Guest Commentary: AIM – The Elephant in the Room

AIMBy 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

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. JosephBiello

    Two issues here that should be separated.

    This board majority and their apologists would really like to make this issue about AIM versus non-AIM – and really like to make it about the “AIM parents”, because by grouping us, it’s easier to dismiss us.

    First, most of the so called “AIM” families are frustrated with board’s (led by Lovenburg’s) disregard for our protests of the process of AIM contraction.   I’ve written a lot about this in the Vanguard and won’t write again, simply look at how they went about contracting the program.

    Second, most, if not all parents who favor AIM in the district who I’ve spoken to saw the need for reform of the old program and some contraction.  Remember that parents cycle out of the system as their kids get older, so we are not necessarily the same parents who fought for GATE years ago.

    There are a lot of good ideas for dealing with kids who do not learn in the traditional manner or learn quickly in class and get bored very quickly.    The district has been using the magnet classroom model for years and it worked well for some kids and not well for others (which is why it needed some reform).    That program also cost only 0.4 FTE for the district – less than a 1/2 time employee.

    After  AIM contraction, with what does the board replace the program?  The answer will be, “differentiation within the classroom”.  Differentiation is the buzzword for keeping everyone in the same class and having the teachers establish what amounts to individualized learning plans for all the kids.  In order to implement this program they have hired a 1.0 FTE administrator for the district (that’s called a full time employee).

    Read about differentiation on the education websites and first you’ll see that there is no consensus regarding its efficacy.  Second, even its proponents repeatedly make reference to ” only in an ideal situation” …. could differentiation  work.     I’ve been dealing with large classrooms for years and earnestly trying to serve the diversity of skill levels presented to me – I can assure you that differentiation is extremely difficult on a good day (with adult students).


    There are other models for AIM identified students such as the pull out model.  Reading specialists use this model for children who are reading below grade level.   There also are so called “push in models” which I understand less about.  The problem with these models is that they do cost more money because, while keeping our students at neighborhood schools,  they require dedicated resources at each of the schools (or at least shared among clusters of schools).

    This fight is not about AIM in itself – it is about destroying a good program that needed renewal and adjustments  (please go read my arguments about how the process as implemented did not correspond to adjustments, but rather gutting).

    Your arguments about Lovenburg being knowledgeable rest on the fact that she is the incumbent.    Taken to their logical conclusion you would then propose we vote only for incumbents?  Her role was librarian and she came to the school board.  Poppenga’s role is educator, and he would like to come to school board.

    Finally, you point out that she does have the support of the teacher’s union and some of the old line party establishment in town.   I could turn around and tell you that many teacher’s seek out the advice of university professors regarding what are the best ways they could set their students up for success at university.  This is done both informally, through conversations and formally through programs set up by the university (and others) to help teacher’s better guide students to their future.   Bob Poppenga has helped create such a program in Vet Sciences for DHS.

    No, this election is not about AIM, it is about thinking about how best to prepare our children to face a world which is changing rapidly – Bob Poppenga will do that.   Or we can take our kids back to an era where everybody went to the neighborhood schools and had the same instruction irrespective of their needs – Susan Lovenburg is doing that.

    Future or past, that’s your choice pure and simple.

    1. South of Davis

      JB wrote:

      > There are a lot of good ideas for dealing with kids who do not learn

      > in the traditional manner or learn quickly in class and get bored very quickly.

      Remember that you can’t help kids who “learn quickly” AND reduce the “achievement gap” at the same time.  Over the years I’ve noticed that almost everyone who talks about working to reduce the “achievement gap” is also working to reduce the chance that quick learners will learn  as much as possible (since this is a lot easier way to reduce the “gap” then to work with slow learning unmotivated low SES students and help them to learn more)…

    2. MrsW

      I don’t see the most basic basic conflict as “future” and “past”.  I see the most basic conflict as being between “the group” and the “the individual”.  Perhaps where we have all been mistaken is to have the expectation that Public School educators, including UC Davis and its professors, can address individual needs at all. What I can control is my own expectations. My expectations of AIM were too high.

  2. quielo


    Thank you Ann Block for supporting my previously published observation. People with children in DJU tend to support Bob while people who do NOT have children in DJU often support Susan.


    Why don’t you and the rest of the kibitzers let parents choose?



    1. MrsW

      I appreciate when people share their experience. I like to think that I can learn from others’ experiences.

      However, I don’t think Bob is as single dimensional as Block describes him.  I guess, I’m not alarmed. I appreciate that she felt communicating her concerns would help others.


      1. Marina Kalugin

        Mrs W, the reason for the post, is that the OP is concerned that her pal and fave is dropping in the ratings….

        And, of course Bob is much more in touch with the times than the OP ….  as he has children from both ends of the spectrum, and as UC professor, he is also very aware of the achievement gaps of his incoming students..

        It is admirable that he cares so much that he is willing to do all the needed work to help improve things….UCD faculty have very little spare time these days….

  3. Marina Kalugin

    PS>   I only skimmed and would change some of my comments like thanking Ann…..Block…that is a wonderful and quite fitting last name..

    I never knew there was a GATE  block….I only voted for Rairdon….I KNEW that the two men would split the difference, kinda like what happened with Saylor and Wolk recently..

    I only knew the only one to get it was Rairdon and the only one needed to go was the incumbent woman..

    As a GATE parent I worked tirelessly for the decade+ during which my sons were in the single GATE classes per grade…

    We worked hard for choice and inclusion not exclusion..

    We worked hard to let children and parents have a choice between the red traditional algebra book and the dumbed down pink algebra book.

    Our group, PACE …Parents Advocating for Children’s Education….knew one size doesn’t fit all.

    Our members including the chair of the UCD Math department and those firmly on the side of traditional training…

    There was a huge rift in the Math department between Tom Sallee and his pink book with the Education department behind his ideas…. and then Math Chair Motohico Mulase….and then Joan Sallee was on the DJUSD….it was fascinating times…

    The latest batch of majority members on the DJUSD have no idea what the hell they have been doing….

    They have shut down options for those students dying under common core….and then not allowing those who qualified their spot in the GATE classes…right?




  4. Chamber Fan

    I don’t agree with anything that Ann Block has to say here, but I’m very grateful to her for saying it.  This stuff needs to be in the open and discussed.  Thank you again Joseph Biello for a solid response.

      1. DavisAnon

        I, too, am glad Ann Block is raising this issue. She has been an outspoken critic of AIM for several years ago but I have not heard her really explain why – other than the idea of ‘segregation’. What about our other special programs? Spanish Immersion and DaVinci are certainly even more segregated with their own school sites, but I would argue that they are very valuable programs that serve our children well.

        We should be proud of the different programs in Davis and continue to seek ways to make learning more interesting for our students. I believe at least one of Ann’s children attended one of our district’s ‘segregated’ programs. I applaud Ann for finding a great fit for her child’s education, yet ask why she paints all AIM parents with a negative brush for trying to do the same.

        This discussion should not be just about AIM or non-AIM. I want to see every child find the best fit for them, one that will allow that child to be excited about learning and challenged to grow each day.

        I have no interest in a return to the one-room school where one approach is supposed to fit all but doesn’t. We group people into grade level solely based on age, rather than put everyone across age levels in the same class and “differentiating”. It is an attempt to group by learning level to make teaching groups of children easier and more appropriate, but some kids are far above or below their age-matched peers. Where does the line of “segregation” begin and end? We celebrate sports and the arts as ways to engage children in school. Should we get rid of those, too? Sports have certainly been a dividing line on the playground between those who can and those who trip over their own feet and have decimated the ego of many a clumsy child.

        I want Board trustees who can acknowledge that people and children have different interests and needs but understand that we should strive for an appropriate education for each of them in a cost-effective manner. Isn’t that the least we should do when our children are forced to be in a classroom most days of their entire childhood?

        1. Ann Block

          Hmmm. DavisAnon it would be nice if you made yourself not “anonymous.”  I actually have NOT been an outspoken critic of GATE/AIM, except to a small circle of friends and neighbors, until now.  Never wrote a letter to the editor or op-ed in the past, never went to those Board meetings where GATE/AIM supporters threatened school board members with recall, with voting against Measure H, with withholding their kids from school testing, etc., though I read about it.

          I did express these concerns when Ms. Sunder and Mr. Poppenga last ran for election, directly to Ms. Sunder — at a “meet and greet” when I learned that one of her primary concerns appeared to be preserving a very expanded GATE/AIM program.  And yes, my daughters did attend Cesar Chavez, an inclusive magnet school, that any child in the District is eligible to attend.  Both also attended DaVinci, and one attended DSIS as well, again, both schools that are open to all children.  One daughter, who was “forced” some would say, to work with “lesser achieving” kids in her project based learning classes at DaVinci, actually told me that she came to appreciate certain classmates that she never otherwise would have interacted with, and to value them for their own talents and goodness — apart from “academic achievements.”  I can’t say enough about how happy a parent I was to hear that.

          YES, I agree we need choice in the District, we need to have programs and support and differentiation for all of our children.  Noone is saying let’s do away with magnet elementary schools — perhaps we need more!  Noone is saying we should do away with AP or honors or the ability to take college courses in high school.  Noone is saying we should completely do away with GATE/AIM, as the Palo Alto district and many others have in fact done.   But there is no evidence based educational research nor current educational experts that find that GATE/AIM is appropriate for more than a very small percentage of children in any school district.

          And we have an achievement gap that should not exist in Davis.  I believe our school board should turn more of its focus on the children who need support the most — our achievement gap kids. That is why I am concerned and that’s why I support Susan — she is passionate about closing the achievement gap in Davis.  Doesn’t mean she is against programs for high achievers, she is not.  She actually disagreed with my view that AP classes should be limited, when I served on the District homework committee.   Bob, on the other hand, went so far with his own stated GATE/AIM agenda as to try to elicit the intervention of the UCD chancellor — which is evidence of quite a strongly held view, which has not likely changed.

          I agree with DavisAnon, that we “should strive for an appropriate education for each of [our students] in a cost-effective manner” as all public schools should do.

          1. Don Shor

            That is why I am concerned and that’s why I support Susan — she is passionate about closing the achievement gap in Davis.

            It’s curious that supporters of the board majority GATE reduction keep trying to connect the topic with the achievement gap. Susan came on the board just after a great deal of discussion about the achievement gap. A commission worked and presented the board with a set of recommendations, I believe in 2007. So she has been on the board for two terms with those recommendations before the district. Were they implemented? Have they shown measurable results? With respect to the achievement gap, Susan has a record to run on. Please tell us how she’s performed at implementing the suggestions and monitoring the results, and whether you feel she has a record of accomplishment on that issue after two terms in office.
            This really is a false choice being presented. GATE is not distracting from work on the achievement gap. The board chooses its own priorities. This board majority chose to make drastic changes to GATE.

  5. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

    Is Ann Block really going after two board members for having one child each in a particular program? Does that mean that the only person we should allow on the school board is Susan Lovenberg who I think is the only one without kids in our schools?

    The letter that Ann criticizes seems correct, no? I’m pretty sure that one reason we attract faculty and staff to UC Davis is because of our public schools. Big changes that largely end the Gate or AIM program would seem to impact “the future ability to recruit and retain talented faculty.”

    1. quielo

      If you look at Susan’s donor list almost none of her donors have children in schools. There is a cohort in Davis of people, exemplified by Ann Block, who view children as political pawns in a game they are playing. These people do not have children in school are therefore have no vested interest in the outcome.

        1. Marina Kalugin

          loved Ruth and Janice was another story….I would bet neither of them are up on common core, though…not positive..

          as times changed Ruth got a little too sensitive and had a hard time with people like Sue Greenwald…

          Still a nice , kind and caring person…   I would bet that the woman incumbent is an ole pal….and Ruth has no idea just how far south this majority has taken this district….

        2. quielo

          Look how many times “retired” appears in her donor list. These people may have gotten tired of farm workers.


          * $100 contributions from former Yolo County Board of Education trustee Davis Campbell; former Davis Associate Superintendent Ginny Davis; former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin; Marnell Gleason, retired; retired teacher Martha Beetley and Thomas Hagler; Alan Hirsch, tree planter; retired teacher Pat King; Victoria Smith and Steven McMahon, sociology professor, UCD and self-employed web developer; Janna Remes, economist; Bill Roe, property manager, Tandem Properties; Robert Ross and Kay Ross, retired teacher; Alvin D. Sokolow, retired professor, UCD; former Davis Board of Education member Karen Speiss, retired; Elaine Talley and Jeffrey Roy, mediator, general contractor; Linda Troy, retired; Louise Walker, psychotherapist.

      1. MrsW

        I don’t think my family is alone is this–we have supported public education for generations, the grandparents on fixed incomes would never opt-out of the parcel tax, and we believe public education is an investment in our culture and our young country.  Everyone is invested in the outcome.  Whether or not a Board endorser has a child in our schools does not enter my mind as either a pro or a con.

  6. Frankly

    The AIM/GATE people claim that the program does not take away resources from the regular classroom.

    Just look at the all the time and attention this topic is taking that would otherwise be used to talk about ways to improve the regular classroom.

    Clearly AIM/GATE is negatively impacting the regular classroom.

    I am also guessing that the better teachers are dedicated to AIM/GATE segregation.

    Time to eliminate this “private school for the privileged academic elite within the public school” carve-out and focus on delivering high-quality education services within the regular classroom that meet the needs of ALL students.

    If there are truly special needs learners that require a self-contained program, there numbers would be very, very small and we would not be having this large of a group of Davis parents militant about their offspring being left out of GATE/AIM.   What we have is simply a sneaky academic advantage crafted by the parents that are professional academics.  It isn’t fair.  It isn’t right.  If these parents don’t think that the regular classroom is meeting the needs of their accelerated little darlings, then get active for demanding reforms for the regular classroom.

      1. wdf1

        VoRiD:  Most of the kids in the Aim classrooms are not faculty kids.

        I take your word for it, but what is definitely true is that there is very high representation in the self-contained program of students with parents who have graduate or professional degrees (~82% vs. 51% districtwide) and under representation of students whose parents have no college education (2% vs. 8% districtwide).

        1. Marina Kalugin

          wdf1, now that is a real problem and the solutions go way beyond the scope of this thread….I even tried to share some of those solutions on other GATE /AIM related threads only to be chastised that they were off topic….oh well… is a high level deductive skill one either is born with or develops over decades….to see what is related and thus ontopic and what is not (aks off-topic)….

        2. quielo

          If a child has been raised in an environment where they had lots of training at home on reading and other academic subjects likely they are further ahead in the subject matter and would be bored in classes with kids who did not have that exposure.

        3. Frankly

          wdf1—Frankly wrote “professional academics”–which normally translates as “faculty,” not parents who have graduate degrees.

          Faculty might be a subset, but then there are UCD employees and people that have advanced degrees and continue to be connected with the industry of education in one way or another.

        4. Marina Kalugin

          so true, I showed up in the USA at the age of  6 1/2 and had never attended any school before then…but I was speaking, reading and writing in my native tongue sorta early and then I was speaking the language of the South American country we next moved to…and also reading it….though not writing it….it was a different alphabet from the Cyrillic in SA>…I show up after classes start and was put in Kindergarten without knowing a word of english….my mom and dad, who did now a little, went to school night ant the teacher tells them…she seems intelligent but she never says a word…

          another true story…in math and such I was running circles around them all…and so on…

          my family of all engineers going back generations had a knack for math,  even my mother has her engineering degree…

          English was my third language…now I am learning other languages in my spare time…

          One’s environment always trumps genetics….that was proven in the mid to late 60s-70s….

          And, the way to really bring equality is to focus on the early years…with proper food, water, and familial support to single mothers….or fathers…or even those families which struggle on both working minimum wage…

          it is not fluoridating the water and giving thimerosal infested flu shots from the age of 6 months and then yearly….

          it is not obamaphones or obamacare, it starts with real gainful employment for the parents…

          and support of the kind which helps relieve stress and allows families to spend time together…

          not phony “jobs” where one cannot work full time because then they would be due obamacare…instead the families work umpteen temp and low hour jobs….while BO can point to “more jobs” now….and “unemployment is down”…..buncha nonsense and lies…

        5. DavisAnon

          There are lots of parents with graduate degrees or working at UCD or in education who have kids in Spanish Immersion or at DaVinci. Does that mean we should get rid of those programs? I think most special programs and extracurriculars will be eliminated if those are the criteria we are going to use

          My guess is that parents with more experience or working in education may be better attuned to what their children’s needs might be or are more willing to entertain the possibility of a “different” style of education.

          That being said, we need to ensure access  to less advantaged students and make sure to support their parents and families if they choose a specific program.  To me that means more access and choice in programs, not less.

        6. Frankly

          Academics are not extra circular.  It is the main function of K-12 education (or at least it should be) to make sure no child gets left behind in academics.   So what if you have a special privileged group that gets moved ahead even further within a self-contained and segregated program?

          So many people I know are almost militaristic in their demand of a self-contained GATE/AIM program are also the type prone to sensitivity over certain social symbolism.  They will demand we get rid of the MRAP because it symbolizes war.  They will demand that we get rid of plastic grocery bags because it symbolizes harm to the environment.

          At the very least we need to agree that self-contained GATE/AIM symbolizes elitism.

        7. wdf1

          DavisAnon:  There are lots of parents with graduate degrees or working at UCD or in education who have kids in Spanish Immersion or at DaVinci. Does that mean we should get rid of those programs? I think most special programs and extracurriculars will be eliminated if those are the criteria we are going to use

          I know that you are making the argument that this is no big deal because it’s going on in elsewhere.  Personally I favor examining all programs for phenomena like this.  Why not?  If ignored, then likely nothing will change.  For many programs, I think more uniform participation could occur if all families were better informed.  And maybe there are other access issues to consider.

          I don’t favor the elimination of self-contained AIM, and I don’t favor the elimination of any current program that has demonstrated value for students.  In our district we are blessed with having more options and choices among programs than many other districts, especially many other districts with higher concentrations of lower SES students.  I hope that our district can honor those blessings by making sure that all students have access to those programs.

    1. hpierce

      I have to disagree with you on this, frankly… having one kid in GATE ~ 20 years ago, it was a blessing to have their teacher assigned to GATE, rather than the regular classroom (for the regular classroom kids)… the GATE kids could compensate for that teacher’s incompetence (that teacher was assigned by tenure and internal ‘political clout’, not by competence… and also a strong defender of GATE/AIM)…

      Not every teacher is “god’s gift to children”… some are, many are competent, but even in DJUSD, there are a bunch that should consider other career choices, in “respect” for their students… just like in every endeavor…

      1. Frankly

        The problem I have is related to my knowledge of human difference and corresponding differentiation in learning styles/needs/challenges/opportunities.   I reject the low-granularity of categorization that is both just a method for making the business of teaching easier, and to be exploited by parents with professional experience and knowledge in the business of education.

        It is really a program supporting academic elitism but with cover for being a special needs program.  In other words, these “gifted” kids have been made to be victims in need of special handling.   But their victim status is based on a nebulous and narrow set of criteria while the remaining super-set of differentiating criteria is ignored.  Every child has a unique learning style.   The categorization of learning styles should be very granular… maybe a different one for each child.   I am all for classroom segregation as long as it is segregation of each individual student.

        1. hpierce

          Frankly, the ‘elitism’ is a real, demonstrable problem… ideally, (and my hope and goal) it should indeed be a “special needs” program… there are some kids, one way or another, have different gifts/limitations that affect their learning, to be “the best they can be”… not all kids in GATE/AIM need to be in anything other than a regular classroom… most will thrive there.  Others, not so much.

          The reason some consider me an opponent of GATE/AIM is that they like to brag about their child being “special” (like it really reflects on THEM, instead of the CHILD?).  I fully reject that.

          In my experience, being “gifted” may mean you learn differently, and for a mediocre teacher, they can be as much ‘left by the wayside’, as a child with dyslexia, one being on the spectrum of autism, etc.

          IMO, education should be geared to the needs/learning styles of the students.  GATE/AIM as it was being practiced in DJUSD bordered on a ‘perversion’, but let’s not do the “throw the baby out with the bath water” thing. It has its place… but not as it was administered.  Maybe consider a pendulum… might swing too far one way or the other… but can be VERY useful… when it stops swinging, it is a plumb bob… pointing to the center of gravity… (or, gravitas?)

  7. Davis Progressive

    “Clearly AIM/GATE is negatively impacting the regular classroom.”

    even the opponents of aim in their study showed that at worst it has no impact on the regular classroom.

    1. hpierce

      That is very true, IMO… yet every teacher should strive for improving themselves, that they might better serve the children and the taxpayers (and, themselves)… there is a HUGE difference in having ’15 years of experience’, and having ‘one year of experience 15 times’… that applies to folk both in the public and private sectors…

      1. Marina Kalugin

        for once we agree …and those with seniority end up administrators and support the likes of the incumbent woman….get rid of the only one left who really held that program together, etc..

        and often they are the staunchest union leaders also….I mean the teachers who are getting on in years and not doing such a great job anymore…and some parents may be complaining….

        you know…they then hide behind their union post…. no offense to the good reps on this board…

    2. Marina Kalugin

      yep,  I love it also when those who cannot see the forest for the trees  throw around terms like clearly, right?

      and follow up with nonsense and/or lies…

  8. Marina Kalugin

    back in the days of only one GATE classroom per grade per Davis, the majority of the children were faculty children…

    then there was me, a lowly underpaid and underclassified asst in the departments that the faculty worked in.

    there was also Mariko Yamada   and Don Saylor’s daughter….they were not faculty either…and also Bob Segar and some of the other top honchos…not faculty…like Meril Stratton (sp?) …and cannot recall some of the other names….

    They may confirm how many others were not children of faculty.

    Most of of the children of parents who were not faculty were also perhaps recent, or not so recent, immigrants….who spoke another language as their native tongue.

    My older sons friends were almost exclusively faculty of STEM…of CBS mostly and joint UCDMC appointments and some COE…..some where both parents were professors – and one boys father was an attorney…

    I was the only one who was a single mom struggling on low wages…but it didn’t matter, I had no time nor money to go anywhere or spend on anything…right?

    Both my sons are now in their 30s….so this is ancient history, right?


  9. Marina Kalugin

    PS>.. I love it when some-one starts with IMHO … isn’t that already redundant…isn’t anytime one opens their mouth it is their opinion?   right

    that became a very pc way to show how intelligent and don’t forget “considerate” one is, while they proceed to knock down the evidence and/or  the opinions of others…

    watch out for those who do that…they have a hard time distinguishing their fiction from facts as their minds are, of course, made up and they know they are right …..

  10. Misanthrop

    I agree that gate is the elephant in the room and said so a while ago. I simply disagree with the author that killing the gate program is the best thing for the district. The question is who made the election a referendum on gate and the answer is the board majority that has worked tirelessly to gut the program over the last two years. Now Ms. Block has thrown down the gauntlet and admitted the obvious she supports killing the program and supports candidates past and present that will carry out her desire.

  11. Marina Kalugin

    of course, most of us do not agree with the author, but where else would we get the opportunity to say what we think on this topic and not be called out constantly for not staying to the topic, right

    all of us over-priveledged white people who think that there should be better options than exclusivity for a few…  thus EXPAND not contract…

    and the only other option is the remedial “at grade level” stuff now forced down the normal Davis child’s throat….

    under common core, even differentiation is not really encouraged….all students should be taught AT grade level…based on national norms…..that is the mantra…

  12. Don Shor

    There is a certain percentage of gifted students who need self-contained GATE. What that exact percentage is, nobody can really say — in part because we likely would disagree about the need. It could be as low as 3%, or as high as 10% or more. 

    Identifying those students is challenging. Many are “twice-exceptional” — ed jargon for those who are gifted and also have certain learning disabilities. These are the ones who most need self-contained GATE.
    Unfortunately, the change in testing and placement makes the twice-exceptional students even less likely be in gifted programs than they were before.

    For gifted students to do well in a regular classroom, the teachers need extensive and effective training in how to manage their learning styles. It is akin to special ed: it’s a specialized job skill.
    Differentiation is not being implemented effectively or extensively across the district.
    Students who would have been in GATE before are now in regular classrooms.
    Those students are being taught less effectively than they would have been.
    Opponents of self-contained GATE like to use the term “segregated” in full awareness of the disparaging and negative connotations of that term. And fully aware that there are many programs in the district which separate students by various means. In this essay, we even get the derisive phrase “so-called ‘gifted’ students.” So apparently the author is dubious about students even being gifted? And apparently believes all students should be in conventional classrooms — regardless of aptitude, learning style, or special needs.
    This would be harmful to those students. It would surely divert attention and resources from classroom teachers as they try to fulfill the needs of those students. And it is not the best placement for students who are very bright and need a combination of extra challenges and extra attention.
    What we have here is someone who thinks she knows what’s best for other peoples’ kids. There is no “inordinate amount of attention and District resources” being devoted to GATE. One part-time staff person was the totality of the district’s expense prior to the decision to drastically cut the program. The amount of board time spent on this is a direct result of their decision to seriously curtail a popular and effective program. If they didn’t want to spend so much time talking about it, they could have just ended private testing and otherwise left GATE alone. But they chose to plow full speed ahead with untested changes, implement them clumsily and without effective communication, and seem unconcerned about the adverse demographic outcomes.
    The reason GATE has barely been an issue in this race is because it doesn’t need discussion. It would be a pretty rare GATE parent who would vote for the incumbent at this point. Bob Poppenga is not a single-issue candidate, but he’s made his position clear. And the incumbent’s record speaks for itself. It’s a pretty clear choice.


  13. Marina Kalugin

    For many students even in the old GATE and the new AIM, even that is not enough…some children in the fifth grade with my son…had already gotten 1600 (when it was 1600) at the John’s Hopkins talent search and were taking the bus after school to take calculus  or whatever…while still in elementary school

    Many do the DSIS route instead,  because they are being driven to the SF conservatory of music as they are more advanced than even the GATE or whatever one wants to call it.

    Languages were cut at DHS>..and my child had to do “correspondence”  Russian from Uof Wisconsin….college level and college and DHS credit…proctored exams and finals….the real deal…

    Perhaps some children who are not that far off the charts ,but like the challenge may end up in the GATE classes, so what?

    When the alternative is so bad, why stop the children and parents who need want better?



  14. Ann Block



    Don has some very good points, as do Frankly and some others.  I am not “anti-GATE” nor do I want to do away with the GATE/AIM program altogether.  I did not say that.  Rather, I am in favor of the GATE reforms that have been done – reducing GATE and keeping it for the kids that truly need it – those who Don calls the “twice-exceptional.”  And I “am” or “was” a “GATE” parent.  I just did not choose, for reasons I’ll explain below, to place my child in GATE.

    As for the time spent on GATE/AIM that could have been spent on closing the achievement gap, here is what a local teacher wrote in response to me: 

    “I’m also supporting Susan Lovenburg.  The School Board made real progress this past year in starting to contain and downsize the GATE/AIM program, and I’m concerned that if Bob Poppenga is elected we will be heading back in the wrong direction.  If we spent half as much time and energy focusing on our low-achieving students as we do our high-achieving students we would be making progress.”
    I would note that above said teacher has two young school children, one in elementary school, the other in junior high.
    I think that people have it backwards that those without children presently being educated in the District do not care about children still in the District.  I no longer have the inherent conflict of interest that those current GATE/AIM parents do, or that any parent or Board member does, who is advocating for programs that benefit their own child.  That is not to say that such a person would not make an effective Board member, but rather would need to keep their own agendas for their own children in check, in order to effectively represent all the children in our community.   And I, along with many others whose children are grown, support Measure H, and am willing to pay $620 a year, ongoing to support our schools.  I do wonder, however, about those AIM parents that threatened the school board that they would in fact oppose Measure H if the number of segregated AIM classrooms was reduced.  How could such blackmail possibly exemplify support of our schools?  I continue to volunteer for school programs, and am quite grateful for the education my children received in the Davis public schools and for the wonderful teachers we have here.   I also think it is quite laudable that Susan Lovenburg continues to care about children other than her own.  That is the definition of a true public servant.  She is concerned about ALL the children in our District, not just her own and not just the GATE/AIM identified, or potentially GATE/AIM identified. 
    The achievement gap in the DJUSD is unconscionable given the wealth and education level of our citizenry.  Our college readiness index score is 45.5%, compared to 48.5% at Albany High and 55.7% at Granite Bay High, and 58.3% at Troy High in Fullerton – all districts with a similar economic demographic to Davis.  More time and money needs to be spent on addressing the achievement gap, rather than on so many segregated AIM classrooms, when our “gifted and talented” students can achieve their potential outside of such classrooms, in mixed ability classrooms, through current honors and AP course offerings in high school and by taking college courses.   Most districts, including Palo Alto, have completely done away with segregated classrooms, and those that maintain them contact a very small percentage of the District’s students, unlike Davis.   Dr. Brill, the superintendent of the Lafayette school district came to speak at a public forum in Davis, and explained how Lafayette successfully transitioned from several segregated GATE classrooms to just one.  Lafayette also had parents who were angry and upset that their children might be denied GATE placement, but eventually came around to realize that their children would be well-served.
    The intent of GATE at the beginning was to support underachievers — those students with learning disabilities or who otherwise simply could not function in a traditional classroom, but who were quite talented and bright — those that Don Shor mentions.  I recall that when my “GATE” child was identified, testing at the 99th percentile, I was given a list by Deanne Quinn of the qualities of a true “GATE” child — and it wasn’t a pretty list.  Nevertheless, I thought my child fit enough of these characteristics that she should likely be in GATE.  Deanne counselled otherwise, advising me that Spanish immersion was an environment similar enough to GATE to sufficiently challenge her.  We didn’t move our daughter to GATE, and Deanne was right.  Cesar Chavez provided a sufficient challenge through teachers that were quite adept at differentiation in the classroom, and so did Emerson.  DaVinci with its project based learning and differential approach to students, further allowed her to grow and develop her potential, as well as taking a few AP and honors courses.   She was also able to excel in music/band until soccer took over her spare time.   She did well in her studies and was accepted to an Ivy without having a GATE/AIM history, obtaining a degree in physics and is now in grad school studying astrophysics.  I say all this to assure you current parents that I understand your worries about your gifted children, I understand that their development and success is so important and why you are fighting so hard for expanded AIM.  But I think your worries are misplaced, and evidence from other districts and educational experts backs that up.
    I think that in addition to the achievement gap in Davis, our real concern should be the mental health of our gifted students, as well as many or most of our other students who face extreme pressure from parents and their peers, and even certain teachers, to “achieve” at all costs.  They believe that unless they are in AIM, or take mostly all honors and AP classes in high school, that they just will not get into the “right” school, nor have a successful life.  They actually SAY these things.   Our high school counselors every year deal with disproportionate numbers of depressed and even suicidal kids, here in Davis.  We are simply putting too much pressure on these kids, and allowing them to become overbooked and overwhelmed, including the “gifted” kids who can perhaps handle “more” than others.   I suggest that all current DJUSD parents view the film “Race to Nowhere” and the commentary by educational experts that accompanies it.
    In addition, there are numerous example of unhealthy perspectives and views influenced by segregated classrooms.  According to another of my neighbors, her son’s elementary school classmates say “all the ‘smart’ kids are in AIM” and other parents have provided evidence of bullying of non-AIM students by AIM students, labelling them as inferiors.  That is not a healthy view for our District students to have, inside or outside of AIM.  Segregated classrooms spread throughout the District promote that type of thinking.
    That is not to say that gifted students do not deserve a fine education and extra support as well, if needed.  However, it is unfair and not right to have AIM segregated classrooms that receive “extras” such as special field trips and enrichment opportunities that other children in the District do not receive – even if the parents of the gifted students are “voluntarily” subsidizing those activities. 
    I’m not sure that evidence will make any difference here, given the comments so far, but the districts that Davis aspires to be like, such as those in Palo Alto, Marin County schools, San Ramon/Livermore/Pleasanton, Fremont, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, etc. have at most, tiny self-contained gifted programs for “real outliers,” and academically advanced kids primarily are served in mixed-ability classrooms with differentiation.  Irvine serves its “gifted” elementary school kids through differentiation in mixed-ability classrooms (although it does have a large “academic all-star” program for high achievers, filled by lottery).  Superintendent Bowes’ former district (Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified) uses differentiation as the leading strategy for its gifted learners.  San Diego and Seattle, huge and much-more-urban districts, do have self-contained gifted programs, but only a few percent of the students are in them (1-3%). 
     Again, I believe that many parents are unduly worried about whether their very bright child will succeed outside an AIM classroom.  They will.   And all our children as a whole will be better off if we commit more resources to closing the achievement gap, stop segregating children in our elementary schools unnecessarily, and work together as a community to promote the well-being and achievement of all our community’s children.


      1. wdf1

        quielo:  So your point is that parents should not be able to choose for their children because you know better? And what does your research tell you about arrogance?

        On the other hand, I think it’s also arrogant to establish that a standardized test score tells you what you need to know about a child’s giftedness.  Arguing over the meaning of giftedness in standardized test scores is subjective at a fundamental level.

        I think there are likely students who can be identified as gifted in other ways, still meeting the professional definitions of giftedness, but not necessarily identifiable using standardized tests.  Differentiated instruction might be the best chance to serve those potentially not identified in a standardized test, but who are out there.

        1. quielo

          Which would support Jose’s idea of open enrollment. I agree that while cognitive assessment is useful psychographic is equally important. Do the kids really want to dig into the material at this point in their lives?

          However I despise people like Ann Block who decide they are all knowing while actual parents are just “vocal”.

        2. wdf1

          There is also the observation of fluid and variable development among children.  Some children appear to develop more slowly but develop into brilliant adults, and others have developmental spurts and plateaus.  All around, even in self-contained AIM classes, you will need to have teachers with some preparation and ability to execute differentiated instruction.

    1. Don Shor

      San Diego and Seattle, huge and much-more-urban districts, do have self-contained gifted programs, but only a few percent of the students are in them (1-3%).

      We talked a lot about the San Diego program here on the Vanguard last year when the changes were being debated. It certainly could have been a useful model for Davis. San Diego has a small percentage of students in self-contained GATE, and a larger number of gifted-identified students in cluster-grouping GATE. The percentage in self-contained programs in schools closer to UCSD is much higher than in the rest of the district.

      The cluster-grouping with instructors trained for differentiated instruction could have been a useful way to transition from the larger Davis self-contained program. It would have allowed more of the students remain in their neighborhood schools while being taught at their level. Parents would have had confidence that their students were being taught by instructors who had specialized training.

      But that isn’t what they did. “Twice-exceptional” (weird term, but I’ll use it because it’s the jargon) students are not identified. They are less likely to get specialized instruction. They are less likely to be challenged and have their learning styles recognized. In short: the changes implemented by the board were harmful to those who most need GATE.

      Again, I believe that many parents are unduly worried about whether their very bright child will succeed outside an AIM classroom. They will.

      My children are done, but I will only speak from my own experience here. In my kid’s case, you would have been wrong.

    2. Napoleon Pig IV

      “closing the achievement gap” reminds me of the days certain politicians used to speak of “peace with honor.” Yeah, right. Crocks seldom cease being crocks through the passage of time, but fortunately their contents can sometimes become useful for nourishing poppies.

  15. Marina Kalugin

    Ms. Block states : “Dr. Brill, the superintendent of the Lafayette school district came to speak at a public forum in Davis, and explained how Lafayette successfully transitioned from several segregated GATE classrooms to just one.  Lafayette also had parents who were angry and upset that their children might be denied GATE placement, but eventually came around to realize that their children would be well-served.”   Actually a slew of parents were so distraught that their children were denied what they qualified for, that they left and started their own private charter school…..and the district was left without the daily attendance funds… Not exactly the glowing success that Ms. Block claims it was.

    And, not sure if that was the whole story about your child, but I do trust Deann after working with her for nearly 2 decades now…and her take is very much that since this majority leader showed up more and more issues surfaced for children who were not given the chance for a program which they needed.

    Of course, Deann is a mother of a child (now in the 40s) who really needed the program and  before she was dumped, often went to bat for children who were not getting what they needed….

    Over the many years now since my youngest graduated DHS, there were at least two other times Deann was given a pink slip and many of us, who recognized the value she brought to our children and so many others came to bat and saved her position.

    I am not really clear on what your agenda is…to stick up for an incumbent who has not only decimated a successful program but made lots of other mistakes as well….or what….but whatever it is, your report doesn’t serve the vast majority of children.

    There are many teachers in this district who may or not be willing to be quoted, who are already on overload due to trying to teach a large group of students of varying ability levels….and the thought of trying to do more is beyond comprehension.

    Those teachers also may or may not come forth to give their opinions about the current majority leadership and the person who made such a dog’s breakfast of simple administration of an assessment test… but just  because one teacher supposedly is a huge fan, and I am not saying there may not be one in that category, but it hardly proves anything.

    PS> Many of us former GATE parents advocated for choice and options and not leaving any children from programs that could better help them…

  16. Napoleon Pig IV

    Even grass from the pasture passed through an equine digestive tract deserves its turn to bask in the sun. Congratulations to the Vanguard for its tolerance.

  17. Frankly

    The achievement gap argument would be crap if not for the evidence of the resulting quality-of-life gap.

    There is a dysfunctional and destructive twitch in some people that always measure accomplishment and harm relative to what others have and not some baseline of reasonableness.   It is a fruitless pursuit of perfect equality in social and economic outcomes.  Well… it is fruitless in terms of the stated goal; but not the hidden agenda of forging and protecting a heart-bleeding-savior-of-victims political identity.

    This latter point is key because it helps us understand that the people spending the most time complaining about gaps (achievement, outcomes, economic, etc.) have a vested interest in those gaps remaining.   They really don’t want to talk root-cause analysis.  They really don’t want to see real solutions implemented.   Because if real problems are solved… what would they do?

    The education achievement gap is worthy of bipartisan problem solving because it is the root cause to just about every other significant gap that social justice crusaders harp about.   If, for example, black and Hispanic minorities were better represented in social and economic outcomes like for Asians, the education achievement gap could be ignored.   Because the academic success of one child should not be the measure of another child’s academic success.   Academic achievement really should not matter outside of the impact it has on a child’s attainment of a reasonably successful adult life.  In other words, if a C+ student had adequate opportunity to launch into the economy and secure a middle-class lifestyle, why would we care?  Why would we, for example, hold back the white child of highly educated professional academic parents just so the black child of a broken family of perpetual welfare generations can look better by academic comparison?

    Ironically this election connects a lot of dots relative to this topic.   On the Democrat side we have the candidate that wants open borders, global trade and protection of the education status-quo.   The Republican candidate is promoting the reverse of these policies… promising to improve the social economic circumstances of those very people adversely impacted by this large and sticky academic achievement gap and other gaps.

    My guess is that the status quo protector Democrat candidate will be elected and then the cohort of bleeding-heart-savior-of-victims social justice crusaders will continue to have something to do… to keep complaining about the large and sticky achievement gaps that plague the schools and the country.

  18. Cindy_Pickett

    In regard to the issue of AIM and the achievement gap, is anyone here familiar with the case against the Elk Grove School District? Apparently a civil rights complaint was filed with the US Department of Education because of the racial demographics of their GATE program. This was the finding of the Office of Civil Rights:

    “OCR determined that the evidence obtained during the review established that the District’s
    policies and procedures for identifying GATE students, and for enrolling students in middle and
    high school honors and AP courses, have an unlawful disparate impact on African American
    students in violation of Title VI.” and “OCR therefore concluded that the District’s policies and practices for determining GATE eligibility, although racially neutral on their face, have had a disproportionate adverse impact on African American students. ”

    The resolution was that the Elk Grove GATE entry requirements were expanded/relaxed.

    Anyway, it’s very easy to file a complaint with the Department of Education and if the latest round of AIM testing at DJUSD shows that the numbers of Black and Hispanic students gaining entry to the program has decreased, I would be inclined to file a Civil Rights complaint. I don’t think that being out of federal compliance is something that can be ignored by the school board.

    Here is a link to the ElK Grove report. The section on “Disparate Impact” was particularly notable.

  19. Ann Block

    Don Shor thoughtfully asked in an earlier comment about Susan Lovenburg’s (and the rest of the Board’s) accomplishments during her tenure.  After some research (I did NOT contact Ms. Lovenburg, btw), here is what I can report:

    The district has taken many steps toward closing the achievement gap during Susan’s tenure, especially over the last three years.  In approximately 2013 the district took over the “Davis Bridge” program, formerly run as a nonprofit, which is a robust afterschool tutoring and homework club for low income students at Montgomery and Harper, and made it even stronger, with district staff and support.  I think around 200 low income students are served through this program, annually.  The district opened libraries for evening hours on several campuses, to support low income families without internet access.  It has supported and invested in Mariachi Puente, an award-winning Mariachi Youth Band connected to Davis Bridge at Montgomery, which offers free music training and performance mastery largely to low income DJUSD students, 

    The district has partnered with the Yolo Center for Families, now Empower Yolo, to reach low income families at Montgomery campus and in the city of Davis as a whole.  It launched the Intercambio program at Montgomery, to promote friendship and understanding between parents across racial and lingual backgrounds, and launched the dual-immersion program at Montgomery.  The district opened the Academic Center at Davis High, to provide free tutoring and homework support (through both peer-to-peer, and UC Davis student-high school student arrangements).  It adopted a long term Master Plan that states as a priority narrowing the achievement gap and furthering excellence for all students.  The district further dove into the LCAP process, bringing teachers, staff, and parents together to work on achievement gap issues in a more productive way under the LCFF out of the State Department of Education.  The district fought valiantly to avoid layoffs and pink slips during the Great Recession, and since financing has improved it has reduced class sizes from 30+/1 to about 25/1 in target grades.  It brought computers to campuses and rolled out the required Common Core curriculum, with improved collaboration among and professional development for teachers, and teachers’ use of project-based and inquiry-driven learning across the curriculum is flourishing.  Susan has been a thoughtful, steady, leader through all of these improvements and changes. 

    The district has also adopted a restorative justice approach to school discipline, which has lowered the suspension and expulsion rates (which had disproportionately negatively impacted low income students and students of color).  Lovenburg also has been a leader in improving differentiated instruction across all grade levels and throughout the curriculum, and she worked with her colleagues Archer, Adams, and Fernandes (along with City Council members Lucas Frerichs and Rob Davis) to launch the 1000 Mentors Challenge in Davis & the DJUSD, in January of 2016.  

    Unfortunately the minority of parents who cannot compromise on segregated GATE, e.g. having their advanced students taught separately, have wasted many, many hours of trustee and administration resources through complaints and requests for endless discussions on reforms to the GATE program.

    1. Don Shor

      A very useful reply, Ann. Thanks. I’ll refer you to David’s article a few weeks ago here:
      And I’ll repeat my comment there on this thread:

      October 11, 2016 at 10:35 pmEdit
      So if I read this report correctly: with all the things they’ve done over the last few years, and armed with a report from 2007 making specific recommendations, by nearly every statistical measure presented here the achievement gap has gotten worse.
      Am I reading that right?

      Evidently discussion of GATE didn’t prevent the board from implementing the changes you’ve itemized. So I don’t really see why you keep trying to link the achievement/opportunity gap with gifted education discussions. All of the “many, many hours of trustee and administration resources” could have been avoided by the board simply not trying to cut the GATE program in the first place. You’re positing a false dichotomy of achievement gap vs. GATE. I wonder why.

    2. DavisAnon

      Ann, since you raised it above, I’d like to clarify. I am not Ms. Sunder nor have I ever spoken with her about you, though I did ask her views on AIM and many other issues during her campaign. Your path and mine crossed due to our children and you were open about your views about the GATE program, and they were essentially as you have listed them above. This was several years ago, hence my assertion that you were a longtime critic of the program.

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