Archived Story

District aims to tune-up learning for gifted students

Published 6:11pm Monday, June 24, 2013

Austin Public Schools is looking at ways to better give advanced students the learning environment they need.

Gifted and Talented Coordinator David Wolff presented a revamped approach to meeting the needs of the district’s more advanced students at a Monday afternoon school board meeting. Wolff was part of a group that researched the GT service model along with teachers, principals, school board representatives, parents, counselors and administrators. The group sought to determine the best GT practices through research.

“Our task was to look at the most effective service model for grades one through four,” he said.

The Gifted and Talented program aims to take children’s natural abilities and develop them systematically into skills. The district has the equivalent of 3 1/2 full-time employees working as GT “interventionists” — those who ensure more advanced students are being properly challenged.

“They have an ability level we need to intervene and do more for,” said John Alberts, educational services director.

Board member Kathy Green praised the concept that advanced students needed extra attention to ensure their abilities did not plateau.

“This is an evolution of education theory,” Green said, adding it showed tremendous gains over the past philosophy, in which advanced students would absorb learning automatically and with little direction.

Fifth-grader Jackson Goetz read Stephanie S. Tolan’s “Is It a Cheetah?” for the board to demonstrate through metaphor how educators need to cater to an advanced student’s needs.

“If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won’t run 70 mph while hunting,” he read.

Wolff’s recommendation to the board was to cluster students of like ability and keep those groups fluid, so students would be able to move between levels of challenge based on the abilities they showed. Smaller groups could use separate learning spaces and curriculum from the “core” group of students to ensure they were being challenged and could still get one-on-one time with an instructor. GT interventionists and peer tutors would lead groups “pulled out” from the main body of students.

Wolff also suggested the district continue its Young Scholars program, which caters to students of high ability who are either of low income or limited English proficiency.

“The crux in a lot of this is going to be in identification,” Alberts said. “How are we identifying these students?”

Additional staff, space or technology may be necessary to meet the district’s new GT plans. Alberts said it was too early to tell right now how much the extra resources would cost.

“Our intent is to spend the next year studying implementation,” he said.


Referendum election

The school board also voted unanimously to conduct a special election this year with regards to its referendum revenue.

“The legislative session has yielded some unintended consequences,” said Mark Stotts, finance and operations director. “We’d like the board to adopt this resolution as a precaution.”

Minnesota Department of Education officials are still working on interpreting legislation, which has complex ramifications for the district’s budget. Stotts called the situation “a mess,” and said it was too early to say how it would affect the district.

“Bottom line is, we are going to have to ask for some kind of renewal this fall,” he said.

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