Among the more engaged parents in any school system are the moms and dads of intellectually gifted children.
Columbia County school officials, then, should be pleased with the relative lack of controversy over an important shift in the way elementary gifted education will be delivered starting next year.
There are just 571 elementary school children participating in the gifted program, so it's hardly enough of a tail to wag the general education dog. Perhaps that low profile helps explains why the program has been stuck in a rut for the past 20 years: as engaged as those parents might be, they've become accustomed to a comfortable status quo, and no one else has noticed.
Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco has. She was among those who asked for study of the program last year after seeing it appeared to be running on autopilot. "Nothing else has been allowed to coast," she says. "We have so many kids who qualify now, it's time to re-evaluate."
What that evaluation found is that gifted education had become an enrichment program, disconnected from curriculum standards and the accountability those standards demand. For the most part, pupils who test into the gifted program are loaded on a bus, one day a week, skipping a day of regular school to be driven to Westmont Elementary for the Horizons program. Sometimes they even go on special field trips.
While the program might be a blast for those children, its isolation from academic standards raises understandable questions about its usefulness in a test-heavy education environment - not to mention the potential inequity of services with little accountability for their value.
Still, change is difficult. Buccafusco agrees, and to the school system's credit, these changes come only with considerable study. During that process, parents also were polled on their preferences for delivery of the gifted program. While response to the survey was disappointingly anemic, the results show more parents favor delivering gifted programs within individual schools.
The change next year is a small step in that direction. The program content is being revamped, and will be delivered on site at four schools with the highest number of gifted students; four schools on the southern edge of the county will travel a shorter distance to a new satellite program; and the rest will continue to travel to Westmont.
This "hybrid" approach, says Superintendent Tommy Price, will give the system an opportunity to study the changes without dismantling the current program.
That makes sense. Parents of gifted children clearly want to be sure the brightest students are getting the best services available - even if, as in this case, that means shaking up the status quo.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.