Port Angeles School Board approves plan for ‘highly capable’ program

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School Board has approved a plan to open a self-contained education program for “highly capable” students at Roosevelt Elementary School.

The program, which will create three multi-age elementary classrooms for grades one through six, was developed by a district committee to meet a state law that requires districts to offer highly capable students an appropriate education for their abilities.

Roosevelt Elementary was selected for the program because it has vacant rooms available for the program.

Highly capable students are defined as “those who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels when compared with others of their age, experiences or environments.”

These students will be offered an accelerated curriculum, which will begin with materials for one grade higher than their age peers.

On Thursday, the board voted 4-0, with one abstention, to begin the process to hire three new full-time teachers and purchase supplies for the program, which will start in the 2014-15 school year.

Board Member Lonnie Linn abstained and said he respected the work that had been done to create the plan, but had concerns about the “school within a school” plan.

The board also approved the revamping of the existing program at Stevens Middle School to serve highly capable middle-school students.

The Stevens honors program will be similar to the existing “seminar” program, and highly capable middle school students will be reorganized into advanced honors courses in math and language within the middle school, said Stevens Principal Chuck Lisk.

The state has identified highly capable students as being at risk and under-served for their needs.

“Ten to 20 percent of gifted children will drop out if they’re not engaged,” said Mimi Tiderman, chair of the committee that developed the program concept.

Currently, the district receives $30,000 for a highly capable program at the middle school, but will receive no additional funds for the newly required program at the elementary school.

Advanced Placement courses already in offered at Port Angeles High School satisfy the state requirement for highly capable offerings at those grade levels.

The cost of hiring three teachers for the elementary program is expected to be about $225,000, but the total cost, including materials, teacher training, and classroom preparation, remains to be determined.

The district has continued to identify highly capable students, with about 72 such students in kindergarten through the fifth grade identified in the district so far.

There are about 1,900 elementary students in the district, and it is estimated that 2 to 3 percent would be eligible as highly capable.

More parents have contacted district offices to request testing of their students, Tiderman said.

The students included those who were already in the district, but also homeschool students and those who currently attend area private schools, Tiderman said.

The district standards are very high, and only the top 2 or 3 percent of applicants, as measured by a series of cognitive tests and observations for traits that are known to be common to highly capable students, will be accepted.

“Highly capable children actually think differently — they think out of the box,” Tiderman said.

Tiderman said that many high achieving students are bright, hard workers with a solid educational base, but they may not qualify as “gifted.”

“There will be a lot of upset parents,” she said.

Not all those who qualify will enter the program, she added, as older students may want to finish school with their friends, or have siblings and want to remain at school with them.

Testing for students currently in the district is performed once a year and is complete for this year, she said.

New students to the district, including those who move to the area during the school year or those who are currently in homeschool or private school, can apply to be tested at any time.

Once in the program, students cannot be dropped for low grades, but may be removed by parental request.

Port Angeles teacher union president Barry Burnett said he was concerned that the lowest-income children would not be represented in the highly capable program because their parents might be less likely to advocate for their children in school.

Amity Butler, principal of Franklin Elementary and a member of the district committee, said that the program is not dependant on parent nomination but also relies on teacher recommendations and even self-nominations.

So far, the demographics of those who have qualified almost perfectly represent district demographics of high and low-income students, racial minority students and several students who have autism or attention-deficit disorders, Butler said.

There will be no parent involvement requirement, which often prevents lower-income students from being able to take part in programs, she said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 12. 2014 6:42PM
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