immersion? Do we apply it to Montessori?

“There are kids in this town who walk around saying, why do people hate me because I’m in AIM? That’s a really hard question to answer,” she said. “But you guys are sending a very clear message – first you change the program at 11:30 at night without public input and then the next meeting you take out the coordinator – I hope you reconsider.”

That is the main problem here. There may well be five votes to end private testing, which would seem to be a problematic practice. I think there may be five board members willing to look at AIM identification as a whole and probably willing to make major changes.

Overall I have not decided where I come down on the issue of AIM. I do think it serves multiple populations in the school district. One population would be the classic gifted student who is a high achiever and needs to be challenged outside of the core curriculum.

Another population, however, is very gifted and talented, but their needs are not being met in the mainstream classroom and they may therefore be, in most respects, underachievers.

Then there is the ethnic and racial mix. The OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) would seem to heavily identify whites and Asians at percentages approaching 85 percent whereas methods like the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence), which may well have flaws, more heavily identify blacks and Hispanics and other disadvantaged groups.

What is the right mix and the right test? I do not know.

This is clearly a contentious issue and it will take a great deal of skill and delicacy to guide the community through these changes.

However, what we have seen since June 4 is anything but the kind of delicate balance that we need. With very little notice to me it appears major change was made. The board can disagree with the Vanguard on whether the letter of the Brown Act was violated but to me, the spirit certainly was. The Brown Act serves as the floor for how noticing should occur, but at its core is the idea that major changes in a community should be noticed so those wanting to participate can have the option to attend the meeting.

Instead, we had a poorly-noticed discussion on AIM, ending in a midnight vote on June 4, and two weeks later the board majority pulled a VSA off consent to effectively fire the GATE Coordinator – ostensibly before the final decision has been made on GATE.

I have a great deal of respect for Board President Alan Fernandes, that when he says he believes that a major change did not occur on June 4, he is telling the truth – from his perspective. However, I think even he would admit that, at this point, three of colleagues may not see it that way.

In part, the Vanguard filed the Brown Act violation papers to give the district and board a chance to walk things back, and take a different approach here.

If the board majority flexes its numerical muscles, they threaten to undermine the trust that they said just last fall they hoped to restore. There is a sizable population right now that is angry and confused as to what has happened.

As of yet, they have not mobilized but that day will come and it will come fast. Do we want to carry out a bitter and divided battle with accusations and resentment?

The board has the opportunity here to go a different path. They can start with the features of AIM that everyone agree should be changed. They can move us on a path to implementing those changes and then reevaluate the need to go further.

Unfortunately, the actions taken on June 4 and now June 18 lead us to a different path – one that will divide this community and breed anger and resentment. It is not too late to take us to a new path.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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38 thoughts on “My View: Board Majority Dances on the Brink of Trouble with AIM Decisions”

  1. hpierce

    My concern is that the true issues related to the GATE/AIM program will get lost in the “process” discussion.  Process is easily corrected,, unless the issue isn’t really “process”, but ‘denial’, getting one’s own way, or just “muckraking”.

    There is a real problem.  And it isn’t the process.  We truly need some “problem-solving”, not game-playing.

  2. hpierce

    “Even if they plan to make sweeping changes to AIM, those changes are not scheduled to take place until 2016-17 – so why would you not want to bring the current coordinator back who has been doing this for over two decades?”  Not logical.  if sweeping changes are needed, are you going to look to someone who would, in effect, have to repudiate 20 years of their professional life? Force them to admit they “erred”?  Not nice, probably not productive.

    At this point, feel I need to make clear that the person involved is not “bad”, etc. Just got caught up in a situation.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      My point is that the board makes the policy changes and the director and administration would implement them. Those changes cannot take effect until 2016-17, so the person in charge now is immaterial to that decision.

  3. Tia Will


    So if this is a personnel issue – why are the board members not evaluating her file? “

    In the interests of clarity and fairness, do you know that the board members who are choosing to remain silent have not evaluated her file, or could they merely be remaining silent about the fact that they have.


    “At this point, feel I need to make clear that the person involved is not “bad”, etc. Just got caught up in a situation.”

    I suspect that this same statement probably pertains to all involved as well.

    1. hpierce

      Understand, Tia, that the Board CANNOT evaluate any employees file (other than the Superintendent), without invitation and/or consent by the employee.  David says Sunder did that (at least the ‘consent’ level).  An unanswered question I posed, is why that happened, in Sunders’s case, prior to/concurrently with the VSA vote.  Would suggest the VG should investigate that, but know it’s a matter of a snowball’s chance in a very warm place.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        To clarify: You want me to ask Madhavi Sunder why she looked at an employee’s personnel file before voting on her contract?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I’m happy to ask her the question but I can already answer for you the other side of that question. She didn’t know what was going to happen with the VSA, she was very interested to see what her colleagues would do on that as she felt it would be telling for their overall plans for GATE.

        1. hpierce

          Or, I can… that might would be best, as the only ‘filters’ I’d have to watch for are my own.  But will offer odds that Sunder’s response will be, “can’t address that, it’s a personnel matter”.

      2. Tia Will


        Thanks for the clarification. I was not aware of that. However, as it often will, more information leads to more questions. If Ms. Quinn felt that she had through the years done a good job, why would she not invite or consent to review of her file which would seem necessary to make an impartial decision ?

        1. hpierce

          Why would she have done the invite/consent if the employee didn’t expect a problem?  Did she do this the previous times her contract was being considered?  If I get the answers to those questions, I’ll answer yours.

      3. wdf1

        hpierce:  the Board CANNOT evaluate any employees file (other than the Superintendent), without invitation and/or consent by the employee.

        The board only evaluates the superintendent which it did so in closed session prior to last Thursday’s meeting.

      1. hpierce

        Not to beat this too much, but you realize that a board member being invited/getting consent to review an employee’s personnel file, prior to a consent calendar item regarding the employee, is kinda’ “strange”.

        Another clue… why did Sunder assert she was the ONLY Board member to do so? She shouldn’t have known, unless the employee knew. At best, Sunder could only have said the employee told her that Sunder was the only one the employee authorized to do so.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          On the second, I think it would be easy enough for her to find out how many board members viewed the personnel file. I can’t really weigh in on the “strange” aspect as I don’t know.

  4. Tia Will

    What seems really strange to me is that a board would make a decision on a VSA without reviewing the past performance of the employee !  Maybe someone can explain to me why it is the norm for this decision to be made effectively blindfolded to past performance.

  5. ryankelly

    I understand that Tom Adams did comment – saying that he felt the program needed a full time permanent employee to manage a program that includes 30% of the children in the district. Deanne Quinn was part time and temporary with her contract having to be renewed each year. I don’t believe that this was personal.

    I don’t understand why people are so worried about differentiated instruction. North Davis had a wonderful program that was very successful with differentiated instruction under Judy Boock. If Private testing is stopped, parents are going to want to know what will be available for their children, since the regular program is viewed as mediocre and boring.  Implementing differentiated instruction will allow children to excell in the subjects where they have high interest.

    1. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

      If Tom Adams were worried that Quinn was only a part-time employee, wouldn’t the solution be to make her full-time, rather than fire the experienced administrator of the program? Quinn has run the program as a 0.4 employee–which she could do largely because of her extensive experience and background.

  6. Anon

    I have no children in the public schools, and no strong feelings one way or the other about the AIM program.  That said, what strikes me as “questionable” is that the head of AIM would be let go BEFORE any supposed decision was made on whether to make changes to AIM. It seems like putting the cart before the horse, or worse, it smacks of making decisions about the AIM program behind closed doors (even if not true, it has the “appearance of  impropriety”).  Why not wait until after decisions on AIM have been made before deciding whether to let the AIM Director go? (There may be good reason, but thus far it does not appear that way.)

    I suspect other parents of children in the DJUSD schools are going to think the same thing and are left wondering.  This is the sort of process issue that can sow seeds of distrust, as in Volleyballgate.  When it comes time to propose school parcel tax increases, I doubt the DJUSD will be able to get one approved at the moment.  The current School Board might want to think about that moving forward.  The AIM program is a very controversial subject that many citizens in Davis feel strongly about, and would want to weigh in on before the School Board decides to make any changes.

    1. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

      This seems right. Volleyball-gate involved the refusal to extend a VSA for coach Crawford, just like the refusal to extend a VSA for AIM educator Quinn. And the process here, like the process there, led to enormous distrust in the Board.

  7. ryankelly

    Not the same as what happened with Crawford.  It would be the same if Crawford said that she didn’t want to coach but then said that she would cover the position on a part time basis for 5 years when the Board voted to not renew this arrangement.  It would be the same if one of the Board members did not personnally like Deanne Quinn, had a child in the program that they felt Quinn had not treated their child well, so started harrassing and slandering Quinn in public meetings and eventually went after her job.

    Not the same at all.  This premise hamstrings the District to not being able to make any decisions regarding the positions.

  8. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald

    Dear School Board Members:

    I have tremendous respect for each and every one of you.   You had the courage to run for office, share your thoughts and views with the public at a time when there was a lot of community concern over the removal of a well-liked volleyball coach.  The community was divided, a school board member resigned and children were left to wonder, “Is this how adults solve problems?”

    I respectfully ask the full school board to please, please, please take a few steps back and consider the following:

    1) Let the public know that you will revisit the AIM issue (It’s okay to admit “We want to look at the issue more carefully.”  It’s okay.)  When I make a mistake and say, “Ooops, mommy made a mistake.” Jasmine, our 5-year-old often replies, “It’s okay mommy. Everyone makes mistakes.  Mistakes happen. I still love you.”

    Decisions were made without public input and late at night.  I still respect you all TREMENDOUSLY!  It’s okay to say, “Let’s revisit the issues.”

    2) Set up meetings to allow for public input;

    3) Bring back Deanne Quinn (whom children and parents love). Understanding that she “may” choose to work full-time or continue on a part-time basis and the district can hire another part-time director. It can be a co-directing opportunity! DJUSD is good at allowing educators to have co-teaching opportunities when appropriate! Our little 5th grader had 2 WONDERFUL co-teachers this last year at Pioneer Elementary (Ms. Sue Viguie and Ms. Janice Brehler).

    When you were elected the voters were happy that things would be done differently.  The voters are getting a little concerned, because with the recent decisions “Davis was not allowed to be “Davis”and provide their input on major (or minor) changes.”

    I will personally ask people to please provide their comments if you open up the opportunity for public input and revisit the decisions of the last two meetings. I realize this takes more time, but as you all know, democracy takes patience and time.

    We don’t want to go back to a contentious period in our school district.

    Thank you all for considering my request.


    Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald

    Parent of 3 children in DJUSD

  9. Adam Smith

    It is similar in the sense that the board overturned the recommendation of the administration, this time without comment.  That alone is a serious issue for me, and a slap in the face of the administration.  The fact that it was done without significant comment or discussion from the majority, implies that the three of them had discussed and decided prior to the meeting.   If true, that would be a second  Brown Act violation.

    I don’t find it strange that Sunder reviewed the personnel record of a VSA contract up for renewal.  In fact, it makes less sense that someone would not review the performance record of an individual for whom you are being asked to consider hiring for  an additional year.

    While not as egregious as the Nancy Peterson issue,  this may very well lead to a recall for the board majority.  Without due explanation and discussion, I’d vote to recall each one of the majority.

  10. ryankelly

    Sunder voted against the contracts of every single administrator. She was the lone dissenter.  I would call that a bigger slap in the face of every administrator than one that directs the Superintendent to hire a full time permanent employee to manage such a large program.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You mean the 4 percent raise to people already making over $150,000 per year? You consider that a slap in the face? That seems like a huge raise at this time.

    2. wdf1

      ryankelly:  Sunder voted against the contracts of every single administrator.

      Sunder voted against approving the contracts of the top four administrators – Roberson, Best, Bryant, Colby.  She supported raises for other administrators — principals, vice principals, and other admins not under special contract.


      * Unanimously approved salary increases for principals and most other administrative staff, reflecting the same mix of one-time payments and salary increases in the agreements with the DTA and CSEA.

      * Voted 4-1 to approve individual contracts with the district’s top four administrators — Associate Superintendent Matt Best, Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant, Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby and Superintendent Winfred Roberson — reflecting the same mix of one-time payments and salary increases given to other employees.

      Sunder voted against the four individual contracts, indicating that she was casting a philosophical vote by saying, “I do not believe it is reasonable to automatically increase administrator salary at the same rate we increase teacher salary.

      “Highly paid administrators should be assessed on an individual basis,” she added. “I am not voting against raises for our top administrators, but against a lock-step set of raises mirroring the raises offered to our teaching staff, who earn significantly less than the administrators.”

  11. ryankelly

    It is all relative. From the viewpoint of the administrator, which do you think would be the “slap.”

    Did Sunder review the personnel files of every employee before voting against their raises?

    Let’s be consistent here.

    1. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

      She voted against the four individual contracts, explaining, as noted above that it’s not reasonable to “automatically” raise the salary of the Superintendent and the Associate Superintendents. How is that the same thing as firing an employee?

  12. ryankelly

    Exactly.  When something doesn’t involve evaluating the specific performance of an administrator or teacher, then viewing the personnel files of employees is inappropriate.  However, Sunder voted no on the contracts, saying that raises for administrators should be done individually and only given based on merit (which I assume the would involve viewing personnel files.).  So her vote was not budgetary really. It again was a protest of the process that the rest of the Board is following.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I agree with that “When something doesn’t involve evaluating the specific performance of an administrator or teacher, then viewing the personnel files of employees is inappropriate,” except that three board members specifically told me it was a personnel issue and they don’t comment on personnel issues.

  13. MrsW

    David, it might be helpful to your readership to list the tasks the AIM Coordinator position at DJUSD in 2015 has both responsibility and authority to perform.

  14. wdf1

    Katherine Unger, as quoted above:  “I keep hearing references to segregation – are we going to apply that to Spanish Immersion? Do we apply it to Montessori?

    If segregation, or rather under-representation, of certain groups, especially “achievement gap” students,” exists in other programs, such as Spanish Immersion or Montessori, why not investigate there, too, as well as AIM/GATE and ask why is that the case?  I think Unger raises a good point, and I appreciate that she does.

    But I wouldn’t stop with those programs.  Include performing arts, athletics, yearbook staff, robotics, etc.

      1. wdf1

        Act on it.  Likely do outreach and have, in the case of some Latino families, Spanish speaking staff explain the program(s), why they might be important, and how to participate.

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