by Evelyn Falkenstein
It’s a sad day when someone is canned for doing her job too well. Deanne Quinn, the GATE/AIM coordinator, has met all the expectations that the DJUSD asked of her for over 20 years of gifted teaching and leadership. Who would be foolish enough to leave another position for AIM coordinator, given the caliber of the person who has been summarily turned out without cause?
Quinn was already a GATE teacher when she and an associate Fran Martine got their masters’ degrees and certification in gifted education at CSUS in the early 80’s. An integral part of the CSUS Academic Talent Search summer program, she and Martine taught study skills for the gifted, writing, and the literature of prejudice to students as young as fifth and sixth grades well into their teens. Each summer between 1500-2000 students participated in these short courses that drew participants from all over the central state. Quinn’s courses at CSUS were so successful that Center for Talented Youth Director Julian Stanley came from Johns Hopkins University to observe and model CTY’s national writing programs on them.
Just being there helped the gifted understand themselves, often for the first time. The ones I know still speak of the relief at finding themselves and their aspirations mirrored in their teacher and classmates. Former students say, “She made me feel normal.” “She saved my life.” “I finally met other kids like me.”
Quinn taught English and gifted students at all levels in Sacramento. She served on the board of the Fifty Mile Club, a monthly meeting of GATE coordinators that for years brought the latest research and programs to the Sacramento area, on the Board of the CA Association for the Gifted, one of the biggest associations for gifted educators in America, and as president of the Sacramento Area Gifted Association. She is a frequent presenter at CAG conferences and a popular outside speaker. She has extensive experience with the underachieving gifted and has written papers and pamphlets for CAG for use on the subject.
Quinn moved to the DJUSD 23 years ago, teaching Literature around the World and English in the GATE program at Holmes JHS before becoming GATE coordinator. Under Quinn, Davis was one of three districts in California that received a five-year evaluation (the highest) from the State GATE overseers at COE. Most GATE programs are reevaluated every year and only a few every three years to assure adherence to GATE principles.
In 2005 Quinn raised $450,000 for the DJUSD with a five-year grant from the Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education program, one of fourteen grants from a field of 250 applications nationwide. “The purpose of this program is to carry out a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities designed to build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students. The major emphasis of the program is on serving students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented…”
Quinn’s grant further addressed the technique of Lesson Study for increasing teacher skills. Lesson study provides a format for on-going small group discussions and peer observations among practicing teachers, precisely those skills considered important in improving teacher competence in differentiation in heterogeneous classrooms, whether self-contained AIM or not.
When the GATE psychologist was terminated for fiscal reasons, Quinn assumed testing for hidden gifted students as well as universal testing with the OLSAT. She personally administered TONI testing to small groups of students with risk factors of many kinds as well as students who scored within the 5% margin of error of the OLSAT. The combination of the OLSAT and the TONI, according to Prof. D. Jelinek’s 2005 evaluation of David GATE ID procedures, is the best that DJUSD’s minimum budget for gifted identification can provide.
In the past year, Quinn arranged a trial of the Slosson Intelligence Test for several students individually (and for next fall by CSUS student volunteers) as the next best option. The TONI measures non-verbal cognitive ability best and the Slosson measures verbal ability best, with results indicating that students who qualified through TONI also qualified as gifted via the Slosson sample.
Quinn has offered unstinting, accessible support to AIM families with health, educational and emotional issues and is always supportive of AIM teachers. Anyone hired to replace her will need many years to acquire the institutional knowledge properly to evaluate and restructure the program. A new coordinator will not have Quinn’s long relationships with GATE/AIM teachers and may not even have current GATE experience. Replacing Quinn just when her experience is so vital to the program appears to be a blatant attempt by the Board to undermine the program itself.
Two-thirds of AIM identified students, 20% of the student population, enter the program in fourth grade. Most of these students continue in AIM at the junior high level (three full strands of 100 per grade at Holmes and one or, recently, two strands at Harper). One-third of AIM identified students do not participate in AIM. Self-contained classes do not denude these students from heterogeneous classrooms. Ten percent in the regular population is 2-3 times more than in most other districts, which have only 3-5%. This is a significant program and deserves an competent, experienced leader. Quinn’s dismissal is punitive, shortsighted and a blot on the reputation of Davis schools. I challenge you to find a replacement who won’t bring the program down through inexperience.
Evelyn Falkenstein was a GATE parent, and AIM grandparent, and AIM AC 2013-2015.