In their first meeting back after a brief summer break, the DJUSD School Board, with Board President Alan Fernandes on vacation, heard a brief update from the Superintendent on what they have done and the plan going forward, ahead of what is expected to be a major policy decision at the September 17 meeting on the status of AIM.
Superintendent Winfred Roberson told Vice President Madhavi Sunder that at this time they have not hired a new AIM coordinator, and implied that whether they do will depend on what is decided in September. He explained, “The position has been floated. We currently are providing AIM support services.”
In addition to the update, the board heard from four members of the public.
Alicia Silva, a mother of two in the district, wanted to know what is happening with the AIM advisory committee, having served on the committee for two years.
She was also concerned about the plan for the September 17 meeting. Ms. Silva said, “I understand there will be a presentation on the 17th and then that will be brought back to the board for consideration.”
Ms. Silva requested that September 17 be an information-only agenda item. “I think it’s very hard for us to see the presentation – that will be the first unveiling for us in the community,” she said. She said she and others can meet in advance with the Superintendent and board members, “but it’s not the same thing as having a discussion.”
“I think us as a community want, need and deserve the opportunity to take in that presentation and to think about it and come back later on,” she said. “And to have input, to have effective input, something that can effect change and then come back.”
Jeff Bryant, an AIM teacher at Holmes Junior High for 13 years, addressed the board. He has concerns as a teacher about the amount of communication being done between administration and teachers regarding the AIM program.
“As far as the teacher input meeting planned for the 18th, we’ve had a single sentence given to us on an email of information,” he said. During the summer, he noted, teachers aren’t accessing their district emails on a regular basis. “I don’t feel like there has been enough promotion or communication with teachers seeking their input.”
This, he said, “leads some teachers to suspect that the district does not actually want our input and the reason they are being so low-key about communicating these things in terms of making plans and changes to GATE during the summer, is because they want to reduce actual public knowledge and conversation and input and do it at a time when it’s most convenient and do it when they are out of town.”
Mr. Bryant noted that we live in a small community where people are very involved in the lives of their children, and “we live in a community that takes time to accept changes or even proposal of changes, and I would urge that the board consider taking that required time for the benefit of this community in making any decisions about the direction of the AIM program.”
“We have expertise around, we may be rejecting some of it,” he added.
Katherine Unger noted that she is excited about the work on the MPR (mulitpurpose room) and the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) program, but expressed frustration “that I don’t hear that same level of enthusiasm for the gifted students in the AIM program.”
She said, as the parent of AIM students, “I’ve been faced with the questions about why all the negativity about something that has been good for me.” She said, “It’s hard to answer. When things are rushed through in the summer, the other families are out of town, they don’t even know what’s going on.”
Ms. Unger said, “I would urge the board to as much as possible increase the communication going out to these families.” She noted that they have received one email from the superintendent early in the summer, but it didn’t state that the AIM coordinator had been let go.
Following Alicia Silva, she asked that the September 17 presentation be “about giving the information of where you think the program should go and then using the opportunity to hear from parents and teachers, from experts in the district, out of the district…”
She noted that it is good to look outside of the district as to what’s offered, “but it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve never aimed to be just the same as everyone else.”
“I’m concerned that this move to making this program about only those few people that can absolutely prove that they have to be in there – why are we meeting the needs best for all of our other students but trying to shift away from that,” she said.
Eleanor Olson, a former GATE teacher, spoke and mentioned a number of things that the board should consider with regards to the AIM program. She said, “every other program in the district has a secretary.”
Ms. Olson would add, “I think it’s very very important that we have a psychologist. I taught for close to 40 years in this district, and I cannot tell you how many times children have survived because there has been a psychologist around to help them out.”
She related a story of a kid who came into the AIM class and said “it’s so nice to know that I’m not weird. I’m just like all the rest of the kids in the class.” She remarked, “That was very important to him.”
In a letter dated July 30, 2015, from Superintendent Winfred Roberson to AIM teachers, the superintendent writes, “I’ve received several emails from AIM teachers indicating your willingness to serve on an AIM committee. I want to thank all of you who have volunteered your professional services to help advance the AIM conversation in DJUSD.”
He continues, “Your expertise and input on the AIM program is welcome and very important. It is a priority of mine that I hear from AIM professionals. While there is no formal committee, teachers have already met with me to share ideas and suggestions.”
The superintendent then outlines their process. They have assigned four administrators to the Board of Education’s motion from June 4: Stephanie Gregson, Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Learning, Dr. Clark Bryant, Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services, Matt Best, Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services, and the superintendent himself.
Step two will be, “Contact and dialogue with university researchers specializing in the Gifted and Talented Education field.” Third, they will review the GATE programs throughout California.
On August 14, they will have a principal panel to vet the preliminary recommendations, which suggests that this process is, in fact, well underway.
The superintendent indicates that secondary AIM teachers will meet on August 18 and they want the opportunity to share the same preliminary recommendations with those teachers at that time. Elementary AIM teachers are not formally scheduled to meet as a group until September 30, so the superintendent wants to meet with elementary AIM teachers on August 19 at 2:00 PM.
The superintendent reports, “Our work to date has been centered on peer reviewed academic research related to gifted and talented identification and classroom/school wide differentiation. Our charge is to ensure that the student-centered recommendations for AIM identification will be made based on solid research, the evaluation of DJUSD student needs and lessons learned from other school districts’ models and experiences.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting