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Parents Worried About Future of Lynwood Elementary's GATE Program

Emails to the superintendent request parent input in decision to transition Lynwood's self-contained Gifted and Talented Education program to the cluster-style program available at other Novato elementary schools.

A flurry of email from parents to the school district has prompted the scheduling of a meeting with Novato Superintendent Shalee Cunningham tonight to address concerns about the future of the self-contained GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program at .

Parents who spoke during public comments at Tuesday night's school board meeting expressed surprise at learning of a proposal to transition the self-contained GATE program at Lynwood, in favor of a cluster-style program.

In a cluster-style program, students are grouped within a regular classroom setting and receive GATE activities from the regular classroom teacher, according to the California Department of Education’s GATE Resource Guide.

“Currently, GATE cluster classes exist at many of the elementary schools and there has been discussion of transitioning the Lynwood GATE program into a cluster program based on best practices, etc.,” wrote district spokesperson Leslie Benjamin in an email.

Parents addressing the school board feared that the decision was essentially a done deal--without any parent input and without the decision going before the school board as a policy change.

Cunningham apologized in an email sent to some parents and acknowledged the lack of communication over "the possible decision to transition the self-contained GATE classes at Lynwood to their neighborhood schools over the next two years." 

Your emails and the conversations I have had with some of you highlight the fact that parents have not been included in any of the discussion about best practices in GATE programming, and for that I want to acknowledge that you are correct, and I apologize. I will certainly let the GATE Leadership Committee know of your sentiments at our meeting on Wednesday, and recommend we slow the process down to include the parent community.

Benjamin said the public meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. at the district office was an opportunity for the superintendent to share information and listen to the community’s concerns.

NUSD's GATE Program - A Dialogue with Dr. Cunningham
Thursday, March 8
6-8 p.m.
School District Office, Room 107 

Sylvia Barry March 10, 2012 at 06:43 PM
'Update on NUSD GATE Program' is on the agenda for the upcoming March 13th, NUSD Board Meeting: "5. STAFF REPORTS (Page 19) 7:45 p.m. a. An Update on NUSD’s Gifted and Talented Education Amanda Langford, (GATE) Program - Presentation Instruction Program Coordinator" Here is the link to NUSD Board Meeting Agenda: http://www.nusd.org/files/_aJE1I_/4d916d08481c2ee53745a49013852ec4/AGENDA.pdf Here is the link to the Staff Report on GATE Program: http://www.nusd.org/files/_aJE2G_/c1e8af9b4d18d2a13745a49013852ec4/Staff_Report_-_GATE_Board_Report.pdf
Chip Tingle March 10, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Tina - I have to agree with your feelings of a lack of transparency, a lack of forthrightness.... when looking at not only this issue as it has so quickly heated up, but the recent history of our school district dealing with so many issues, some of which you mention. When did it somehow become acceptable to do so much public business behind closed doors? This isn't what I was taught to believe in, nor taught to accept. Since I'm new to this issue and key players, I'd be very grateful if someone might list and describe each member of the committee being "entrusted" with decision making for the future of GATE in our district. My gut tells me it's unlikely to be stocked with Lynwood GATE supporters, but I hope I'm wrong. Even a list of names would be helpful. Also, is there anyone here who might know the exact budget figures for GATE this year, and in previous years. I strongly agree with the teacher above who cited strong and active parental voices as the key component which has momentarily altered the intended direction of NUSD on this issue. As the husband of a NUSD teacher, this seems to be one of the only viable and effective means available, as the teachers' union is so very weak, and other advocacy methods for teachers are largely non-existent. Reach out and talk to the teachers you come in contact with. Engage them in dialogue about their own positions and work dynamics. You might get very different stories than those told by administrators. Thanks,
Tina McMillan March 10, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Let's start with the current issue of salaries. Our teachers haven't had a contract in three years... Novato Federation of Teachers A Brief History of NUSD Salary Increases http://novatonft.org/ ...This has been an increase of $14,434, or, more importantly, a 30.36% increase over an 11 year period. This equals a 2.4% average increase each year. Sounds great, right? not really…. The average yearly inflation rate has been around 3% during the past decade. This means that NUSD teacher have lost about 0.5% of their income value each year of the past 11 years taking inflation into account. Unfortunately, there's more…. Health care costs have "gone through the roof" in the past decade. In 1999-2000, NUSD teachers did not pay any addition amount out of their salary for health coverage (at least not for Kaiser). NUSD teachers of 2010-2011 now pay 100's of dollars more per month(compared with 1999-2000), depending on their level, for health coverage, even with the district's contribution (which hasn't increase in at least 7 (10?) years). Most important of all, teachers in comparable districts have had an increase of over 35% to their salaries during the same time period, as well as increases to coverage their districts provide. Why not NUSD? The last raise employees of NUSD received was in the fall of 2008, in the amount of 2.4%, retroactive to the 2007-08 school year.
Tina McMillan March 10, 2012 at 11:55 PM
http://www.nusd.org/files/_ZQE4g_/a7f9c9b321c8761d3745a49013852ec4/2.14.12.pdf 52 page report on NUSD Budget Process Still unable to find current years budget with allocations to programs like GATE....
Roni Yarnot-Krajeski March 11, 2012 at 03:19 AM
I am the parent of a child in 5th grade who elected to stay at our neighborhood school (Olive) to stay with her friends and participate in a cluster. At the time we made the decision to let her decide, Lynwood was an attractive option, and we found Olive as an attractive option as well. However, after a great 4th grade experience, the cluster and program we had been promised as parents was changed due to a story we got about gender balance and "differentiated instruction" being needed to be applied, and our cluster program changed. Fortunately, our child retained the same teacher, and will thrive no matter what, but my caution is that the cluster promise was broken for us, so there are no guarantees that it would stay the same as it had been presented to us. We based our decision to stay at Olive partly on what we were promised...and we don't feel our child's needs are necessarily being met the same way this year.
Roni Yarnot-Krajeski March 11, 2012 at 04:07 AM
Apologies for the mangled syntax above. I didn't get a chance to self-edit as we rushed out the door.
Mama of3 March 11, 2012 at 05:22 AM
I agree with you, Tina, that this has to do with money. The staff report posted on the NUSD website prefaces the information with the statement that "NUSD’s funding for GATE has been reduced significantly", then goes on to provide information that supports the creation and development of the cluster program. It is important if this is about money, because they will do what needs to be done to save money, but try to defuse public concern by bringing parents into the process. Also, if you read the staff report, you will notice that parents can expect to be notified of their child's qualification for GATE services 8-10 weeks after testing - long after Lynwood's open house. I hope that qualified students and families will have an opportunity to see the current self-contained GATE program in action and will be notified about it, and I would urge anybody interested in this program to visit the GATE classrooms at Lynwood at their open house on April 5th from 6-7pm.
Sylvia Barry March 11, 2012 at 06:31 AM
Tina - Lynwood GATE parents raised the same budget, transparency concerns you have in Thursday's meeting and I think those are much bigger issues than this thread can resolve. If you were at the meeting and/or if you read the 1.5 pages of staff report on this issue (seemed short for an important issue), I think you will find budget might be 'one' of the factors in play. At this moment, there are more issues to address in order to keep this program intact and it's important to keep that focus. Having observed NUSD for quite some time, number of enrollment in a specific class is vital in keeping a program alive - Superintendent's reason, whether true or false, why budget is not a factor because the same number of students will have to be served somewhere else. Hence my comment about the importance of advocating for Lynwood's GATE program to attract more GATE qualified students into this quality program. I believe there are other ways to pay for specific programs at NUSD, but that would be another thing to discuss with the school and parents shall that need arrives.
Edwin Drake March 11, 2012 at 07:06 AM
You'd think that for $190,000 you'd be able to get the truth out of Superintendent Cunningham. The amount of lies, half-truths, mis-truths, and refusals to answer makes a parent completely distrust the NUSD. THIS ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE GATE PROGRAM. Any parent should be worried when major changes are made more to please staff than to educate the children, all children at all levels. It was openly admitted at the meeting that at first teachers wanted to be GATE certified, then once they were certified one thing led to another, to expensive trips for teacher development, and finally all the newly certified GATE teachers decided they needed students, so in a "committee" a herd of NUSD staff voted to dismantle the Lynwood program and "spread the wealth" so to speak. . It was specifically stated at the meeting that the budget had nothing to do with the proposed dismantling of the Lynwood program. BUT ... how much have they already spent in certifying over 50 new GATE teachers, sending them to professional conferences, and holding "development?" (more) ...
Edwin Drake March 11, 2012 at 07:13 AM
Sylvia Barry is spot on! There's more here than meets the eye or that the NUSD is willing to admit. Doc Cunningham will lie through her teeth about keeping Lynwood alive, until there's no enrollment and they cancel the program. Cunningham was VERY specific that only the top 3%-5% of tested children would be allowed into the program. Since there's only 620 3rd graders in the entire NUSD, that means that, even at the higher 5% figure, there are only 31 possible GATE 4th graders for next year. And if some choose local schools, then Lynwood is kaput. Unspoken and underlying this is a lot of RACISM from parents who don't want their children to go to a "ghetto" school. What hogwash! I'm sure many will reply with "I'm not racist" but I've had parents tell me, to my face, that they feel Lynwood is unsafe and don't want their children there. The fools! But, past that, you have district staff more concerned with their own development than with what's good for the children. The NUSD has a ton of money in reserve, more than necessary, and the GATE program costs less than clustering, since fewer teachers are involved. Doc Cunningham herself openly said that given her choice she'd rather have clusters and not for any reason except that she was more familiar and comfortable with them. I say keep all the programs and allow parents to put their children where they want. Openess for all with no restrictions
Edwin Drake March 11, 2012 at 07:32 AM
p.s. The Olive teacher at the meeting (sorry I forgot her name) sounded wonderful, smart, enthusiastic, dedicated. Kudos to her for all her hard work and applause to the lucky children in her class. Still and all, I heard everything she offers and feel the Lynwood program offers more.
A Novato Parent March 11, 2012 at 08:32 AM
The racism issue is real. When my son tested in in the 3rd grade we were new to NUSD asking his 3rd grade teacher about her opinion she told me that while the GATE classes were a nice island at Lynwood the rest of the school was "very rough and undesirable". Having not yet seen Lynwood I was hesitant about sending my son there but wow what an great program. And I really loved the Lynwood community Kermes is a blast.
Mama of3 March 11, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I agree that enrollment in the program is going to be a big factor. Families of third grade students in NUSD need to be informed of the Lynwood program and given a good opportunity to view the program before making any decisions about enrollment next year. Neighborhood schools have not been communicating much about the Lynwood program to third grade families. Families need to be better informed about the Lynwood program so they can compare it to what will be offered at their neighborhood school in order to make the best choice for their children. Isn't this supposed to be about meeting students' needs? People are not motivated to change if they don't understand why the change could be beneficial. People fear the unknown. I think if we want to help keep the Lynwood program alive, information needs to be better communicated about the benefits of the Lynwood program, its curriculum, Lynwood school, and families need to get in to Lynwood to see it. I am not against the neighborhood schools' cluster program. If the neighborhood school has a strong differentiated "replacement" program in place, then that's wonderful. Lay it out. Give each family all the information. Give them time and opportunity to make the best choice. Different children have different needs - GATE kids are no different from other kids in that respect.
Michele Cusack March 11, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I'm not against there being a choice, but there IS is a reason, or at least an obstacle, to having both- not enough gifted kids in the district, by Cunningham's criteria. The principals are encouraged to dissuade parents from sending their gifted children in Lynwood. Next year the 4th grade class won't be full, and then they will will terminate it. But, the real reason I am responding to you, Novato Mom, is to encourage you, if you have not already, to write to the Trustees not only regarding your LWGATE child's good experience, but regarding the "lackluster" experience with a cluster. And, encourage other parents from your neighborhood school to do so. I think we have already made the point that LWGATE parents are happy and now need to show evidence that clusters are not working at most of the elementary schools. Thanks for listening.
Michele Cusack March 11, 2012 at 04:30 PM
good quote!
Michele Cusack March 11, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Roni, Please write to the Trustees and Dr. Cunningham! From what I have heard, the Olive cluster program is probably the one which is closest to working, and still you had a non-entirely-positive experience. The board needs to hear about the drawbacks and deficiencies of the cluster/differentiation" concept in practice. Thank you.
Novato Mom March 11, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Michelle My letter have been sent but I'm wondering if it they will actually read and listen to it? I do agree with you that neighborhood schools have also discouraged us from even considering the Lynwood program and was quite bias by promoting their cluster model over it. We all have our reasons why--but that is a larger conversation. In my opinion and experience, clusters are still untested (in most NUSD schools) that you might as well just roll the dice, hold your breath, and hope for that everything works the best for your child/ family.
Roni Yarnot-Krajeski March 11, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Hi Michele, Thanks, I am working on it, I know it's important. Olive is a terrific school and they really try hard, and yet, we weren't delivered what was promised when we were given the option of Lynwood or staying with our neighborhood school. I am glad we stayed, it's a great community school and the teachers are terrific. However, my caution was only that I would MAKE SURE that promises are delivered on. When, as a family, you make a decision based on what you are told about the programs and how they are delivered, it's disappointing when the program changes later on. I know some changes are inevitable, and I recognize that administrators struggle with budgets, but presenting programs in one light then changing it, and trying to convince us that the change is for the best for our kids, I am sceptical. I really believe that there should be both options, the neighborhood cluster, and the Lynwood program, and that they are delivered in the best way for all children invoived.
Sylvia Barry March 12, 2012 at 05:51 PM
The GATE program should be: 'Full time; they are not "gifted" just one or two hours a day.' - the #1 belief from a district that inspired me to check into GATE for my son years ago. A simply stated fact where no statistics can dispute. This district offers an outstanding full immersion GATE program starting from 2nd grade and up.
Tina McMillan March 12, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Sylvia I feel the same way. The district use to have self contained classrooms in Middle School for students with language based learning disabilities and ELL. It was a wonderful experience. Then the school dropped the program. The reason I was given was that it is more effective to put children in combined classes. I have not found this to be the case. There are social and emotional issues that emerge in a combined classroom that many children find difficult to navigate when they have a unique learning style. Self contained classes make it safe to speak up whether it is to ask for help or to contribute to the conversation. I question the criteria being used to qualify children for GATE. If they use a test that makes fewer children able to access GATE then they can say that the numbers are insufficient. When you have a learning disabled child they don't even qualify for services until they fall below the 7th percentile. It will take many voices to make certain Lynwood stays in place. My children are now young adults. I worry about children with unique needs that are just entering the system.
Advanced Student March 16, 2012 at 05:32 AM
As a former GATE student of Lynwood school, I disagree with this proposal for a number of reasons. My experience in the program was the best education that I have ever received- no question. I had a full time learning experience with very smart children and it was extremely beneficial to me as a growing intellectual. Clustering, in my opinion, wouldn't produce the same results as a seperated class. The most beneficial part about the program was the speed in which we were able to absorb and understand the cirruculum, then being able to move on to a new unit. A normal classroom doesn't have that. I'm currently in a 'mixed' class at Sinaloa, and it's paced extremely slowly (for me and my fellow former Lynwood GATE kids) because of the non-test in's need to go over the material multiple times before they can understand and retain it. If I were clustered into a group every week for two hours to do some extra work, that wouldn't be a enriching program... it would be two hours of my time learning new curriculum instead increasing the pace of the work I am required to learn. I have an I.Q. of 154. I understand that I am not in the normal range of intelligence, making my opinion fairly biased. But I absolutely despise my current situation in middle school. I used to be able to converse with peers at or near my level, go through class learning things quickly, and enjoy extra activities because of the spare time we accumulated as a class. I don't believe clustering can do that.
Tina McMillan March 16, 2012 at 05:59 AM
Please consider writing to Dr. Cunningham directly and encouraging other students who share your viewpoint to do the same. Everything you have said fits with what I have observed of exceptional students on both ends of the spectrum. Children with LD's also experience frustration when they can't slow a class down to absorb difficult material. If we try and combine in the same class, Gifted, Learning Disabled, English as a Second Language, and Typical Learners we wind up frustrating the process and ignoring the very real needs of students on the outer edges of the learning curve. There are students in Sinaloa and San Jose trying to get into GATE just to be in a classroom where the material is not remedial. It doesn't make sense to expect everyone to learn in the same manner.
Wattsy March 16, 2012 at 06:00 AM
I hope to no end this will not go through. As a former student of the GATE Program at Lynwood, I can say from my experience that my life, not only while in the Program, but now, would be much, much worse. I never really connected with anyone in my classes, I got really angry at having to go over the same things so many times, I would sit around and cry because nobody my age understood me. I was closer friends with my peers' parents than them. I was all alone. And then the GATE Program came into my life. When I went into this class, I knew about three of the kids in it, they had been at Lynwood with me beforehand, none of them I had ever really talked to (Well, one of them sort of. But he's a rather unusual case). The rest of them were from different schools. As I'd stated earlier, I cried. A lot. A ridiculous amount of crying to the point where my mother started getting angry at me for it. Nobody liked me or understood me and my best friends were imaginary friends that I'd pretend were sitting next to me while I cried. I was seven and blubbering out sentences like "I hate my life", "It's so hard to be alive", and "I wish I was dead." That class gave me my closest friends and favorite teachers and best memories Without that class, I probably would have never made the friends I have. I would have never stopped crying over everything, and right now, I'd either be miserable or even dead. And I can't stand the idea of some girl like me never getting the chance I did.
Edwin Drake March 16, 2012 at 06:25 AM
Please, write letters to the NUSD Trustees. Any length. Tell your story. Let them know how you feel, Writing to the Board is an effective way to help save GATE as is. ESPECIALLY STUDENT STORIES. That said ... Novato Unified School District 1015 7th Street Novato, CA 94945 Tel: 415-897-4201 Cindi Clinton, Board President CClinton@NUSD.org Ross Millerich, Board Vice President RMillerick@NUSD.org Maria Aguila, Trustee MAguila@NUSD.org Debbie Butler, Trustee DButler@NUSD.org Thomas Cooper, Trustee TCooper@NUSD.org Derek Knell, Trustee Derek@STRAHMCOM.com Shelley Scott, Trustee SScott@NUSD.org Everyone, PLEASE WRITE WITH YOUR STORIES! LET THEM KNOW HOW MUCH THE PROGRAM MEANS / MEANT TO YOU!
Chip Tingle March 16, 2012 at 06:44 AM
Whew!! I hope more former students and families of the Lynwood GATE program will continue to contribute here, as I don't see how anyone could read these posts without being moved and enlightened. How might we be even more proactive? How can we completely remove this discussion from any agenda, one another parent and I discussed today as too easily a type of self-fulfilling bureaucratic prophecy? To the principal of Pleasant Valley - please speak directly to parents at future GATE meetings about why you've labeled Lynwood parents as "bullies" in your school newsletter. Was it that we pressed you to explain your thinking and personal agenda which have been such a large part of getting us to this point, from what I understand from many? If so, I'll gladly accept the label, and start printing up T-shirts and bumper stickers! Unbelievable for so many reasons......shameful. To administrators and board members - do you find this to be acceptable professional communication from a school principal, especially since nothing even remotely close to "bullying" took place last week? We're simply parents whom care very deeply about protecting a brilliant program of which our kids are blessed to a part.
Chip Tingle March 16, 2012 at 07:55 AM
A recent Novato Advance piece here, in case it slipped by: http://marinscope.com/articles/2012/03/15/novato_advance/news/doc4f60f6ae9061c494424860.txt#blogcomments Does anyone here know the specifics of the research Dr. Cunningham points to: “I’ll be very objective,” she said. “I believe if we really pay attention to the most current research we will find that kids at their neighborhood schools, in a classroom with differentiated instruction, and with cluster grouping so they can be with their peers, do as well, if not better. That’s my personal professional opinion.” I've found no such research, and other concerned parents tell me the same. It seems like a straight forward, simple question to answer in detail with links and sources for all. I've also yet to find any detailed budget information, past or present, for NUSD GATE programs. Somehow this didn't make it into the PowerPoint presentation Ms. Langford presented the other night to the school board. She mentioned funding being somehow lumped in with "Tier 3", if I'm recalling correctly. Can anyone please explain this further? Thanks
Sylvia Barry March 17, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Parents - Make sure you bring your kids to this event tomorrow - Saturday! You will all have so much fun watching it and will be very inspired! http://novato.patch.com/blog_posts/san-marin-robotics-club-flex-geek-muscles
Sylvia Barry March 18, 2012 at 04:24 PM
NUSD added a GATE link under their Department Tag. Parent meeting night is 03/22 6-7PM at NUSD Board room. It also has links to the power point presentations they used and a few other things. http://www.nusd.org/pages/Novato_Unified_School_District/NUSD_Menu/departments/5860595878546589170
Novato Chess Club March 28, 2012 at 10:01 PM
We start a 2nd/3rd grade; and 4/5th grade Chess Club on Monday and Tuesday's respectively @ Lynwood Elementary. Novato Chess Club (HYA) is growing. (We begin April 2 & 3.) Thank you Jim Oser, Novato Chess Club (HYA) and Lynwood After School Enrichment Program.
Novato Chess Club May 09, 2012 at 06:09 PM
http://novato.patch.com/events/american-crown-circusrotary-club-of-novato-sunrise?#photo-6303311

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