Board Passes a Series of Motions on AIM


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:

  1. Explore alternatives for identifying talents and gifts from a wider range of domains beyond language arts and mathematics.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

They were:

(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

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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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  1. Don Shor

    Why are we focusing so much on this program?  Barbara Archer pointed out this is our eighth meeting in three years on AIM.

    It is disingenous to propose drastically cutting or eliminating a popular and successful program, and then complain over and over and over again about having to talk about that decision so much.

    It isn’t the GATE parents who took the axe to it. Of course you have to focus on it. Had you not sought the drastic changes and then implemented them so clumsily, there would be little discussion. And now with the superintendent coming down hard on the side of those who want to eliminate GATE, you will be discussing it more. In fact, it’s almost certain to be a central issue in the next election.

    “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 [Sunder] said.

    This brings me back to my comment on David’s first article on this. Trust is not just eroded by this action by the superintendent. It is gone. I seriously question his ability to continue in the job.

    1. Howard P

      Don, on one hand, you becry lack of discussion… then you appear to call for the dismissal of the Supe for the “discussion” he brought to the table… which is it?  The Supe has not decided or implemented anything.

      If you have a bone to pick, suggest you pick it with the Board… they direct the Superintendent… they set the parameters for the larger discussion by the public… agree with his recommedndations or not (I’m still sorting it out)… I believe the suprintendent and his staff did a credible, professional effort to identify and weigh the issues.

      Unless, of course, you hate the idea that the superintendent dared to come to conclusions differing from yours…

  2. Tia Will

    I agree with Don that it is naive ( or disingenuous) to drastically alter a program and then not anticipate, or attempt to limit discussion of this action.

    That the program is popular amongst some parents whose children have thrived there is not in question. How “successful” it is should be measured in some form of objective criteria as in college admissions and completion, job training if college not attended, life time earnings, or perhaps some other criteria, not just put forth as an assertion. Also the question of success needs to be addressed in terms of the broader scope of for whom ? Only those admitted to the program, or for the broader population of students as well ?  I would be most interested in numbers, not anecdotes although I certainly wrote about that in a separate article.

    I am only asking questions as I simply do not know the answers, but am not willing to accept assertions as fact from either side. Again, I cannot help but wonder if there would be the same emotional response if the recommendation had been to expand the program ? Are we talking about poor process here, or are we talking about dislike of the specific recommendation ?  I do think that it is important to be clear about the specifics of one’s objections.

    1. Chuck Rairdan

      For members of the current/past majority who, out of the blue, started this ball rolling and which was not based on an expressed voter mandate but rather a veiled political agenda, to repeatedly bemoan the amount of time and resources spent to address these drastic changes (gutting) is indeed disingenuous. And to now be mincing over standardized tests when the previous (canned) AIM coordinator had actively sought to include underrepresented or SE disadvantaged children who showed indications of needing this alternative form of instruction is another move away from the prime directive of “do no harm”.

      I think everyone can agree that each child needs to be appropriately challenged free from the interference of ‘adult’ political ideologies. That is clearly not happening here. I also detect the ghost of a former board member/ring leader at work here from behind the scenes.

  3. David Greenwald

    I think this is the key concern: “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,” (Madhavi Sunder)

    So what is the role of the Superintendent?  I think that is part of the struggle here as there is a fine line between the policy role of a board and the educational role of the superintendent.  And that seems a little muddled now as he’s basically sitting up at the dais with the school board rather than at the staff table.

    1. Howard P

      And that seems a little muddled now as he’s basically sitting up at the dais with the school board rather than at the staff table.

      Had not picked up on that… I’ve seen it played both ways… advantages and disadvantages to both models… being co-located at the dias can send a message of mutual respect, and teamwork… or as collusion… locating at the staff table can send a message of professional detachment… or as being in an adversarial relationship…

      One of those “eye of the beholder” things…

      When I organized meetings (controversy, actually or potentially, involved), if I wanted to get to get to a consensus, I’d mix myself and other staff around the table… randomly…  if I strongly suspected that no consensus was possible (a knock down, drag out) I used the table (or dias) as a scrimmage line.  Both were effective, in context.

      As Freud supposedly said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”…

      1. Tia Will

        Madhavi’s comment brought up more questions for me. What is that appropriate place for discussion of recommendations ?  Is it the role of a supervisor to discuss his thoughts with each member of the school board individually ? Is it his role to bring up recommendations to the entire community after appropriate noticing ? What constitutes appropriate noticing, including how much detail ?

        Again, I am unclear whether it is process, recommendations, or both that is being disputed here.

    2. H Jackson

      How much back and forth can a superintendent have with all the trustees without violating the spirit of the Brown Act?  My understanding is that the superintendent takes input from all the trustees in a series of one-on-one meetings, and then tries to craft something to present in open meeting that he or she thinks will capture the overall interests of the body.

      1. Howard P

        You’ve got the essence, H Jackson… a superindent needs to count to 3 @ any given meeting… but is constrained by the letter and the ‘spirit’ of the Brown Act… and, the superintendent, recieving input from all 5 members of the board, as long as it is not shared with other board members, is in that “50 shades of gray” realm… depends, in part, whether in input is solicited by the Supe, or just offered by the board member…

        And, at the end of the day, the Supe has the professional obligation to bring forward his evidence/professional expertise even if he/she has NO support on the Board, IF it’s important to the mission of DJUSD… that poses a risk, but reminds me of something along the lines of  ‘what does it profit someone, if they gain the world, but lose their soul in the process’…

  4. Sharla C.

    And, at the end of the day, the Supe has the professional obligation to bring forward his evidence/professional expertise even if he/she has NO support on the Board, IF it’s important to the mission of DJUSD

    The strategy seems to be to elect people who will ignore science and research and will do the bidding of special interests.  This appears to be a trend in national and state politics, so we can’t assume that  local politics will be immune to this.

    After hours and hours of one-on-one meetings with the Superintendent, and after I assume were discussions around difficulties with identification, cost and staff time, choice of different testing methodologies, size of the program, and other issues with the AIM program, why did Madhavi not even broach the idea of GATE education being delivered in a different way or was the purpose of her meetings to be sure to keep the program as it was?   What were the meetings about and what did they discuss?

    People blame the Superintendent, but I don’t know what they are blaming him for.  The program is continuing with two tracks – one at Pioneer and one at Willet.  Differentiated instruction is starting to take a more visible form with an example of successful implementation at North Davis overseen by a GATE-certified educator there.  All identified children have been offered placement in a self-contained AIM class, though 10 or so children who have scored in the 98th percentile have chosen to stay at their neighborhood schools   He has followed the Board’s directions in every way.

  5. Tia Will

    OK. So now I am confused. Let me see if I have this right. 1. The board asked that the superintendent view the district with “fresh eyes” and make a set of recommendations.

    2. It appears that the superintendent did just that meeting with numerous community members & apparently speaking with at least some of the board members at length.

    3. The superintendent then assembled a presentation with a number of recommendations, announced the planned presentation ( although not its specifics) and then presented it at a board meeting.

    4. This set of recommendations included, but did not implement, a radical departure from the AIM program as currently constituted with the goal of eventually moving to a comprehensive diversified program overseen by GATE qualified teachers.

    Do I have it about right ?  If so, what exactly is all the uproar actually about ?  If I do not have it right, what specifically am I missing ?

    1. David Greenwald

      One of the reasons I laid out the series of articles as I did is the pretty broad disconnect between what was said by the Superintendent, the board and the public and the actual motions, which I’m still not sure what they actually mean policy-wise.

    2. David Greenwald

      I think the uproar Tia is the words out of the Superintendent’s mouth: “The clear, consensus opinion is that our current model separating some AIM-identified students in self-contained classrooms does not best serve the students of this District.”

  6. Don Shor

    The Superintendent took over 5700 words to basically say this:

    • There are misperceptions about the gifted program and what differentiation means.
    • Nine teachers have been certified.
    • North Davis Elementary has a really good program of differentiation.
    • The current testing doesn’t yield a diverse demographic for the program, and they don’t know why (“It is unknown whether these results were caused through a flawed assessment instrument, misperception about the purpose of the exam, implicit bias or other factors.”)
    • He wants to focus on the Achievement Gap. This issue is taking up a lot of staff time.
    • The budget situation is bad and the district needs to allocate resources carefully.
    • The current testing procedure won’t fix the demographic problem. He doesn’t think testing will work.
    • Differentiation in all classrooms is the answer.
    • The program is not inclusive. He apparently thinks self-contained GATE is an obstacle to progress on the Achievement Gap.
    • He believes the current process of selection leads to conflict.
    • The “identification process must be revamped” but he doesn’t say how.

    “If the question is about diversity and we want the most diverse gifted program, the way to do that is by providing AIM-identified students with quality programs in general education neighborhood classrooms.”

    There was nothing new in his report. He simply has come down squarely on the side of those who want to eliminate the self-contained GATE program. I note that 9 teachers have been certified. Out of how many? If all gifted-identified students are going to be in regular classrooms with GATE-certified teachers, I’d say they have a ways to go.

    1. Sharla C.

      Don, I think you summed it up pretty well.

      However, then there were the motions to proceed as before with no change, at least for this upcoming year.

      I agree that more teachers need to be certified and differentiation may need more time to develop and implement at the neighborhood classrooms.  Even with this, there may still be a need for a self-contained GATE classroom as special education for students who do not thrive even with differentiation in their neighborhood classrooms.

  7. David Greenwald

    “The current testing doesn’t yield a diverse demographic for the program, and they don’t know why (“It is unknown whether these results were caused through a flawed assessment instrument, misperception about the purpose of the exam, implicit bias or other factors.”)”

    They should know why.  The Naglieri was never going to work – why? Because it has not been shown effective.  On the other hand, the HOPE Scale has been tested and shown effective and it hasn’t worked here – which suggests the problem may be here just as it was a decade ago.

    1. H Jackson

      The achievement gap in Davis shows up more clearly if you look at parent education level.  The disparities are more pronounced, including with AIM identification, but it also shows up in pronounced ways on the regular standardized tests.  The HOPE Scale and other measures of giftedness usually claim to correct for race/ethnicity and income level, but as far as I know, not for parent education level.

      If you follow the regular standardized test scores (aka, CAASPP/SBAC or STAR) by income level, ELL status, and race/ethnicity (Latino, African-American), we (DJUSD) usually look better than the “average” California district.  That is helped by the fact that UC Davis itself attracts some diversity in its staff/faculty as well as student admissions.  Their children often attend our schools.  If you follow test scores by parent education level, then students from families without college education generally fare worse than average in Davis schools. This is in spite of the fact that more than one-third of UC Davis undergraduates is a “first generation” college student.

      It might help if the district and the community acknowledged this kind of disparity — parent education level and educational performance — and addressed the achievement gap on those terms.

        1. H Jackson

          “The problem is, it takes more staff time, not less. More board discussion, not less. More resources, not less.”

          I tend to agree with you, noting this.  Your link, as well as the Hope scale, show opportunities to identify students for artistic ability (I assume both visual & performing).  If there is an interest in identifying students by the end of 3rd grade, then it seems the district would be obligated to offer formal instruction in art and music in grades TK thru 3.  (How can one identify art/music ability if there is no instruction for students to demonstrate mastery?)  And at present, mostly families with means for outside enrichment (for instance, signing their kids up for classes at the Davis Art Center) would have the opportunity for their kids to show musical or artistic development.  And once again, it’s highly likely that college-educated families would be the ones providing this kind of enrichment.

          I’m all for having music and art instruction in grades TK thru 3, and at one time, decades ago, the district offered it.  But the district, under the direction of several generations of school boards, don’t have an interest in funding it.

  8. Mark Kropp

    5700 words?

    you will pay him $215,000 per year for the next 4 years! Why?

    because you (Davis)  signed a contract with him!

    Good Luck with that…

  9. Mark Kropp

    My proposal:

    Dr John Bowes prepare/present his plan. The board edit and confer. Parents review/comment and in a single one hour session-vote. (Perhaps 7-8pm) “Move-on.”

    next Sup contract-4 years from now, elect and sign with leaders you agree with.

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