After another long discussion — including much public comment — the Davis school board voted 4-0 on Thursday night to change the name of the district’s Gifted and Talented Education program to the Alternative Instructional Model program.
Acting with the same 4-0 majority, the school board also renewed the existing master plan for the program that was adopted in 2008, and extended that plan’s time frame until a new master plan is developed and adopted. The school board also directed staff to start assigning all students to an “appropriate math placement” when the new school year begins in the fall.
Superintendent Winfred Roberson was directed to explore partnerships with education researchers and professors at UC Davis to advise the district regarding the district’s current GATE program and possible alternative classroom methods. Roberson was directed to come back to the school board with information on how to reorganize what has been known as the GATE Advisory Committee, a group that trustees Nancy Peterson and Gina Daleiden characterized as “dysfunctional” in its present form.
District staff was also directed to “review existing (program) structures at all sites,” looking for structures that unite or divide students. School board president Sheila Allen urged “the mixing of classes (of students in different programs) at every opportunity” in everyday activities. District staff was also asked to determine whether all recommendations from previous reports on GATE in the last eight years were adopted.
Additionally, Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant was directed to initiate a study on the impact of AIM, Montessori and Spanish Immersion relating to the neighborhood classroom program, including consideration of school climate, the achievement gap, students’ academic achievement, social/emotional development, self-perceptions and attitudes toward school. This study will be part of a long-range planning process that the school district is preparing to launch.
Trustee Nancy Peterson, speaking before the vote to change the name of the program, said she is “interested in improving what is happening at all our sites, including sites that do not have self-contained GATE. I’d like to see all of our schools offer what children need at every site. I do believe there is a place for self-contained GATE, the extent I do not know … I am interested in alternatives.”
Trustee Gina Daleiden said she is “concerned that the neighborhood program (and alternative programs that are also at the campus) get along at the same school,” and referred to the sometimes harsh nature of recent community discussion of GATE, saying “we’ve had months of judgment.” Daleiden added: “There has to be some amount of trust between the partners … that clearly isn’t there. It really is painful to see people turn against each other.”
Trustee Susan Lovenburg observed: “I have anecdotal evidence about what works in this program coming out my ears … I want any changes to be informed by research and our own student data.”
Associate professor Michal Kurlaender of the UC Davis School of Education likewise remarked that in recent months, “I was struck how the debate (over GATE) has been fueled by testimonies, and how little (was said) on research … I urge you to reach — not very far — into UC Davis and get some research expertise.”
Retired GATE teachers Elinor Olsen and Debbie Nichols Poulos spoke highly of the current self-contained program, with Olsen saying “every child should have a developmentally appropriate program” and Nichols Poulos advising that “advanced learners can become terrible role models because when not offered appropriate curriculum they become disengaged.”
Evelyn Falkenstein, who identified herself as “a GATE parent and now a GATE grandma,” expressed concerns about moving away from the self-contained model, saying students “should be learning something themselves, not aiding their classmates, not treading water in clusters, not isolated from other rapid learners, not pulled out for short periods of the day, a solution widely discredited … If GATE students are going to sit on their hands for a year of their lives, then ADA (Average Daily Attendance funding) should not accrue to the district for them.”
Marla Cook, a GATE teacher at Willett Elementary, asked “why you would want to dismantle a program that has worked so long for so many is completely incomprehensible to me.” Which prompted trustee Lovenburg to say, a few minutes later, “I didn’t hear any discussion of elimination of the program at the board level.” Superintendent Roberson quickly added “Or the administrative level.”
Several speakers offered widely differing assessments of the performance of a facilitator that the district brought into two recent GATE Advisory Committee meetings. Bob Irwin said “those against GATE seek to protect the facilitator’s agenda because the facilitator’s agenda is their agenda.”
Karen Hamilton replied: “I don’t believe Irwin’s account was fair or accurate” and urged the trustees to “look at school climate and the needs of the district as a whole.” But both Irwin and Hamilton suggested working with Sacramento State researcher David Jelinek, who did a study on the Davis district GATE program in 2005.
Laura Anderson, a teacher at Patwin Elementary, said: “I feel a facilitator is appropriate” and added that she “supports and encourages exploration of some alternatives to the self-contained model in meeting the needs of students.”