VISTA—An honors program beset by ethnic tensions and strained relations between parents and administrators at Lincoln Middle School is being eliminated.
After three months of public debate, trustees for Vista Unified voted 4-1 late Monday to eliminate the Gifted and Talented Education program, which supporters said promoted Lincoln’s brightest students. School administrators, however, said the GATE program was closed to most students.
The board’s decision will open honors classes that have GATE students to everyone.
School and district officials said putting GATE students in classes with those of mixed abilities would help improve test scores.
Many parents of Latino students and English-learners said they supported the change because their children would be forced to excel. However, some parents said the academic mix would diminish a gifted child’s education by watering down class content and pace.
“My daughter’s worth it,” Robb Scheele, who led the pro-GATE side, said before Monday’s meeting. “It’s what I need to do to make sure she has the best education she can have.”
Trustee Jim Gibson said he cast the lone dissenting vote because he wanted to leave the honors program as it is.
About 275 people crowded into Lincoln’s gymnasium for the three-hour meeting. Those who opposed the change sat on one side of the half-court line; Latino families who wanted GATE opened to all students sat on the other.
Children of pro-GATE parents stood toward the front, waving signs that read, “Save honors.” Their Latino counterparts, from the back of the room, displayed signs that read, “We want our voices to be heard now!”
There was a break in the meeting when someone pulled a fire alarm at 9:15 p.m. The debate resumed 10 minutes later.
“All of the students should have the (honors-class) opportunity,” Juan Rojas told the board in Spanish. His son attends Lincoln but is not a GATE student.
Parents of GATE students in February learned from a teacher that Hall intended to break up the GATE classes in an attempt to improve test scores.
English-learners and students of poorer households had weighed down Lincoln’s academic performance it was said. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act the school was put on “program improvement” status.