In Their Own Words: Tom Adams

Tom Adams
Tom Adams

The Vanguard will be publishing the comments of each of the five school board members on the AIM program. We began with the comments of Susan Lovenburg on Sunday and Barbara Archer on Monday. Yesterday we covered what Madhavi Sunder said. Below is a video clip from Tom Adams’ comments.

Tom Adams:

First of all, I want to go back and just commend the staff once again for doing a report of the highest quality. If there’s differences (it’s) in terms of maybe some of the proposals you would like to see… but I don’t think we can demean the report itself. It was actually done very well, it’s well researched. It’s, I think, very good.

You’ve kind of taken your licks tonight on certain things, but I do want you to walk away tonight knowing that you have my ultimate respect for putting a report together of such high quality and I think you should be proud of it.

I also want to just talk about a concept that was briefly mentioned tonight – universal design for learning. In the debates we said, what’s your educational philosophy and how’s that going to shape your decisions? I said it right then, I said it’s universal design for learning in that we have to be prepared to serve all kids and all ways. And that’s still what I think.

So that doesn’t mean that we do something at the expense of one group over another or pit groups against one another. I think it’s key that we have to have in mind a diverse classroom, we have to have in mind diverse programs and we have to have in mind a teaching strategy that can address the needs of all students in terms of where they are and where they need to go.

And when people say well it can’t be done, I always think of the quote, one quote, it said, “Fight for limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.” And I’m not going to limit myself in the need to address kids, I think we can’t be doing that.

And differentiation is a good a strategy – it’s not the only one. I think if we’re going really take serious[ly] this charge of universal design for learning, that’s one of those tools we’re going to need. And it’s not unique to one program or another. It’s needed in all of them. And you can see that it’s being used in all of them. So let’s not make that the enemy of any program or instructing any of our students.

In terms of the leadership team I just want to say, I think it’s very wise…to leave testing decisions and identification issues to one person is a mistake. In accounting you have this concept of controls in the sense that when something is put down on paper and recorded as a transaction there’s always someone else who checks it out.

That’s really what you’re doing in a testing situation – you are creating controls, checks and balances so it’s not down to one person – having four people involved is going to make sure that you have the most consistent and clear identification of students. I think that’s one of the best parts of it as well as the fact that you’ve identified a battery of assessments that can be used based upon the student need and pre-identification.

I think in terms of private testing, we have to talk carefully about that for the simple reason, what I didn’t like was many people assumed that students who are in the current program via private testing are somehow not qualified. I don’t think we really meant to insult those students in that way – I think what the end of private testing means is that we are going to improve our district testing to the point that it will work well for all students.

So let’s not assume just because we have a bunch of students identified through private testing that somehow they’re not qualified to be in that program. Or that the end of private testing will necessarily decrease the number of student identification.

What I really was concerned about with the proposal is going up to 98 – for the simple reason that as one of our commentators said, there’s this issue of equity if the previous year it was 96 and now you’re going to raise it to 98 without the hope, then I have to be concerned about that. What’s the alternative and maybe you can come back and explain to me about how some of those concerns about equity are being addressed.

Just remember, we’re here to develop all students and this is key: we want every kid who walks through that door, we want to be able to say I want to help you learn. I want you to find your passion and I want to help that. So maybe it doesn’t occur in a third grade test, that identification of it. Maybe it doesn’t occur in elementary or middle school, maybe it takes all the way to a point where they take a class in high school or they join a club like robotics – but the thing is, we’re not going to give up on them and I’m not going to give up on any student just because that was the year they didn’t do well on some test of identification.

I’m into making sure that we’re going to work with them all the way through and we’re going to find something that makes them want to learn.

In the end I just want to say, this is the first time we’ve released this proposal, we have to actually begin a new conversation about this proposal. We have to have situations that are less structured and more conversational. Whenever at the state level we begin curriculum framework, we make sure we have focused groups and we have conversations with educators.

We let it get there out on the table. We don’t sit there. We make it a conversation. I think this is what we have to begin now. We have to begin a conversation with teachers in a focus group setting so they can feel free to converse about the program with ideas going back and forth.

I think we have to have focus groups or conversations at site council and PTA meetings. I think we even need to talk to our students. Like I said one of the things that we forget in all of this is that the students are our customers. There are probably students at Davis High right now that have gone through this program and we need to know what was their reaction to it. What do they feel about it and those who didn’t go, how do they feel about this.

I’m really hoping that Ely and Winston (the student reps) can help us on that. We have to listen to them and if we don’t listen to them in this process, then we’ve missed a big part of our mission in terms of listening to them and figuring out what they need.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. zaqzaq

    All candidates were asked “How do you view the current state of the GATE/AIM program, and what would be your interest in a future direction?” I am concerned that all four of the newly elected board members failed to honestly share their views on the AIM program.  The current proposal is a significant change in the direction of the AIM program and was not a change that he advocated for in the election.  He specifically did not advocate any of the following during his campaign.
    1.  Firing the longtime AIM (GATE) coordinator.
    2.  Abolishing private testing.
    3. Increase the AIM eligibility score from a 96 to 98.
    4. Reduce the size of the AIM program by 50%.
    He did state, “The Davis program should be evaluated for whether it is using current best practices, and the California Association for the Gifted would be the first place to seek information about best practices.”  I do not recall from the districts report whether they received a specific recommendation on the current program or proposed modifications from the California Association for the Gifted.  It would be interesting to see what that association’s opinion is on the proposed modifications.

    1. hpierce

      “He specifically did not advocate any of the following during his campaign.”  Ah… finally proof that you CAN prove a negative!  Obviously, Mr Archer has proven himself to be a pathological liar.  Thanks zaqzaq, that was illuminating.

        1. Napoleon Pig IV

          Is there any practical difference other than gender?

          They both are part of a group working toward a predetermined outcome resulting in that swirling sound we hear – the noise a previously good public school system makes as it hovers on the brink of going down an ideological/political toilet. Oink!

      1. zaqzaq


        I did not use the term “liar” in my post but simply compared his statement to the new proposal.  If the consensus is that the means justifies the ends in that proponents of changing the AIM program in the manner now proposed by the school district should have no problem with current board members concealing their true intentions from the voters.  I for one do not appreciate this deception.  If they wanted to reduce the size of the program and fire the current coordinator they should have been up front with it in their campaigns and allowed the voters to make an informed decision.  Now their integrity is being challenged.  These are the same individuals that the voters will have to entrust with the parcel tax revenue that the district so badly needs to function.  The opponents of the parcel taxes (city and school) can use this deception against the tax measure.  If you are not concerned about this I am especially if I keep my children in the district.  We as a family still have choices.

        1. hpierce

          Well, Don, it’s one thing to ban a word, but if someone leaves little to the imagination to IMPLY the word “liar”, prevaricator, deceiver, etc., how can we deal with an accusation,  and call someone out as to the veracity of their “nuanced” diss?  The comment I reacted to didn’t EXPLICITLY  call Mr Adams a “liar”, but certainly IMPLIED it.  I tried to ‘call’ the author on the implied meaning of the post.  Was I “wrong” by the editorial board standards?

  2. ryankelly

    The District report referenced material from this association, as well as other organizations and experts in GATE instruction.

    Sunder did not say anything about her aggressive advocacy of maintaining the status quo and her view that the program should be a parental choice for students in the District during the campaign.  Does that make her a liar too?  I don’t think so.

    People are hearing, but not listening to what is being said.

      1. ryankelly

        She agree with not allowing private testing, but in her statement she is wavering on that.  I don’t know that she agrees with anything else.  She agrees with the retesting process, but I think she didn’t agree with the hiring of a differentiation specialist or at least the timing of it.  She didn’t agree with raising the qualification score to 98% to make the program smaller and focused on the highly gifted.  She wants essentially the same program as now, but the District controlling the retesting process.

        1. Davis Progressive

          my read is if you look at the four recommendations – she supported doing away with private testing, she did want a landing spot for people coming to the district, etc.  i think she agrees with all four of her colleagues on that.  she was supportive of the change of the retesting. the only one she clearly had questions about was 98 percent.

          if you read tom’s answer above, he’s not sold on 98 percent either.  i would say that’s hardly a strong hold out for the status quo.

          everyone has questions on differentiation and how that would work, again i don’t see that as unique to her.

          she was supportive of the current gate coordinator.  so when it comes down to it, her support for the status quo is based on questioning 98 and support for the gate coordinator.  it seems like you’ve made a mountain out of a molehill.

        2. zaqzaq

          The end of private testing will increase the cost to the district for AIM identification.  The cost savings to the district appears to no longer be worth the perception that it is an avenue for the wealthy to qualify their otherwise unworthy child for the AIM program.  The district taking over this function eliminates that perception but will increase the cost to the district.  Since the district has not educational basis for raising the eligibility score could it simply be a way to reduce the cost of retesting?  It would be more appropriate for some sort of means testing for parents to determine who pays for the cost of the retesting with the district controlling the test.

        3. zaqzaq


          At the last board meeting Adams went out of his way to have Roberson identify every school district in their report that had an eligibility threshold of 98 or higher.  That clearly demonstrates where he is going with this IMO.

    1. zaqzaq

      My point is there is a big difference between referencing material from the California Association for the Gifted and running this proposal by them for an opinion on the proposal.

  3. Anon

    Sounds to me like Mr. Adams hasn’t made up his mind yet on the new AIM proposal, but would like to hear from parents.  He seems a bit skeptical about the 98 cutoff – why not 96?  Again, along with Ms. Sunder, he sounds pretty reasonable.

  4. Don Shor

    Differentiation is important.
    Having a single coordinator was a problem, wasn’t accountable; the committee will be better.
    Don’t disparage private testing.
    It may be unfair to raise from 96 to 98.
    The board and district need to focus on communication and do it better.

  5. DavisAnon

    If I recall correctly, I think we had a committee reviewing the GATE testing for kids in the not terribly distant past as is being proposed now. I think it fell apart due to budget cuts (loss of GATE psychologist) and the resulting increased duties for all with less pay that led to poor attendance/interest. I have no problem with returning to that as long as there is adequate representation by district AIM staff and GATE-qualified coordinator in addition to others. This will be helpful in identifying needs of those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

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