By Ann Block
No one seems to be talking about the elephant in the room – with regard to the DJUSD school board election. A minority of very outspoken parents who are angry about reforms made to the GATE/AIM program, have dominated recent letter writing efforts. People who have verbally threatened lawsuits and other political repercussions at school board meetings, are now writing letters in support of Bob Poppenga and denigrating the service of incumbent board member Susan Lovenburg.
While Bob Poppenga is clearly an accomplished professor of veterinary medicine, and probably a very nice guy – most people seem to have forgotten that he was one of the leaders against GATE/AIM reform in Davis, perhaps because he has a child in the program, as does Ms. Sunder, the only vote on the current board that was against GATE/AIM reform. Full disclosure – I am the parent of two graduates of DJUSD – one a 2012 grad and one a 2016 grad. One was GATE identified, one was not. I fully support the GATE/AIM reforms, as I believe that the District should focus on the needs of all children in the District, and that a plethora of segregated classrooms are not best serving our students, including our GATE/AIM students.
Bob Poppenga attended and made oral comments at many school board meetings on this topic and also penned a letter to former UCD Chancellor Katehi, pleading with her to weigh in against any reduction in segregated GATE classrooms. In the letter made available by other faculty, Bob wrote “we fear that our intellectually gifted students will be the ones that suffer immediately, but there is a clear, longer term risk to the University and Davis community.” This risk, according to Poppenga, is that “the future ability to recruit and retain talented faculty” is at stake because of a “mediocre” Davis school system that Mr. Poppenga imagines will result due to a reduction in segregated GATE/AIM classrooms.
Yes, he is a scientist – and is a specialist in his area of veterinary medicine – and I’m sure believes in his goals for DJUSD. But he does not have any special knowledge of primary or secondary school education. I myself have served as a professional school adjunct professor, but have zero training or education in primary/secondary school education. No university professors do have such expertise, except those in teaching colleges or schools of education. Rather, we are experts in our own particular fields of research and/or experience. Mr. Poppenga also does not have many years of board experience as do the other two candidates, and he has been one of the biggest advocates of segregated GATE/AIM classrooms in this town.
Two years ago, GATE advocates ran a “GATE slate” for the school board election, consisting of Sunder, Poppenga and Rairdon. Poppenga and Rairdon lost, and so they did not achieve the pro-GATE majority they had hoped for on the Board.
Susan Lovenburg has volunteered for many years on Davis school PTAs and knows what is happening “on the ground” at our schools. She has many years of experience on the School Board, which provides critical continuity and knowledge at this juncture with a new superintendent and three other Board members with not quite two years of experience. She also has the endorsements of Delaine Eastin, Davis resident and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction, two former superintendents, the Davis Teachers’ Association, and many others.
The “somewhat silent” majority who do not believe in focusing an inordinate amount of attention and District resources on so-called “gifted” students, needs to stand up and re-elect Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes, whose focus and passion is the education of all our children.
Ann Block is a Davis Resident, Mother and Immigration Law Attorney