The Kodiak Island Borough School District will restructure its Gifted and Talented program next year, with the hope of identifying and serving more students, according to Superintendent Larry LeDoux.
“We’re going from a very diffuse program that used to have gateways that really prevented kids from participating, to a fair evaluation system,” LeDoux said.
Currently, 15 elementary school students, 16 middle school students and 27 high school students participate in the program, making up fewer than 3% of town students. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights estimates that 6% of public school students are enrolled in gifted and talented programs across the country.
Last year, a cognitive abilities test was administered to 20 elementary school students in Kodiak to determine eligibility for the district’s Gifted and Talented program, according to special services coordinator Geoff Smith. Of those students, five were found eligible.
The district will also use recent assessment results to identify additional students for cognitive testing in the spring, Smith said. A service plan is developed for each qualifying student in the program to cater to their needs.
This year, the program is administered by instructional coaches, who divide their time between the GT program and instructional coaching.
“They’re the ones charged with developing the student learning plans, coordinating those meetings. The services are being facilitated in some buildings by certified GT teachers that we happen to have on staff, so who’s delivering the service is different in every building,” Smith said.
LeDoux said that for the next school year, the district intends to staff a full time elementary school teacher dedicated to the Gifted and Talented program. That teacher will spend one day a week in each of the district’s four elementary schools, and spend a fifth day providing services where needed.
“So we will have improved services,” LeDoux said. “And it also frees our coaches to do what we really need them to do right now.”
LeDoux said that the changes to the program will likely to an increase in the number of students that benefit from it.
“I think we’ll see both growth, and a lot more attention to these kids from someone that had the time to do that,” he said.
The high school and middle school will share a teacher dedicated to the Gifted and Talented program, who will split their time between the schools. The teacher will not be a classroom instructor, freeing up all of their time to work with students in the program.
This year, the high school Gifted and Talented coordinator also serves as a robotics teacher and dedicates two periods of her day to the program. The middle school’s program is coordinated by a teacher who dedicates only one period a day to the program.
“By having the same teacher do it, we won’t have a transition problem when they move from the middle school to the high school,” LeDoux said. “I think we will have a cost-effective program that is focused on the needs of these youngsters.”
While the district has not yet identified the staff members who will fill these roles, LeDoux said there are a number of teachers in the district who have credentials as Gifted and Talented instructors.
LeDoux said the program could also improve by identifying gifted students who may underperform in standardized tests, such as English language learners and students who experience a challenging home environment.
“There are a number of districts across the country that are looking at alternative criteria to scoop up some of these kids who don’t show that they’re gifted because of language challenges. We’re really trying to take a look at that so our GT program is representative of our entire community,” he said. “Kids that go through adverse childhood experiences, who have language difficulties — there are a number of reasons why kids don’t perform.”
Adverse childhood experiences include growing up in a violent or abusive home, divorce or separation of parents, exposure to drug abuse and exposure to domestic violence, among other experiences.
“Some of the kids in GT programs are the most fragile for dealing with things they don’t understand,” LeDoux said, noting that the rate of adverse childhood experiences in Kodiak is comparatively high. “Now that we have a program that we can be proud of … the only thing that I really want to do is explore opportunities for kids that have adverse childhood experiences or whose academic performance is reduced.”
The success of the revamped program will be measured by surveys of students and parents, in addition to keeping track of enrollment growth.
LeDoux also said that active parents will be “critical” to the success of the program.
“I really believe that having a healthy GT program will result in having a healthy parent group. That’s a goal we have to set. When I was principal, they used to summon me to meetings, not the opposite,” LeDoux said.