This is the third part of our coverage of Thursday evening’s school board discussion on AIM. School Superintendent John Bowes made a lengthy presentation (captured here) laying out his analysis of AIM and the problems facing the contentious program. The public – 25 members on both sides of the issue – then weighed in.
Finally, for about two hours from 11 pm to just before 1 am, the school board deliberated and eventually passed three sets of motions.
The school board adopted three recommendations made during Superintendent John Bowes’ presentation, voting 4-1 with Madhavi Sunder dissenting:
- Explore alternatives for identifying talents and gifts from a wider range of domains beyond language arts and mathematics.
- Work to ensure that current staff includes a GATE certified teacher at each elementary school and will try to augment that number in each successive school year.
- Reaffirm, through this agenda item, our commitment to formative assessments and student goal-setting.
Alan Fernandes and Madhavi Sunder prepared their own motion, as presented by Mr. Fernandes. Parts 1 and 3 were passed unanimously.
(1) Direct staff to use appropriate assessments for students who are English learners, low income, learning disabled, or from historically disadvantaged minorities and other underrepresented groups, for the purpose of ensuring the identification for these at risk student groups to ensure equal access to the AIM program each school year.
(3) Those AIM identified students who choose not to be placed in a self contained AIM classroom will have their specific educational needs met in their neighborhood or traditional school classroom through an alternative instruction plan, in consultation with an AIM-certified teacher, tailored to meet their specific abilities utilizing various models for program delivery, that may include but not be limited to, math ability rotations, flexible grouping, or other pullout or push-in services.
The second part ended up being quite contentious, with the board going back and forth on alternative language and arguing at length over “may” versus “shall.” Ultimately, Madhavi Sunder, who had put forth an alternative motion, backed off, but Barbara Archer dissented.
The thrust of it was to direct the principal to fill the AIM classroom when the number of students identified for the AIM program did not equal a full classroom – it was the thrust of a debate that Alan Fernandes and Madhavi Sunder lost last year regarding the number of classrooms.
Superintendent Bowes had requested changing the thrust from “high achieving students” to “flexible clustering model.”
For Alan Fernandes, he said that “this about how do we deliver the best possible education for all of our children – AIM children and non AIM children?”
Following some of the public comments, Bob Poppenga, who was not part of previous AIM discussions, having been just elected in November, said, “While I respect others’ opinions to the contrary, I don’t believe that we, as a governance team or District, have done a good job of communicating about, managing, or implementing the AIM program over the last several years.
“For many Davis parents, this has led to a level of concern, frustration, and mistrust that could perhaps have been avoided or mitigated. It is important to try to address their concerns,” he said. “While much of our focus has been on numbers and placement, we often seem to overlook the children who are impacted by our decisions.”
Later he would add, “I find it ironic that we encourage our students to resolve conflicts through restorative justice practices and collaborative learning exercises, where active listening, understanding the basis for different points of view, and compromise are essential to resolution, while at the same time, we adults seem incapable of resolving our own conflict over AIM. This is an issue that we absolutely need to solve.”
Madhavi Sunder stated that, while this has been a contentious issue, there is much common ground – she noted the support for ending private testing as well as the need for it to be a flexible program. “I think that there’s a lot that we have in common,” she said. She hoped that “we can model a process here on our board to try to create a solution for this year’s classes and really we need to build something better.
“We need a longer term solution that really meets those common goals that we all share around inclusivity and excellence and meeting children’s needs,” she said. But she worried that the process has not gotten us there yet.
Tom Adams said, “I think we’re all missing the point here. The thing that all parents share is the need to want to make sure their child gets the best education that’s fit for them. I think we heard that again and again from everyone tonight.
“The question is how do we really do that,” he said. He noted a number of programs that made the district exceptional. “But what to me is interesting about those programs is you don’t need a test to get in. And you don’t need an identification and a specific label to access them.
“We should not really say to students the only real opportunity to get a challenging curriculum is how well you perform on a certain battery of tests at a certain grade level in your academic career,” he said. “We really ought to say that a challenging curriculum is the right of all students.”
He said that “standardized tests have various biases built into them. They tend to reproduce the same elite that created them. That’s what we saw tonight with the various battery of tests.”
In order to meet the needs of a diverse student population, “we have to think about alternative means.
“We have to make sure that whatever educational plan we have actually advances the social and emotional needs of our students,” he said. “Here we have to be careful about labels. Labeling, about the continuous use of them. We know those are not healthy… especially at third grade. Maybe later in life you can shrug them off.”
He added, “The reality is that once you start separating students that way, you’re not creating a healthy environment.”
Barbara Archer said, “The reason we are so stuck on this issue is that we have focused so much on identification and not enough on delivery of the program.”
Why are we focusing so much on this program? Barbara Archer pointed out this is the board’s eighth meeting in three years on AIM. She said, “I am concerned about the resources – it takes up a lot of staff time.”
She noted that when Dr. Bowes came to DJUSD, he wanted to focus on his leadership team, but instead dealt with the OCR (Office for Civil Rights) complaint. The previous summer, staff wanted to have a vacation after working hard all year, but they focused all their time on the AIM program.
“When we say why this program,” she said, it’s “because it tends to eat up a lot of resources.” She noted hundreds of hours of staff time, plus testing time. “Folks say this doesn’t cost any money, actually… I believe it’s $160,000 a year… so there is a cost. That is something we should be thinking about, we should be transparent about, when we’re looking at a structural deficit.”
Madhavi Sunder expressed concern that some of these proposed changes represented a move away from the self-contained AIM model. “This is the very first time John, that I’m seeing these recommendations from you and we had hours and hours of one-on-one meetings about AIM before this,” she said. “I cannot make a decision to change a program that we’ve had for decades. We’ve already cut that program down to one-half the size in a year and a half.”
She said, “To go to a quarter of the size without … The parents here I think have been incredibly reasonable… But trust is the most important thing at stake here tonight. It’s the most important thing that has been at stake throughout these conversations. We move at the speed of trust. Rushing into something that’s not based on study or research, that’s based on just take my word, we have lost that trust. Nobody will take our word at this point.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting