Gifted students will have another education option next year after the Gilbert Unified School District governing board approved creation of a self-contained classroom program.
Under the plan presented passed 3-2 on Tuesday night, two classrooms will be created for highly-gifted students in grades four and five. The 25-student classes will be housed at Towne Meadows Elementary School. They will be open first to all Gilbert students who qualify, as well as anyone who wants to open enroll, as long as there is room.
Additional grades will be added in the future.
Board members Staci Burk, Daryl Colvin and Jill Humpherys voted in favor of the plan. Lily Tram and Julie Smith voted against it, citing budget concerns.
With approval of the plan, applications will soon be available online. Since the self-contained model is designed for the highly gifted students, a minimum score of 97 percent in two areas of state-approved gifted tests - verbal, quantitative, and/or nonverbal - plus an 85 percent in the third or an IQ of 130 will be required.
The district has 25 incoming fourth-graders and 46 incoming fifth-grade students that could qualify for the program, Barbara VeNard, assistant superintendent of educational services, told the board.
Right now, the district’s Accelerated Learning Program – or gifted program – puts a
gifted-trained teacher on every elementary campus to give enrichment in math and writing to students who qualify in grades four, five and six. They are pulled out of their homeroom for a portion of their school day. Younger students are clustered together with a homeroom teacher and receive enrichment in their homerooms.
The new self-contained classrooms will have a gifted-endorsed teacher to instruct in math, science, social studies and language arts.
Self-contained classrooms are offered now in Chandler, Higley, Paradise Valley, Queen Creek and Scottsdale unified school districts.
East Valley districts have also created gifted academies in the last few years in the drive to give gifted parents more options. Tempe Elementary and Chandler Unified school districts both created specialized schools within schools to meet parent demand.
“I appreciate that when our federal government has abandoned gifted education, that when our state has chosen to abandon gifted education, that our district has chosen to stand by us,” Stephanie Newitt, president of Gilbert Supporters of the Gifted, told the Tribune after the meeting.
The state cut funding gifted programs during the recession.
Veteran board member Tram raised questions about whether or not the district should start this new program that will cost about $88,000 per classroom to pay the teacher and provide additional curriculum and technology.
The district’s budget override failed in the fall, and there could be a $6 million shortfall next year.
“I’m supportive of bringing on a new gifted program and understand there is a need for this,” board member Lily Tram said before the vote. “ What I am concerned with because of our budget situation is, is this the right time to bring in something new? We don’t know. We know we’re going to lose another $6 million next year. What will we do then?”
For more than two years there have been discussions about changing Gilbert’s gifted program. Last year, there was a similar self-contained gifted proposal presented to the governing board. It was not approved, but the district did put together a committee draft a vision for the gifted education in the district.
That committee brought forth two ideas: first, that the district expand its gifted options and second, that the district create a program to educate highly gifted students.
The plan approved Tuesday meets the latter idea.
Last month, an idea was presented in a survey to gifted parents for the creation of regional gifted sites around the district. But it would have required students to move from their home schools if it was not selected as a regional site.
The board decided not to move on creating regional programs because fewer than half the survey responders supported the idea. But it will look at the idea in the future, according to information on the district website.
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