Dear Superintendent Heuer:
We want to thank Jane Simeri, Coordinator of Education Services, for taking the time last month to speak with parents from about the gifted program for fourth and fifth graders. We feel that we learned much more about the program and we appreciated her answering our questions.
While we feel more knowledgeable about the district’s reasons for , we continue to have serious concerns about the way these changes, which are intended for a “low incidence, high needs population,” ultimately impact every single child and family within our school.
Our concerns include:
1. Privacy. Our children form friendships at school. Parents and children alike find comfort in knowing who their children are interacting with and befriending. Parents do not want to choose a school for their child without knowing if their child will have any friends or acquaintances there. This forces parents in the uncomfortable situation of having to discuss with other parents whether or not their child has been invited to participate in the gifted program.
2. Impact on the diversity of our entire school. The way the program is currently being implemented seriously erodes the learning experience at every grade level and removes involved parents from schools that do not house a gifted section. By inviting siblings to move to the new school with the gifted children, you impact diversity levels in grades K-3 as well as fourth and fifth. You are removing entire families who actively support their neighborhood school. While parents of gifted children technically can choose to keep younger siblings in their neighborhood school, the difficulty of managing the logistics of children in separate elementary schools makes it an unlikely choice.
3. Multiple Transitions. In your 2012 State of the Schools presentation, you said:
“Whenever a transition point is created (and by transition I refer to a significant change in environment that a student isn’t familiar with), you create a possibility of problems arising and of students not making the transition successfully. Therefore, the more transitions you have, the more you increase opportunities for children to become lost, or become disoriented, and experience failure. We need to limit the number of transitions and make the transitions that do exist as simple as possible and provide as many supports as possible during the transition.”
We believe that having students enter K-3 at their neighborhood school who are then identified as gifted move to a different school for fourth and fifth grades and then move back to their neighborhood middle school for sixth through eighth grade introduces unnecessary transitions which increase the very risks you point out. These transitions disrupt our children’s friendships and their peer group social structure.
4. Timing of Testing. This year the timing of the test (around the same time as OAA testing) is stressful for children and families. Our children are very much aware they are being labeled. They are noticing that some children are considered “smart” (meaning children who do not require additional testing) versus those who “aren’t” (children who are undergoing additional testing)
5. Interpretation of Testing. To make this system fair, we understand that specific performances on tests must be achieved, however, can we really determine that children who score a mere 1 or 2 points below that threshold are truly NOT gifted in that area?
6. Only one enrichment option. Parents of gifted children are told that this program is a choice. For those who believe a self-contained classroom, compacted curriculum and/or multiple transitions are not the best options for their child, no other enrichment is available.
We are supportive of meeting the needs of gifted children; however, because as you say, this is a low incidence/high needs population, we feel it’s vital that we find better ways that minimize the impact to all other children. For example, would you consider having gifted children arrive at and depart from their neighborhood school daily and then bus them to and from the school where gifted classes are offered? This would ease logistics for parents, eliminate impacts to younger grades and preserve parental involvement in neighborhood schools. Since the gifted program curriculum is compacted this suggests that gifted children would continue to have their educational needs met even if their daily instructional time was slightly reduced to accommodate the travel time between schools. In addition, it would seem more economical to bus groups of gifted children from a few central sites (i.e., their neighborhood schools) rather than the current system which lengthens bus routes to transport each gifted child from his or her home to a school beyond his/her neighborhood. This is just one potential idea. We’re sure there are many others.
We feel it’s crucial that we bring our concerns to your attention. We want you to understand that many of us believe the current gifted program is negatively impacting our children – and that in turn is affecting our decisions about where we live and where we choose to send our children to school.
Gearity Professional Development School Parents
Jodi Sourini, Ken Korane, Dori Nelson-Hollis, Mary Beth Javorek, Jennifer Bopple, Estee Gulden, George Gulden, John Harshbarger, Amy Mangano, Tom Dolan, Christy Dolan, Mike Hollis, Bill Mangano