School Board Candidate Responses To GATEway Questionnaire

Thank you to all candidates who responded to our questionnaire for the 2018 election.

2018 General Election

The general election will be held Tuesday, November 6.  GATEway sent all candidates two open-ended questions about gifted education in Rochester Public Schools.  Their responses are below for you to consider.


Seat 2 ~ Melissa Amundsen

Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.

Since I was one of the people who originally composed these questions for school board candidates a number of years ago, it would give me an unfair advantage to answer them now that I am a school board candidate myself.  However, if anyone would like to discuss the topic of gifted and talented education in Rochester Public Schools, I am always open to meeting with them.


Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?
Since I was one of the people who originally composed these questions for school board candidates a number of years ago, it would give me an unfair advantage to answer them now that I am a school board candidate myself.  However, if anyone would like to discuss the topic of gifted and talented education in Rochester Public Schools, I am always open to meeting with them.

Seat 2 ~ Bruce Kaskubar
 
Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.
No response given.

Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?
No response given.

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Seat 4 ~ John Eischen
Question 1:
Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.

No response given.


Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?
No response given.

Seat 4 ~ Julie Workman
 
Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.

Early entrance to kindergarten

In the summer of 2012, I was extremely pleased to work on Policy 503.01 to enable students who did not meet the age requirement to enter kindergarten early. “Students who demonstrate superior academic readiness will be considered for early entrance to kindergarten if they will be turning five (5) years of age between September 2 and August 31 of their early entrance school year.”

 Elementary

 The district tried to initiate a gifted program at Sunset Terrace a number of years ago, to which students would be bused but the barriers were too great.  Our elementary schools are overcrowded now, but as we consider building a new school and/or expanding several elementary buildings it’s imperative to deliberately consider the function of the space.  There should be flexible space that could be used to expand in-school services gifted students receive.  It is important that “form follows function,” and not build a 1960s designed school.  What resources and skills do elementary teachers have in order to identify gifted students?  Are there more teachers who are interested in being trained in gifted education?  (This would likely come out of the district budget for professional development, or perhaps site funds.) The teachers who work with our gifted students do a tremendous job with the time and resources available to them, and I applaud them for their efforts.

 Middle School

 A couple of years ago there were more elementary students who qualified for gifted education who well exceeded the capacity of the space at that time.  I strongly supported the addition of three gifted classrooms to Kellogg.  Three classes make it possible to for students to mix and not be confined to a single classroom peer group.  Gifted students mix with students outside the gifted classrooms in music, art, physical education, etc.  This benefits everyone. 

 High School

It’s a common misunderstanding that AP and Honors classes in high school meet the needs of gifted students.  Advanced Placement programs have to follow strict requirements in order to be offered under that name.  What other options are there for students? Mentorships and independent studies are two, and I’m sure there are more of which I am not aware.

 Some students are twice exceptional: that is, they are gifted but also have a learning disability.  Gifted students can and do fail; they are not recognized because of learning disabilities.  Are students misbehaving because their giftedness is unidentified and they are bored in class? Are they twice exceptional?  Are they poor test takers? It’s great that we have a variety of ways to assess for giftedness.  It’s also imperative that we identify our gifted minority students who may have other barriers to achieving. By having a variety of supports in place we can work together for the needs of the student.


Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?

Nationally, gifted students are in the top 5% on nationally normed tests.  In Rochester,15% of all students are in the top 5% of those tests, and 1-2% are HG. This is a relatively large percentage of our student body, and to eliminate those programs because gifted kids “can get by” would be foolish.  I have been in the minority (three or fewer) on the School Board who want evaluations of all our current programs  to make sure that the money spent is producing desired outcomes.  Depending on the program or initiative, a 3-5 year time period should be adequate to evaluate its success and sustainability: should the program be expanded; should the program be continued as is; should the program be pared down; should the program be eliminated? 

 Grants are always helpful but are not guaranteed to be sustainable.  When the grant expires, does the district have the capacity to sustain it?  We can’t rely on grants to sustain the gifted program, but grants can be used for self-contained educational experiences.   A business or a philanthropic organization might be able to pick it up, but unless it is written into the budget, it’s easier to eliminate.  (The board made InSciEd a line item in the budget so that people didn’t have to beg for it every year.  I was one of the strongest supporters of that line item.) 

 The community also plays a large part in understanding that the school district is its reflection, and be well informed of the barriers, challenges and successes of our students.

 We all do better when we all work together for our students!


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Seat 5 ~ Dwight Ferguson

Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.
No response given. Candidate has withdrawn from the campaign.

Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?
No response given. Candidate has withdrawn from the campaign.

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Seat 5 ~ Jean Marvin

Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.

In the best of all possible worlds, all learners would have an individualized learning plan that would provide the appropriate challenges, support, and pacing for their needs.  And all students, including gifted students would be provided with the opportunities and the champions that can make their years in school engaging, relevant, and joyful, and that would address their academic as well as emotional needs.

Mandatory, high quality professional development for pre-service educators as well as for experienced educators and administrators must be delivered.  This would empower schools to do a better job in identifying gifted students, differentiating and compacting curriculum, and encouraging and supporting gifted underachievers.

Early identification, beginning at perhaps age two or three should become standard, and pre-school programs for those identified should be developed.  Children from marginalized populations and those who are twice gifted cannot be overlooked. Throughout a child’s education, options should be available for his/her/their advancement: cluster grouping, school within a school, acceleration, mentorships, and summer programs would be among the options as would be world language programs offered in elementary school.  Students should not be limited to classes assigned to their grade level, but multi-grade classes, project based learning, and community based learning should be options.

Although enrichment programs provide valuable experiences for many bright kids, they should not be confused with the kind of robust gifted programming our schools should deliver.

Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students? .

Funding for gifted education remains an uphill challenge because it doesn’t evoke from the general public the same kind of empathy that special education does, even though a number of students qualify for both programs. Not surprisingly, many gifted students and special education students suffer the same fate when schools don’t provide for them appropriately.  Acting out, dropping out, or feeling alienated may characterize students in both groups. 

In addition to lobbying for better public funding, private funding should be actively sought either for specific programs (medical fields, technology, engineering, etc.) or for more general applications (e.g. a highly gifted preschool program or school within a school.)  Expanding the secondary program which allows students to be mentored by a professional   is a start.  Engaging professionals and businesses in the community in discussion about how our gifted students could benefit from their expertise and about how the businesses, in turn, could benefit from the value these gifted young people could return to the community is another initiative we need to expand. Continuing to work with post-secondary institutions and providing more PSEO options for secondary students can be cost effective as well.  Honors classes and AP courses must become more inclusive and must remain consistently rigorous and high quality.

Project based learning like that associated with science fairs can be successful as long as cooperating organizations and volunteers will participate. The highly gifted program at the middle school level is relatively inexpensive and should be expanded as needed to accommodate students at all four middle schools.


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Seat 6 ~ Greg Gallas

Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.
No response given.

Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?
No response given.

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Seat 6 ~ Cathy Nathan

Question 1: Please describe your vision for an ideal program for gifted students in K-12. Consider the varying levels of giftedness and the needs of each level.

We can evaluate the current RPS gifted services programming against the best practices in the field of gifted education to identify where improvements or enhancements needs to be made. We should consider best practices in four areas:

  • Identification – Identification needs to be done early and often, using multiple and fair assessments. RPS already uses two different assessments and a portfolio process. However, students of color are still underrepresented in the students identified for gifted services. The district should evaluate if there are new assessment or evaluation methods that have been successfully used to identify students of color for gifted services.
  • Program and service components – Ideally, gifted services programming would be “pushed in” to the everyday classroom experience of students instead of students being “pulled out” into verbal and non-verbal classes that don’t occur every day. The types of program services would be matched to the learning needs of the child, much like an IEP is used to identify services for special education students. The “pushed in” curriculum would include differentiated tasks and student products, with an emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and building a self-awareness for students of how they think and learn, so that they can help drive their own learning.
  • Program evaluation – Gifted services would be a concrete part of the district’s strategic plan, with annual outcome measures evaluated prior to each year’s budget cycle. Resources allocated to gifted services would be evaluated annually based on the outcome measures and how well the gifted services programming is resulting in student achievement, growth and social and emotional wellness.
  • Communication – Family-school communication would be continuous and focus on how families can be supported in meeting the learning and social/emotional needs of gifted students. This would include information on student progress within the classroom and other resources families could use at home.
  • Professional Development – All staff would participate in professional development related to the learning needs of gifted students. Follow up surveys of staff would identify how successful the professional development was and would form future decisions on additional professional development.
Question 2: Given ongoing budget constraints, how would you prioritize gifted education among other district expenses? Do you have ideas for obtaining additional funding or for cost-efficient methods of providing gifted services to our students?

When we talk about the needs of our student populations, and competition for scarce resources, the needs of gifted students always needs to be on the agenda, alongside the needs of children of color, immigrant and refugee students, special education students, and students from low-income families. From my experience with the student population in Rochester, the needs of our students often cross into multiple categories, including gifted services.

Resources have always been and will always be an issue. We are fortunate to have the dedicated state funding and that the district has supplemented that funding with local general fund dollars for gifted services, although the resources remain underfunded. Furthermore, we cannot take for granted that the resources for gifted services will always be a priority. Therefore, I believe the District needs to be more intentional in their assessment of and public communications about the current status of gifted programming and share highlights of successes and what we need to improve.

I was a member and the facilitator for the Gifted Services Advisory Committee (GSAC) from 2007 until it was discontinued in 2013. GSAC was a group of parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members who met monthly to talk about the current status of gifted services in RPS, talk about best practices in the gifted services field, and do short-and long-term planning for new programs and services. So much of what we see in gifted services came from that committee’s work and conversations, including the highly-gifted elementary and middle school programs, cluster grouping and differentiation, Primary Education Thinking Skills (PETS) for all first graders, prevention of cuts to gifted services during previous district budget cutting cycles, adding additional gifted services staff, and alternative identification methodologies. GSAC helped develop an annual presentation to the school board on the number of students in gifted services by school and grade and other demographic factors, expenditures, staffing, program implementation and outcomes. That information was so helpful to parents and the school board in their understanding of where gifted services were and improvements needed.

I believe the Gifted Services Advisory Committee needs to be resurrected, with a new generation of parents, staff and community members to discuss, research and provide input to the direction of gifted services in RPS. There are many areas of gifted services programming that the gifted services community and the board need to hear about:

  • Primary Education Thinking Skills (PETS) for all first graders
  • Results of the Purdue University partnership for the total school cluster grouping and differentiation at Bamber Valley, Gibbs and Franklin
  • Outcomes from the highly gifted program at Friedell
  • Status report of implementation of the highly-gifted program at Kellogg
  • Strategies and status of identifying of students from under-represented groups for gifted services

This reporting would be essential to helping the school board decide if the resources for gifted services are adequate to meet the needs of today’s Rochester students, and help to re-ignite the conversation on innovations in gifted education that we have not been considering. It would also help to educate the community on the status of gifted services and the needs of our gifted students and hopefully spur conversations on how community resources and partnerships could be used to enhance the gifted services programming.

Making this information available would also be helpful in advocating to the state legislature for more funding for gifted services. Without additional money from a local operating referendum, the major source for additional funding for gifted services is the state legislature. And with competing interests all asking for more money for their area of education, it is going to take a collaborative effort – across districts – of teachers, parents and students interested in increasing funding for gifted services to make that money a possibility.