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home : features : schools & education April 29, 2016

7/2/2014 5:18:00 AM
Gifted 'cluster' grouping to take place at Lake Valley
Trib File Photo/Sue Tone
Students in Amy Bowser’s gifted class at Lake Valley Elementary School work on a science project with chalk this past school year.
Trib File Photo/Sue Tone
Students in Amy Bowser’s gifted class at Lake Valley Elementary School work on a science project with chalk this past school year.

Sue Tone

To meet the needs of students who easily master new concepts, Lake Valley Elementary School will initiate a school-wide gifted cluster model when school begins in August.

Traditionally in Humboldt Unified School District elementary schools, gifted students receive more complex lessons during a half-to-one-hour pullout session a couple times weekly with other gifted students.

"Now they can be challenged all day long," said LVES Principal Tusanne Cordes at the June 10 HUSD governing board meeting.

Cordes presented a proposal for the school's signature model, Gifted Academy, requesting approval for $15,000 to be spent on training and materials, which the board approved unanimously.

Teachers will utilize the gifted training in all classrooms, Cordes said, providing differentiated instruction - different avenues for learning - to meet the needs of all students. A goal of the Gifted Academy is to provide rigorous, faster-paced instruction to ensure continuous progress.

"Continuous progress" is another term for "yearly growth" expected for all students by the Arizona Department of Education, which uses test scores to track growth, and subsequently, rates schools. In the past, districts focused on bringing up at-risk students' skills to grade level performance. Now the focus is on all students' growth, including those already performing at grade level or beyond.

"You have to grow them. In the past, we looked at mastery exclusively. This actually makes it more fair," HUSD Superintendent Paul Stanton said.

Teachers will implement the Arizona State Standards with components of higher order thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, differentiating and creative thinking in all classes.

"Students who perform at average and below average levels also will show more growth points because they are exposed to new strategies," Cordes said. "Training should be extremely beneficial for all my teachers, not just the gifted clusters."

Board Vice President Brian Letendre said he always thought gifted students helped others in the classroom. However, this postpones or precludes the gifted students' own learning.

"We used to think, let them tutor or give them extra work. But that doesn't work. They are a special breed. It's something regular classroom teachers didn't know," Cordes said.

High achievers and gifted students will attend different classrooms, and students will not know which are the gifted cluster classrooms. Pullout sessions will continue, with the gifted teacher, Amy Bowser, split between Lake Valley and Granville schools.

Each grade level will have one classroom with six to nine students identified as gifted, based on Cognitive Abilities Test scores currently used by the district. Students need to achieve a 97 percent in at least one area: verbal (reading and writing), quantitative (math), or non-verbal.

When students already exceed grade level expectations, they are not challenged. They learn rapidly and retain what they've learned, making practice and review unnecessary.

Cordes said curriculum compacting makes sense. Students can pre-test on subjects like math, spelling or vocabulary. If they show they have the knowledge, students can move on and choose from a selection of other related activities.

"There is such a demand for this," Stanton said. "We are going to cut our teeth with Lake Valley, and are excited to put it across the district. It's a need we haven't been meeting. All children are unique and special, and we have to meet their needs."

Bowser and gifted cluster teacher Connie Hargis already work with gifted students on some on those different needs - social and communication skills, and how to handle their natural competitiveness.

"We lose students not only from our schools, but to education," Hargis said about students who find school uninteresting and tedious.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Article comment by: Bonnie Abadie

Most parents in our school district in Richardson, TX would love for this to happen. I have been advocating for this for the past 5 years, but to no avail. Heck I even ran for the flippin' school board twice (unsuccessfully) so I could try to make these changes. The general public is clueless to the needs of gifted children and I fear administrators are clueless as well. I hope Lake Valley can set a precedent and that other districts will follow!

Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014
Article comment by: Roberta Mack

I would love to be in contact with someone from this program in order to see how they were able to put this together and how it is working throughout the school year.

Thank you

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