The Napa school district is ranked 412th of 770 California districts, while Davis is ranked 95th according to SchoolDigger. Napa did not have any gifted and talented program at all till 2009 while the Davis GATE program, decades old, has been recognized as “exemplary” by the state.
Yet, when the Davis school district seeks to examine other models for such education, it turns to Napa. We understand that district administrators have visited Napa to study their program. We should proceed carefully and think critically about whether the Napa model fits here.
At the invitation of PAGE, a group seeking alternatives to the current GATE program in Davis, Dana Cope, the coordinator of Napa’s gifted and talented program, spoke in Davis last week. PAGE advocates the elimination of the GATE classrooms in Davis, where students who score in the top percentile on a national test can elect to be taught in a classroom where the teacher challenges them with more difficult material than that usually presented at their grade level.
Napa does not have GATE classrooms. In Napa, advanced learners are often left to teach themselves on computers. While computer-aided learning certainly has its benefits, it is no replacement for the interpersonal interaction and invaluable role of a teacher who is trained, experienced and focused on the pitfalls and challenges students often face that hinder their ability to reach their potential.
The Napa district is to be commended: It went from no advanced learner program at all to having some real options for these kids in just three years. Some suggestions are good, such as incorporating more project-based learning into all of our classrooms (but for this we might look closer to home, to Da Vinci or Montessori).
But is Davis prepared to abandon appropriate classroom instruction by a teacher in favor of learning at a computer? Should we forego school entirely in favor of teaching children via YouTube?
Madhavi Sunder and Gabriela Zaragoza