District makes changes to respond to concerns about gifted program

More students eligible for program after district switched entrance test

Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2000

The Juneau School District has taken a few steps to improve the program for gifted and talented students, especially in the middle schools.

The district hasn't changed its policies, said Peggy Cowan, the director of curriculum. But it is continuing to modify the program to meet students' needs, she said.

This year about 345 students were in the extended learning program, as it's called, but only 45 of those were in the middle schools.

The Extended Learning Parent Advisory Committee had said the middle school program was most in need of attention and improvement. John Kern, the committee's president, said the administration's report to the school board Tuesday was significant.

``Instead of looking at ways of constraining the program, we're now going to be looking at ways of redirecting the program to better serve the unidentified students.''

Parents were concerned that few elementary students qualified to continue in the program in the middle schools. They also said the program didn't offer advanced classes at all grade levels or offer much in the arts. Gifted students felt isolated and needed more opportunities to interact with their peers, parents said.

The number of fifth-graders who can go on to the program in middle school next year is at least 38, up from the 12 who qualified this past school year. The number may go up further because the Auke Bay applicants haven't been counted yet.

Cowan said she isn't sure why the numbers went up. The district switched to a different test for one of the two tests students must take, but it didn't change the cut score for eligibility.

The district also has added a small amount of staff funding at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School to allow it to offer more language arts opportunities for extended learning students in all of the school's houses. Dzantik'i Heeni is divided into multi-grade houses.

And Floyd Dryden Middle School will have an extended learning language arts teacher at all grade levels this coming school year. A scheduling glitch had prevented that from being offered at one grade level this past school year, Cowan said.

The high school extended learning counselor, Frank Coenraad, will work part time in the middle schools in the upcoming year. He said he'll help students make the transition to high school. But he also expects that, as students get to know him, he'll hear about emotional and social needs.

The students don't want to feel special or separate, Coenraad said, but because of their needs they often feel they don't fit into the general group. ``That's where their isolation comes from,'' he said.

The district also will commit more funds in the middle schools to allow extended learning teachers more time to prepare individual education plans for the students. Those are required, but some parents said they aren't always individualized.

And the district will offer more teacher training next school year on how to teach to low- and high-achieving students within the regular classroom.



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