New gifted program is approved

November 19, 2000

New gifted program is approved

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

The Washington County Board of Education approved at Tuesday night's meeting a model of a pre-kindergarten to 12th grade gifted and talented program but did not address the fate of the current K-5 advanced program that has been used in the school system since the mid-1990s.

"The current model is called Project Challenge, and we have a new program," said Donna Chesno, the board's coordinator of advanced programs. She did not elaborate.

She did say that some of the objectives used in Project Challenge will overlap with the new program, called the Model for Advanced Level Learners.

The board voted 6-0 to approve the new model. Board member Edwin Hayes was absent.

Talk of the new model sparked concern among parents of gifted students that Project Challenge would be replaced with a lesser version, that the board wouldn't be able to fund a pre-K through 12 advanced program and that the 16 Project Challenge teachers would be stretched throughout all grade levels, decreasing effectiveness.


Project Challenge is a county-funded program that focuses on elementary gifted and talented students identified through test scores and grades. It teaches logic, problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking and research.

The new program would extend to middle and high schools. It includes development of thinking and feeling, career awareness, acceleration and enrichment in school studies and independent study.

The School Board has said it began working on the Advanced Level Learners model because it wanted a seamless pre-K-12 gifted and talented program that followed the standards set by the National Association of Gifted Children.

Project Challenge was intended to be implemented in all grade levels but never got past fifth grade because of a lack of funding.

The new program would be phased in over the next four years, according to a draft of its implementation plan. The cost for 2001-2002, the first year for the program, is $1.3 million. The cost gradually increases to $2.3 million by 2004-2005. Costs would not only cover salaries but also training for teachers, materials and travel.

The implementation plan also states 16 elementary enrichment teachers and one secondary enrichment teacher would be needed in the first year. By the fourth year, the board hopes 20 elementary, four middle school and four high school teachers are in place.

The board has not approved the implementation plan or the new program's budget.

While no parents of gifted and talented students were at the meeting, retired teacher Russell Williams addressed the School Board on the issue.

"Where are we going to get the money to train all these teachers?" Williams asked. "We could never fully fund Project Challenge. If we do not have enough money to fully fund Project Challenge at the elementary school level, why on earth are we talking about fully funding this program?"

There was no response from the board. But Theresa Flak, the board's deputy superintendent, said three public meetings would be held to hear feedback from the community.

The meetings will be held on Monday, Dec. 11, Tuesday, Dec. 12 and Thursday, Dec. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. Locations have not yet been decided.

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