District Effectively Eliminates Self-Contained AIM Classroom from Willet


Details at this time are murky, as the school district is offering only limited information on the state of the AIM program at Willett.  The school board members we have spoken to are not informed of what is going on, and parents are reluctant to come forward on the record.

However, what we know at this time is that a parent tipped off the Vanguard earlier this week to what is the effective loss of the 4th Grade AIM classroom at Willet Elementary.  Parents, as the school year began last week, became aware of the fact that some kids who were not AIM-identified were nevertheless in the AIM classroom.

The Vanguard learned that about ten kids that were AIM-identified ended up deciding, for whatever reason, not to go into the AIM program at Willet.  This created a shortfall in the number of students and the district acted to backfill those student spots based on board direction passed last spring.

According to Maria Clayton, the District’s Public Information Officer, “AIM-identification information is confidential student information.”

According to her correspondence with the Vanguard, “Just as in the case of student information about 504 plans, IEP, or English Learner, Free/Reduced Lunch, Foster Youth or Homeless Youth classifications, we cannot share that information with a non-parent/guardian.”

Instead, she directed the Vanguard to the April 6, 2017, Board Motion:

“The Board voted (4-1 with Trustee Archer dissenting) to support:  For the 2017-18 school year, and each year thereafter, when the number of children identified for the AIM program does not equal a full classroom, the remaining seats may be filled in accordance with the program’s design.”

The Vanguard was not seeking any sort of confidential information from the school district about specific students, but rather to understand the current policy – which would appear to be a shift away from the school board’s decision to keep two self-contained AIM classrooms in the school district and a shift from the fourth grade self-contained program at Willett to a mixed configuration.

Parents that the Vanguard spoke with indicated that there was no communication from the school that anything was amiss until they surmised it, based on students who suddenly showed up in the class who were not previously AIM-identified.

The Vanguard has also learned that all ten of the students placed in the AIM classroom were from Willett.

That has led to questions from both parents and board members, concerned that the district was not going out to different schools to find kids who may have been right on the borderline of qualification.

That has led to questions as to whether, vague as it is, the filling of the program with ten students from the neighborhood school means the AIM classroom has been “filled in accordance with the program’s design,” which is a focus on gifted students but also a recognition of the need to serve a more diverse AIM-identified population – a diversity that has drawn criticism because the new metrics have identified fewer students who are English learners, low-income learning disabled, or from historically disadvantaged minorities and other underrepresented groups.

The district would not address this point and instead asserted, “The District has acted in accordance with Board direction.”

Even parents whose kids were placed in the AIM classroom only found out about it during the paper parade, as parents were turning in paperwork and finding out their kids’ classroom assignments – many were surprised to learn that their kids had been assigned to the AIM classroom.

The principal was reportedly advised to fill the AIM classroom like the school would with any other class, rather than “in accordance with the program’s design” as directed by the board action.  They were not advised to go out and find kids that were on the borderline of qualification.  Nor was the principal told to find kids who were from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Back in September of 2015, the Superintendent recommended a 98th Percentile, 63 Student, Two Classroom AIM program.  In April of 2016, the board voted 3-2 to put 66 incoming AIM-qualified fourth graders at Willet and Pioneer starting in the fall of September 2016 – voting down a motion by Madhavi Sunder and Alan Fernandes that would have continued “a third AIM strand for the 2016-17 school year, to accommodate those students who meet the qualifications of the AIM program.”

In essence the district has insisted on maintaining the 98th percentile qualification even when there are shortfalls in the numbers of students, opting, instead of expanding back to the 96th percentile level as prior to the reforms of 2015, to fill the classroom with apparently random students from the neighborhood school without explaining to parents or the public the process by which this is occurring.

The Vanguard reached out to Board Member Madhavi Sunder, but she offered no comment because, at the time, she had not spoken to the Superintendent.

Meanwhile, several parents complained that they got the run around from the administration, which directed them back to the school site, and from the school site which failed to offer an adequate explanation to what happened.

Parents felt like this is a big deal, as the district has committed to two self-contained AIM strands and clearly doesn’t have them – and has failed in the larger issue of transparency and accountability.

The program received a large overhaul as the school board ended private testing in the spring of 2015, and then raised the qualification cut off to the 98th percentile and changed the format for qualification.

The result was that very few students who were Latino or African American were AIM-identified.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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. David Greenwald

      The key part of the sentence is “self-contained” which means exclusively AIM and that they effectively eliminated in the Fourth Grade cohort at Willet.

  1. Don Shor

    This is how you dismantle a self-contained GATE program: one classroom at a time. The superintendent does not support self-contained GATE, so he will support staff on this. Staff will point to the board directive. It is too disruptive to reassign students now, so this teacher will have a split classroom and is hopefully trained for that.

    Nothing will change until the board majority changes.

    1. Howard P

      Self-contained classes should not be the “goal” nor the “yardstick” in my opinion (and experience)… the metric I am most concerned with is “does each child have the best opportunity to reach their full potential?”  Any way we can meet that metric works for me… self-contained GATE is one approach (often valid), and yet there were/are ‘failures’ within that model… academically, socially, and development as an ‘integrated’ person…

      1. Don Shor

        Simply filling available space with non-GATE students doesn’t even take “reaching their full potential” into consideration for GATE or non-GATE students. The district is just filling space. Outcomes aren’t their concern, class size is.

        1. Howard P

          If that is the case, there is definitely a problem… “outcomes” should be paramount…

          Are you saying the only way to achieve that goal is ‘self-contained’ classes?  If so, I strongly disagree…

      2. Jim Hoch

        “outcomes” should be paramount”. The only outcome that has been identified as important is to have the students perform more similarly, the level of this performance is not important.

  2. Tia Will


    I am most concerned with is “does each child have the best opportunity to reach their full potential?”

    I completely agree with you that this is both the goal that we should be aiming for and the metric by which we should assess the success of our approach.

    1. Jim Hoch

      If the goal is to “close the achievement gap” then that is much more likely to be successful if you try to lower the achievement of higher performers rather than trying to raise the performance of lower performers. The former is relatively easy and cheap while the latter is difficult and expensive and not likely to be successful.

      1. David Greenwald

        Sure if you want to go against the purpose of education.  The achievement gap is closed just like you close the income gap by bringing the bottom up, not the top down.

        It’s also worth noting you’re the only one who even mentioned closing the achievement gap here.

        1. Jim Hoch

          “It’s also worth noting you’re the only one who even mentioned closing the achievement gap here”

          Maybe I am the only who has been following the schools OR perhaps I am the only who looks at events as a holistic system. Pattern recondition can be a useful skill.

  3. Jim Hoch

    “the problem of the achievement gap is low achievement by certain subgroups” Agreed and will be particularly difficult to raise as those subgroups are already outperforming the statewide average in Davis. This for any demographic group if you match that group in Davis to the statewide average for that same group they are already doing very well here. That will make raising their performance more to be especially challenging.

    Certain powers at DJU have made “closing the achievement gap” to be the #1 goal. Note that “raising everyone’s scores” is never mentioned though some ignorant people may believe it means the same thing.

    This is ominous for better students and whether this event is an manifestation or not is debatable. However it fits with the narrative.



    1. H Jackson

      Hoch:    Agreed and will be particularly difficult to raise as those subgroups are already outperforming the statewide average in Davis.   This for any demographic group if you match that group in Davis to the statewide average for that same group they are already doing very well here.

      I disagree.  If you go by parent education level, generally students in Davis without a legacy of college education in their family tend to under-perform against the state average for their cohort group (other students without college education for their parents) as determined by those performing at “proficient or above” on standardized tests (like CAASPP).  Students with college education in Davis schools generally out-perform the state average for their cohort group.  It means that if you are a parent without college education, your kids might perform better on the key standardized tests (if that matters to you) in another district besides DJUSD.

      But it has also been the case that students without a legacy of college education in their family have been severely under-represented in AIM identification and self-contained AIM participation.

        1. H Jackson

          Some comments.  I acknowledge that I have seen similar trends as you, where lower income students (as defined by participating in free/reduced lunch), ELL students, and “traditionally underperforming” students such as African-American and Latino students often perform a better than average in Davis on state standardized tests compared to the average statewide for their cohorts.

          I think the reason for that is that those subgroups are all seeded with students from more highly educated families, probably owing to the presence of UC Davis a major employer and the attraction of living in a college town.  For example, foreign-born scholars at UCD may have their children in an ELL program; graduate student families may participate in free/reduced lunch; children of college-educated Latino and African-American parents will likely grow up in a more enriching environment than for parents who don’t have college education.  When you look at parent education level, then an achievement gap in Davis becomes more glaring.  Even as I point this out to you, I don’t have very much faith in how standardized tests are used in discussions of education policy.  But that’s another extended commentary.

          The concern for me about this phenomenon is that given the presence of UCD as a public university whose undergraduate student population is often cited at being about a third “first-generation” college students, we should be doing a better job of promoting excellence and opportunity for future first generation college students.

          There are many other examples in which students with parents having no college education under-participate in programs and activities that normally are associated with a pathway to college matriculation.

          I’ll be interested in what you see.

  4. Mike Kuhner

    To be clear, this article is about the school district administration continuing to modify and eliminate a program without transparency, parent notifications or involvement, or even consent from the elected school board. In this latest effort, they explicitly ignored the motion passed last April regarding filling the classes in accordance to the program’s design. And they did this with no communication and without checking with our School Board.


    Local school administration was instructed by the Superintendent’s office that they should not fill the class according the AIM program, but instead use whatever practice they would normally use to fill any regular class. They went so far as to add fictional language on the DJUSD AIM webpage that was not passed at the April meeting, regarding allowing the principals the flexibility to fill the classes according to their local site. This sentence is on the website, and is completely made up and was never passed by the school board:

    This gives flexibility to the principal to fill the classroom to meet the needs of the site and program.

    There were many reasons why this language was not passed at the April school board meeting. This is a slap in the face to our duly elected School Board and a power grab by the Superintendent and his staff.


    This is not about the what is the best way to teach AIM, differentiate our classes, or provide self-containment. This is about the Superintendent wanting his way – and ignoring due process, our school board, and our community in that effort. This is not what we should condone or expect from our Superintendent or his administration.

  5. Howard P

    “Achievement gap”… interesting concept… in a given population, assuming that everyone should ‘achieve’ the same, by racial/socio-economic metrics, else, something is wrong with the school or other system?

    I reject that.

    It might be the ‘canary in the coal mine’… or maybe not… wrong metrics… unless there is real, not just ‘statistical’ evidence to the contrary.   I’d have no problem if Asian/Black/others achieved more than ‘wonder bread’ whites… same as to gender…

    I stick by the concept of every child, any race, creed, gender should have the same “opportunity” to be ‘the best they can be’… a societal/parenting/individual issue… if you use metrics of race/economic status, you are lumping individuals into the statistics… I reject that.

    I do support outreach and assistance/support to any child who is ‘under achieving’… that is the proper goal of parents and society… but not convinced it should be a metric for judgement of any single program…

      1. David Greenwald

        I’m concerned that once again the main thrust of this article is a lack of transparency by the school district and you have focused on something extraneous.

        1. Jim Hoch

          If you want to look at each event as a discrete phenomena unconnected to the others then you can do so. If you want to see them as connected through lack of process and transparency then you can do that as well. I believe there is a central reason for what they do and why they are hiding what they are doing.

        2. Jim Hoch

          “Which is?” They have committed themselves to “closing the gap” repeatedly and publicly. They have not said anything about making kids better students or kids learning more even when it would have bee the right thing to say. 

          Therefore they are going to close the gap by lowering the scores of the most proficient students.


  6. Grant Acosta

    “The Vanguard learned that about ten kids that were AIM-identified ended up deciding, for whatever reason, not to go into the AIM program at Willet.”

    Ten is a significant number of abstainers.  Wouldn’t the logical reason be that the parents of these kids felt that their child’s educational need were best met in the regular, non-segregated classroom?  And if so, maybe this notion that students’ needs cannot possibly be met in a mixed ability classroom needs to be challenged.

    1. David Greenwald

      All of that may be true.  But we’re still stuck in a couple of places:

      1. The fact that the board passed a motion that does not appear to have been followed

      2. The board was not alerted to this situation

      3. The district has not been transparent

      4. The district will not answer my questions.

      So you could be right, but that doesn’t justify the conduct of the district here.

    2. Don Shor

      maybe this notion that students’ needs cannot possibly be met in a mixed ability classroom needs to be challenged.

      Nice strawman.


      Nice inflammatory word usage.
      Well done.

  7. Grant Acosta

    Sorry, “self-contained” is the new term.  Didn’t mean to sound inflammatory, but to some of us, the idea of separating 8-year old kids based on a single test score is a bit inflammatory.

    David, I didn’t say your points weren’t valid, just wanted to make the point that more and more parents seem to be opting out of the AIM program, and that could be evidence of some improvement of differentiated instruction in the regular classroom.  Thank you for acknowledging my point.

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