News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 30, 2018
CSD looks to boost Gifted & Talented program

by Tevlin Schuetz

The school administration is hoping to broaden the scope of Gifted and Talented and enrichment programming at the elementary school this fall.

Principal Tara McKechnie and Union 76 Student Services Director Kathy Glennon shared their plan at the CSD Board’s monthly meeting on August 15, and they will put forth a program for application with the Maine Department of Education by September.

Providing gifted and talented programming in school administrative units was made mandatory by law in 2011 (Maine Public Law 2011, Chapter 678, Part H stipulated this, requiring implementation beginning with the 2012-13 school year), but SAUs were also allowed to request annual waivers from the Commissioner of Education. While the Island school district has offered varying degrees of enrichment and gifted and talented programming, technically the district has been on continued waiver status in recent years, with the amount and types of programming fluctuating with changes in the school budget.

MDOE identifies a GT-eligible student as one in the top 5 percent of his or her class in the specific area of study designated. GT programming also applies to the arts, McKechnie said.

McKechnie said three assessments will be used to identify students for the GT program: standardized test scores (such as those from Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA, testing); the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (which deals with pattern completion, reasoning by analogy, serial reasoning and spatial visualization); and nominations by teachers and parents. For the arts, McKechnie suggests employing a student questionnaire and portfolio reviews.

“For it to count for GT, there has to be a formal identification process. These are the basics … for what we need to do to qualify,” she said.

Beyond that, the school district has complete control of the program’s content and implementation.

“Because the local district gets to create the program, we can combine it with the things we are doing,” McKechnie said.

As such, the program will feature individual learning plans for eligible students and will be administered in similar fashion to a response-to-intervention scenario, where the teachers and parents work together to address the GT needs of the student.

“It’s not going to be a cookie cutter approach,” McKechnie said.

And the additional learning opportunities will be made available to all interested students.

“We really want it to be inclusive,” McKechnie said. “For kids who don’t pass the test and who don’t qualify as GT … [but] who are really driven to pursue something—and their parents want them to pursue something—then we will still use our enrichment resources to give them whatever they need.”

While standardized tests are taken by all students and are effectively screening tests for potential GT students, not every child will take the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test; it comes at a $10-per-test cost upfront, and if it is administered to all students generally, it is not considered reimbursable by MDOE, McKechnie said. If it is used, however, within the formal process (post-nomination) of identifying GT students, the costs can be covered by the state.

“Since we’re only looking at identifying 5 percent of the student population … it’s not going to cost us that much money to do this,” McKechnie said.

A GT program budget is required as part of the application, and the state then decides how much they will cover based on a formula, McKechnie said. “We can’t expect to get everything we put in [reimbursed].”

“What [MDOE puts] in is based on what their allocation is from the state,” Glennon said, explaining that once they receive applications from schools, they distribute the funding they have been granted by the state.

The program will incorporate projects led by teachers as well as mentoring and volunteering by community members.

“Our mentors have been a big success,” McKechnie acknowledged, and Superintendent Christian Elkington noted that the school’s art teacher is already focused on enrichment and can devote Fridays to the program.

For kids who don’t qualify but still want to pursue enrichment opportunities based upon their interests, Elkington said the after-school program could be a good fit.

McKechnie also said that all participants—students, volunteers and mentors—will be asked to provide feedback at the end of the school year, to better inform and improve future efforts.

Glennon emphasized the importance of student needs driving the process. “We’re really trying to target our outreach to adults based on what students need.”

“What are our students’ interests and strengths?”

This is a vital consideration with respect to the volunteer and mentor side of the program, too. “One of the worst things is recruiting volunteers … and them not feeling utilized.” Glennon said.

As far as age groups, Grades 3 through 8 would benefit the most from programming, McKechnie believes, although she said there may be younger kids who exhibit potential.

The screening tests (which occur in early October) are a jumping-off point, Glennon said, but parents or teachers can consider and discuss students’ interests and eligibility for GT and enrichment programming at any time.

The program could be up and going by the end of October or November, Elkington said.