The school board listened to about 90 minutes of public comment from around 25 people on Thursday following the presentation by Superintendent John Bowes. It was a mix of different viewpoints and perspectives.
Karen Hamilton, an ardent opponent of self-contained AIM, noted, “There are a lot of kids who are very intelligent… and most of them are not in the self-contained AIM program.” “The self-contained program is now functioning as an elitist perk,” she said.
Laura Anderson, a fourth grade teacher, was supportive of the superintendent’s speech and said she supports “much needed changes in the model.”
A parent at Pioneer talked about the need for equity. “Who does the question go to? My question is not what happens at our site.” He said, “I understand there is a need for inclusion – however this is a testing issue that I believe the district needs to examine and move forward with a new way of identifying AIM students.” He said his concern is his student, his daughter, “they deserve to have equity and to be able to have the same experience as the students currently in the AIM program.”
Another parent made the point that all the kids get along well. She said she believes that the the issue of bullying is overstated. Where kids are hurt is, “Someone is failing our kids, no matter what race or ethnicity, black, white, Asian.”
The key questions, she said: “Are you failing the kids or are you going to solve the problem? Where are you failing the underprivileged kids?”
Flagg Miller noted that the shrinking of the AIM program itself is part of the problem. The top two percent are the ones that are least likely to adhere to standardized tests. He believes that his son is hurt by not being included in AIM, misdiagnosed. He’s processing information at a 16-year-old level, he needs sensory stimulation. “Testing conditions did not identify him – so he is hurting” he said. “Focusing on identification is what has to happen… You are missing a lot of kids from diverse backgrounds.”
Another parent said they are pleased to hear a new plan to make things better. He said, “It’s hard to trust the school board when you’ve been the whipping boy.” He said that, while he is glad to hear of a plan to make it better, it is hard to trust that’s going to happen.
“Ninety-eight percent should not be the driving force,” another parent said. “The driving force should be how many classes do we need.”
Another parent complained about “inconsistent communications from the school board.” He said that communications need to be much more clear going forward.
A teacher, Kathleen Dody, said that she has highest regard for administrators in our AIM program, and therefore has avoided engagement in this conversation. She asked those in the position to make decisions to courageously champion the recommendations of Superintendent Bowes. She said she has a deep desire to allow children to access neighborhood schools and to live without the burden of labels.
Alan Hirsch said he believes there is a need for self-contained GATE, but framed as a special education program. He said, while there are probably some kids who don’t mesh into a standard environment, he wants it framed as special education program. Superintendent Bowes’ suggestion is exactly what we need, he said.
Jamima Wolk said, “All programs including AIM are important.” She said, “You’re saying our needs are not important. If our needs were being met, we would not be here tonight.” She added, “The board majority owns this problem of identification.” She added, “Mend it, not end it. You could have started to fix this problem last year when you first got these results.”
Shun Yeo said he found himself in the middle of a battle just because his son took this class. When we talk about neighborhood schools, does that mean there is no distinction in instruction? he asked. He said the HOPE scale identified zero students and that means that we don’t have a tool to identify students.
Joseph Biello said, “I agree with your goal.” He added that “we have to figure out what the point of AIM (is).” He also accused the district of “lying with statistics.” He stated that “the problem with AIM came when more Asians were identified than white folks.” He believes that’s when the town turned against AIM.
Alicia Silva said “this has consumed so much time because people care.” She added, “I don’t think the current changes are helping our students, I don’t think it’s making things better. Identification is the key issue.” She argued that we are not finding these kids – gifted kids – across racial lines.
Jann Murray-Garcia said, “When I started this, 30 percent were GATE identified, almost none black/Latino.” Last year, “I said race was a red herring, don’t use race as a reason to keep a bloated program, bloated.” “I don’t believe that giftedness is something that can be measured on a standardized test,” she said. “That’s a flawed concept.”
Another parent said that, after meeting with the principal at Pioneer, many parent concerns went unanswered – specifically, cut offs and identification. “This process is not perfect yet,” she said, adding that changes should be thoughtful and data driven. She noted that, once the data from the testing was received, Madhavi Sunder wanted review of the data and was voted down. She said it was not in line with the district’s promise to meet needs of all kids.
A father of a third grader going into AIM next year said that AIM is not a reward program, not a special interest, not an interest group, and “as a parent I can see my own kid is bored. I know he needs something different.” “I care that he gets the education that he needs,” he said. Differentiation isn’t happening. He asked for no further cuts to the program until there are alternatives.
Another father, whose son is identified as AIM, “almost feels evil being here.” He said in his experience the teacher spends time with someone struggling – “make sure that whatever program is designed, it shows a commitment to the students, not just a chance to ignore them.”
A teacher, Ingrid Salim, said she learned as a student what it was to be bored, and she has a lot of sympathy and empathy for the question of boredom. She said, “Students should not be in a class where they are bored, ever.” For her, frustration comes from parents who are afraid that their kid will be in a mainstream classroom and shuttled off to the back to read and be bored. She thinks there are other solutions than AIM. She recommended that we look at numerous strategies.
Ron Glick, paraphrasing from LBJ, said the problem here is “there was a board majority that didn’t want to have an honest debate.” Two years ago, he said, Alan Fernandez wanted to defer this to a subcommittee and he was voted down. He said, hash this stuff out. Instead of the board with a majority doing everything they could to shrink the program. The selection process doesn’t work. And he argued that we need multiple measures.
Click on the video to watch the full hour and a half of public comments: