Part One – Board Comments
Civic engagement does not end when the school year ends, and, to prove it, the DJUSD Board of Education held a special meeting allowing parents and community members to speak out on recent and proposed changes to the AIM program.
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 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.
Following the nearly two hours of public comment, Board Vice President Madhavi Sunder asked to be able to make a comment. She also urged her colleagues to speak, and they obliged with Barbara Archer also reading from a prepared remark.
Ms. Sunder said, “I’ve had many many conversations with individuals about the AIM program. One comment kept coming back to me from one conversation — I really appreciated this quote from our Superintendent, Winfred Roberson. He said, ‘We move at the speed of trust.’”
Ms. Sunder stated, “I’ve been thinking a lot about his words. I’m concerned because I think we were moving as a Board quite a bit faster than the public trusted us to be going. I think we need to slow down a bit.”
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “We have a public process that works – it involves stakeholders and it is the building material for trust. If you try to circumvent the public process, you sow the seeds of distrust. The process creates important tangible benefits – first, you get a better product, and second, it engenders trust. To circumvent this public process would be a mistake.”
Susan Lovenburg agreed, “I think it’s important for public bodies to be transparent and to be open and receptive to take open minds to every policy decisions.” She noted hours-long discussions in March and June. “That motion came at a late hour because we had spent more than three hours discussing it at that point and receiving public input,” she said.
Barbara Archer responded in contrast to Madhavi Sunder’s claim that the board hasn’t been heard from, and that they talked about this issue for four hours in March and another four hours on June 4. “I asked many many questions that night, so I think we had a good dialogue about it,” she said.
Ms. Archer noted that GATE reform has been a discussion for several decades. “The debate over how we should serve our students in this program has been going on for nearly 20 years now,” she said.
Ms. Archer said she’s been urging for reform to the GATE/AIM program for seven years. “So when folks urge us to take a step back and stop rushing this – how many decades do you want to review it?” She added, “Even those in this room, who support the self-contained only model, agree that the program identifies too many students.”
Barbara Archer addressed the late night vote that keeps coming up. “When people say that it implies this was slipped in when no one would notice. People tend to leave out that this was a decision after again four hours of conversation on June 4 and four hours of conversation on March 19.”
“The room was full for both meetings,” she continued. The meetings are the only places, she said, where they can discuss these matters. “Therefore new direction and decisions come out of these meetings all the time. You may not agree with the direction or the decision but that is the process.”
Barbara Archer said, “This is a complex issue and change is hard. But it is our district’s job to use our resources and our pedagogical tools to teach all our students in the best way possible. Many districts have moved from self-contained models to differentiation. Many districts have moved to models where GATE classes are smaller.”
She added, “Our staff is using the summer to look at best practices and will bring back a proposal in the fall.”
Tom Adams reiterated, “The charge that keeps coming up is that the program is being eliminated. There was no vote on eliminating the program. The only thing that was eliminated was private testing.”
Board President Alan Fernandes said, “I have an open mind (as to where things stand), and I have taken notes and thoughtfully listened to everyone tonight. I heard great suggestions from both viewpoints.”
He announced a tentative date of September 19 for further discussion.
—David M. Greenwald reporting