Gifted and talented students can get short shrift in small rural school districts with limited staff, especially with mandates to address needs of struggling students.
In spring 2016, several parents of Bayfield Middle School gifted students complained that their kids were shunted to math classes on computer and sort of left to learn on their own. Their kids who loved math ended up hating it, because when they were stymied by a question, they had to e-mail it to a remote teacher and might not get an answer for several days, the parents said.
In response, the district created a gifted and talented task force that started meeting last summer.
Andrea Berghoff, a local representative for the State Department of Education who is directing the task force, gave a recent update to the school board.
"We started last May and have met monthly since August except this month," she said. Topics covered so far are communication, Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs), current practices in Bayfield, and what can be good, better, and best practice.
Next topics will be about personnel and the budget. The new GT plan is supposed to be in place by the start of the next school year, she said.
"The exciting thing about this task force is things that can happen now. We have a lot of hope for change that can happen without changes in the budget." She called them tweaks.
"One of the main things when you have small personnel, they can get overwhelmed with paperwork. The parents are frustrated because the students have been identified and they have an ALP, but the parents don't see it. They feel de-valued," Berghoff said. She recommended having a team create the ALPs instead of individual teachers, so the teachers don't have to spend time on that. The plans are supposed to include three things that are working well, two things that need to change, and one thing that's non-negotiable.
"The things that need to change can over-shadow the things that are going well," she continued. "We're doing good things. There are things that need to get better."
Advanced math placement is an ongoing issue, she said.
Board member Mike Foutz commented, "The thing that stood out to me was kids being put on a computer."
Berghoff responded, "That's a hot topic within our program discussion, that once students are identified, what do we do with them? All of our recommendations will be best practices for all students, but especially for the gifted kids. Some of them are left in the library to read a book or left on the computer. One of the non-negotiable things was that they aren't left on the computer."
She added, "A lot of time we fall back on that they just need to be pulled out (of regular classes) for 30 minutes a day, but they are gifted all day. They fall under the same systems of support (as all students). There's a misperception that gifted kids will be OK. They deserve the systems of support just like the struggling learners."
Berghoff lamented, "Gifted doesn't carry the same clout with the state as special ed does. ... It's easy to push gifted ed to the back burner because there's not the legality tied to it."
The task force includes three or four parents, a couple teachers, an administrator, and a BHS student. Two staff members from the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) also work with the task force.
"We've had a lot of conversations with parents," Berghoff said. "It's been a very positive experience even though it was a negative thing that got it started."