School Board takes a smart field trip

Published February 8, 2007

OSPREY - Imagine a public school filled with kids who moan when the work's too easy, and teachers who hustle to match their ambition.

Now give it eye-popping numbers on the FCAT, like the 98 percent of 10th-graders scoring at proficient levels in reading compared with just 32 percent statewide, and a college admissions list that routinely includes names like Yale, Duke and Stanford.

That's the school Hernando County School Board members visited Wednesday.

Founded in 1969, Pine View School is a Sarasota County magnet school for gifted children in grades 2 through 12.

Most students are admitted only with an IQ score above 130, plus good grades and achievement scores or solid evidence of their potential to succeed in what might be Florida's hottest public school.

They're students who might not ever have encountered an academic challenge they couldn't handle before coming to Pine View, said assistant principal Brenda George.

"Our students are going to get a B before they finish here," she said, describing the need to push such students in a supportive environment. "And they're going to get through it."

The field trip was organized at the urging of Hernando County School Board member Jim Malcolm - who has said he'd like to see a similar program in Hernando, perhaps in a wing of the planned K-8 school in Spring Hill - and a parents' group.

Cindy Gustafson, president of Partners Allied for Gifted Education and Support, said gifted children need better instruction and more challenges than the Hernando district can provide with its current policy of inclusion and limited "pull-out" classes.

"An equal opportunity to struggle," she added. "That's what every parent of a gifted child wants."

Data show Hernando schools have done an uneven job of finding gifted students and providing them with services.

While Chocachatti Elementary magnet school has done extra testing and found 49 students who qualify for gifted services, Eastside Elementary identified only four. Brooksville and Deltona elementary schools found nine each.

"We're looking at doing some things differently," said Kathy Dofka, Hernando's director of Exceptional Student Education. "We want to make sure we can tap all gifted kids in the county. We think there are more out there."

Equity and achievement

Questions of equity have also been raised in Sarasota County, which the state has identified as serving a disproportionately low number of low-income children within its gifted programs.

At Pine View, just 4 percent of its 2,100 students qualify for a free or reduced-fee lunch, compared with a district average of 33 percent and 10 schools in the 60 percent to 90 percent range.

But officials were quick to point out that Pine View isn't the only school offering services for gifted children. Principal Steve Largo said some students choose to remain in gifted programs at their neighborhood schools.

But he said many gifted children preferred being with their own kind, in a place "where everyone understands what it is to be gifted, that it's okay to be smart."

Many children in a sixth-grade English class said the same thing.

"At my old school the work was so easy, you could do it in like five minutes," said one boy.

"Here I can't race (through it,) or else I'll get every single problem wrong," added a classmate.

On the way back to Brooksville, Malcolm said he remained committed to his vision of developing such a program. But he said putting it at the new school might be too divisive, and suggested the possibility of another site near Spring Hill Elementary.

"I think it was great," said board Chairman Pat Fagan of the visit. "(But) we have to make sure we're addressing all of the other issues in the school system, such as overcrowding. Without causing a major uproar in the community."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.