Once again, East Valley school districts are shifting into high gear to offer options for families of gifted children.
Tempe Elementary School District announced plans this week to create the ASPIRE Academy at Connolly Middle School. It will offer self-contained classrooms for highly gifted middle school students, where they are put together in classrooms with other gifted students and taught under the guidance of a gifted-endorsed teacher. The only options for gifted students now in the district’s middle schools are honors classes.
ASPIRE will offer children gifted classes in language arts, math, social studies and science, along with a project-based learning class, said Lori McClellan, gifted coordinator for Tempe Elementary School District.
“Parents (have) expressed an interest that they want this for their students. We also recognize some students who have left the district have indicated they would come back if they had a self-contained gifted program. We also want to make sure we’re providing additional services to our most academically able students,” McClellan said.
Enrollment would be based on an application process, with students required to test for gifted in at least two areas, she said. The district is hoping to open at least two classrooms for both sixth grade and seventh grade and at least one for eighth grade, but if interest varies, that may change.
Tempe Elementary estimates it has little more than 1,000 students identified as gifted in the district’s population of 11,700 enrolled children.
Just this school year, the Chandler Unified School District opened The Academy at Knox, a school-within-a-school that gives gifted students a place of their own with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). More than 200 students enrolled. With the high interest in the program, more classrooms will be opened for the 2012-2013 school year, which begins in July, as the district plans to gradually make the entire campus a gifted academy.
Chandler also has regionally placed self-contained classrooms throughout the district for gifted students.
A standing-room-only audience of parents, teachers and children sat in on a report Tuesday evening about gifted education in the Gilbert Unified School District. School leaders there are preparing a recommendation to create a self-contained classroom, possibly for the third grade, located somewhere in the district for next year, Superintendent Dave Allison told the Tribune later in the week.
Gilbert now offers cluster programming — where gifted students are put together with one teacher, as well as typical and highly performing students. The district also offers gifted writing and math programs for students in grades four through six.
The district governing board hopes to make a decision in early April for next fall.
Not lost on many gifted parents is the fact that lawmakers are trying to open up the state’s voucher-like “empowerment accounts” to gifted students. The program now allows special needs students in public schools to receive funds that can be used for private school tuition if they agree to leave the public school setting. If HB 2626 becomes law, it would open it up to gifted students, as well as children of military servicemen and children in poorly performing schools.
Parents of gifted students are passionate about the types of programs they want for their children — and what works and doesn’t work.
At the meeting Tuesday, a group of parents who have pulled their children out of the Gilbert school district and taken them to other schools, said the Gilbert program is lacking. They encouraged the governing board to shift into the self-contained model.
“I think a lot of parents of profoundly gifted children think that Gilbert Public Schools actually doesn’t have a gifted program, but an accelerated program, extra homework,” said Ashlee LeSueur, mom of two children who do not attend Gilbert district schools now. But LeSueur pointed out that if the district were to change, it could draw in parents who have left, as well as children from surrounding school districts.
Stacey Eddy, who has two gifted children, said she pulled her kids out of Gilbert district schools two years ago because, “the gifted program wasn’t serving my children.” She said she may move back to the district if a self-contained option existed.
“The idea of a self-contained gifted program is appealing to me,” she said.
Gilbert school board member Staci Burk agreed.
“I think it’s important we attract students this next year before we continue to lose students to other charter schools or other options,” she said.
While not specifically targeted to gifted students, Chandler district’s Basha High School announced plans to offer its own “academy” to sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students in the fall with a focus on pre-Advance Placement and honors courses.
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