District officials share GATE plans

Independent School District 834 officials presented the beginning stages of an E-12 programming pathway plan for the district’s gifted and talented students at Thursday’s school board learning session.

The pathway focuses on personalized learning for students and can be applied to other district students as the process is more defined.

Executive Director of Secondary Schools Mary Anderson said the programming and clusters of high-achieving students can be put in district-wide from early childhood to sixth grade. Cluster grouping is the practice of placing five to 10 intellectually gifted students together in the same class with a  teacher who has received additional training in working with those students. From fourth grade to sixth grade, students will be placed into gifted and talented (GATE) programs and have grade level acceleration to meet their needs. A pilot program will be implemented in 2013-14 which includes a instructional coaches for six elementary schools and a GATE lead teacher.

Current Stillwater Area High School Principal Ryan Laager said students identified as gifted and talented in grades seven through nine would have an accelerated learning program continued in math and science and would add social studies and language arts to the program. They would be identified as gifted and talented students, but wouldn’t be tracked together. From 2014 on, high-performing students in junior high would accelerate their seventh and eighth grade learning in core subjects completing three years of content in two and attending the high school in ninth grade.

In grades 10 through 12, social and academic supports are being developed and students will meet as a group once a month and have on-line resources available. An emotional support system also would be in place to help these students through the accelerated program if the pilot program implemented next year with sophomores and juniors is successful.

Across early childhood education through grade 12, a GATE lead teacher will be established, along with a focus group for a multi-year plan regarding the program next year.

Professional development is also a part of the programming. It would offer training in social and emotional support, differentiated instruction, cultural competency training and cluster consistency beginning in 2013-14.

The programming would create more learning and accelerated learning opportunities for the students, while at the same time give them various options about how they would like their education to go. It could also possibly impact the district’s master schedule.

“There’s a lot of exciting pieces to this new idea,” Laager said. “Initially, we’ll have to get a lot of feedback from parents about what works and what doesn’t and how we can improve but I think it’s really innovative and could attract students to our district.”

Anderson and Laager envision the new programming option serving gifted students and offering opportunities to others once details are ironed out.

Anderson said the plan plays into the district’s new strategic plan by serving individual needs of students. Students will be given tests to help determine which field suits them best and prepare them for college and their adult careers.

Laager and Anderson will update the board as programming implementation progresses.