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Editorial: Even the best need to improve

Oh, to be like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” No town can lay claim to all that. But virtually every community has a segment of children who are above average. Though it may not appear so on the surface of things, those children need as much specialized instruction from educators as the children who are below-average. The right instruction can push star students even higher.
Hence the intense response from parents recently when it appeared the Rowan-Salisbury School System might curtail the program for Academically and Intellectually Gifted students, AIG. While No Child Left Behind and other programs have emphasized making sure educators don’t overlook the children who struggle the most to keep up in class, parents of the academically gifted are rightly concerned that their own children will not be challenged to excel.
That’s the whole point of the AIG program, to provide the level of stimulation and rigor needed to help high achievers reach ever higher and realize their full potential ó instruction that some people believe is available only in private schools.
Rowan-Salisbury’s AIG program might not be living up to its own full potential. Even the best of the best are expected to show growth in achievement each year, and that is not always happening. According to school system spokesperson Rita Foil, data analysis, classroom visits, visits to other school districts and current research point to a need for change. If the system is to increase student achievement and provide more consistent services, it needs a new AIG structure, Foil says.
That sounds reasonable. But the call for change comes in the midst of a state budget crisis, and parents can easily see that the system is looking for ways to economize, not maximize. When parents heard at the 11th hour that a proposal for revamping AIG was going before the school board, they rushed to defend the program.
At issue is Rowan-Salisbury’s practice of pulling AIG students out of class for reading and math so they can have their own level of instructionó the very thing parents like most. Experts say it’s important for gifted children to be with other gifted children, the more often the better. School officials say Rowan-Salisbury is the only system to operate AIG that way, and the recent proposal moves toward having fewer AIG teachers who would “team teach” with other teachers instead of teach separately.
Fortunately, the proposal got a chilly reception from school board members, and system leaders in charge of AIG are rethinking the plan. They’ll get input from parents ó an overdue step ó at a 5 p.m. meeting this Thursday at Horizons Unlimited. If the AIG program is truly broken ó which is bad news for everyone ó parents and teachers should have a voice in how to fix it.

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