The DJUSD School Board voted 3-2 to reject the VSA (variable services agreement) of Deanne Quinn, who was the director of the DJUSD AIM/GATE program. A few years ago, Ms. Quinn had retired, and had been on a year-to-year contract. Board President Alan Fernandes and Vice President Madhavi Sunder voted in favor of keeping her in place.
Board Member Madhavi Sunder, calling in from North Carolina and participating via phone, told the board, “I would like to remind the public that Ms. Deanne Quinn has been running the GATE, now AIM, program for 2 decades in our district. During that time, the school district’s program has been recognized as ‘exemplary’ by the state. Indeed, Davis is one of only three districts in the state to obtain that prestigious commendation.”
“I am very concerned that School Board Trustees have rejected the personnel recommendation of the administration, stepping directly into firing individual district employees against the advice of the administration. This is likely to provoke concern in the community and among our staff about the direction the Board is charting,” she continued.
Ms. Sunder stated, “We had an election in November. The candidates all explained their positions on this issue in writing at DavisVanguard.org. None of the candidates indicated that they wanted to essentially create a new GATE/AIM program, wholly unlike the program that has existed over the past few decades in this district.”
“They did not explain that they were going to fire an employee,” she said. “As I understand, none of the other Trustees have reviewed Ms. Quinn’s personnel file, and yet they are willing to fire an employee.”
She 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.”
“It is indeed difficult to square this action, deposing the head of a program, with the claim that the program is not being radically altered,” she concluded.
Alan Fernandes clarified that “it would not be a firing if the board chose not to support a VSA recommendation because it is a contract employee. The person in question was an employee and then retired from the district, and therefore the law applies differently to contract employees.”
Mr. Fernandes said, “From my perspective and indeed the motion from June 4 that’s often talked about and referenced, [and] is in written form available on our website, it clearly states we have not yet made any changes with regard to our AIM program such that I am not supportive of making changes until a recommendation comes back which is why I am supporting the VSA at this time.”
“Having said that, when the board comes back with recommendations about restructuring, then I think it’s appropriate to consider whether or not this particular contract is needed and, if it is, then whether or not the person who’s performing the duties under this contract matches the future needs of the district,” he added.
He reiterated that the motion on June 4 was for the Superintendent to come back with recommended changes to the AIM program and “that no changes to the AIM program have been made to date.”
He moved and Madhavi Sunder seconded the vote. Trustees Tom Adams, Susan Lovenburg and Barbara Archer voted to reject the VSA without comment.
Katherine Unger, speaking during public comment, 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.”
On June 4, the Davis School Board voted 4-1 to pass a motion that one board member believes “effectively eliminates our GATE program as we know it.”
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.”
The Vanguard has now filed a Brown Act complaint with the district, believing that the second and third parts of Ms. Lovenburg’s motion were sufficiently different from the agendized item to warrant separate noticing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting