Schools must serve gifted as well

/ 22 April 2012 / jennifer

Mankato Free Press Editorial, April 22, 2012 –

When elementary teachers juggle classrooms of up to 30 kids or so in many Mankato Area School District schools, parents of gifted students know their kids aren’t usually the top priority. In a culture of testing, mastery may be the hope, but proficiency is the goal.

A group of parents of children identified as gifted and talented are meeting and discussing the situation and are asking: How can the district better serve our children?

It’s a fair question to ask. A half-time gifted and talented coordinator serves all of the district’s 11 elementary schools. When compared to other Big 9 schools, Mankato comes up short. Even smaller districts, such as Faribault and Winona, have full-time gifted coordinators. Some districts in the Big 9 also serve junior high and high school students in the gifted/talented programs.

To the Mankato district administrators’ credit, they are willing to listen to parents and field questions and concerns. They hosted a meeting of about 100 parents recently and attempted to gather as much feedback as possible from the group.

The dialogue shouldn’t stop there.

An obvious theme that has surfaced is that communication could be much better. Many parents knew nothing about the district’s use of the “cluster model” in which the gifted students are given enrichment lessons in the area they excel in. The students are supposed to be placed in a “cluster classroom” where a classroom teacher is also trained to teach gifted and talented students as well as the regular curriculum.

Some parents wonder how they could find out if their child is in a cluster classroom. Other parents have said their classroom teachers didn’t use the enrichment packets or made them optional to the gifted students. And another parent with an obviously gifted student had to be aggressive in getting her son placed in an accelerated math classroom when one test score kept him out the class. If the other kids in his former math class all knew he was one of the top students, how could he not be placed in the advanced math class?

The process of selecting the students and the services that result from their selection have to be made much clearer by the district. The district doesn’t even have a head count of how many children are served by the program because it’s been a building by building determination, officials said.

The district cut back the gifted coordinator several years ago during budget trimming. Although schools don’t have lots of new money these days, it may be time to revisit priorities and assign more staff to the gifted/talented program. This could be especially important at a time when state testing for No Child Left Behind is switching to a system of tracking yearly growth for all students, not just focusing on proficiency.

In the meantime, parents need to keep the channels of communication open between them and their students’ teachers and principals. Parents need to be vigilant — and sometimes pushy — requesting that teachers review test results, asking if their child seems bored in class or gets work done really quickly, volunteering to do more at home to help their kids succeed.

If students aren’t being challenged in school, everyone loses — the parents, the district and especially the children.