Topics not on agenda dominate comment at school board meeting

By From page A1 | March 08, 2013

The Davis school board met late into the evening on Thursday, and several of the topics that generated heated public comment weren’t even on the agenda.

The board also announced action in closed session that appeared to indicate that a transition between principals is under way at Davis High School. The school board also instructed staff to begin formal discussions with the city of Davis regarding an easement covering the girls softball field at Davis High School, which spreads over both school district property and city-owned land in adjacent Community Park. The school board authorized up to $50,000 in upgrades to the softball field, which has not seen an upgrade in decades.

The school district’s GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program was not on the agenda, but several speakers addressed the topic, including parent Hemant Bhargava. Davis is in the midst of drafting a new GATE master plan, and Superintendent Winfred Roberson has said he wants this process to include a look at alternatives to the district’s current model of self-contained GATE classrooms.

Bhargava expressed concern about “disinformation” regarding GATE, saying some California school districts in university towns identify a higher percentage of students as GATE-eligible than Davis does. He disputed the contention that GATE classrooms serve 30 percent of students at grade levels where GATE is offered, insisting that the percentage is actually closer to 20 percent.

“I don’t find that surprising, since Davis is one of the most educated towns in the country,” Bhargava said, adding that he believes GATE classrooms are “more diverse (in terms of ethnicity) than the district as a whole.”

The district’s Montessori program at Birch Lane Elementary was not on the agenda, either. But several speakers during public comment responded to remarks made at the Feb. 21 board meeting by Birch Lane Elementary teacher Michael Monticello and parent Carrie Ziser regarding the percentage of students entering special programs in the district. Monticello and Ziser also commented on the demographics of the students enrolled in the neighborhood classroom program after other students have moved into voluntary special programs, and called for a cap on enrollment in special programs.

Several teachers in Birch Lane’s Montessori program classrooms spoke to what they said was “misinformation” about their program, with teacher Sally Palow expressing concern about “this unfortunate school climate issue.” Teacher Lakshmi Aradhya objected to the suggestion that students entering the Montessori program are “hand-picked” and said her classroom includes students who participate in free and reduced-price lunch programs (with eligibility based on modest household income).

Several other speakers addressed the concept of moving ninth-graders from their current location in the district’s junior high schools to the high school. Teacher Dianna Henrickson of Holmes Junior High spoke about “the ‘middle kids,’ the ‘gap kids,’ ” who she said are best served by teaching ninth-graders in the smaller setting of a junior high. “Moving ninth-graders t0 the high school would be the worst decision we could make as a community,” she said.

Roberson said meetings are being scheduled with teachers to gather their input on the idea of grade reconfiguration. Teacher Rena Nayyar of Emerson Junior High expressed the feeling that the district’s emails announcing these meetings made it sound like it already might be favoring the idea of moving ninth-graders to the high school.

Thursday’s meeting started roughly 30 minutes late, with school board president Sheila Allen announcing in a carefully worded statement that “by a unanimous vote” in closed session, the school board had taken “action to send a notice of release and reassignment” to two administrative employees, effective July 1.

One of these employees appears to be Davis High Principal Jacqui Moore; the other action appears to be a formal response to the recent resignation of special education director A’Delle Duggan-Laws, whose resignation was accepted in the meeting’s consent agenda, and whose position has been posted as open.

Roberson said he would be sending a statement to district employees this morning, and declined comment until that statement was issued.

Moore told The Enterprise last weekend that she did not expect to be back at Davis High as principal in the fall.

Art teacher Jerry DeCamp of Davis High and Da Vinci Charter Academy, who twice has served as president of the Davis Teachers Association, told The Enterprise that he and four other teachers spoke on Moore’s behalf during public comment prior to closed session. DeCamp gave The Enterprise a written copy of his remarks, which described Moore as “one of the best administrators I have ever worked with … smart, professional, respectful, hard-working and completely ethical.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.


Jeff Hudson

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