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Center to serve gifted kids
Many details must be worked out before a single location for gifted students opens.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published December 3, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - It doesn't have a building, teachers or a set number of students.
But by next August, the School Board says there will be a new center for gifted children in Hernando County.
That means most, if not all, of the county's gifted teachers could be transferred to a new location, according to the board member who has pushed the hardest for such a center. And families with children now in gifted programs might have to choose between taking a bus to the new school or going without gifted services.
"As far as I'm concerned, it means we will do what is absolutely necessary to meet the law. But that does not mean that you have individual gifted programs at all 20 schools," said board Vice Chairman Jim Malcolm. "We're not a big enough district to duplicate services."
Neither the board nor its new gifted education task force has agreed on all of those details, he acknowledged. The gifted task force plans to convene at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the West Hernando Middle School media center for its second meeting.
But with resources tight, consolidating gifted teachers and materials in one building strikes Malcolm as the only cost-effective way to fulfill the board's mandate of developing a center to serve the county's most talented students.
That's also superintendent Wayne Alexander's understanding of the School Board's wishes.
"It's a center, exclusively at one school and not at all schools," he said. "We can't afford to do both of those things."
Initial discussions have focused on the possibility of designing a school-within-a-school or center at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, Parrott Middle School or the new "Elementary J" scheduled to open next August in Spring Hill, according to minutes from the task force.
Any gifted center would likely focus on the elementary and middle grades, because the district has a well-established Advanced Placement program and dual-enrollment at Pasco-Hernando Community College for high school students, board members have said. Springstead High also is developing an International Baccalaureate program.
Under state law, gifted students are treated as special needs students and bring in about $2,100 in extra per-student funding. "Gifted" is defined as scoring at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score, and qualifying in at least one category on a state checklist.
Hernando officials have said they're committed to finding and serving gifted students in every county school. This fall there were 203 such students being served at the elementary level, 170 in middle school and 204 in high school.
But there's a wide disparity in services across the district, with some schools devoting extra resources to testing and identifying such students.
At the elementary level, the Chocachatti and Challenger K-8 magnet programs each found 42 gifted students this fall, according to district figures.
J.D. Floyd and Pine Grove elementary schools each identified 23 gifted children. There were 19 at Moton, 14 at Suncoast and 13 at Spring Hill. Other schools found even fewer, with nine at Deltona, eight at Westside, seven at Brooksville and three at Eastside.
Even some parents whose children receive gifted services aren't satisfied with the quality or quantity of those offerings, said Cindy Gustafson, president of the Parents Allied for Gifted Education and Support interest group.
At some schools the gifted program is for reading only, with sporadic enrichment visits by a gifted-education teacher, she said.
"The child who's gifted only in science or math, they're not being served," Gustafson added. "There are some children for which enrichment meets their needs. But a child is gifted 24 hours a day, not 50 or 75 minutes."
For her, gaining the full-time attention of qualified teachers is more important for gifted children than facilities. Even portable classrooms would be fine.
"I would be happy with a picnic table in a back yard, if there was a teacher who could accommodate my child," Gustafson said.