Gifted program returns to district’s agenda


The accelerated learning program has returned to the radar screen at Vashon Island School District.

It disappeared from the agenda in April when the board was diverted by the investigation of then-superintendent Mimi Walker and several budget problems.

The program, also once called the “gifted and talented” program and more recently the “highly capable” program, is not new, but it has been under revision for several years.

Now acting Superintendent Terry Lindquist is at work creating a board-mandated oversight committee that will involve members of the community as well as district employees.

“I hope to have the committee lined up in time for approval at the Dec. 13 board meeting,” he said last week.

The aim is to bring the public back into the discussion of what will happen at Chautauqua Elementary School.

The proposed committee members — whose names have not yet been announced — were nominated by Kate Baehr, the principal at Chautauqua, and Greg Allison, McMurray Middle School’s principal.

The renewed process actually began at the Sept. 27 board meeting, when the group discussed a report issued by Dr. Jayasri Ghosh, an expert in accelerated learning hired by the district.

After the presentation, Lindquist said he would bring a proposal for the accelerated learning oversight committee that would vet Ghosh’s report and begin work on the procedures that would create the program envisioned by a policy the board passed last December.

That policy called for McMurray to continue its accelerated learning program, where teachers look to both ability and achievement to evaluate students for accelerated learning. The high school would also continue on the path it’s been on, which is to use achievement and student choice to determine which students can enroll in advanced placement courses.

It’s at Chautauqua that the greatest changes would occur since, as Ghosh pointed out, there is no formal accelerated learning program for pre-kindergarten through third grade.

Chautauqua does have elements of accelerated learning in the fourth and fifth grades through the efforts of teacher Gail Labinski and others who have created such programs as Math is Cool and Robotics, and there is ability testing administered in third grade to identify potential accelerated learners.

The next step, according to Ghosh, would be to create a total program for the school that would begin in pre-kindergarten.

Ghosh justified the expansion by pointing to research that shows gifted students who are not challenged can slip into unhealthy work habits and loss of self esteem as well as a regression to the mean, in which they under-achieve to become more socially accepted.

Some parents last December objected to any approach that separates out gifted students at the elementary school level, some because they believed it was undemocratic and others because they felt it was unfair to less gifted students or even to special education students who, some parents worried, would lose funding to the accelerated learning program.

At a recent meeting, board member Bob Hennessey thanked Lindquist for moving forward on the process and getting the committee under way.

Speaking of some of the parents who had been worried in December, Hennessey added, setting up the committee “will remind the board of how controversial this was, and we are once again getting way ahead of the community. We have to make sure the folks who expressed concern come along with us. A public advisory committee is part of the program we passed.”

The Dec. 13 discussion of the issue will continue the process. Lindquist indicated last week that he said it was likely that the kickoff of the program could come in time for the 2008-09 school year. That’s a year later than originally hoped-for, and there will need to be budget support for the program, but the process is back on track.