August 13, 2008

School Tries New Way to Teach Gifted 6th Graders

By Mark Reynolds

The system is trying to raise the standards for all students by eliminating a special program.

JOHNSTON -- The middle school has eliminated a special program for academically talented sixth graders, schools officials said last night.

The program has been snipped as part of a wider effort to align the sixth-grade curriculum with state standards and help teachers reach out to gifted students without grouping them, according to assistant schools Supt. Kathryn M. Crowley.

In general, Crowley said, the use of new state standards is raising the bar for all students, not just the 24 students who had been in the program.

For example, the school must try to put all sixth graders on a track that will prepare them for algebra when they reach eighth grade, she said. Meanwhile, teachers, she said, have a responsibility to serve students who are ahead of the pack.

She said she will closely monitor middle school teachers to ensure they are providing adequate and challenging instruction to talented students.

More than a few parents contacted different members of the committee when they learned about the program's elimination.

One member, Giovanni D. Conti, said that some parents were alarmed at first because they thought their children were headed for a watered-down curriculum.

That's not the case, he said.

"We're changing the way we're doing business, but it's a more rigorous program," he said.

Another member of the committee, Sandra Comella Gabaree, peppered Crowley with questions about the change.

"You're not concerned that a lot of these talented and gifted children will leave the school now?" she asked.

"No, I'm not," Crowley said.

In response to questions, Crowley revealed that the program was out of sync with state-mandated curriculum requirements.

Also, she said there had been "some issues with who's selected to be in it." She did not elaborate.

The elimination of the program had not been reviewed and approved by the school-improvement team, Crowley said.

Comella Gabaree said that the special program had fostered a renaissance following its establishment in the 1980s, at a time when other competing schools -- including a charter school -- were proving attractive to gifted students.

"The middle school just flourished," she said.

A specialized program for just 24 students doesn't necessarily typify a flourishing school, according to Crowley.

"There really is not a lot of research that will show you that an academically talented program produces better students," she said.

In other business last night:

- Schools Supt. Margaret A. Iacovelli said the district will post student handbooks online this year. The savings on printing costs will be about $2,000, she said.

- The committee approved minutes that a clerk had submitted for its July 15 meeting.

The minutes should establish the panel's intentions for $365,000 that was received from the Northern Rhode Collaborative, a special- education program. Immediately after that meeting last month, staff in the district's central office said they could not release a clerk's tape recording of the meeting.

- Iacovelli said custodians will have the district's school buildings ready for the first day of school, which is Aug. 27.

Johnston [email protected] / (401) 277-7490

Originally published by Mark Reynolds, Journal Staff Writer.

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