Plan to cut RSS gifted instruction hits roadblock

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Maggie Blackwell
mblackwell@salisburypost.comA proposal to cut the number of teachers of academically gifted students by half was poorly received by parents and most of the school board in Monday night’s meeting of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
Parents of gifted students implored board members to listen to the community before making such a move. Overton Elementary PTA President Leah Anna Honeycutt urged board members to remember the Academically or Intellectually Gifted program “is one reason parents allow their children to attend public schools.”
Board Chairman Jim Emerson later agreed. “We want to increase test scores? These are the kids who are going to increase them. I don’t want to lose one student to the private school system. AIG is the reason some of these students stay in the public school system.”
Kelly Feamster, the school system’s AIG director, and Dr. Rebecca Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum, presented the plan, which is based on programs in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cabarrus County systems.
The proposed plan would cut AIG classroom time from more than 50 hours a month for students to 10 hours every two months. Instead of being pulled out of the classroom for additional instruction, AIG students would be team-taught by the regular classroom teacher and the AIG teacher.
Twenty teachers teach in AIG classrooms today. Under the proposal, that number would be reduced to 10, and every AIG teacher would serve two schools.
The change would save money and make instruction of gifted students more consistent. Today, different schools offer different opportunities to AIG students. Smith said the new model would also include more “under-served populations,” or ethnic groups that are typically in the minority in AIG classrooms.
Administrators also said AIG students are not showing desired growth on EOG tests.
“If a student makes 95 percent on the test, how much growth do you want?” Emerson countered.
Koontz Elementary parent Dr. Ashley Dunham said she supports the change only if it is based on evidence and will support student achievement but expressed concern the plan was developed without parents’ input. She cited state law that says parents must be involved in developing procedures for teaching academically or intellectually gifted students.
“This is extremely relevant for Koontz, where 71 percent of our children did not pass the end-of-grade reading test. In real terms, in a class of 25 students, only seven of them are working at or above grade level for reading,” Dunham said. “We have AIG students … who made a perfect score on the reading EOG test ó we must have a program to serve their needs.”
Board member Patty Williams asked administrators to work with parents to develop a model they can agree on and return to the board only after parents have had input.
In other business, the board:
– Unanimously approved a recommendation from Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler and the Finance and Budget Committee to ask Rowan County commissioners for a total of $34.5 million on April 1. That amount reflects a net increase of $1.9 million over last year.
The additional money will compensate for some of the $2.3 million being cut from the school system’s budget by the state. Gov. Beverly Perdue has said education will not suffer budget cuts, but the state has cut many line items affecting the Rowan-Salisbury School System while additions have been made to others that do not affect the district, resulting in a net loss.
– Heard presentations on reducing the dropout rate and closing the achievement gap. They’ll hear presentations on both programs again in May as they come closer to implementing strategies.
– Approved two policies affecting students who play sports and those who transfer from one school to another. Students who transfer for reasons other than attending academies will have to wait 365 days before participating in team sports.
– Unanimously approved two new policies regarding reductions in force and reassignment of personnel. The policies are being put in place “in case they are needed” in the future, said Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Delores Morris.
– Heard from Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations, the system will not request funds for a central office in the near future. The state has pulled funding from the county and school system that would be used to pay for the project. “Perhaps we can request it when the budget settles down,” Miller said.
– Approved a work session to consider budget cuts and possible redistricting. That meeting will be April 13 at 5 p.m.