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It was disappointing to see the New London Board of Education vote 4-3 Thursday not to move forward with establishment of a Renzulli Academy gifted and talented program. The story may not be over, however. Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer reports that Dr. Joseph Renzulli, who developed the program, still wants to pursue it in New London and is willing to meet with board members to answer any questions.
Given the closeness of the vote, and comments from some of those who voted against that a lack of information was their primary reason, there appears a chance for reconsideration.
New London was one of several communities to receive grants to train teachers in the Renzulli model and get programs going. The original intent was to plant the gifted and talented program as a charter school within the public school system. When it became apparent the administration could not meet the schedule for gaining state approval, it switched to a scaled-down introductory program with the potential for future growth.
As developed by the administration, the academy program would have served three classes of gifted students in fourth through sixth grades at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School with the possibility of also serving a second group of fifth- and sixth-grade students in a dual-language program at Jennings Elementary School.
In voting not to move forward, the board effectively rejected a $150,000 private grant to train teachers for the program.
The Renzulli record of accomplishment suggests it would benefit the school system and its students. Education experts widely recognize that current educational programming is not meeting the needs of high-achieving students, particularly in struggling school systems such as New London.
According to information provided by the administration, the intent of the New London Renzulli Academy was to provide qualifying middle grades students with challenging, engaging research-based enrichment curriculum. Coursework is rigorous, with students given the chance to work on extended projects of individual interest.
Information provided to the board by the administration stated criteria for selecting students into the program would include teacher assessments and recommendations, standardized test scores, language skills and behavior.
But in joining those voting against the program, Chairwoman Margaret Curtin said she did not have adequate information on the methods used to screen students for the program. Those voting against also raised concerns about potential long-term costs, transportation of students, and the implications of separating students from their peers.
It would seem to us that there are questions about any new program and expectations that adjustments will have to be made and details solidified as the process moves from concept to implementation. From what we see, the board had enough information to OK the start of Renzulli.
What appears at work here is a lack of trust between the board leadership and superintendent. While we don't consider it justified, some board members don't have the faith in their superintendent to implement the program.
The school board voted only recently, 6-1, not to renew the contract of Dr. Fischer when it expires at the end of the 2013-2014 school year. We disagree with that decision, as well, and are particularly troubled with the board's failure to make a case for why it is in the best interest of students to disrupt leadership now. By most measures, academic performance is improving in city schools and, given state intervention, it is a critical period to maintain consistency, making the decision more perplexing.
Differences aside, the school board should reconsider the Renzulli decision. If board members need more information, provide it. It would be unfortunate to see this opportunity pass.