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Gifted Program Supporters Heard at D181 Board Meeting

Monday's public comment session featured speakers who raised doubt about Dr. Tonya Moon's report on the gifted program and said the district should keep the ACE program in place.

Though the District 181 board member who said he would bring a motion on the gifted program was absent at Monday’s business meeting at , community members who were worried about such a motion were very present.

Twenty-one people spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting. Several criticized the evaluation of the gifted program by Dr. Tonya Moon and most spoke against the evaluation’s controversial recommendation to eliminate or make major changes to the ACE program.

Board member Monday. Turek, who was not present at Monday's meeting, did not specify the nature of what the motion would be, but many public speakers were concerned.

Bruce Lithgow expressed general concern that the board would potentially act on Moon’s evaluation alone.

“I’m concerned that a board member would be so cavalier as to suggest that a motion should be brought based on the report of a single expert,” Lithgow said. “There are a wide variety of experts that have different views on [gifted education], and to have one expert’s opinion result in such a dramatic and drastic proposed solution, or non-solution, borders on the bizarre.”

Moon’s report, , said the ACE program was “indefensible” as it is now because there is not a justifiable rationale behind its selection process, mostly based on standardized test results, and because a one-day-a-week program is, in general, a part-time solution to a full-time need. Moon’s team recommended the district develop a clear philosophy statement for the gifted program and increase differentiation in general education classrooms.

Before Monday’s business meeting was a special meeting at which board members met with Dr. Jessica Hockett, who was hired to lead the district’s philosophy statement writing committee, and said what they would like to see in a new gifted program.

Among the takeaways was that differentiated instruction needed to be increased, general education needed to be more rigorous, and the term “gifted” should not be used as a label for programming going forward.

District 181 parent Susan Owens said the gifted program has problems, but should not be wholly eliminated.

She wondered why the district was considering widespread change regarding gifted program instead of smaller modifications and responded to a comment made by Hockett during the special meeting that pulling students out of class for gifted instruction can harm others.

"The term inclusive, while well-intended, is somewhat disingenuous. I think that everybody in this room would say they want to include all children in something beneficial. Of course to say otherwise would be politically incorrect," Owens said. "The reality is, [there are some] children who are just smarter, more intelligent, better at school, whatever you want to call it. It’s just a fact and it’s obvious to the kids in the classroom every day. They grade each others homework and tests, they participate in group projects and they see who answers questions posed to them by the teachers correctly."

Owens later said she thinks pulling kids out for enriched programming does not, in and of itself, make kids feel smarter or less smart.

Katie Schwarz has three children who are in the ACE program. Schwarz’s eldest daughter, she said, is a different student when grouped with children of similar achievement level.

“In her accelerated class, in her enriched class, in her ACE class, she’s bubbly, she’s totally productive in the class, and she’s totally participating in the class,” Schwarz said. “However, when you put her in Spanish and science … nobody even hears her. She doesn’t talk, she doesn’t participate.”

ACE mother Heidi Keeling said of students in the pullout program, “They’re engaged, challenged, and stretched in a creative environment with children of similar abilities that make them feel comfortable and also further challenge them.”

Keeling said she doesn’t want to see ACE eliminated until something better is in place. Lynn Ambrose agreed.

“We would be doing our children a disservice by eliminating a program without a viable option in place,” Ambrose said. “We need to have the time to evaluate what that viable option might be.”

By the board's April 9 meeting, District 181 hopes to have a philosophy statement drafted and a transition program planned for the 2012-13 school year.

Editor's note: This article originally stated that Susan Owens' comments were aimed at the ACE program alone, while she was in fact referring to the District 181 gifted program in general. Corrections have been made to reflect this.

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