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Louisiana: Don’t squander your gifted program – highlight it!

Posted by Angie on July 2, 2009 in Gifted Education |

If you are a student who graduated from St. Tammany gifted programs, teacher or advocate for gifted you should read and act on the following:

This as a copy of an email that I received. My note to BESE follows. I would encourage all teachers and former gifted students write to the officials in Louisiana. The email is provided in the text that follows.

*****

All,
I wrote most of you about a week ago, after learning that BESE — our Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, in Baton Rouge– is contemplating removing both Gifted and Talented from the category of Special Education, which would ostensibly end the program, in my opinion. (Since I wrote you, it has been confirmed that Talented is in this plan also.) Gifted and Talented students would receive their services in the regular education classroom, where their over-burdened teacher would have to use even more “differentiation” to reach all ends of the education spectrum. She would have so much more preparation to do for teaching. There would be no IEP’s. I don’t know what would happen to all our Gifted and Talented teachers; I simply haven’t seen or heard the exact plan.

This is coming from the State, not your parish school board. But whatever they decide, we would have to follow.

Please feel free to share this with other parents of both gifted and talented students, and with your gifted teachers. (I don’t have e-mail addresses for all our gifted and talented families and employees, and others who may also be concerned about this topic. Thanks.) That this is being contemplated over the summer months, when so many of us are out of touch, makes it more difficult to spread the word, and to be active about it.

This is the first I have heard of a specific plan, originating at the top, to move Gifted and Talented from the Special Ed. category, a distinction shared by only a few states. However, that distinction gives gifted students specific rights, particularly having an IEP, which guarantees that they will be served according to their needs. Gifted and Talented students are also taught by teachers with certification in gifted education, which as you know differs in approach from regular ed. instruction.

If you wish to write your BESE members, all of whom seem to use the same e-mail address, it is: sbese@la.gov

You also might want to copy both Supt. Gayle Sloan, Board President John Lamarque, and me. And any gifted teachers or supervisors you know. If it comes to a vote, to keep Gifted and Talented in Special Ed would need a majority of the votes – six votes out of 11. Right now we have ONE, maybe two.

In your e-mail, you can say you have “heard” that there is a consideration to move gifted and talented students out from under the umbrella of Special Education. Then give your reasons why gifted and talented should stay separate. Be factual and concise, give examples if you want.

In my opinion, this is just one more move toward denying services to those students who work on a higher level. I’m guessing it might be simpler, and perhaps a little less expensive, to remove their services, remove the need for hiring gifted and talented teachers, remove the need for a separate curriculum and classrooms, basically to remove all the resources to teach those children in the manner best suited to them.

Unfortunately this would also remove the challenge so many of the Gifted and Talented students thrive on.

It might also eventually remove those higher scores on the state accountability tests. That, at least, ought to be important to BESE.

As a matter of fact, BESE is now legislatively mandated – thanks to Sen. Ben Nevers SB 316 which has become law — to review their Accountability program, and get graduation rates up. Now is not the time to think of lowering standards to any particular group of students, let alone those who help bring up those Accountability scores.

Please take some time tonight or tomorrow to write our BESE members, if you want Gifted and Talented to stay a premiere program in our school system statewide. Even if your own child has graduated, think of all the students coming along like your child, who need to be taught in the way that’s best for them.If your own student wishes to write, that would be helpful, too.

Mary K. Bellisario
District 15, St. Tammany Parish School Board

*******

My response to BESE follows:

To whom it may concern:
First an introduction: I am a former parent and gifted teacher who raised and taught gifted children in Mandeville, Louisiana for 14 years. I now live in Texas. I received an email today stating that Louisiana was exploring removing gifted from the special education umbrella. I would like to share my thoughts and experiences on the issue.

My children are now 25 and 23 years old. One is successfully employed as a Project Manager for a media related web development firm where he is encouraged to be a creative thinker and a team worker. My daughter is pursuing a Master’s degree in Paris France in International Relations and Diplomacy where her flair for speaking and critical thinking are thriving. My son attended St. Tammany Parish School’s gifted program from grade 4 to grade 12; my daughter from grade 1 to grade 12. As for myself, I attended Southeastern Louisiana University and obtained a Masters and an ‘option’ in Gifted Education. I taught in the gifted program in Covington for three years.

Now, I live in NW of Houston, Texas. I’ve explored Texas public schools for a gifted teaching position similar to what I had in Covington. It does not exist. Why? Although Texas has a clear objective for providing for their gifted students, they are not held accountable in any way for actually implementing an effective program. Gifted does not fall under the special education umbrella, IEP’s are not required. Most commonly Texas provides an enrichment program. GT teachers who are required to attend 30 hrs of gifted training vs Louisiana’s requirement of a Masters in Curr & Inst and 3 years teaching gifted students before they are certified to teach gifted students.

Texas is not alone. Many other states have adopted similar strategies to educate their gifted population.

Louisiana would be VERY UNWISE to remove gifted from the special education umbrella! Why? The IEP is the one instrument that provides the parent a means to get the type of education that their special needs child has. My children and their friends flourished from the depth and expertise of the teachers who taught their gifted classes. Without an IEP, a parent has little leverage to provide the type of classroom environment their children need. I’ve met so many frustrated parents here who have tried to get school administration to understand the needs of their gifted child. And I’ve met many teachers who are equally frustrated in the lack of resources and training to meet the academic and social emotional needs of the gifted.

The implementation of the gifted program in St. Tammany Parish is one of the best and unique ones in our nation because of the use of the IEP and special education classification among other things.

Please consider retaining the status quo of the gifted program in St. Tammany Parish. In fact, capitalize on it! Wouldn’t it be fantastic to notify the whole nation about what you are providing for the gifted child. Parents will flock to your state, test scores will raise significantly and Louisiana would become known as the one state that nurtures some of the best thinkers in the nation. Take advantage of the highly qualified teachers. St. Tammany has one of the best programs for gifted in the nation from my point of view. Don’t squander the program you already have in place – highlight it!

I hope that my viewpoint and experience is helpful in some way as you make your decisions.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Angie French

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2 Comments

  • Lynette Breedlove (atxteacher) says:

    What a tragedy it would be to lose the Special Ed designation for GT. It’s something that LA public schools do of which I’m envious. Individual testing and IEPs are essential for the highest level of services. In Texas, we’re all trying to figure out to make that happen.

  • Sadly, this seems to be happening everywhere. Certainly where I live, Montgomery County, MD. We’ve never had gifted IEPs, but GT students were considered as on of the “special populations” in terms of school policy. Well now they’re rewriting the policy–and nowhere does the term “gifted and talented” appear. Now it’s all about “accelerated and enriched instruction” and challenge for “all children.”

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