By Debbie Nichols Poulos
I’m frustrated, disillusioned, and sad. As a parent and teacher experienced with both the regular classroom and self-contained GATE (AIM), and as a citizen who has read and listened to most, if not all, of this discussion to date, I’ve come to the disheartened conclusion that AIM opponents are willfully distorting claims that AIM is responsible for problems in the DJUSD.
No wonder so many board meetings have contained hours of AIM testimony. Repetition of the same fact and experience-based information is falling on deaf ears. AIM supporters have naively thought that if we brought facts to the table we would be heard. But we are just banging our heads against a wall of people who already have their minds made up.
It is really a sad day when School Board Trustees, entrusted with leading our district, favor their own personal views over testimony from the constituents they are supposed to represent. Instead of being an educational debate AIM has become a political debate.
A conflict has developed among some parents, teachers, and Trustees who for some reason seem to believe the AIM program is damaging the regular classroom program. This appears to be the primary reason a majority of our DJUSD Trustees favors a plan to cut AIM by more than 50%.
- I’ve listened to Trustee Lovenburg assert that AIM is responsible for the “achievement gap” and “under performance of minority students,” as reasons AIM should be downsized. Repeating this assertion over and over doesn’t make it true. The DJUSD GATE program has been recognized repeatedly by the state as exemplary.
- I’ve heard other Trustees say, “AIM marginalizes students and undermines the education of students in regular classrooms.” How can a program that serves only 20% of the district’s students marginalize the program that serves 80% of students? It is AIM that is on the margins, and the majority of Trustees wants to push it even further to the margins.
- The fact that “one third of the AIM identified students choose the regular program” is stated as a reason these classrooms are ‘good enough’ for students whose parents prefer the AIM option. Why should the views of parents of gifted students who choose the regular class be in charge of eliminating an option for parents who want the AIM option? Clearly some AIM parents keep their children in the neighborhood schools because the burden of transporting them is too great.
- Some have said, “Regular classroom teachers are equally well equipped to meet the needs of AIM identified students.” This statement is clearly over-generalized, and does a disservice to AIM teachers’ experience and training. While some regular classroom teachers may meet the needs of some AIM identified students, should ALL teachers, in EVERY classroom, be REQUIRED to meet the needs of AIM students? This is what the proposed drastic cuts to AIM classrooms will require. None of the AIM opponents has answered this question.
These statements are based on feelings not facts. But, their biggest fault is that they seek to leverage a major change in AIM that will eliminate parental choice. Trustees, parents, and teachers opposed to AIM insist that they know better than AIM parents what is best for these children. Usually parents who come to the Trustees requesting more options get a fair hearing. In this case a majority of Trustees has decided on its own that fewer options are better.
The crux of these arguments seems to be that the AIM program is damaging children in regular classrooms. The Trustees should not be buying into arguments that allow one fine program to be pitted against another. These are not competing programs; they are complementary programs. No one has said that the AIM program, teachers, or students are superior to the regular classroom programs, teachers, or students. AIM supporters have simply asserted it is better for some children, and that they want to make the choice themselves, not have others’ choices forced on them. AIM identified students are not “advantaged” as many seem to think. They simply have different needs. If their needs are not identified and met they will not have the opportunity to live up to their full potentials.
Let’s not scapegoat one of the district’s many excellent programs at the expense of students and parents who want it as an option. The district has taken the important step of eliminating private testing. Now the district must institute its own plan to test students individually to identify those who fall through the cracks in universal testing. Students with disabilities/special needs should have individual tests to be identified. What is the district’s plan to test these individual students who fall through the cracks? These tests must be in place before any new plan is approved.
None of us should stand in the way of students having access to programs designed to meet their unique needs and allowing them to reach their full potentials. The changes proposed for AIM are proceeding too rapidly. It’s time to slow down. What’s the rush?
Debbie Nichols Poulos is a retired DJUSD GATE teacher and a member of the Davis City Council from 1984 to 1988.