Greater focus urged on advanced students in District 51

Expanding International Baccalaureate programming into more grades, decreasing the ratio of students to gifted and talented teachers, and making half-time gifted and talented jobs into full-time occupations were among the suggestions members of the District 51 Gifted and Talented Advisory Committee offered to School Board members Tuesday evening.

Approximately 2,400 students participate in District 51 Gifted and Talented programming, according to District 51 Gifted and Talented Coordinator Heather Baskin. With 18 elementary teachers and six teachers in middle school focused on gifted programming, the ratio of those students to teachers is about 152 to 1. Baskin said those teachers are often some of the last hired before the school year starts and they can be hard to retain since the positions are half-time, meaning anyone who wants to work full-time has to either work at two schools or work the other half of the time doing something else.

Baskin said retention may improve if gifted and talented teachers could be full-time but she told the board she understands that takes money. The same goes for many other suggestions the committee had, which included looking into a charter or magnet program for gifted elementary students, expanding gifted and talented coaching, and considering adding an International Baccalaureate primary grades program for elementary students and an IB middle grades program for sixth- through 10th-grades.

The IB program at Palisade High School is for 11th- and 12th-graders, who take honors classes in ninth- and 10th-grades to finish work on their District 51 diploma so they can spend the last two years of high school working on an IB diploma. Service work, a 20 page paper and cumulative tests taken during the month of May senior year earn a student the IB diploma as well as 24 college credits.

A middle grades program would have optional testing at the end, according to IB Coordinator Tracy Arledge, and the school selected to offer the program would have to go through a three-year approval process. All teachers in the school would have to be IB trained, something Arledge said can be done in Keystone.

“While (IB) is not a gifted and talented program per se, it helps meet a lot of their needs,” Arledge said.

District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said he understands the need for gifted programming but told committee members not to expect room in the district’s budget for all suggestions made Tuesday. He asked district finance executives to work with Baskin to come up with some cost estimates for the potential changes.


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