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By Andrew Skerritt, Times Columnist
Published February 17, 2008
Public schools were supposed to be the great equalizer, the place where common people could find the skills and knowledge to rise above their station.
You can argue about the results, and who doesn't? But it is certain that federal and state mandates have forced teachers to direct too much time teaching to tests and created a system where disruptive and low-performing students get attention at the expense of the best and brightest, who get bored.
It's heartening to see Hernando County pushing ahead with an experiment that could produce a generation of scholars and leaders.
After years of lobbying and cajoling by School Board member Jim Malcolm, the district is finally going to create a center for gifted students.
Scheduled to open in August, the center will consolidate the district's gifted programs under one roof at the new Explorer K-8 campus in Spring Hill. While some details are still being worked out, school officials envision that more than 300 gifted K-8 students will be bused to the new school this fall.
Gifted students who attend Challenger, Chocachatti and other magnet schools have the option of staying put, but at a price. They could lose some of their gifted services.
"The only thing that will make this successful is to have this as the program we are offering," Malcolm said. "They can't have it both ways."
That's a tough stance, especially for children who live a long way off. Pasco County considered that when it created regional gifted centers.
When it opens, the new center will be a natural academic feeder for the district's established Advanced Placement program and an International Baccalaureate program being developed at Springstead High.
Of course, some are understandably suspicious of this new initiative. Short of killing it outright, though, they would rather slow things down to further study the idea. There are some nagging questions that Malcolm and other supporters must answer.
Right now, too few students are identified as gifted. Superintendent Wayne Alexander promises to step up efforts to measure these children consistently and accurately. He wants to begin in-house certification of gifted teachers. Both initiatives will cost money, but more gifted students mean more state funds.
Those assurances will hardly satisfy some critics whose real fear is that this gifted center will benefit only parents who want to send their kids to an exclusive "private school" at public expense. Those suspicions aren't entirely unfounded. A few local magnet schools have been tarnished with the brush of elitism - public schools catering to the children of the socially and politically well-connected.
This gifted center is a chance to put those concerns to rest. Students will be admitted based on their IQs and not on their parents' W2s.
If that's elitism, at least its rooted in academic excellence.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.
[Last modified February 16, 2008, 20:56:02]