2006 Primary Election

The GATEway Board has asked the candidates for the Rochester School Board to answer two open-ended questions about gifted education in Rochester so that our members are better informed to make a selection for the primary election on September 12.

  1. What role do you see gifted education playing in the Rochester School District?

  2. What is your view of the current services for the gifted students in the Rochester School District?

Candidates for Seat No. 2
Candidates for Seat No. 4
Candidates for Seat No. 5
Candidates for Seat No. 6


Diane Hermann-Blakley's Responses
  1. I see the role of the gifted and talented education as a means of recognizing, then motivating students to reach their highest potential. The program should keep talented students focused and challenged by their studies, and offer additional educational opportunities beyond the classroom.
  2. My view of the current services for gifted and talented is that more programs could be offered. As with most of our programs funding is a real issue. In the past and in the future, I will advocate the state government for more funding. A motivated student should not be held back they should be stimulated and allowed to push ahead. I see the gifted and talented students as the class leaders, they are the ones that set the bar high for the others. In recent years, with the inadequate funding of Leave No Child Behind, I feel much of our funding is being used to prepare students to take and pass the tests. I know this is a large problem and unfortunately affects all of our students. Hopefully the future will bring more funding resources to this program.

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Larry Gifford's Responses
  1. I am a very strong education advocate for the gifted programs in ISD # 535. My background is that I was an educator in the district for 32 years, and I serve on many district committees that were involved in the GATEway program. Many of those programs were cut out due to financial constrains on the budget. I feel very strongly that we need to restore those proggrams and to accelerate more programs that would be of benefit to all students.
  2. It is my understanding that very little or none exists in the district. You may have the acceralated classes in the courses of Math and Science but very few offerings across the curriculum. This is not acceptable in the 21st century. This needs to change and total funding needs to be found to support these programs.

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Bill Wiktor's Responses
  1. The role for gifted education is crucial to the success of the the Rochester School District in its ability to provide challenging educational opportunities for the students in the district. Even with the focus on ensuring that all students attain the 'proficiency level' of education required for graduation, there is an ongoing need to ensure the students who are already proficient have the continued opportunities to pursue additional challenging educational courses.
  2. Although the district provides several opportunities for the gifted students (honors options, AP courses, PSEO, internships, etc), I believe there is a need for additional services for the students. Ideally, for any student who desires or has a demonstrated capability they should have the additional challenges available to them. Whether this can be provided by the additional in school electives, community sponsored opportunities, local UCR offerings, partnerships with the Mayo Clinic or IBM or elsewhere should be explored. The key factors will be to ensure cost effective services for the students needs.

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Michael Hendrickson's Responses

No response received.

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Patricia McCleese's Responses

No response received.

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Mechelle Severson's Responses

No response received.

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Fred Daly's Responses
  1. Schools reflect the diversity of the local population. We are responsible to educate children from the full spectrum of abilities. We need to put as much effort into education the gifted as we do the struggling students. The No Child Left Behind environment makes this difficult because the focus is on kids who are underachieving and applies the funding to them. I think we should provide our gifted students with differentiated lesson plans which allow them to explore the courses of study in greater depth. We should also allow individual study courses offered by established educational institutions on the web. If a student wants to learn more about a subject, we shouldn't tell them they can't just because it isn't taught by a Minnesota licensed teacher or we don't have 25 other students in the district with the same interests. 

    I'm not convinced special classes for the gifted or cluster grouping are a good idea. These students will be interacting with people of all abilities all their lives and need to become comfortable doing so. I also think they can serve as role models to increase student performance. We expect our gifted to be the leaders of the future. The classroom can be a great place to practice leadership skills.
  2. I think teachers are doing the best they can within the current priority structure. The emphasis is on bringing all students to one level, not on letting each student reach full potential. This is directed from Federal and State level and funding follows this effort. All other programs are suffering reduced effort because failure to close the achievement gap carries huge penalties. 

    District leadership must make success for all student a priority. There won't likely be any outside funding provided top do this so we must really examine what we are doing in the schools. Programs must be able to prove they are meeting their goals. Programs with poor or marginal results should be dropped or cut back to free up funds for things like gifted and talented. This is difficult because every program has advocates who make a lot of noise when their interest is threatened. The fact remains we must use our funds to give all our students the best education we can.

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Jeffery Kennedy's Responses

No response received.

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Gary Mullen-Schultz's Responses
  1. I know from personal experience the important role gifted and talented education plays in our district. In addition to the numerous volunteer positions I have held in community activities (see here), I have shared, and continue to share, my time and skills with youth in ISD 535. Both of my children, who attended Rochester public schools from K to 12, benefited greatly from the GATE programs in which they participated. 

    The first program I helped with was math enrichment at Bamber Valley. This involved helping a small group of students become acquainted with some advanced mathematical topics. One fun item I added was the memorization of pi - I would tell them three or four digits at the end of each session. The kids really enjoyed this, and would eagerly recite their work to me at the beginning of class the next week. It really hit home how much fun they had with this when, some five years later, one of the students (at this point in high school) stopped me in Apache Mall and started reciting pi! She had clearly picked up some of the joy of learning, which made me proud. 

    I later co-coached Math Masters at Willow Creek with the legendary Lynda Goldberg. We did very well in regional competition, and again the youth learned a lot and yet still enjoyed the subject matter. 

    Lately I have been co-coaching chess at Friedell, where my wife is a teacher. While this is not a GATE-sponsored program, it is still a treat to help kids learn a great game, improve their concentration, and better understand good sportsmanship. 

    Clearly, we have youth who need to be challenged beyond what they are exposed to in the regular classroom. This is perhaps even more pronounced in this community, where many parents (or future parents) are recruited to Rochester to work in highly- skilled jobs. They expect and demand advanced programming opportunities for their children. GATEway helps fill that gap.
  2. There are many excellent GATE offerings in the district today. It is clear, however, that gifted programs are often on the chopping block when budget cuts are required. I attended a board meeting in spring of this year where six gifted and talented programs for the 2006-2007 school year (prioritized by the GT coordinator) were discussed. It will be interesting to see what becomes of those programs over the upcoming months and years. 

    The clustering program at Friedell is exciting, as is the growth of mentorships at the high school level. Expansion of programs like these is vital to enhance the competitiveness of our district, which in turn is very important in attracting the best and brightest to our community. While I understand the necessity of this, I also acutely feel the growing public sentiment toward reining in local tax increases. It is clear that expanding GATE programming in our district requires better educating our community on the importance of gifted and talented programming to the overall quality of our schools, which in turn impacts the economic growth of our area.

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Georgiana Castellanos' Responses

No response received.

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Daniel O'Neil's Responses
  1. All students deserve the opportunity to learn and progress throughout their school years - including gifted individuals. I believe that effective instruction of gifted students is a shared responsibility among parents, teachers, students, communities, and schools. In Rochester, delivering on this responsibility requires training in gifted education, monetary funding, administrative support, and community partnership. 

    Throughout the educational career of the gifted student we must provide increased opportunity for creativity and challenge. As a kindergarten Math Masters trainer at Washington School, I have seen the positive impact on children who receive individualized, advanced instruction. While I realize that program is but the tip of the iceberg, I am hopeful that as a School Board team member, I would be able to support increased capacity in gifted programs and increased depth in existing offerings.
  2. In my opinion, the current opportunities for the gifted and talented in Rochester are restricted by resource constraints. While gifted educators are assigned for virtually all facilities in the system, we should invest more in terms of FTE to ensure full access to programs for all eligible students. I am optimistic that some of the funds from the upcoming referenda might be dedicated to improving access and depth of the programs. 

    Also, in Rochester, we are fortunate to have partnerships with many local companies and organizations. I have family and friends involved in several programs including Rochester Area Math and Science Partnership (RAMP), Mayo Clinic Career Exploration, and the Rochester Civic Theatre. We need to foster more of these relationships and expand on those that are established. 

    Finally, we need to communicate to parents and students about the initiatives that are underway in the district. In that regard, I really appreciate your efforts in collecting this information and publishing the thoughts of potential board members. Thank you.

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Sandra Soltis' Responses
  1. Gifted education plays a significant role in Rochester Public Schools. Gifted specialists provide expanded/enhanced opportunities to identified gifted students who desire/require advanced work that inspires and invigorates them to learn. Currently, gifted education provides a variety of opportunities to identified students to pursue their specialized interests. Ideally, there should be more opportunities for gifted students. 

    Rochester's gifted program frequently offers staff training for all teachers to learn more about gifted education and to learn additional/alternative teaching strategies that reach not only gifted students but all students. As you well know, many creative and advanced teaching strategies and instructional models come from gifted education and have been successfully applied in mainstream settings. 

    As the District adds more rigor and relevance to its general curriculums, Rochester's gifted specialists have the expertise and skills to be part of that process. 

    Gifted specialists need to aggressively seek out unidentified gifted students and see that their academic needs are met. Many unidentified gifted students have "gaps" in their learning. Those gaps need to be closed so that the students can participate and be successful in more rigorous classes. 

    At the school level, gifted specialists need to be integral members of teaching teams to provide service to students who require a deeper and broader course of study. When gifted specialists and general educators collaborate on a regular basis, all students benefit. 

    The gifted program has a "repository" of information and sources for enrichment opportunities for gifted students that are beyond the scope and purview of District programs. For example, colleges and universities offer special summer programs for gifted students. District gifted educators do provide that information to students and their parents; this dimension of the gifted program could be expanded so that more gifted students could participate in these opportunities. 

    The gifted program also coordinates and facilitates mentoring opportunities for gifted students; these mentoring programs are very popular with students and could be expanded. 

    The above examples only skim the surface of what gifted education's role currently does and what it could do to enhance the gifted program in Rochester.
  2. While the gifted specialists are working very hard to provide services to Rochester's gifted students, they are stretched far beyond expectations. 

    I am most familiar with the secondary programs. At the high school level, there are honors classes, Advanced Placement classes, higher level science and math classes, and mentoring programs. It is my understanding that the parents of gifted students and the gifted students, themselves, are fairly satisfied with the high school programs. 

    The middle level is another story. Math acceleration is the only current "official" option for gifted/highly gifted students. A number of general education teachers differentiate within their classes to meet the needs of their students. Early in 2006, a task force, consisting of parents, students, teachers, and principals, was formed to explore the need for establishing a school-within-a-school for highly gifted middle school students. I was involved with that task force. 

    The task force recommended that a SWS for highly gifted middle school students be established in the fall of 2006 at Friedell Middle School. However, because of the staff training and the overall planning needed, opening the program in the fall of 2007 seemed to be most prudent. The SWS for the highly gifted would be intended for students at the 98th percentile and above. The program would be voluntary; no student would be "forced" to leave his/her attendance area middle school. 

    At the June 29th School Board special session, there was discussion and approval of enhancing gifted programs in the District. It is my understanding, the principals at John Adams and Kellogg and their staffs are planning to enhance the language arts programs at their middle schools for gifted students. There has been a change in administration at Willow Creek so I am not sure what the plans are at Willow. 

    At the elementary level, there are a number of programs and opportunities for gifted elementary students. If a student is gifted in math and can handle a higher level (grade) in math, those needs can be accommodated. The reading groups are leveled so that students read at their own level. Many volunteers work with gifted students in special events and programs like Math Masters.