Sunday Commentary: Why Is Reporter Attempting to Further Polarize the AIM Issue?

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Teacher Greg Brucker got a little animated at the end of public comment - but it was late and it was not reflective of the tone of the meeting
Teacher Greg Brucker got a little animated at the end of public comment – but it was late and it was not reflective of the tone of the meeting

The AIM issue has definitely had some polarizing moments. There were certainly times when the rhetoric from the public was a bit over-the-top. On the other hand, considering the passion of this community, I was impressed on Thursday night that the tone of the conversation was generally positive – with strong and articulate points on both sides of the issue.

Yes, there were moments when people crossed the line, threatening recall and charter schools, accusing some school board members of lying to constituents before the election. There was a point when an impassioned music teacher momentarily vented some frustrations, but for the most part the discussion on Thursday was clean, it was thoughtful, and, those few moments to the contrary – at least from my seat – were few and far between.

As such, I was rather stunned by the portrayal of the meeting in the Davis Enterprise. Reporter Jeff Hudson has been doing this a long time. I have never had a personal reason to dislike the man – he is affable, he is an institution, and one board member referred to him this year as the “unofficial sixth board member.” He has always been friendly and helpful to me when I have attended the meetings.

But I think, unfortunately, the tone he has portrayed at the outset of his two articles on the meeting – Friday’s and this morning’s – has been over-the-top and blatantly misleading and untrue. For reasons that do not seem to make sense, he has seemed to be intentionally attempting to stoke the flames of passion.

On Friday Jeff Hudson wrote: “With AIM supporters threatening a recall of board members and expressing growing interest in starting a charter school, the Davis Board of Education adjourned a six-hour meeting early this morning after taking no action on the controversial Alternative Instructional Model (AIM, formerly GATE).”

There are several different parts of this that are misleading at best.

First, the paragraph implies that the school board had intended to take action but did not in the face of this dissent from the public. This is completely misleading.

This was agendized as an informational and discussion item. The agenda states, “Receive and review the DJUSD AIM report and recommendations produced pursuant to the Board of Education direction given to the Superintendent on June 4.”

While the staff made a four-part recommendation, it stated in bold, “These four recommendations and/or any modifications to these recommendations will return for Board action October 15, 2015.

The idea was to discuss the recommendations, hear from the public, and then bring it back in October for action. Anyone reading Mr. Hudson’s article and seeing the headline, “School board takes no action on AIM program,” would think otherwise – which is completely misleading.

The second part that is misleading is that Mr. Hudson mentions the threat of recall and agrowing interest in starting a charter school,” The threat of recall came from one person who spoke early in public comment. There may have been a few calls for a charter school, but for the most part the comments were informative rather than inflammatory.

Jeff Hudson follows up his article with an article this morning, entitled, “AIM debate boils over.” He leads with, “Is the rhetoric in the long discussion of proposed changes in the Davis school district’s AIM program getting out of hand? Toward the end of Thursday night’s school board meeting — where the AIM debate consumed more than five hours — several speakers suggested that some comments were getting out of hand.”

Mr. Hudson misquotes Katherine Unger in bolstering his point. She actually quoted Lawrence Kohlberg, a renowned psychologist at the University of Chicago, citing his classic work on moral development, when she defined “fairness in young children at the initial stages of moral development as fairness means that everyone gets the same, when in reality the definition of fairness is that everyone gets what he or she needs.”

She then said, “Equal and fair are not the same.” She then closed with a quote from Plato, “It is better in fact to be guilty of manslaughter than of fraud about what is fair and just.”

Mr. Hudson quoted Ms. Unger as, “Unger argued that AIM enrollment should not be reduced because ‘the definition of fairness is that everyone gets what he or she needs. Equal and fair are not the same. I’ll close by quoting Plato: “It is better in fact to be guilty of manslaughter than of fraud about what is fair and just.”‘ ”

Ms. Unger’s quote of Plato was actually a comment regarding the importance of not being a fraud about fairness and justice. Unfortunately, Greg Brucker, who said he was distressed by “extreme nastiness” in some remarks, said, “Someone went as far to make a reference to manslaughter. This is absurd!”

In retrospect, the quote on Plato was probably ill-considered, however, characterizing it as a “reference to manslaughter” was inaccurate.

One of the disturbing aspects of this debate has been the mis-characterization of the arguments on both sides of the issue.

Teacher Leslie Whiteford said certain AIM parents have “some preconceived notion that AIM teachers are the only ones who know how to differentiate. I take exception to that, on behalf of all the neighborhood teachers. I’m wondering why we keep focusing on the idea that neighborhood teachers can’t do it.”

My view is different. I don’t view the desire by parents to have their kids in a self-contained AIM program as an attack on neighborhood teachers any more than my wife and my decision to send our daughter to Montgomery for dual immersion is an attack on Pioneer.

In fact, our nephew is a six grader at Pioneer, this is his third year there and we are very pleased with his progress there. However, we wanted our daughter to have a Spanish language background as part of her education and so we made the choice to send her to the dual immersion program instead of the neighborhood school.

I came away impressed by the level of the comments and the expertise in the audience. For instance, and this is by no means alone, Tom Sallee, the husband of former board member Joan Sallee, related his experience in training math teachers on differentiated instruction, and warned the board that if they wish to be able to achieve differentiated instruction, they need among other things much smaller classrooms than we presently have.

I thought the comments by most of the public and the board were both thoughtful and well considered. There are certainly many differences of opinion, but it is still my hope that the board can come together and find some form of consensus.

I therefore have to question the reporting and judgment of Jeff Hudson, as I did back in 2009. On March 30, 2009, the Vanguard reported that it had learned “that Davis Enterprise Reporter Jeff Hudson, who has covered the Davis School District for ten years, has also been working for Tahir Ahad since August 2008 on an educational newsletter called EdBrief. It was last year that the Vanguard presented a four part series on Tahir Ahad who served as DJUSD’s CBO from 1999 to 2006.”

Mr. Ahad was the feature of a four-part Vanguard series in 2008 which exposed that during “his tenure at DJUSD he used district resources and district personnel to form his company Total School Solutions.  As we discovered, Mr. Ahad took district personnel from DJUSD and hired them to work concurrently with his company.  This enabled him capital and resources to help start up his company which has now greatly expanded its influence throughout the state.”

The Vanguard wrote, “Jeff Hudson who was aware of most of these problems, but chose not to report on it while Tahir Ahad was an employee, is working for Mr. Ahad on an educational newsletter–EdBrief.”

The Vanguard saw this as a conflict of interest by Mr. Hudson and a professional breach in protocol and etiquette. The Vanguard added, “Mr. Hudson never worked for Tahir Ahad while Mr. Ahad was an employee for DJUSD.  However, there remains a number of areas of a direct conflict of interest, in addition to the various ethical problems of  working for a former DJUSD administrator – who left under such a cloud of controversy – while working for the local newspaper.”

In my view, Mr. Hudson in the AIM case has made the decision to escalate the conflict rather than accurately report on the totality of the discussion. That is a grave disservice to this community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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43 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Why Is Reporter Attempting to Further Polarize the AIM Issue?”

  1. ryankelly

    To have Alicia start public comment with her angery and false accusations and threats was unfortunate.  I would say that this is likely not the typical AIM parent, but the fact that no one shut her down is telling.  It did leave an impression that lingered through all the rest of the comments.   I wouldn’t say that Jeff Hudson is being divisive any more than any other commenter or the Vanguard, for that matter.  I appreciate background information about Jeff, but I don’t know if it discounts his article significantly.

    1. Davis Progressive

      well i’m not sure how someone would have shut her down – how would that have played out?

      ” I wouldn’t say that Jeff Hudson is being divisive any more than any other commenter or the Vanguard, for that matter.”

      except that jeff is supposed to be an objective reporter, you’ve kind of conceded the point i think the vanguard was trying to make.

      ” I appreciate background information about Jeff, but I don’t know if it discounts his article significantly.”

      the tahir ahad story was one of the first big stories that the vanguard broke and jeff for years refused to report it even though it was known.

    2. Anon

      I would say that this is likely not the typical AIM parent, but the fact that no one shut her down is telling.”

      Why should anyone have “shut her down”?  Did she somehow go over the time limit or express an opinion that should not have been permitted?  I am not understanding your point here…

      I wouldn’t say that Jeff Hudson is being divisive any more than any other commenter or the Vanguard, for that matter.  I appreciate background information about Jeff, but I don’t know if it discounts his article significantly.

      Spot on!

    3. DavisAnon

      Yes, many AIM parents are frustrated with the Board,  and yet the Board (and administration) still has given no educational justification for these changes they are proposing.

      I don’t have Alicia’s speech,  but I’m not sure why you say her comments are false.  She said board members had lied about their agenda regarding AIM during the campaign,  but  is that actually inaccurate? Going back and reading the candidate statements on AIM in the Vanguard,  I don’t see anything that predicts or explains their current actions. Archer made a comment in a meeting a few months ago about being publicly opposed to the program for something like seven years,  but I don’t remember her making any public statements about that during the campaign.  

      As for the charter school or a recall attempt, I have heard those rumblings from many people around town. Regardless of  my personal feelings as to whether it’s the right approach, it is not inaccurate to say that it has been discussed or that people are extremely frustrated with the current Board. It seems ridiculous to say that she should have been “shut down” from making her public comment.

      1. Davis Progressive

        characterizing the school board members position as a “lie” is probably unnecessarily harsh, but they certainly didn’t communicate their true position to the community.

        1. zaqzaq

          I heard that Archer pulled her child out of the AIM program after 4th grade.  Does she have an issue with Deanne Quinn like Peterson had with Crawford?  Are there similar motivations going on here?  She clearly has hidden her agenda on the AIM program when she ran for office.  You can call her statements a lie or a deception to get elected.  Whatever you call it a how is it a shining example for the children of the school district.  After the Volleyball Gate incident with Peterson the electorate was hoping for honest citizens with integrity to run for the school board.

          The fact that Lovenburg, Archer and Adams appear to be relying on the UCD report authored by individuals who publicly endorsed Archer and Adams smells funny.  I still do not know why this UCD report was generated.  Who paid for it?  How were they given access to school district records?  Something smells rotten here.

        2. wdf1

          zaqzaq:  I heard that Archer pulled her child out of the AIM program after 4th grade.  Does she have an issue with Deanne Quinn like Peterson had with Crawford?  Are there similar motivations going on here?

          You want to suggest that Archer has this ugly vendetta going on with Quinn, similar to Peterson and Crawford?

          The problem with that speculation is that actually Susan Lovenburg made the motion not to approve Quinn’s contract.  She also made that same motion at least once (maybe twice or more) before, before Archer was ever on the board.

        3. Greg Brucker

          I think it is incredibly inappropriate to bring a board member’s children into the equation as  way to cut down any of them, or use them in a way that exploits them for one’s personal political gain or in support of one’s political point, especially from someone who stands behind an anonymous handle to make the comments. This is beyond off limits, as it would be to use any of our children as a way to score political points. I would never be ok with it if it was done toward you either, zaqzaq.

        4. Davis Progressive

          greg – while i agree with your point, it seems like gate is such a personal issue that a board member’s kids are an instrumental part of their view. madhavi’s kids have done well in gate, archer had a bad experience with one of hers, and that is the backdrop of their views.

          so here’s my daughter. she was very bright, but the daughter of a white man and a black woman, she was of mixed race and in-betwixt and between two worlds. she probably would have been well served by being in gate, but the district program at that time was biased against her. had she been a few years younger, perhaps she could have been in the program and had a better elementary experience.

    4. Napoleon Pig IV

      We would all be better off with more people like Alicia, willing to take a stand and talk straight. “Political correctness” be damned in the face of a real attempt to damage public education in Davis. Oink!

  2. Greg Brucker

    Teacher Greg Brucker got a little animated at the end of public comment – but it was late and it was not reflective of the tone of the meeting

     

    David, this and the only comments you include by me imply that I spoke purely about the comments at the meeting, and seems to characterize me as not understanding the tone of many of the commenters. It is also one moment of an over 3 minute comment.

    I spoke about and referred to the last weeks of what we’ve seen in the papers and blogs (here) with regard to the great bulk of the nasty comments about many of us as teachers, our students, and families. I also specifically drew reference to a few of the more extreme comments that night earlier. But I also had mentioned that there had been a lot of respectful and passionate comments, and I appreciate that approach and hope to see that continue. I capped off my overall comment  (which included statements that I do believe that all 5 board members are coming from the right place in their heart over this topic, agree or disagree with them, and a bit about differentiation) by returning to that point, in stating that this rhetoric is not what our community is about and that we are better than this, and I hope to see Davis keep to the great passionate and constructive discussions that we have come to know, but stop the extreme comments on both sides of this, because that is not who we are as a community.

     

        1. Davis Progressive

          greg: not trying to attack, but it does seem like your comment – made late at night, in the heat of the moment – was an overreaction to katherine unger’s point.  there’s a legal mantra, better to let 100 guilty men go free than to convict one innocent person.  and if i said that, someone might say, see, davis progressive wants to free 100 men… but that wasn’t the point.  katherine was making a similar comment about values and the importance of fairness.  i don’t think she was comparing anything in the discussion to manslaughter.  just my view.

        2. Greg Brucker

          D_P:

          I appreciate your view and respectful tone. Here are my thoughts behind it:

          I  think that even the basic act of invoking any violence or violent act (plato quote or not) with respect to these conversations, direct, indirect, or even on the fringe of its meaning through reference/statement within a larger quote/comment (which is more fitting in this case), is simply the wrong move, and comes off very poorly at best. The crowd actually chuckled pretty hard when I made light of it, and several people afterward told me they completely agreed with me about my comments, and that they were glad I referenced it because they thought that even bringing the notion in to the conversation was beyond inappropriate. A few took that comment as directly I referenced it, so where I get the quote and your point, that it (the term representing violence) even comes into play, in my opinion, just is unacceptable no matter how you heard or understood it.

          (edited to get rid of the code that appeared)

        3. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

          I don’t follow. You thought it wasn’t a good idea to use a quote from Plato that compared a violent act with dishonesty. That’s fine. But is it right to call it “nasty”?

          That seems unfair.

        4. Greg Brucker

          VoiceOfReasonInDavis:

          It seems like all you are going off of is what David posted about my comment and my responses to D_P. Might I recommend going to the district website and listening to my whole comment? It was around/a bit after 11:30 pm or so. It would be the best way to help clarify the point for you rather than me continuing to explain it.

           

           

        5. aaahirsch8

          RE Quoting Plato as a proof text to attack the School Board…

          We all see what we are looking for–even Reporters–Dave Greenwald no less than Jeff Hudson or anyone else.

          In the meeting Plato was quoted to imply that a fraud against truth and justice <like the school board was doing> was worse than manslaughter.

          If you Actually look at the Full quote in Plato’s Republic, you will see it was Plato quoting Socrates– the guy who had the audacity to question the status quo in democratic Athens– and was killed for it.   He was saying it ironically, the full quote begins “Some people think Manslaughter is a lessor Crime than fraud against <their view of> truth and justice.”

          The quote as used at the school board meeting was used in exactly the opposite way is was originally intended by Socrates….  as, I think made Socraties point about how empowered people feel when they are filled with righteous indignation–which, to my opinion is the tone of so many I heard speak on AIM discourse.

          We all, even me, need to  leave open that chance we are wrong when we speak–and not equate others views as equivalent to “manslaughter”, “lying” or “uninformed” or part of a “personal agenda”.

          Even if you think Plato said it ok to do otherwise.

        6. Napoleon Pig IV

          I think the Plato quote was appropriate in its content, its context, and its relevance to the issue at hand. Of course, I also assume a reasonably educated audience capable of critical thinking – which is perhaps not the case.

          There is certainly no “boundary” crossed when parents speak of recall of bad Trustees or the establishment of a charter school in the face of potential destruction of a valued and valuable program.

          Oink!

        7. Davis Progressive

          alan – that seems like the level of discourse i would expect in this community.  an actual discussion of plato and what he meant by the quote rather than blanket condemnation.

        8. Davisite

          Not that it matters, but in that passage Plato is actually quoting Socrates explaining why he, Socrates, doesn’t want to speak about a particular subject – because he’s not sure he has the right answer, and he believes that saying something untrue is as bad as manslaughter.  Perhaps ironically given the current situation, Socrates is basically saying that you should think things through before offering your opinion.

  3. Anon

    Frankly, this sounds somewhat like the Vanguard pot calling the Davis Enterprise kettle black.  I didn’t see Jeff Hudson’s one article on the school board meeting about AIM doing anything differently than repeated Vanguard articles about the AIM controversy over the past weeks.  From where I sit, Jeff was merely highlighting that public comment was encompassing two new developments: 1) talk of the formation of an AIM charter school; 2) citizens angry about changes to AIM voting against any future school parcel tax.  Both those issues have been discussed at length on the Vanguard.

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      perhaps this is the vanguard calling the enterprise black, but what i keep seeing is a defense of jeff based on what is occurring on the vanguard whereas an objective reporter is suppose to rise above it.

      how do you defend hudson implying that that the board didn’t take action (which was how it was agendized) in the face of criticism?  why are people so unwilling to criticize jeff because he’s been around a long time and a nice guy?

  4. aaahirsch8

    To Dave…

    What does Mr Hudson’s relationship with Mr Ahmed years ago have to do with the AIM Program and the quality of his reporting on it?

    IT is not journalism to dredge it up in this case, but seem to me more an Ad Hominin attack like Washington based pundit would use.

    Such writing is not worthy of the Vanguard, or needed in the smaller Davis community where those who follow issues over time come to know one another personally, and each of our reputations as actors rises and falls on the quality our work, personal interactions and how we deal with ethical issues–which are rarely black and white.

    In a smaller community, we all live in glass houses and need to be careful what stones we throw.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think hudson’s lack of accurate reporting on tahir and his refusal to expose what was going on, is very relevant to the current concern where it seems that he has once again chose sides in this battle.  i agree that these issues are rarely black and white, but i think the strong objection to hudson’s report is that he was inaccurate in his reporting twice.  just my view having read both his articles and the vanguard’s.  say what you want about david’s reporting, but he at least stands behind it and doesn’t run from criticism.

  5. Grant Acosta

    I didn’t at all think Hudson’s report was sensationalizing the meeting.  It was an accurate description of the comments that transpired and the deep divide this issue has been in the community for a very long time.

     

    On the other hand, David, I thought the title of your commentary a couple of days ago “Does the District Really Need to Cut the AIM Program in Half?” to be a bit dramatic and incendiary given that you acknowledged that you agreed with the decision to eliminate private testing, a policy that would certainly significantly reduce the size of the program notwithstanding other policy changes.  Turns out, what really bothered you was the 98% cutoff, but you acknowledge you don’t really know what the effect of only that policy change would be.  Maybe a more appropriate title would have been “I Agree With Some of the District’s Decisions, But Did They Also Have to Further Reduce the Size of the Program by Changing the OLSAT Cutoff Score?”

    1. DavisAnon

      I’d say the main difference between Jeff Hudson and David is that Hudson represents himself solely as an impartial reporter.  I’ve often attended meetings and then read his reporting and wondered if we were even in the same room. David makes a clear effort to identify what  is reporting of the situation and what is his own opinion. I appreciate him offering his opinion  as it often gives me much to consider even if I completely disagree with him.  Jeff seems to blur those lines at times in his reporting without acknowledging which is fact and which is opinion.

  6. vanguardfan

    I guess I’ll be the one to call attention to the elephant in the room.  
    I found it supremely ironic that Mr. Greg Brucker stood before the school board and community on Thursday night to angrily complain of “extreme nastiness” in community discourse over the AIM issue.
    Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen a series of communications by Mr. Brucker on Facebook, in the Enterprise, and in the Vanguard, which were notable for their unusually angry and demanding tone.  His behavior at the school board meeting similarly stood out for the hostility with which he expressed himself.  (In fact, I believe that Mr. Brucker’s outburst was the only point in the meeting to occasion the Board President to attempt to intervene.)
    Mr. Brucker insists that the community is “(saying) horrible things about the great majority of our teachers”.  However, neither an objective reading of comments in the Enterprise and the Vanguard, nor direct participation in a range of community discussions supports this conclusion.  In fact, I am impressed that despite the range of thoughts and feelings that individuals hold about the AIM program, the community seems united in its appreciation for and cherishing of our teachers.  Suggesting otherwise seems disingenuous (at best).

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