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Gifted student program replaced

April 26, 2001

Gifted student program replaced



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

As the end of the school year nears, so does the end of the Washington County Board of Education's Project Challenge.

Project Challenge, a program for gifted students that has been in the county's elementary schools since 1990, is being replaced by a county-designed program called Quest.

Quest is expected to start out in the elementary schools and be phased in through 12th grade over several years. It is geared toward gifted, talented and highly able students.

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Project Challenge was to serve kindergarten through 12th grade, but it never got past the elementary level because of funding problems.

The 16 Project Challenge teachers were told this year that their jobs were being eliminated but that they could reapply to be Quest teachers, also called enrichment teachers.

The School Board recently voted 5-2 to hire 15 enrichment teachers. A 16th will be hired over the next several weeks. Of the new hires, nine were Project Challenge teachers. The rest were transferred from other teaching positions in the school system.

The remaining Project Challenge teachers who chose not to be a part of Quest will assume other teaching roles, said Carol Mowen, the board's public information officer.

While board administrators embrace Quest as a premier advance-level learners model, others aren't convinced the program will bring the heralded results.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner and board member Roxanne Ober voted against the hirings, believing the enrichment teachers would not be distributed equally throughout the county's 27 elementary schools.

"Some will be in the building two days a week, and some will be there five days," Wagner said at a recent board meeting. "It's virtually impossible."

Donna Chesno, the board's coordinator of advanced-level programs, said she thinks Quest will be equitable and that its program selections will give students a variety of instruction.

"The varied program options will be effective in allowing specific needs, abilities and interests of students who are academically highly able, as well as those who have talents to be developed," Chesno said in a written statement.

Some of Quest's instructional components include providing enrichment activities in the areas of a student's strength as well as activities and artistic productions that allow students to think, feel and act like practicing professionals and a curriculum that keeps students from repeatedly practicing material they already know.

Wagner questioned whether the school system would find the money to fund a K-12 program.

"We're going to be starting something that we already tried, and we weren't successful," Wagner said.

Chesno said Quest was designed to accommodate limitations in funding.

"It was created with reality in mind so that if finances prohibited implementing all program options, then implementation of some of the options would still be beneficial to advanced-level students," Chesno said.

Parents and community members also have voiced concerns about Quest.

School Board candidate Russell Williams said he viewed Quest as more of an experiment rather than an established program. He said parents should have been given a better description of the program and had more involvement it its creation.

"I suggest that, if we must replace Project Challenge, we use a program which has been tested over time by other school systems," Williams said at recent meeting. "I further suggest, that in the future when programs are developed, we always make sure we give more than lip service to community involvement."

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