Part Two – 45 Public Comments
The public came out and expressed thanks and criticism to the board, sometimes in the same comment. There were concerns expressed about the program – on one side, about the treatment of kids who were not in the program, criticisms of segregation and bullying and the strengths of differentiated education. On the other side were concerns about process, the laying off of Deanne Quinn and the needs of gifted but under-achieving children.
Forty-five people in all spoke – many passionately and many making strong and eloquent points on both sides of what might be described as the divide. There was a slight advantage in the audience and among the speakers – to the pro-AIM side of the issue – but it was slight.
By our count, 24 of the 45 speakers were in favor of AIM/GATE. Almost the entire left side of the chamber seemed filled with GATE supporters while 75 to 80 percent of the right side (which was maybe at 60 percent capacity) was pro-change.
Barbara Branch from the California Center for the Gifted said that “It is often misunderstood that the current budget that districts receive no longer include GATE funds. That’s not really true, while categorical funds have been taken away… and the Governor wanted to move towards the (LCFF), whatever funds the district received in the 2008… that’s the funding they still receive.”
Gifted children, she said, “learn differently. They are not just high achieving children.” She said, “They learn differently. They think differently and they often have social and emotional needs that are different.” She added, “Those sets of challenges cannot always be met in the regular classroom.”
Luisa Guenther has spent ten years teaching self-contained GATE in DJUSD. She said, “It is concerning and demoralizing that conclusions and decisions are being made without the teachers in the program being contacted. She said there are a number of teachers currently teaching in the district and more who are retired but still live in the community. “None of the researchers contacted us.”
The board, she said has not reached out to them and the board has not asked them to help. She stated, “To me it would appear that our expertise is not appreciated.”
Corey Parker, a parent, said, “I believe that education for the gifted works.” He said we need a gifted program at Davis, but thinks it can be improved. He said he would support reform if “it eliminated the lottery. I don’t see any educational benefit to the students of that system.”
He wants the program more rigorous and said if the district is going to eliminate private testing, you make the public testing closer to the private testing. He said private testing “is more accurate and it eliminates the distractions the students experience.”
Finally, he said, “You base the reforms and evaluations on the whole child testing social and academic needs finding out with whom and where they would thrive the most.” He said, although there is criticism about the program because it is not equal, “I do not believe that it compromises equality.”
Wendy Amundsen thanked the board, “not for any particular outcome, just for the process you’re doing.”
Elaine Talley thanked the board for the decisions, noting “these decisions have not been made quickly and they were not made without input from the community or notice to the public. The debate over the GATE program has occurred over many years, moving at a “glacial pace.”
She later added, “We don’t need to segregate our children, those children do not need to be segregated to be successful. All students deserve to be treated equally in our district and all students can benefit from the best practices of the district.” She added, “Our teachers are quite capable and up to the task of teaching all our children in inclusive settings.”
Gale Tyros thanked the board for “returning the focus to the public education of every child. To the closing of the achievement gap rather than allocating the district overhead and resources to a program that really has evolved into an exclusive private education.”
She said that an appropriate identification level is about 5 percent in our district, “30 percent is just way too much.” She closed by thanking “a lot of people supporting these very small moves towards social justice.”
Craig Lundgren also supported what he called “progressive changes.” He said that the program has “been artificially inflated for political reasons so it can be large with a large constituency so that it can be untouchable.”
He criticized the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) test where kids who did not achieve high levels before suddenly were scoring in the 98th percentile. “I think if you gave the TONI test across the board to all of the students in the district, you would likely get 50 percent of the kids qualifying for GATE education.” He said what that means is “there’s no need to segregate these kids.”
He said he is an attorney and there was no violation of the Brown Act. “There is a specific exception for exactly what the board did. The Board actions were well-known, people knew that there was going to be a vote on whether the contracts were approved or not approved.” He added, “I cannot see a Brown Act violation.”
Karen Hamilton thanked the board but noted that “there are many in the community that are feeling very fearful and concerned that their children’s needs are not going to be met.” She said that the district has not prioritized encouraging teachers to “really differentiate in the regular programs.”
She said all of the research suggests “that is best practices.” She said Davis is an outlier and most districts have gotten rid of self-contained GATE in favor of differentiated instruction.
Susan Thomas told the board that they moved here when their child was in the middle of the fourth grade and missed the opportunity to test their child during the district’s cycle. “My concern is for people who do move to Davis, who are coming into the middle of their child’s education, how will those children be identified and have their needs met (if private testing is banned).”
Shama Mesiwala explained that she wrote the school board expressing her “strong dissatisfaction with the Board’s vote not to renew Ms. Deanne Quinn’s contract.” She told them, “I have lived in Davis for 20 years, have been a Davis homeowner for 13 years and am the parent of a young child who has not yet entered the Davis public school system. One of the guiding factors in deciding to make Davis my family’s home was the quality of our public schools.”
In response she received a letter to a trustee that she provided to the Vanguard and read from during public comment. The Board member wrote, “If you don’t have a child in the public school system, I'[m] assuming you do not know Ms. Quinn and have no experience with our current school system and AIM program. Given this, I am not sure how you can comment accurately on the position of someone you do not know and a school system that you have not joined yet. How can you assess if our school system is deteriorating when you have not yet experienced it? I don’t mean to be rude, but I am really unsure of how you can make these statements with no personal experience of our schools.”
She responded to the email stating, “I do indeed personally know Ms. Quinn. She welcomes conversations about education with parents, including myself, who care about the quality of schools in Davis and who have made long term investments in remaining in this community. She is the person to whom parents like myself turn when we have questions about best practices in education.”
She explained that education “is the fabric of our community,” and “this board represents education in our community.” She said she has “entrusted” the board “with soliciting input from our community about the decisions that affect our children, and then appropriately analyzing that input, among other data, and informing our community.”
She added, “In performing these functions, this board must inspire trust and confidence. When the board makes decisions about the AIM program – a program that is 2000 students strong, a program that has a long waiting list, and a program that is not broken – late at night, without notice to the public, and when Deanne Quinn is let go without any explanation after 23 years of exemplary service, that trust and confidence is called into question. To me, it means our education system has deteriorated.”
UC Davis Professor and former candidate for school board Bob Poppenga referenced the June 4 meeting and stated, “I believe that these questions should be addressed in a public forum so we can all hear the responses.” First, “Why the rush? Take a step back and ensure a fair and open process is being followed.”
He asked what this means. “The focus of assessment will be to identify students whose needs cannot be met in classrooms which fully implement best practices of differentiated instruction.” He continued, “How are you going to ensure best practices of differentiated instruction?”
Mr. Poppenga asked, with the dismissal of Deanne Quinn, which administrators will evaluate and implement this motion. “Will experts outside the district be consulted and if so, who? Why has the AIM subcommittee totally been sidelined?”
He noted the statement, “All students currently enrolled in a self-contained AIM classroom, including the AIM-identified, incoming 4th graders will NOT be affected by the June 4 Board decision.” He called it “simplistic.”
This was only the first portion of public comment and the Vanguard will publish more of these accounts in future articles.
—David M. Greenwald reporting