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For their own good
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Gifted kids get attention
Most members of the School Board support having a separate school or center for their education.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published October 3, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - They might be gifted, but they haven't been getting a fair shake.
That was the consensus of the Hernando County School Board, which agreed Tuesday to form a task force to consider the needs of high-IQ students.
Every member but one expressed support for the idea of developing a new school, or perhaps a center within an existing school, for gifted students.
"Some of our gifted kids, they're coming to dislike school; they feel stifled," said board member John Sweeney.
"We've got kids going bonkers because they're bored to death," member Sandra Nicholson said in agreement.
Now about 2.5 percent of the district's 22,708 students meet the state's definition of "gifted," which includes meeting at least one criteria on a standard checklist and scoring at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score.
That translates into an IQ of 130 or higher, said Kathy Dofka, Hernando's director of exceptional student education. Some students can also meet the gifted definition if they fall within the test's margin of error, or if they come from underrepresented groups and meet district criteria, she said.
What troubled board members was the uneven distribution of such children at the district's 21 schools.
At one extreme, the magnet programs Chocachatti Elementary and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics found 42 and 41 students respectively this fall, Dofka said.
But it only found three gifted students at Eastside Elementary, three at Brooksville Elementary, and seven at Westside.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander said specialists were visiting those schools more frequently to help identify more students who might qualify for gifted services.
Board member Dianne Bonfield, who opposes a center, said the district ought to fix those numbers first, particularly with a looming budget crunch.
"I would look to enhance what we have," she said, suggesting the need for more gifted education teachers. "To add a center I think is very aggressive."
But board member Jim Malcolm, a longtime supporter of gifted education, said he had lost patience with the idea that talented students can be taught effectively in regular classes or on an occasional basis.
"As a former teacher, I see it as mission impossible," he said, challenging the notion that teachers can teach effectively to classes that include both gifted and remedial students. "I see it as one of the worst things that's happened to public education."
Malcolm said the district's current offerings are fatally flawed by inconsistency, a lack of teacher contact, and a lack of intensity. Only by bringing such students together with high-quality teachers can their high potential be realized, he said.
Even if it added a gifted center, officials said, the district would likely need to maintain gifted programs in all or most neighborhood schools in order to provide state-mandated services.
Under Florida law, gifted students are treated as special-needs students and bring in about $2,100 in extra per-student funding, Dofka said. But they do not qualify for federal special-needs funding.