Parents share concerns about school district’s gifted program | SteamboatToday.com

Parents share concerns about school district’s gifted program

Strawberry Park Elementary students participate in a match during Chess Club in 2011. The Steamboat Springs School District's elementary schools and middle school offer a Chess Club as one of several enriching activities for all students, including those identified as gifted and talented.

— A group of parents of gifted students have begun meeting to discuss potential improvements to the Steamboat Springs School District's gifted and talented programs.

Some of the parents feel that gifted students, those who score significantly higher than average on standardized tests, represent an important district population that isn't getting the attention it may warrant.

A handful of parents shared their concerns with the Steamboat Springs Board of Education last month.

"Our objective is to ensure that the district has a more comprehensive and inclusive educational program that meets the needs of these children," Sharon Ort, parent of a Steamboat Springs High School student, told the school board.

Ort said a group of parents, including some with students who have transferred out of the Steamboat Springs School District, have been meeting since the fall and are hopeful they can develop a district parent advisory board for the gifted and talented, or GT, programs.

She said about 20 to 30 parents of GT students are keeping in touch.

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Ort and other parents want to see more grouping together of high-level students in the same classes, rather than spreading students out, which Ort said happens at some grade levels.

"Cluster grouping," the practice of grouping together several students of similar abilities within a larger classroom, does occur frequently at the middle school, according to Marty Lamansky, district director of teaching and learning.

Lamansky said scheduling parameters this year made it difficult to use cluster grouping at the high school.

"There wasn't as much of it (this year), but there will be more next year," Lamansky said.

Lamansky said the district has a pretty comprehensive GT program for a district of its size, and GT students' needs are carefully considered, though they must be weighed against what is best for the entire district population.

About 11 percent of the district, or 269 students, are identified as gifted in at least one subject.

Among the concerns brought up by parents in March was the district's decision to discontinue a middle school GATE/X-Core program, which was converted to advanced learning classes in language arts and math. Students who don't meet the GT qualifications can take advanced learning classes, while the GATE/X-Core program was specifically for GT students.

Lamansky said the district is considering creating a GT Advocacy Group, which could include parents, students and district staff.

He said the group could form at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year and might be one avenue to gather input on the district's GT programs.

"It would consist of some parents, some students and some staff members to talk about what's working in the program and what are some ideas for next steps," he said.

Similar to any district program, Lamansky said there is room to improve.

"There's always room to improve any program in the district," Lamansky said. "I think that it's important to understand … there is an awful lot of GT programming in the district already. I think it's a misnomer to say that it's a program that we don't do much with — we actually do a great deal with it."

Ort said she and other parents are hopeful that better collaboration between parents, students and the district will lead to an improved GT program.

"Our goal, by working together as a team, is to develop a stellar GT program representing true excellence in education," Ort said.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow