Big 9 schools offer variety of gifted services

/ 21 April 2012 / jennifer

Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, April 21, 2012 –

Schools in the Big 9 conference have a range of gifted and talented programs that use a variety of models.

Austin’s school district has faced budget issues like most other districts in the past few years as state funding has been slashed. Like every other district in the state, Austin receives about $12 per student from the state to go specifically to gifted and talented, which is about $48,000.

But John Alberts, director of curriculum, said that amount would barely cover one full-time gifted staff member. And both he and Supt. David Krenz said the program is too important not to find a way to better fund it.

“There’s money for special needs, for those kids that aren’t achieving at their full potential,” Krenz said. “But the kids who are above (average), we just let them go.”

In response, the Hormel Foundation provides about $200,000 each year for the gifted and talented program. And as a result, there is one halftime gifted and talented interventionist for each of the four elementary schools, one part-time interventionist at the kindergarten center, and one full-time gifted and talented coordinator for the district overall.

“The district felt this was a need because of a lack of state funding,” Krenz said.

The district does not offer an individualized learning plan for each student, Alberts said. Based on test results and staff observation, gifted students are identified and pulled into groups for more advanced lessons.

Krenz said the district also is proud to partner with the state Department of Education to hold an annual Gifted and Talented Symposium in June, also paid for with the Hormel funding, which is open to teachers and parents nationwide. The symposium continues to be full to capacity with a waiting list, Krenz said.

“I think there’s a need out there,” Krenz said. “It’s just a matter of how you finance.”

Austin does not have gifted and talented staff in the middle or high schools. Instead, the district offers accelerated courses in science, math and language arts.

“It’s not just important to our district,” Alberts said. “It’s important to our community.”

Rochester is the largest district in Big 9 and also allocates the most funds for its gifted and talented program.

Jennifer Lawhead, gifted services coordinator for Rochester schools, said the district has 8.05 full-time equivalent gifted and talented staff: one full-time coordinator, 4.5 elementary school staff, 1.75 middle school staff, and .8 high school staff. About $220,000 comes from state budget funds, and $405,000 is allocated from general funds.

Rochester schools use a variety of models, including pulling gifted students out of the classroom, special classes with gifted curriculum, and breakout groups within the classroom.

In Winona, Supt. Scott Hannon said the district’s $40,000 or so in state funding isn’t enough to accomplish the goals the district has for its gifted and talented program, so the district allocates funding in the budget to make up for the shortfall to keep on full-time elementary gifted staff and one halftime middle school staff.

“We feel that’s important,” Hannon said. “We put a lot of money into a lot of other areas, and we probably short-change the kids who have some real skills on the other end.”

Winona, which identifies its gifted and talented students through test scores as well as parent and teacher recommendations, uses a variety of models, including co-teaching in the classroom and pulling gifted students out of the classroom for activities, Hannon said.

Faribault’s budget is about $53,000 for one full-time position serving fourth through eighth grade. Joanne Ostrom, interim curriculum director, said the district uses a pull-out model for reading and math. Eighth-grade students also are using Rosetta Stone language-learning software, paid for with gifted and talented funds.

Albert Lea’s district has one halftime coordinator who works with teachers at each school. The district identifies high-potential learners and pulls them into groups for accelerated lessons within the classroom, said Supt. Michael Funk.

Owatonna Schools recently voted to eliminate its gifted and talented program, budgeted at $150,000, part of $1.8 million in overall budget reductions. But the district has since decided to keep one full-time position, down from 2.5 this year.

The budget has yet to be determined, said Amy LaDue, curriculum coordinator, but about $66,000 in state funding was allocated this year, which could still be in place next year.

LaDue said the full-time position will be spent halftime on identification and professional development and halftime on direct gifted services. More emphasis will be placed on teacher training to serve gifted students, she said.