August 18, 2008

County Reviews Gifted Program


Roughly 1 in 3 Guilford County schools that provide services for academically gifted students could not prove they were following a state-approved plan during the 2007-08 school year, according to the results of a district program review.

"Every issue that we've found in the schools has either already been resolved or will be resolved by the start of school," said Jane Fleming , executive director of the Advanced Learning department.

Fleming's staff conducted the review in the spring to make sure schools followed the plan, including training teachers, involving parents in decisions and encouraging high school students to take advanced courses.

According to the reviews, 36 of 114 schools lacked adequate services or documentation . For example, 14 elementary schools did not document teachers' annual plans, and two high schools had no process in place to monitor enrollment in Advanced Placement courses.

"We can't go by someone's word," Fleming said. "It's not that we don't trust them, but we need evidence that it was completed."

Not all parents see the review's value. Jack Kraemer , a media coordinator at Northeast High School and the parent of two gifted children, said the review did not address students' actual progress or the lack of Advanced Learning certifications among teachers. He called the reviews "paper shuffling."

"I thought the whole thing was really very silly," he said. "It was meaningless."

A case in point: The review noted under "areas of improvement" that Hunter Elementary teachers need to write annual plans only for grades three through five. But Hunter had a bigger problem last year.

A part-time Advanced Learning teacher visited the school only once a week and could not meet with the fifth-graders because of a scheduling conflict, Principal Michelle Thompson said .

The district will provide an Advanced Learning teacher for 21/2 days this school year, Thompson said, perhaps because the gifted population at Hunter will double from 8 students to roughly 17.

"I'm hoping they realize that having an AL teacher on campus for one day is not enough to meet the needs of the AL kids," Thompson said.

Ruth Spaulding , who also has two gifted children in the system, said she considers the review a starting point.

"Even though all the boxes might be checked, I'm not sure the spirit of what's intended ... is what's being met," Spaulding said.

The review was one of several steps the department took to restore confidence in the quality of services after Fleming replaced retired coordinator Ann Barr last summer.

For years, some parents and board members criticized the district for poorly serving gifted students, as evidenced by plateauing test scores.

Frequent targets of criticism included middle schools and specifically Lincoln Academy, which serves gifted students with the strongest needs in grades four through eight.

Parents objected to inexperienced teachers simply assigning their bored children twice the amount of work as other students.

"They did not believe that those children were being challenged," Fleming said, but instead "that they were given more work to do, not necessarily richer or deeper."

Spaulding and other parents also complained about staff turnover in the department. They were concerned about the loss of experienced educators.

District records show that at least six employees have retired, changed positions within the department or left the department since September.

Fleming denied that those changes were a result of her management style.

"There is no conflict," she said. "If you had asked that question in September, I might have said yes because not everyone understood the importance of a program review. They do now."

Fleming said her next task is to dig into student data, made available through a new database, to determine where and why students aren't getting the challenging work they need.

Better teacher training and community outreach also are on the table, she said.

Contact Morgan Josey Glover at 373-7078 or [email protected]

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