As you know by now, our Superintendent Cindy Marten is leaving for Washington DC to join the Biden cabinet. As GATE parents and/or supporters it is important that you pay attention to how the search for a replacement will unfold.
Back in 2013, the SDUSD board chose Cindy Marten as the new superintendent behind closed doors, hours after Bill Kowba told them that he would retire and before the general public knew the board needed a new superintendent. Community members said the move violated open meeting laws and denied them the chance to give input. (La Jolla Light 1-28-2021)
So this time around, a coalition of community groups has come out in favor of having an outside, independent firm (vetted by the San Diego County Office of Education) conduct the public outreach and search process in order to have a reliable, transparent process and to avoid bias, cronyism, or political interference.
Instead, the Board is proposing (at their Feb 2 meeting) to convene a locally based "Advisory Committee" composed of various groups that they claim is inclusive and represents the diversity of students in the District.
While all the other parent-led District Advisory Committees and the PTA are included in that search committee, the GATE DAC is not. Does that mean that the interests of the 20,000 gifted-identified students in the District will not be represented?
That is not a small constituency, and it represents an entire cross-section of the student population, since GATE students may also be underachievers, low income, English-language learners, underrepresented ethnicities, LGBTQ, and/or special education students.
Gifted students require differentiated educational support and interventions. After all, that is why we go to all the effort to screen and identify them and try to provide them with educational and social-emotional scaffolding and supports.
Will every candidate be required to demonstrate expertise in gifted education and support for a robust GATE program in SDUSD in the future? Will the interview questions explicitly ask the candidates to express their views on GATE?
Stay tuned and get involved if you can. Write to your Board members to express your views on who the next Superintendent should be and how that should be decided. Encourage them to ensure that the future of gifted students in our District will be a bright one!
Los Angeles-based Bridges Academy (a longtime leader in twice-exceptional education) is launching an online high school beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year. The program — with Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation and University of California A-G approved courses — is designed to bring Bridges’s unique brand of strength-based learning to students, regardless of their geographic location.
The synchronous program features Bridges’s team approach, with a focus on talent development, personalized academic support for 2e students, and a robust school-family partnership.
More info about this program, or to sign up for the virtual Open Houses about Bridges offerings (that are being held on January 21, 25 & 26th) go here.
The next regular meeting will be held on February 2, 2021. Access the link to Board meeting info here.
At the Nov 10th Board Meeting SDUSD discussed it's Reopening Plans as well as a proposal to contract with UC San Diego for $5M to provide COVID-19 testing for all students and staff on all school campuses every 14 days (a PCR test at $40/test). Read more details in media articles here and here.
Read this article in VOSD: One More Hugely Disruptive Thing: Teachers to Leave Mid-Year Under Retirement Deal. It says: "More than a hundred teachers will leave their posts mid-year under a San Diego Unified retirement incentive. Details about how district officials plan to handle the vacancies and turnover remain elusive to many employees, principals and families."
The Issue: On June 26, the California legislature passed the state budget for 2020-21 with important implications for school funding. The Legislature approved the final, balanced budget along party lines — 29-11 in the Senate and 57-16 in the Assembly.
This fall, schools are being told to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible” according to AB-77, the education trailer bill accompanying the 2020-21 budget that legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to this week.
Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19, which has killed more than 5,630 people in California as of June 23, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Per-student funding will be guaranteed at 2019-20 rates before the onset of COVID-19. California schools will continue to provide 180 days of instruction per year (175 days for charter schools). Instructional minutes will be reduced to a minimum 240 minutes per day for grades 4-12 (180 minutes for kindergarten, 230 minutes for grades 1 to 3) in an effort to offer teachers more flexibility during distance learning (see section 43501 of AB-77).
CA Association for the Gifted (CAG) Legislative Efforts: CAG now has 3 clear advocacy goals that it is working on (see more on that here). That involves restoring language in the CA Education Code that defines Gifted & Talented Learners, establishes equity in Gifted identification, and includes GATE students as their own "student group" on the CA School Dashboard.
How Can You Help? Go to EdSource for the latest news on school finance. Go to the CAG website legislation page for information on their advocacy goals. Join advocacy organizations like CAG, NAGC, and SENG to support the important work they do on behalf of gifted families.
The Issue: On June 16th 2020, the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education held a Special Meeting where it unanimously adopted a school Reopening Plan for the next school year. Questions immediately arose about how that Reopening Plan was developed, by who, and whether (or how) parent input was involved.
Background Story: Parents were asked to email comments on the Reopening Plan BEFORE anyone had even seen a draft of the plan yet or knew what was in it. Oddly, the plan was even announced in the San Diego Union Tribune in the morning prior to the Board meeting - BEFORE the meeting was even held, or the parent input was even heard, or the plan was debated, or voted on! (Note that the online version of the SDUT article has now been updated since the Board meeting happened).
To add to the controversy, the District Area Superintendents abruptly called a number of Cluster meetings just prior to June 16 in order to gather parent input, but those meetings were not uniformly advertised and were held when parents were preoccupied with the last week of school. In at least one Cluster, tensions flared because it was discovered that the meeting was restricted to a small, select set of participants rather than being open to all parents, effectively excluding many voices from that Cluster.
In response to criticism, the District said at the June 16 Board meeting that there is an online parent survey that parents can complete BEFORE June 25th; however, it just asks which option you intend to choose (in-person classes, distance learning, or some unspecified hybrid option) and provides one small box to enter other comments. The problem is that the Reopening Plan has already been accepted by the Board, so it feels more like parents are once again being asked - after the fact - to accept a plan they had little say in. This is particularly true for GATE parents, who as a group, were not specifically asked for feedback on how their students needs are being met and who found GATE students missing from both the Reopening Plan and the Distance Learning Plan. Even this editorial in the SD Union Tribune said that SD Unified asking parents which learning options they would prefer is a good start; however, they also had this to say: "But schools will have to get a lot better at communicating with parents in the days ahead."
How Can You Help? Fill out the online survey before June 25 and specifically ask about how GATE is being handled by the Reopening Plan in the comment box. Contact your Area Superintendent and your Board of Education trustee and let them know if you feel like your voice is not being heard. Ask them hard questions, e.g., why is there no mention of GATE in either the Reopening Plan or the Distance Learning Plan? Is GATE being eliminated? If not, ask them exactly how the special needs of gifted students are being addressed by the District's two Plans. (Need more ideas for questions you could ask? Look at the GATE Feedback PDF posted here).
More Information: The State Superintendent of Public Instruction (Tony Thurmond) is posting the most current info about COVID-19 impacts on education on this webpage or you can check the CA Dept of Education COVID webpage here.
The Issue: San Diego Unified has a history of being roundly criticized for a lack of transparency and for failing to take parent engagement on policy seriously. That is despite parent engagement being a state-mandated priority since the LCFF was passed in 2013.
Background: A 2016 report by LA-based "Families in Schools" states the following: "Unfortunately, parent engagement in California has lacked rigor and authenticity for far too long. Few, if any, school districts have developed successful and sustainable ways of bridging the gap between the home and the classroom. This has contributed to sluggish student achievement growth, particularly among high-need student populations." This short, user-friendly report, called Ready or Not: How California School Districts are Reimagining Parent Engagement in the Era of Local Control Funding Formula examines the inner workings of districts across California as they try to meet the parent engagement expectations of LCFF. It makes these 6 key recommendations for districts to follow: 1) Develop statewide standards for parent engagement; 2) Build relationships and partnerships between parents and school staff; 3) Invest funding & resources in parent engagement to meet LCAP goals; 4) Partner with community groups and other external organizations; 5) Tailor programs to the different needs of parents; and 6) Provide professional development on parent engagement.
How Can You Help? Read the "Ready or Not" report (above) and figure out how to apply the lessons to your own school site (and to the District's Clusters and the parent-led District Advisory Committees).
Learn more about the challenges we face locally, by reading these Op-Ed articles in Voice of San Diego. Read one 2020 article here and one 2018 article here. There is a 2017 article here and one more here .
Read this 2019 article "Gifted Education Faces Clear & Present Problems" that highlights a study examining American attitudes towards gifted education.
Get involved and help school administrators do a better job fostering effective parent engagement. Talk with your Principal about school governance, and volunteer at your school. Offer to be the school representative on the GATE DAC or other District committees. Attend your Cluster meetings and talk with your Area Super and Board of Education trustee. Tell them that parent voices matter, because research shows that strong family-school partnerships are important for student success.
The Issue: The universal 2nd grade GATE testing in SD Unified was interrupted due to recent school closures, so some students did not get tested, while others took the test earlier in the year. This creates a very messy issue, as the District grapples with decisions about if (and how) new students will be identified and accepted into GATE next year. On top of that, there is nothing left in the CA Education Code mandating gifted education in the state. So there isn't any formal guidance help for GATE coming down from CDE, which means every District is left on its own to figure this out.
Background Story: On March 18 Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-30-20 that suspended statewide standardized testing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. That includes K-12 CAASPP/SBAC testing for the 2019-2020 academic year, and those test scores are used in our District's GATE identification process. GATE testing and identification has been interrupted across CA school districts, e.g., see LA Unified's GATE COVID info page here. Our District GATE webpage is here.
How is GATE identification and placement going to be handled fairly, if some students got tested but others did not? Clearly, Districts like LA Unified or Sacramento City Unified (and many others across CA with fully staffed GATE departments) have the advantage of having personnel and processes in place to work out plans to address the problem; however, SD Unified closed its GATE department and eliminated the GATE manager and resource teacher positions back in 2017.
This is a complicated issue that needs attention. Since SD Unified adopted the new GATE test (the short screening-level CogAT) in 2015-16 the numbers of gifted students being identified and moving into the GATE program has declined (data not publicly available). According to public District demographic data (source is posted on the Downloads page here), there was a total of 23,873 GATE identified students in K-12 in 2014-15 but only 17,910 in 2019-20.
Layer on top of that, a District policy that tries to keep students in their local neighborhood schools. This means that shrinking numbers of GATE students tend to be spread thinly across many schools. This makes it impossible for most schools to concentrate enough of them into GATE classes with a GATE-certified teacher so they can receive the differentiated educational services they need.
So the testing disruption could present a big problem, if the pipeline of new 3rd grade GATE-identified students dries up, and Principals use that excuse to dismantle their GATE programs. Or if the District claims to be too overwhelmed with other COVID-related issues, and declares that it doesn't have the bandwidth to maintain the GATE program and shuts it down.
How Can You Help? Advocate for GATE. Email comments, questions, and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Speak to your Principals, Area Superintendents, and Board of Education trustees about the importance of GATE. Ask how the District plans to address the disruption to GATE testing, identification, and placement. Ask them to communicate directly with GATE parents to provide updates and support. Ask them how they will ensure that GATE students get the educational services they need, because those students are no less important than any others. Contact the GATE DAC and ask how they are working on this, and other urgent GATE-related issues, with the District.
The Issue: This year should have been a very busy time for SD Unified strategic planning. Their first 3-year LCAP was ending in June 2020 and development of the new LCAP was underway when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. The state has hit the pause button on LCAP and will allow the development of the next 3-yr plan to be delayed until the winter. Read updates here.
This is not the time to throw up our hands and forget about thinking strategically. The pandemic has upended education, providing an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild and reimagine our schools. Now is actually the best time to get involved, speak up, and push for reforms.
Background Story: It is important for parents in SD Unified to be aware of the core ideas that were about to shape the District's next 3-yr LCAP - as well as the underlying vision that will frame the District's next decade (known as Vision 2030 - it is an update to Vision 2020, the District's former 10-year guiding vision that included the 12 Indicators of a Quality Neighborhood School).
Probably not many of you participated in the District's Vision 2030 Cluster presentations where they highlighted Marc Tucker’s 2019 Book “Leading High-Performance School Systems - Lessons from the World's Best” and introduced the "9 Building Blocks" that are common to world-class school systems. In those meetings they compared American schools to top-performing schools in countries that scored well in math and reading on international educational assessments like TIMSS and PISA. Singapore is one example. Others include Canada, Finland, and Hong Kong. In case you missed it, that presentation is posted on our Downloads page here along with other helpful documents explaining LCAP. Perhaps you filled out the Vision 2030 survey that asked for your input on the cognitive, personal and interpersonal competencies that you feel SD Unified students should have when they graduate. All of that hints at where the District's thinking is coming from and where we are headed.
Parent leaders who chair the various District Advisory Committees have been sitting in meetings with the District about this for the past year, and they have a lot to say about it, if you ask them. If you want to have a say in how our schools are run in coming years then you need to be paying close attention to what the District is doing right now and ask a lot of hard questions.
How Can You Help? Get involved in the District Advisory Committees (whether you are interested in GATE, Special Education, Title 1, English Language Learning, or the PTA). For a quick primer, read the Feb 18 GDAC LCAP & Vision Presentation PDF posted here. I strongly encourage you to learn about the 9 Building Blocks common to world-class education systems that were influencing the District's planning, They are even more relevant today, as we look forward and plan for school reopening. Let's choose not to go "back" to the way things were, but instead think boldly and use our voices to imagine how much better our schools can be going forward. Our kid's futures depend on us.
The Issue: The new Parents As Partners initiative is ignoring GATE.
Background Story: The GATE DAC leaders recently learned of the District's new Parents As Partners initiative, which has a new website here. It presents the District's Distance Learning Plan and also addresses things like motivation, mindfulness, wellness, life skills, and cultural identity. You will notice that there is nothing on there about GATE or the needs of gifted students. Scroll down to the bottom. The Day in The Life videos (featuring teachers, staff, and students) do not include any GATE students or teachers, even though the Elementary Teacher of the Year (Kelly Young) is the grade 4/5 GATE teacher at her school so she could be highlighted here! The Parent Brochure (PDF at bottom right) does not include GATE but it does address Special Education and ELL. The Distance Learning Plan also does not address GATE or the special needs of gifted students. There are no GATE parent representatives on the Task Force either (in fact there are only 2 parents in that group, but it includes 20 District staff).
How Can You Help? It may be beneficial for GATE parents to ask some questions about why gifted students are not considered in any of this content, and inquire when that oversight is going to be corrected.